THE TIME OF BELLS, 3: MUSICAL BELLS OF ACCRA, GHANA
Produced and annotated by Steven Feld and Nii Noi Nortey
Recorded by Steven Feld and Nana Agazi
The Time of Bells 1 and 2 explored how church, animal, and ceremonial bells ring the time of day and season, ritual and festival, work and collective social life in Italy, Greece, France, Finland, and Norway. Now the project turns to bells as musical instruments in Accra, capital city of Ghana, the former “Gold Coast.”
In Accra one commonly hears musicians instruct that “the bell is the keeper of the time” in traditional drum and dance ensembles. And eminent scholars of Ghana’s music, like J. H. K. Nketia, John Chernoff, and John Collins, have analyzed the authoritative power of rhythm in the interaction of bell and drums. But bells do much more than keep ensemble time. Listen here as bells of different sizes, pitches, and timbres make time multiple. Interacting with voices, wind, string, percussion, and reed instruments - including car horns and jazz saxophone –bells ring the vibrant time of traditional, contemporary, and Pan-African diasporic styles now resounding in Accra.
LA TROTRO DRIVERS UNION POR POR GROUP
Por Por music, invented by prominent timber truck drivers in Accra, dates to 1939-1945. It is played today by La branch drivers in the Ghana Private Road Transport Union who operate trotros, the minibuses that are the heart of Accra's public transport system.
Por Por links two great 20th Century inventions, the motor car and jazz music. The music’s origin story speaks to a time when drivers used the squeeze bulb circular brass car horn brought to Ghana by Indian traders. Along with other instruments, they used this por por horn (pronounced paaw paaw) to scare animals away on forest roads at night as drivers pumped punctured tires. The music developed into a format like the mmenson elephant tusk ensembles of the Akan Kingdom, but with a distinctive tire-pumping dance accompaniment. One also hears resemblances to other African animal horn ensembles, as well as jazz horn riffs.
The Por Por Group also sings tales of life on the road. Their repertory includes diverse rhythms and song types associated with recreation, church, fight, praise, and sorrow. Their reputation is extensive, and they perform at funerals for union drivers throughout Ghana.
Members of the group playing dawuro or gankogui bells and por por are: Quarshie Gene, chairman; P. Ashai Ollennu, vice-chairman and leader; John Boye ‘Hello Joe’ Mensah, Tetteh Klortey, Ashirifie Mensah, Adjetey Sowah, Ibrahim Ako Perkoh, and Gottfried Laryea Mensah.
1. “Fast truck going,” for four bells and four car horns, uses kpanlogo rhythm, the popular style of Ga origin that emerged around Ghana’s independence. After the cadence, the band moves to a faster adowa rhythm (Ga-Akan). [9:07]
2. “M.V. Labadi,” dedicated to the late Ataa Anangbi Anangfio, has John Boye ‘Hello Joe’ Mensah leading a song about the life of drivers on the road. M.V. Labadi, owned by pioneer transport operator Ataa Anangbi Anangfio (pictured left with one of his vehicles in 1950), was a famous trotro on the Accra to Takoradi (Ghana’s first harbor) route in the 1950's and 1960's; it was popular among students and traders. The name M.V. Labadi links Accra’s La(badi) region to the M.V. Aureol, a popular British passenger ship in the 1950's. The piece uses the Ewe agbadza rhythm, and Nii Otoo Annan accompanies the group on sontin adeka (‘something box’), a wooden box seat mbira with three keys. [9:28]
4. The Por Por group’s bells and horns are joined in a kpanlogo jam by Accra Trane Station: Nii Noi Nortey on alto saxophone and Nii Otoo Annan on an ensemble of hand drums. [4:05]
Recorded June 10, 2005, Studio Upstairs, Haatso, Accra
ACCRA TRANE STATION
5. Suite for Bells and Instruments [11:33]
Nii Noi Nortey, Nii Otoo Annan, and Aminu Kalangu weave bells together with wind, reed, string, and percussion sounds of Africa and the Diaspora.
-Welcome: improvisation with birds by Nii Noi on valiha Malagasy zither.
