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.
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
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
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.