Academic journal article Journal of Pan African Studies

Review and Reflections: Music and Dance Traditions of Ghana

Academic journal article Journal of Pan African Studies

Review and Reflections: Music and Dance Traditions of Ghana

Article excerpt


The music of Africa is an oral tradition that has existed since the beginning of time. Any society that is totally dependent upon oral communication for the transmission of its culture between generations is doomed to failure because of outside interpretation and the breakdown of the human memory over the course of time. Therefore any written documentation on these oral traditions is welcomed. Furthermore, Music and Dance Traditions of Ghana History, Performances and Teaching by Paschal Yao Younge (Jefferson, NC: MacFarland & Company, 2011, pp.466) addresses both Ghanaian music and dance, not just the music as other writings offer, and finally it is welcomed because it is written by an African, considering that the primary sources of written literature on African music available to educators of my generation were the writings of missionaries, hence, outside interpretation.

Younge's work is basically divided into seven parts, namely Dance-Drumming of Southeastern Ewes; Dance-Drumming of Central and Northern Ewes; Dance-Drumming of the Gas; Dance-Drumming of the Akans; Dance-Drumming of the Dagbambas; Song and Percussion Scores and Teaching African Music and Dance-Drumming with 404 photos, an ye-catching section of 25 color photos, maps, a glossary, a bibliography, and an index.

Historical Context

The teaching of oral art forms has been of great interest to African people in general, and Ghanaians in particular. It has also been a source of concern as to how to effectively teach it particularly in the Western world because African music is largely percussive, and the Western system of notation does not lend itself to the sounds and nuances of African percussion instruments. Hence, those who have applied the Western system of notation to African instruments have felt its limitations, because African music and dance are not supported by written documentation, and thus they cannot be assessed for validity and do not conform to test which is problematic for courses in African music and dance in the academy.

Retrospectively, in the early seventies in an African music rostrum, held in Ghana, under the aegis of the International Music Council and UNESCO to search for a method to write percussion music so Africans could share their music with other Africans. In this conference there were a number of recommendations put forth to resolve the situation and transfer African music and other aspects of the culture, such as dance, from oral traditions into written documents so African music could take its rightful place in academic institutions. It has been almost forty years since this conference. Therefore, I am looking for follow up evidence on these important recommendations put forth by Ghanaians that effectively preserve and document Ghanaian oral culture for the future.

Accordingly, the Ewe music of Ghana is the foundation upon which the field of ethnomusicology was constructed, and thus there have been more investigations into the Ewe music of Ghana than any other music in Africa. Ghana was the first country south of the Sahara to gain its independence with Kwame Nkrumah as the first president who was important in establishing the University of Ghana in various regions. Hence, Arts Councils were also created under his aegis, and at the University of Ghana at Legon African music and dance was a part of the curriculum which included the offering of a diploma and certificate courses and later degree courses wherein all students had to participate in African studies in order to graduate. Thus, the University of Ghana at Legon became the focal place to study traditional African music and dance.

The visionary behind Ghanaian dance was the late professor Albert Mawere Opoku. He was summoned in 1962 to the University to teach courses on traditional Ghanaian dances as well as to create a national dance ensemble for the country. He did and he was extremely successful with both, and thus a pioneer in African dance education in Ghana and in the United States. …

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