-Palm Wine Groove/MDV: Nii Otoo, guitar, Nii Noi, Zimbabwean mbira dza vadzimu, and Aminu, kalangu ‘talking’ drum, connect the independence time music of Ghana to Zimbabwe’s freedom songs.
-Bell Sound Sculpture, 1
-Tamale: the largest city of Northern Ghana, home of the gonje one-string bowed lute; with Nii Noi, gonje, Nii Otoo, djembe, and Aminu, kalangu.
-Bell Sound Sculpture, 2
-Afrifone: Invented by Nii Noi, the afrifone, is a North African double reed alghaita with a clarinet mouthpiece. Nii Noi’s improvisation links sounds of Africa, the Middle East, and Asia to the saxophone stylings of John Coltrane, with quotations from A Love Supreme. Nii Otoo plays djembe, and Aminu, kalangu,
Recorded October 18, 2004; Anyaa Arts Library, Accra
6. Get the First Trane [10:25]
Accra Trane Station recorded their tribute CD to the African legacy of John Coltrane in May and June 2005. This improvisation, from those sessions, features Nii Noi on alto saxophone with Nii Otoo on a rack of single and double bells, augmented by jazz hi- hat and ride cymbals, and xylophone.
Recorded May 26, 2005, Studio Upstairs, Haatso, Accra]
6. POWERFUL BELLS [12:40]
Carver’s Lane at Accra's National Arts Centre features a number of shops where drums are made for the global marketplace. The four performers on this impromptu medley, seasoned musicians and teachers, are associated with one such institution, the Powerful Drum Shop.
Nii Darku Ankrah leads on a double bell gankogui, and the three supporting parts are played by Benjamin Kotei on the second gankogui, Joseph ‘JoJo’ Kisseh playing dawuro banana-leaf bell, struck with an iron rod, and ‘SS’ Appiah Patrick Yeboah playing ododompo, a two-piece finger bell.
Nii Darku and Benjamin illustrate a range of interlocking double bell patterns in the kpanlogo rhythm (Ga), creating diverse timbres by damping the larger bell on the thigh, and using stick techniques for striking different points inside and outside the bell.
The songs are sung alternately in Ga and Akan. The opening one translates from the Akan: “It is well and good; love and friendship is well and good.” Other song themes range from road safety advice, to Christian praise songs, to covers of hit songs like Osibisa’s ‘Sunshine Day,’ to the story of a tragic drowning accident of a girl.
Applause from an enthusiastic crowd set off a danced tag for bells and donno ‘talking’ drum.
Recorded October 20, 2004, National Arts Centre, Accra
Steven Feld ARTIST BIOGRAPHY
Steven Feld is Distinguished Professor of Anthropology and Music at the University of New Mexico.He previously taught at Columbia University, New York University, University of California at Santa Cruz, University of Texas at Austin, and University of Pennsylvania. He is also a visiting professor at the University of Oslo in Norway.
Feld's research principally concerns the anthropology of sound and voice, incorporating studies in linguistics and poetics, music and aesthetics, acoustics and ecology. Since the mid-1970s he has studied the sound world of the Bosavi rainforest in Papua New Guinea. His New Guinea CDs incvlude Voices of the Rainforest (1991, Rykodisc, produced by Grateful Dead drumnmer Mickey Hart), Rainforest Soundwalks (2001, Earth Ear), and Bosavi: Rainforest Music from Papua New Guinea (2001 Smithsonian Folkways). His European CDs include Bell and Winter Festivals of Greek Macedonia (2002 Smithsonian Folkways) and an ongoing CD series, The Time of Bells (2004-, VoxLox). His African CDs include Accra Trane Station (2007, VoxLox) and Por Por:Honk Horn Music of Ghana (2007, Smithsonian Folkways).
Feld received a John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation "genius prize" fellowship in 1991, and in 1994 was elected a fellow of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences. For 2003-2004 he received a fellowship from the John Simon Guggenheim Memorial Foundation. Also in 2003 he received the Fumio Koizumi Prize for lifetime achievement in the field of Ethnomusicology.