Kete – Dance & Music of the Akan People of Ghana

This is an example of Kete. Kete is dance and music of the Akan people of West Africa. The following was taken from Kwabena Nketia’s, Drumming in Akan Communities of Ghana.

While apirede is generally considered a ‘fearful’ dance, kete is described as ‘pleasant and charming’.

There are three parts to the music of Kete : the music of the usual drum ensemble, pipe interludes and free accompaniment, and a vocal counterpart of the pipes. The latter is commonly described as the ‘interpretation’ (nyiano) because the words enable listeners to understand the ‘language’ of the drum or the pipes. In many states, pipe and voice parts are no longer used either for lack of knowledge or lack of pipers. At the Asantehene’s Court, however, the old tradition is still maintained and the orchestra is very much enlarged in accordance with the majesty of the Asantehene as head of the Ashanti region. On important state occasions, seventeen pipes play the preludes to the pieces which in other places are sung, sometimes in an offhand manner.

The drum orchestra includes the following in descending order of pitch (highest to lowest) :

akukuadwo (high-pitched drum) played with two curved sticks
apentemma (same drum as commonly found in other combinations)
played with the hand
bakoma (in the drum orchestras of minor chiefs this is usually absent) played with
curved drumsticks
kwadum (the leading or master drum) played with curved drumsticks

To these are added a donno drum for fullness, a gourd rattle (torowa) and a gong. No other state drum ensemble uses a rattle. The gong of kete (kete dawuro) is of a different shape from that of other state drum ensembles.

Usually one of each drum is used. In the Asantehene’s Court, however, all except the leading drum are augmented : three or four of the first, three of the second and two of the next are used. A special twin donno drum is used. Where more than one drum is used, all the players of one kind of drum play fairly uniform rhythms.

At least eight different pieces are played by kete orchestras. In some places they are known by the common linguistic formulae for the characteristic rhythms of one drum or the resultant rhythms of the combined drums, or by the titles of common song preludes to the different pieces.

The differences between the pieces are very marked except between mpe-asem and adampa which frequently slide into one another in the hands of inexperienced drummers. Each piece has a meaning or is associated with some action or event which makes it more suitable for use in specific situations than in others, although in the absence of such restricting situations, they may all be played for enjoyment or for dancing to.

The piece entitled yetu mpo (we are digging gold) is often used in processions as ‘martial’ music. Its construction is very simple, and most players can play their part with one hand as they carry their drums strapped to their shoulders in the procession. Because of the reference to ‘gold’ in the title, in Ashanti it is considered the most suitable piece to play behind a chief going to greet the Asantehene during a state assembly, for the Asantehene is the ‘occupier’ of the golden stool, the national symbol of the Ashanti nation.

The above is an excerpt taken from Kwabena Nketia’s preeminent work,
“Drumming in Akan Communities of Ghana”.