Dagomba: Dances

Bamaaya Dance:


Jera was originally a religious music and dance of the Kparibas in Dagbon, performed before and after hunting expeditions. It is now performed by most Dagbamba villages in Northern Ghana on diverse social occasions: festivals, funerals, and for recreation after a hard day’s work. The religious costume is however retained.


Wedding music and dance of the Dagbamba women of Northern Ghana. This music is performed exclusively by women in honor of a new bride. Songs used in this celebration relate to topical, human, marriage, and other social issues.


Takai is a royal dance of the Dagbamba chiefs and princes. It is performed on festive occasions such as the annual Damba festival, political rallies, and durbar of chiefs. Danced only by men, Takai movements involve pivot turns, torso swings, and stamping to the rhythm of the Luna and gungon, the only drums that are used in this dance.

Dagomba: Musical Instruments


Brekete_4_Brekete.  Played across the Savannah by the Dagomba, Hausa, Yoruba,  peoples of West Africa. Played as a support and lead drum. The head is from goat skin, and uses a snare made from thinly strung leather hide.

Talking Drum:

dondotalking2_1Drums are some of the oldest instruments used by west African griots and their history can be traced back to the Ghana Empire. The Hausa people (and by influence, the Yoruba people of south western Nigeria and Benin and the Dagomba of northern Ghana) have developed a highly sophisticated genre of griot music centering on the talking drum. Many variants of the talking drum exist, with essentially the same construction mentioned above. Interestingly, this construction is limited to within the contemporary borders of West Africa, with exceptions to this rule being northern Cameroon and western Chad; areas which have shared populations belonging to groups predominant in their bordering West African countries, such as the Kanuri, Djerma, Fulani and Hausa.    

Siyalim / Straw Rattle:

Made form local straw calabash woven inside to produce a hard crack for the stones sown inside.


Dagomba: Culture

Culturally, Dagbon is heavily influenced by Islam. Inheritance is patrilineal. Important festivals include the Damba, Bugum (fire festival) and the two Islamic Eid Festivals. The most cosmopolitan city of Dagbon is Tamale, which also serves as the Northern Regional capital.

Dagomba: Background

The Dagomba are an ethnic group of Northern Ghana. They live in the savanna region, speaking Dagbani which belongs to the More-Dagbani sub-group of Gur languages. Dagbani sub-group today has broken up into three ethnic groups: The Dagbamba, the Mamprusi and the Nanumba. Even though these groups today constitute three apparently distinct ethnic groups, their people still identify with each other and the bond is strongest among the Dagbamba and Nanumba. The homeland of the Dagbamba is called Dagbon and covers about 20,000 km2 in area and has a total population of about 8,655,700, that’s without the related tribes. which are Mumprusi, Nanumbers, Gonja, Moshi, Gurusi, Frafra, Kusasi, Wala, and konkomba…. The area constitutes seven administrative districts in present day Ghana. These are the Tamale Municipality, Tolon/Kumbungu, Savelugu/Nantong, Yendi, Gushegu/Karaga, Zabzugu/Tatali and Saboba/Cheriponi. The overlord the Dagbon Traditional Kingdom is the Ya- Na, whose court and administrative capital is at Yendi. Yendi is reputed to be the largest village in West Africa. The Dagbon Kingdom has traditional administrative responsibilities for hitherto acephalous groups like the Konkomba, the Bimoba, the Chekosi, the Basaari, the Chamba, Moshi, Wala, Gurusi, Frafra… and the Zantasi. Though ethnic Dagbamba are in the majority, the people of the subject ethnic groups have equal citizenship rights in the Kingdom. The seat of the Ya Na literally translated as King of Absolute Power, is a collection of cow skins. Thus when we talk of the political history of Dagbon, we often refer to it as the Yendi Skin. (Not throne or crown).

Na Gbewwaa is regarded as the founder of Greater Dagbon (Present day Dagbon, Mamprugu and Nanung). Lacking in a writing culture, Dagbamba are one of the ethnic groups with a very sophisticated oral tradition woven around drums and other musical instruments. Thus most of its history, until quite recently, has been based on oral tradition with drummers as professional historians. So according to oral tradition, the political history of Dagbon has its genesis in the lifestory of a legend called Tohazie (translated as Red Hunter).

