Mpe – Asem

MPE-ASEM is a xylophone, and percussion band, composing new music from the folk root of UK and Ghana. They mix three xylophones, percussion and drumming to create a magical mix that touches your soul and grooves your body.

MPE-ASEM is from the Ashanti language Twi, translated means ‘do not court trouble’, or ‘no worries’. It is the name of the village in the North of Accra, Ghana where I first learned the xylophone.

The band is led by Ben Lawrence. He was the percussionist and ‘cellist with the folk group ‘Aberjaber’ and the ensemble ‘Drum Orchestra’. In the early 80’s studied at Dartington College of Arts, then trained as a Community Musician setting up Community Music Wales. In the early 90’s he studied drumming and xylophone for a year in West Africa, now returning annually to Ghana, learning from some of Ghana’s leading performers and teachers. He is also the director of Ghana Goods, importing and selling musical instruments and a renowned teacher running music workshops across the country for over twenty years.

The band also includes:

  • Xylophonist and percussionist – Victoria Gater
  • ‘Cellist, xylophonist and Percussionist – Chris Hurn
  • Xylophone and Gome – Nick Clough
  • Xylophone, drums and percussion – Anna Sayeda

In 2010 they released their first album ‘No Worries’ . The album has been played on BBC Radio 3s’ Late Junction and highly reviewed in ‘Folk Roots’.

  • 1. MPE-ASEM. Composed by Ben in praise of his first teacher and xylophone maker, Christopher Doozie. In 1993 Ben would walk through the bush every day to his lesson at Christophers’ village MPE-ASEM, Accra, Ghana. Translated MPE-ASEM means ‘court no trouble’ or in modern times ‘no worries’.
  • 2. SONZAHI Composed by Ben. This is the first piece that he played and performed with his four year old son, Sonzahi, which translates in Guro (Ivory Coast) as ‘prosperity in life’. The piece starts with a short ‘piri’, where the soloist shows their skills.
  • 3. LOBI / ENSA NE DOME A medley of two Ghanaian Dances. ‘Lobi’ from the Lobi tribe and ‘Ensa ne dome’, from the Dagaare tribe. ‘Ensa ne dome’ translates as ‘since my parents gave birth to me, I have never done anything wrong’.
  • 4. KWABENA . Based on a hi life composition ‘Cat and Mouse’ by the late Kakraba Lobi. Ben learnt it from him in the mid 1990s. Subsequently Ben took out a bit of the Lobi and added a little more hi life. He named it after his son, meaning ‘Tuesday born’ who arrived at the time it was composed.
  • 5. & 6. IFE & KUMO . Composed by Ben after his twin daughters.. They share the same harmonic and melodic patterns but Ife’s basic rhythmic unit is three and Kumo’s is four. They are Yoruba names, Ife meaning ‘love’, and Kumo, ‘the one that will not die’.
  • 1. SISAALA. The Sisaala are a tribe from North West Ghana. As with the Lobi and Dagaare, their musical culture is strongly linked to the xylophone. Other versions of this traditional piece can be heard on recording by the Pan African Orchestra from the mid 1980’s and by SK Kakraba in 2009.
  • 2. LAMBADA . Ben learnt this piece sitting in his music stall at ‘Tribe of Doris’ festival in the late 1990s. Paulinus Bozie was teaching it to a group of fresh xylophonists. This is what he remembers from that class, with a decade and a half worth of alterations. Great to teach as it has many of the classic elements of African music: a bass, the feel of 3 with 2, the feel of 3 with 4, and an improvised tune crossing everything rhythmically.
  • 3. AGBADZA is a traditional drumming piece from the Ewe tribe in South East Ghana .It is common for drummers to take these rhythms and compose a piece just with bells. Ben has done the same here for the xylophone. The music starts with the classic African feel of 3 with 4, the lead xylophone keeping this feel throughout. Other parts enter imitating the bell, shaker and support drums.
  • 10. BOBORBOR Composed by Ben, and rhythmically based on the Ewe dance from the 1960s’ Boborbor, which translates as ‘go down’ or ‘go down and dance on it’. Each hand of the support xylophonists enters one at a time playing the parts of the stick drum, bell, lead grove and upbeat. Then the drum and lead xylophones enter playing out traditional and new grooves as tunes. A classic Ghanaian harmony structure of
    High – Low – High – High – Low – High – Low – Low is used throughout.
  • MPE – ASEM is from the Ashanti language Twi, its English translation is ‘do not court trouble’, or in modern times ‘no worries’. It is also the name of a style of drumming and dancing from the Old Ashanti Courts called Kete, as well as being the name of the village in the North of Accra where Ben first learned the xylophone.


Ghana has four traditions of xylophone music: the Dagaare and the Lobi tribes who call their instruments Gyile, the Sisaala Tribe who call their instruments Jengsi and the more recent and as yet unnamed ‘hi life’ xylophonists, who play music harmonically and rhythmically across tribal and international boundaries. All the xylophones are tuned to a pentatonic (5 note) scales. All the traditional scales are based on the singing styles of each particular tribe which may vary from village to village. The ‘Hi Life’ xylophones are usually tuned to ACDEG or ABDEG.