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Singing Band

The Singing Band group performing in pews in the Ebenezer Methodist Church in Anomabu
The Singing Band of the Ebenezer Methodist Church, Anomabu

I would estimate that approximately 50% of the residents of Anomabu would identify their primary religious orientation as Christian. The oldest surviving Christian congregation in Anomabu is the Ebenezer Methodist Church, founded by Wesleyan missionaries who arrived in the 1830s. There is also a large Catholic congregation, as well as several Pentecostal churches. Both the Methodist and Catholic churches operate private primary and junior secondary schools in town, so both institutions are well established in the community. All churches and affiliated schools are run entirely by Ghanaians–there were no resident missionaries of European descent living in Anomabu at the time of my visits.

The structure of the service in these mainstream sects of Christianity is quite close to what we are familiar with in America. It should come as no surprise that the music used in these services is structurally and aesthetically influenced by western models, although texts for the service proper and the hymns are in Fante. The western character of the music heard in these churches helps to clearly differentiate these religious communities from indigenous ones. Drums are either absent or few in number, and when present are modeled after western bass drums or Latin American congas, not indigenous Fante drums (although the hourglass dondo drum is frequently used). Singing is often in two or more parts, and a western-influenced vocal quality is preferred. Hymns are composed by Ghanaians trained in Western music theory and composition, and who write melodies and chord progressions that are not unfamiliar to the Western ear.

Ebenezer Methodist Church, built in 1892, supports two choral groups, the musically literate “Choir,” who sing out of hymnals, and the musically illiterate “Singing Band,” which specializes in singing non-liturgical inspirational spirituals and anthems. Members of the former group most likely learned their music reading skills while attending church-run secondary schools. Singing Band members, on the whole, probably did not get that far in their schooling and thus must learn their music by rote. During the two services I attended at Ebenezer Methodist Church, I would estimate that over half the people in attendance were members of one or the other of the two choral groups.

In the context of such Christian church services, music serves two clear functions: 1) it promotes communal engagement in the participants’ weekly reaffirmation of belief in the church’s dogma; and 2) it sets off, in no uncertain stylistic terms, this institution from traditional Fante religious institutions and practices such as akom. From interactions I had with members of Anomabu’s Christian community, I sensed in them a strong self-image of social and spiritual superiority over their animistic neighbors. In public displays of group identity, such as funerals, Christians seem to prefer distancing themselves from traditional practices. They do this symbolically by electing to play cassette recordings of commercially produced inspirational popular music over PA systems rather than hiring a traditional musical group, which in their eyes is automatically associated with less enlightened segments of the community.

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