The seprewa or sankwa harp-lute is an instrument that was widely used in the Ashanti
and Brong Regions. It was first introduced into Ghana in 1740 when the Ashantis defeated
the Gyaman State in what is now Cote d’Ivoire. This Gyaman court instrument and its one-legged player were taken as war booty to Kumasi, where it became a favourite instrument (sika sankwa) of the Asantehene. Use of the instrument later spread throughout even the smallest villages, where it became associated
with funeral appellations, pa1rnwine drinking, and philosophical/moral commentary.
However, from the 1930s popularity ofthe instrument began to die out so Professor Nketia and Koo Nimo arranged for it to be taught by Osei Koranyke at the University of Ghana, beginning in 1990. Osei is from the western part of Ashanti and was taught the six-stringed seprewa harp-lute by his grandfather when he was eight years old. He is now reviving interest in the instrument.
Aaron Bebe Sukura was born in 1970 in the village ofTanchara in Ghana’s Upper
West Region and has been playing the local gyil (wooden xylophone), which he
learned from his father. Later, he moved to Accra where he began teaching music
at the University of Ghana.
Bebe Sukura is also an accomplished player of the mbira (Zimbabwean handpiano)
and seprewa harp-lute, the traditional Akan instrument whose’ odonson’ style was incorporated into highlife in the1920s and 30s.
He has played with the Novisi Dance Group, Ghana Dance Ensemble, Pan African Orchestra, Local Dimension Highlife Band, Abibigromma Theater Company of the University School for the Performing Arts and Hewale Sounds.
Kakraba Lobi was born in Kalba Suru in the LobilBrifo 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.
Born in the Ga village of Avenor near Accra in 1942, Mustapha and his brothers, Jacob, Emma and Obo learned traditional music from their father, who was a traditional Wonche
or Akon priest in the early 1960s.
Mustapha and his brothers were involved in the creation of the Ga recreational kpanlogo drum-dance and Mustapha also began working as a master drummer at the School of Performing Arts, University of Ghana. In the late 1960s he began to tour internationally,
and between 1972 and 1981 he released seven albums on the British Tangent, French Arion and German Insel Hombroich labels.
In 1982 Mustapha moved back to Ghana, where he established the Royal Obonu Drummers and in 1988 he founded the Academy of Music and Arts (AAMA) in the beach village of Kokrobite near Accra. This hotel and drum center became a major focus in Ghana for international visitors, musicians and students. AAMA was the first of what has become a large number of private drum and dance centers that are helping to boost Ghanaian Tourism.
Between 1990 and 1999, he released six albums on the German Weltwunder label, including the important “The Royal Drums of Ghana “. In 1992-93 he and his Obonu Drummers played at various WOMAD (World Music and Dance) festivals around the globe. Through his records, international tours and AAMA drum center, Mustapha has become a major player in spreading Ghanaian drum culture internationally.
Nii Noi was born in Accra in 1953. In the 1980s he spent time in London, where he played saxophone with Dade Krama and the reggae band, Misty-In-Roots. In 1988 he returned to Ghana and in the 1990s he set upMau Mau Musiki, consisting of traditional African flutes, hand-pianos flutes percussion instruments, wooden xylophones, blown conch-shells and double-reed North African al-gaita. The group worked with Ghanaba and in 1992 with the Pharoah Saunders Quintet. The group is now known as Muziki w’Afrika and plays a combination of traditional African music and free-jazz. NU Noi Nortey is also Director of the Anyah Arts Library in Accra, which has a wide collection of music, books and art pieces.
Danso Abiam, who was trained at a French music conservatory, taught at the University of Ghana from 1979-1984, and while there, he devised a chromatic fingering system for the local atenteben bamboo flute. He was later selected as Director of Ghana’s National Symphony Orchestra.
He founded the 48-piece Pan-African Orchestra (PAO) in 1988 to develop an Afro-centric system of making symphonic music. It uses solely African instruments, which are organized into symphonic-like sections and led by a conductor (i.e Nana Danso). Its creations are presented in an artistic, rather than dance music, context. The orchestra’s repertoire includes Nana’s own compositions and his arrangements of traditional songs,
as well as highlife, Afro-rock and Fela-Kuti’ s Afro-beat, After performing at the 1994 World Music and Dance (WOMAD) festival in Britain, the orchestra recorded at Peter Gabriel’s Real World Studio in the west of England. In 1996 the resulting CD entitled ‘Opus One’ went to the top of the international New World Music Charts for six weeks.
