Fontomfrom

Fontomfrom of Chief Nana Baisie IV  stand under an awning outdoors
Fontomfrom of Chief Nana Baisie IV

Modern-day Ghanaian society, with its parliamentary government, judiciary, and military, still allows for the existence of traditional chiefs among its many ethnic groups. In fact, most small scale claims involving land issues or domestic disputes are mediated by village, district, or regional chiefs. One prerogative of chieftaincy is the right to own certain kinds of music ensembles and have them accompany your appearance during festival processions, durbars, funerals of other chiefs, and your own funeral. One such royal ensemble is the fontomfrom. Whether played in a stationary position or beaten during a procession, the sound of this purely instrumental ensemble informs everyone within earshot that an important individual is present.

Nana Baisie IV seated in his palace
Nana Baisie IV seated in his palace

The fontomfrom ensemble documented here belongs to Nana Baisie IV, chief of Amoanda. Amoanda is a small village in the Anomabu Traditional Area located a few

The decorated entryway to the Palace of Amoanda with waving people in the doorway
The decorated entryway to the Palace of Amoanda

miles inland from Anomabu. (map) Although Nana Baisie’s predecessors might have had musicians in the immediate area of Amoanda they could call on to perform their fontomfrom drums, the current chief must engage drummers with no direct connection to his realm when he

Mr Francis Eku performing on the fromkasi, part of the fontomfrom set belonging to the Chief of Amoanda for a gathered crowd
Mr. Francis Eku (left) performing on the fromkasi, part of the fontomfrom set belonging to the Chief of Amoanda

participates in large events. For this recording session, Mr. Francis Eku of Mankessim (which is not a part of the Anomabu traditional Area) was called in to perform and bring with him the necessary musicians–and this is what Nana Baisie would have to do if he wanted his fontomfrom drums played behind him in a procession of chiefs. Mr. Eku is perhaps typical of present-day royal drummers in that he did not come from a family with this specialty. Rather, any interested child as young as six or seven can receive instruction from an experienced fontomfrom player or group, and once he becomes proficient he can freelance. While musicians such as Mr. Eku learn how to perform royal music, at the same time they might not have learned some of the more esoteric knowledge associated with the skill that a specialist would pass on only to another family member. For example, Mr. Eku knows that all the pieces he plays with his group have names, but he does not know those names.

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