Ghana 2015, Week Four: Kete History, Folkloric Rehearsals, and Zongo Festival

 Drumming with the Kokofu Kete Group at a funeral in Bomso, Kumasi. 

Drumming with the Kokofu Kete Group at a funeral in Bomso, Kumasi. 

The origin of Kete is not universally agreed upon. This week, however, fascinating interviews with Kete groups at Tafo and Kokofu - two of the oldest in the Ashanti Region - provided dramatic oral histories on the beginnings of this powerful percussion music. One account described an Ashanti chief at war, beheading the leader of a rival state, and capturing his Kete drums, while another included a lone hunter’s unlikely meeting with supernatural creatures in forest. A fruitful session at the Manhyia Palace Archives provided invaluable secondary sources to crosscheck the recorded oral history stories.

In preparation for a weekend of big concerts, the Cultural Centre’s folkloric group rehearsed vigorously throughout the week. On rehearsal days, the group met on stage at 9:00am, sporting black windbreaker pants and white t-shirts emblazoned with the group’s name, “Amamreso Agofomma.” Rehearsing with the Cultural Centre’s folkloric group over the years has been an excellent venue for my personal growth and development in Ghanaian drum and dance music, and this week’s rehearsals were no exception. We worked on repertoire from the Ashanti region and beyond, including Kete, Fontomfrom, Bamaaya, Agbekor, Togo Atsia, Fume Fume, and even a couple of djembe dance drumming pieces hailing from the area of Mali and Senegal.

The Cultural Centre’s first large performance of the week occurred at the groundbreaking ceremony for the Garden City Mall, soon to be Kumasi’s second large-scale urban shopping complex. Then on Friday, we performed a variety of West African dances at an upscale hotel for the Pharmaceutical Society of Ghana’s Annual Conference. The next day, Attah Poku and I joined the Kokofu Kete Group - one of the groups we had interviewed and recorded earlier in the week - for a performance at a funeral. Finally, on Sunday, the Cultural Centre performed in front of thousands at the Zongo Youth Association’s Annual Gargajiya Festival, a grand durbar of chiefs and people from Ghana’s three Muslim-inhabited northern regions. The festival, quite rowdy at times, was marked by colorful costumes, tasty food, and a drum and dance competition showcasing of the amazingly diverse cultures of Ghana’s northern sector.