In 2001 and in collaboration with the UK-based dance company,Adzido, the PAO toured the UK with the musical play’ YaaAsantewaa – Warrior Queen’ written by Ghanaian Margaret Busby and directed by West Indian Geraldine O’Connor. In 2003 the PAO collaborated with the Nigerian Kora player, Tunde Jegede. Nana Danso’s current project is to establish
Saka is a well-known Ghanaian musician, sculptor and dramatist, who was born in Accra in 1923. He learned to play saxophone in the 1950s and was Tempos highlife dance band. Saka helped King Bruce found the Black Beats highlife dance band in 1952. He left for the United States to do further art studies and while in Philadelphia he formed the West African Ensemble that made an album.
Saka returned to Ghana in 1961 and formed the African Tones band and dance group that toured Russia. He was appointed as Head of the Arts Council from 1968-72 and during that period, his musical play, “The Lost Fishermen” was produced and the popular Saturday Anansekrom (variety) programs were initiated.
In the early 1970s Saka discovered Nii Ashitey’s talented Ga group, Wulomei, and he and Kwadwo Donkor helped produce the group’s first record ‘Walatu Walasa ‘, Saka was also involved as one of the Ghana organizers of the ‘Soul to Soul’ concert at Black Star Square in 1971 that brought many top American acts to Ghana, including Wilson Pickett, the Voices of East Harlem, the Staple Singers, Ike & Tina Turner, Roberta Flack, Les McCann, Eddie Harris and Santana.
After the Djembe drum, the Kpanlogo drum is perhaps the most popular and widely played of all West African drums.
Kpanlogo drumming, a traditional type of drum-dance music, was created by Otoo Lincoln, who composed well-known tunes like’Kpanlogo Alogodzan’, ‘ABC Kpanlogo’ & ‘Ayinle Momobiye ‘. Otoo was born in the Korle Wokon district of Accra in 1941
and learned Ga drumming from his family. He obtained the name ‘kpanlogo’ when he used the new beat he was creating to perform an old Ga folktale his grandfather told him
44 about, which involved three Ga princesses calledKpanlogo, Alogodzan &
Otoo Lincoln and a group of boys from the Bukom area of Accra (Frank Lane, Okule Foes and other members of the Black Eagles dance club) created the youthful Ga kpanlogo drum-dance during the early 1960s by combining older Ga fishermen-styles of music, such as the kolomashie. gome, and oge with highlife or even rock ‘n’ roll dance movements. Because of kpanlogo’s supposedly ‘indecent’ movements, it was banned for a while
before it was again in vogue in 1965. Except for a small copyright payment to Otoo in the 1990s, Otoo has never received the financial rewards for having created what has become Ghana’s most internationally-acclaimed drumming style.
Kwadwo Donkor was born in Ashanti in 1934 and attended Cape Coast’s prestigious Mfantsipim schools where, incidentally, he was Kofi Annan’s house-prefect. Between 1956-59 he studied history at the University of Ghana and was encouraged to use his piano skills for highIife by a group of university lecturers, which had formed the Achimota African Music Society (J.H.K. Nketia, Robert Sprigge, Ephraim Amu, and E.F. Collins).
As a pianist and highIife composer, Kwadwo Donkor, produced 20 albums 48 and numerous singles since 1958 with his APEMCO recording label and J\BJBIRAM publishing company.
From 1958 Kwadwo branched out into producing singles by guitar bands, such as E.K Nyame, Kwabina Okai, the Kumasi Youngsters and Kofi Djan, and by swing-jazz and calypso-influenced big bands ofE. T.Mensah’s Tempos and King Bruce’s Black Beats, – and Uhuru, with whom he later released a full album of his own compositions entitled ‘Big Sounds of Africa’.
Kwadwo produced and composed music as well as maintained a full-time career in the Ghanaian diplomatic service.
In the 1970s Kwadwo produced a live album of the 1972 National Brass Band Competition, released albums for the Ogyataana Band (including Obra Mu M’Asem) and a piano medley called ‘Ray Ellis Plays Highlife’.
During this period, Kwadwo also produced’ Ga Cultural Groups’ that played Ga folk tunes and local Accra street highlife. One was Wulomei, which he helped discover (with Saka Acquaye) and released its album ‘Walatu Walasa’; another was Dzadzeloi and its ‘Two Paddy Follow One Girl’ hit. He also used Uhuru to back flautist Oscar Sulley Braima with singer Eddie Ntreli in an Afro-beat/rock album entitled Oscar Sulley and the
By the mid 1980s, Kwadwo set up his Abokyi Parts highlife dance band, which has made three albums. In 2000 Kwadwo became a Trustee of the newly-established Ghana Association of Phonographic Industries.