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Instrumental Resources

Fante instruments categorized in major groups of idiophones, membraphones, and aerophones

In addition to the human voice, the instrumentarium used in Fante ensembles is dominated by membranophones and idiophones–only a few aerophones (many of them of European origin) are used, and I know of no indigenous Fante chordophones. There is not a single traditional Fante instrument other than the voice that is designed or used to produce melody, although some churches make use of electric organs and portable synthesizer keyboards.

A variety of idiophones (used primarily for time keeping) exists, including struck metal bells and plaques in a wide variety of forms, concussion sticks, handclapping, and struck gourd rattles with external beads. Maraca-like rattles with internal seeds are found in a few ensembles. An intriguing surrogate drum is found in one ensemble–a wooden crate sounded by striking select areas with the fist and open palm.

The many types of membranophones used by the Fante can be seen as variations on four basic drum designs. First there are single headed drums with some variant of barrel, goblet or conical shaped bodies that are open at the bottom end of their shells. On most drums of this type (with the exception of the conical-shaped ones) the head is stretched over a hoop that in turn in laced around several tuning pegs that perforate the body of the drum near its playing end. Such drums are played with the hands, sticks, or both. A second basic design is the double-headed, hourglass shaped drum with lacing running the length of the drum’s body. The shape of the body and the positioning of the lacing allow the drummer, who squeezes the drum with one arm, to produce rising and falling pitch inflections when beating on just one of the heads with a single curved stick beater. The rectangular-shaped frame drum played with an open palm is a third distinctive drum design. The final form of drum is a western-modeled, double-headed cylindrical drum. Smaller versions (snare drum size or smaller) are held vertically on the player’s lap so that one of the heads can be struck with a single stick beater, or horizontally and played with a pair of stick beaters. Western-style bass drums are also found.

The primary aerophone instrument of the Fante is a side blown horn made from wood or ivory. It is used in two ways: alone, as a speech surrogate instrument; and in a set of seven (each capable of producing a single pitch) as part of an ensemble. A single-pitch tin whistle, used as a time-keeping instrument, is found in one particular ensemble. Imported western valve and slide brass instruments have probably been present in this part of Ghana since at least the end of the nineteenth century.

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