Song Texts

For many of the audio examples associated with the ensemble entries found in the “Spheres of Music Making” section of this site, transcriptions and translations (with some explication) of song text fragments are provided. Many of these texts will make little if any sense to someone from outside the Anomabu community. Within single performances a number of tunes might be presented that are not textually linked to one another–one song might deal with traditional morals as expressed through proverbs, a second commenting on a recent or past event of local significance, and another poking fun at someone present at the event in which the performance is embedded. A typical performance by a group will consist of several short songs strung together, each song repeated several times according to the whim of the group cantor/lead singer. While church hymns of western origin or inspiration seem to be used in any sort of ensemble associated with a Christian institution (singing bands, brass bands, the Awerekyekyer organization), I suspect that other tunes/texts can be performed by a variety of groups, each one adapting a song to the stylistic peculiarities of its genre.

One aspect of enduring interest in the study of many African musics is the effect of tonal and rhythmic qualities of speech on various aspects of musical performance. One practice the Fante and other Akan peoples are famous for is their talking drum tradition in which the tonal and rhythmic character of well known texts can be approximated to such a degree that a knowledgeable listener can recognize the text in the drumming. Texts or text fragments can be delivered on a pair of differently tuned drums (such as the atumpan), on a single variable-pitch pressure drum, on a two-pitch horn (aben), or on two or more single-pitch horns performing in hocket (as in the mmensoun ensemble discussed below).

The speech rhythm and tonal contour of texts also contributes to the shaping of the sung melodies that carry the texts. To a speaker of an Akan language, a sung text that clearly reflects the high and low tones and the long and short syllables of the spoken text will always be more comprehensible than one that does not. Therefore it is unavoidable that certain qualities of spoken language should contribute to the melodic styles heard among the Fante and various other Akan peoples.

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