Ashanti: History

Thought to originate from the Far East of Africa from the ancient Sudanic empires via the Ivory Coast, where they still inhabit. Other suggest that they travel led with the Ewes, Ga-Agdambes, Yorabas, Ibos and Hausas. The Ashantis inhabit the central and Southern Ghana.

Ashanti: Musical Instruments


apentema 3A small oprerenten. A fairly small sonorous drum used as a support drum. And as master drum in adzewa, apoc and kurunku music. Played by hands. Also used in pairs as a talking drum. Also called Ampae. Traditionally skinned with antelope but now cow skin.


Bamboo pipes. Bamboo flutes played with the drums, song and on their own.


apentema4A pair of male, female talking drum. Played by the master drummer in Adowa and as part of the ensemble in Fontonfrom. They were traditionally skinned with elephant ear skin (many years back) and now antelope or cow skin. Played in pairs Male drum to your left and female to your right on a frame that tilts the drums away from you. You play standing behind the drums with two long sticks made from the joint of a branch so that it is in the shape of a 7 . The Atumpan although traditionally Ashanti drums have become very popular and so found in many different settings within other tribes. They are the Ashanti talking drums. Many of the rhythms played are come straight from spoken TWI (Ashanti Language) for example at the beginning of Adowa the lead drum calls the name of the bell before it starts to play. Sold in our Adowa set.


Slit Bell for adowa and kete.


dondo_dagomba2Hour glass drum played by the stick and armpit control technique. This drum is traditionally from the North of Ghana from the Dagomba tribe, and seen in the West as the Talking drum of Africa. But in the Ashanti tribe it has been imported into the music as they just like it as a support drum, adding that extra dimension to their music.



pod_bell4Castanet used mainly in the music of popular bands and in the music of the Apoc ceremony of Northern Ashanti. Also found through out the South of Ghana in the Ewe and Ga tribes. Often heard in markets accompanied by a singer plying their trade.


fontonfrom pairThe name of the largest of the Ashanti drums, often five foot high and 2 foot wide. Played in pairs by two players. It is also the name of the largest and most important of all state drum orchestras. Its ensemble includes a pair of Fontomfrom drums, the atumpan talking drums and a number of smaller drums.


A support drum found in the Fontomfrom and Kete ensembles. It is a bottle shaped drum of similar size to the apentema. Played with stick and hand. Sold in our Ket


The Master drum for Kete orchestra. Played with a pair of sticks as the Atumpan sticks from the joint of a branch shaped as a 7 .


Support drum used in Adowa . High pitched and played with two straight sticks. Sold in or Adowa and Kete sets.



Stick clappers. Used in apirede, and sikyi. Made from wood or Bamboo.



Gourd drum, traditionally from the north of Ghana. Made from a gourd, goat skin and leather rope.



Drum sticks



Drum pegs

Ntoma ben:

Support drum


General name of a support drum. Twa mu means: to cross . Hence any drum that crosses the beats of other drums.



box_mbira2A box Piano with three to five notes made of bamboo or metal. Notes played with fingers. A distant relation of the mbira, but used more as a bass rhythm within drumming, singing ensemble.


semprewa2An old Akan harp now replaced in many areas by the western guitar. Making a come back within the last years. Played in a similar way the Senegalese Kora but much smaller and the sound box is made from wood.


Gourd rattle. Made from hollowed out gourd with seeds on the outside tied in a net.


Ashanti: Music & Dances


Adowa is by far the most widespread and frequently performed social dance of the Akan people of Ghana. The Akan are located in Ashanti, Brong Ahafo, Eastern, Central and parts of the Volta Regions of Ghana. It is best described in Akan musical traditions as a women’s dance because they dominate the performance. The few men that are seen during any performance handle the musical instruments. This dance is mostly performed at funerals, but can also be seen at yearly festivals, visits of important dignitaries, and other celebrations.

Adowa Drum and Dance. Video

Nnwonkoro – A Female Song Tradition of the Akan of Ghana

Adowa Singing with bells.  Audio

Adowa Singing and Drumming. Audio




Asaadua was once a popular recreation musical type among the Akan people of Ghana. Its performance is now limited to some few communities in Ashanti and Brong Ahafo regions. Like other popular entertainment music, which evolves from the ingenuity of some veteran traditional musicians, Asaadua started as a youth recreational music for the men of the Akan tradition. The name Assadua evoving from the Asaa tree, relates to the gay and pleasant nature of the dance. The Asaa is a sweet fruit tree commonly found in forest region of Ghana. One therefore would be tempted to conclude that Asaadua is a dance for sheer enjoyment and pleasure.

