Don't Miss Out On One Of
West Africa's Coolest Drumming Styles!
Authentic Ewe drumming at a funeral
in Atsiekpui, Volta Region, Ghana
Have you heard of Ewe drumming yet? No?! Oh boy, you are missing out
on one of West Africa's coolest drumming styles!
My first encounter with it was in a church in Ghana's capital city
Accra: One after
another, the long master drum sent rolling thunders through the
building that made my bones shake and my jaw drop. How cool was that!
Nowadays, amazing neo-traditional groups incorporate this
drumming style into their music and tour the globe. It is even taught
Universities all over the world.
But none of this comes close to experiencing it during a traditional
event in an Ewe village!
are an African ethnic group that occupies the area on both sides of the border between Ghana and Togo.
Ewe Music, Rhythms & Dances
the Ewe of both nations share much of the same traditional rhythms and
But the various villages like to compete against each other by
improving their drumming. So, the same rhythm may be played slightly
different in one village compared to another.
Excellent compilation of Ewe music!
Available on CD or MP3.
Some Ewe rhythms and songs are highly religious, especially the ones of
the Yeve cult, that worships the God of thunder.
Other traditional pieces talk about the
history and remarkable events of the Ewe people or just provide fun
entertainment like Agbadza.
If ever you visit Ghana, take a trip to the Volta Region. With a bit of
luck, you'll find a funeral, wedding, or other meeting going on in a
nearby village. Those are
the opportunities to witness authentic Ewe drumming.
But don't worry. This wonderful recording of Ewe music is available on
the international market if you can't make it to Ghana.
Ewe Drum Set & Instruments
The Ewe have one of Africa's most remarkable drums: the Atsimevu, a
master drum with a length of 5 - 6 feet! It has to be leaned
to be played. But a typical ensemble consists of
various drums and supporting
instruments. Not all of them are used in every traditional piece
The drums are made like old wooden barrels and usually beautified and
protected with colorful oil paint. Antelope skin is stretched over the
mouth and attached to pegs:
is the father
(sometimes grandfather). As the
master drum, he is
in charge of everything. He gives signals to start or stop, to change
the rhythm or introduce a new move. He stands out with a thunder
voice, complex cross rhythms and improvisations. But instead
the family, he assures that every member is
is the elder brother
(or sometimes the father). In
some pieces, he plays the same support role as Kidi. But
he's able to
take over the
role of the master drum whenever needed.
is the mother and plays
the supporting role. She "talks" and responds to the master drum and
sometimes improvises on their
little conversation a bit.
Tototzi are the
brothers. They are exactly the same in size and shape. The only
difference between them is the tuning.
is the baby brother. He
always plays the same simple rhythm throughout the whole piece without
is not part of the
original family. I like to think of him as the uncle. This bass drum
was invented in the
1950's for a then newly composed piece.
In addition, these two idiophones are always present: the Gankogui and the Axatse.
The "character" of each "family member" even becomes obvious
in what's called:
Most African languages are tonal. In a tonal language, the "melody" of
a word is just as important as the word itself. This is why many
African instruments can actually speak the people's language by playing
different sounds at different pitches.
So, what you think is just a rhythm, is actually a little conversation
between the members of the drum family. A great example of this is the
war dance called Agbekor:
The father Atsimevu calls:
Tso tso avawovi, mitso ne mia
alidzi, kple dzidodo; tso, tso, tso, avagbedzi nya de dzo.
stand up, warriors! You stand up and gird your waists. With courage,
stand up, stand up, stand up! Hear of the battlefield; something has
The baby Kagan endlessly repeats the fathers words:
You stand up, you stand up!
mother, Kidi, does not want to see war. She says:
Kpo afe godzi
Turn to see homeward, let's go back home.
The twin brothers pay her
no mind and encourage each other to go on. Kroboto says:
Gbedzi ko ma do
I will die in the bush, at the battlefield.
and Tototzi supports him
The dancers follow the father's words and
carry through the fight.
Conclusion & Resource
It's in John Chernoff's insightful book African
Rhythm and African Sensibility that I found
the meaning of this drum
about such things makes listening to Ewe drumming even more
But even with no deeper knowledge about African drumming, Ewe drumming
is amazing to
watch and never sounds monotonous. And if you learn to play yourself,
you'll face a fun challenge of polymeters and cross rhythms!