  • Instrumentation
  • Nnawuta Double Bell
  • Firikyiwa Pod Bell
  • Adawura Slit Bell
  • Torowa Rattle
  • Donno Hour glass drum
  • Tamalin x 3 Small, medium and large.


Fontomfrom or Bomaa is the most complex of all musical types of the Akan of Ghana. It is a series of warrior dances that are performed in religious, ceremonial and social contexts at the courts of chiefs.



Kete is commonly found in the royal courts of traditional Akan communities. It is performed in the courts of every chief whose status entitles him to be carried in a palanquin. The music therefore can be heard on state occasions and festivals. There are three parts of the performance: Drum music, pipe interludes, and vocal counterpart of the pipe tunes. At least, eight pieces are played during a performance. These pieces are identified by the general name for the type of drumming and dancing, by name of its usual context, function or general character, by name commemorative of an event, or by name indicative of the participants. Adaban also called Topre is used when the chief has to perform the ceremonial “shooting dance”. Apente is used mostly for processions.



Form of drumming and dance at one time popular throughout the Akan area. The dance was descibed to me by my teacher a ‘haughty’. It laughs at the Ashatis that come back from the south. Met white people and now think they are better than the rest of us. They are ‘haughty’. The dance show how they walk with their walking sticks and umbrellas.


Sanga is one of recreational musical types of the Ashanti-Akan of Ghana. The instruments used in this ensemble and their specific rhythms suggest northern Ghana, Dagbamba origins. The dance may be called a “chase” – it is gay and flirtatious. The women dancers wear bustles to attract the men.


Sikyi is a recreational music and dance of the youth of Ashanti. It originated in the 1920s but became very popular around Ghana’s Independence in 1957. It is performed in the vein of Kpanlongo of the Ga of Accra and Boboobo of the Northern Ewe of the Volta Region of Ghana. Sikyi is seen principally at social gatherings where the youth solely express themselves in courtship. It is flirtatious in character. Its characteristic form is the strutting and bobbing up and down and a display of theatrical elegance.


Ashanti: Culture


The Ashantis inhabit the central and Southern Ghana.


Nyame is their god their one supreme being. Never worshiped directly but through deities, cults and totems. Various attributes of Supreme Being are personified in objects. Moon Goddess Given birth to all men. Sky God Father God, who made the world with his hands. Sun God Male aspect of the moon. All these Gods are seen through trees, rivers rocks etc.


Festivals affirming values of the society, strengthening bonds.

Traditional Powers:

Akan system resolves around the chief based on a matriarchal lineage system. Succession to property as well as political office through the matrilineal line. Elders are councilors to the chief. The chiefs ruling over the clan being the administrators, religious head and military head. Present day they are administrators and custodians of the land. Conflicts at a public and private level are settled in arbitration courts instituted by the chiefs and the elders.

Music :

Music permeates all cultural activities of Akans from cradle to death. Marking all stages of life. Birth, puberty, adulthood, marriage, initiation rites, death. Religious rites, recreation, economic activities and political situations.


Language  is Akan which is divided into Ashanti, Fante Akuapem, Akyem and Kwayu, the written from is Twi.


Economically very diverse. Coastal Fantes depend on fishing, further inland. Farming coco, citrus, gold mining, timber production, modern commerce. Kente cloth Adinkra, carving, bronze.

Kente Cloth:

In Ghana traditional weaving is done by men of the Ewe and Ashanti tribes. Who is more innovative depends on your source of information. The Ewe migrated from the north and their famous weaving villages are in the Volta Region along the path of migration. Ewe work is distinguished by animal, human and symbolic patterns woven into the cloth. The Ashanti are located in the Central Region and are known for their traditional crafts. Ashanti cloth is usually geometric in design. Both groups excel at weaving cloth fit for a king, and originally Kente was only worn by kings, chiefs or people in very prominent positions. Now, it is available to all, but because of its expense, it is still the cloth of prestige.


Adinkra is a type of cloth made by the Ashanti people of Ghana with a thick black plant dye. The dyers use stamps carved from calabash to cover cloth with patterns. There are over a hundred patterns referring to Ashanti proverbs, historic people, animals and events.Adinkra is traditionally worn at funerals and at times of mourning. Adinkra printed on black, brown, red, or purple cloth is worn from the period from death to the burial of the deceased person. Adinkra on white is worn for the post-burial celebration.Adinkra is a printed or stamped traditional cloth made by the Ashanti people in Ghana. The centre of production is the village of Ntonso, where the cloth has been made for a long time, though no-one knows how long. When the printers are asked, they say, “we Ashanti don’t use dates or numbers. It was a long, long time ago.”Adinkra is a printed or stamped traditional cloth made by the Ashanti people in Ghana. The centre of production is the village of Ntonso, where the cloth has been made for a long time, though no-one knows how long. When the printers are asked, they say, “we Ashanti don’t use dates or numbers. It was a long, long time ago.”At one time, Adinkra cloth was only worn for funerals. The fabric you wore, and how you wore it, depended on your relationship to the deceased, and the symbols on the clothes contained messages in their patterns. Nowadays Adinkra cloth is used for other celebrations, and young Ghanaians wear white Adinkra for weddings. The fabric can only be used for special occasions, however, as it is not designed to be washed! The garments are dyed black with the boiled-up roots of the Kuntunkuni tree. These trees only grow on the northern savannah and the women have to travel out to markets in northern villages to buy the roots. The garments are dipped, soaked, and left to dry until they are black; it can take ten dippings for a pale-coloured garment. The dye for the stamps is made from the bark of the Badie tree. The bark has to be softened in water, pounded all day, and then boiled until a thick brown dye is produced. This thick, syrupy dye is called ‘medicine’ or ‘adinkra aduru’.The carver cuts the stamp out of the bottom of a calabash piece (a calabash is a type of gourd). The stamps measure about five or eight centimetres square. They have a handle on the back, and the stamp itself is slightly curved, so that the dye can be put on with a rocking motion. There are more than 70 different stamps, all with their own meaning. They represent the proverbs, beliefs and hopes of the printer and of the person wearing the garment.The cloth is stretched flat across planks padded with flax, and then nailed down. Then the fabric is divided into sections using a large, wooden comb dipped in dye. Next the symbols are printed into the sections. The printer dips the stamps into the pot of dye, whips off excess dye and stamps the fabric with a quick rolling motion to ensure the dye goes on evenly. The printers make no measurements or plans, but instead hold in their memories special patterns and formats. For each garment, they choose designs and stamps that they like, and a message which they wish to convey.When the garment has dried, it is ready to wear – but the dyes used will run in water and fade in the sun. Because of this, the cloths need to be redyed again and again.

Lobi Musicians: Kakraba

Mobile_29_April_09_015Kakraba Lobi was born in Kalba Suru in the Lobil Brifo and Dagara area of Upper West Region of Ghana.
As a child Kakraba was taught how to play the pentatonic wooden gyil xylophone by his father. The gyil xylophone occupies a central place in community life and is played at weddings, funerals and festival dances. The instruments are played alone, in pairs, or in ensembles with singers and drummers. In the 1950s Kakraba went to Accra, where he performed in programs for Radio Ghana and in 1957 he met Professor Nketia, who offered him a teaching position at the Institute of African Studies where he was a full-time teacher until 1987. Over the years, he has been a guest lecturer in Germany, Japan, Scandinavia, the U.S. and Africa, which has resulted in creating hundreds of gyil disciples worldwide, especially in Japan. In 2000 Kakraba released the ‘Song of Legaa’ CD followed in 2004 by the ‘Song of Niira’. In both he was accompanied and produced by Valery Naranjo and Barry Olsen and the CD was released on the Kaleidoscope Sound label in the United States. Kakraba’s son,S.K., has also become an excellent gyil player and is a member of Hewale Sounds.

Lobi Musical Instruments: Gyile

14_Key_ProThe instrument is made with 14 wooden keys of an African hardwood called liga attached to a wooden frame, below which hang calabash gourds. Spider web silk covers small holes in the gourds to produce a buzzing sound, and antelope sinew and leather are used for the fastenings. The instrument is played by striking the keys with wooden mallets with rubber heads. The instrument is generally played by men, who learn to play while young, however, there is no restriction on gender. The gyil is usually played in pairs, accompanied by a calabash gourd drum called a kuor. It can also be played by one person with the drum and the stick part as accompaniment, or by a soloist.