Saturday’s Endangered Music: Ghana

I began studying Ghanaian music with David Locke in 1979, and even though I never went as deeply into the music as some of my colleagues, the kinetic rhythms of Ewe drumming were integral to my musical imagination. So when I heard about the impact of our transforming climate on Ghana, it felt somehow more personal. I’ve never been there; almost certainly will never go…but a little bit of Ghana got into my ears long ago and has never left.

“Totope, Ghana – Ask anyone in this fishing village along Ghana’s eastern coast where they grew up, and they’ll likely point south, towards the blue waves of the Gulf of Guinea.

“The ocean has encroached on areas that were once land, dry enough for the villagers of Totope to grow crops, build homes and raise families.

“It’s all gone now, buried by crushing waves and shifting sands that have forced the village of a few thousand to move onto swampy land reclaimed with an unreliable mix of sand and trash.

“The people here don’t think it will last.

” “The future of Totope looks very, very bleak,” the village’s chief Theophilus Agbakla said.

“Grain by grain, West Africa’s coasts are eroding away, the dry land sucked under the water by a destructive mix of natural erosion and human meddling.

“Sediment flows in Ghana and elsewhere have been disrupted by the damming of rivers. Climate change has led to harsher storms and higher waters. Meanwhile, resurgent economies in many West African countries are bringing development closer and closer to the shore.


Ghanaian musicians were among the first to develop syncretic popular forms like “Highlife”, which featured guitars, singing, horns, and percussion in irresistibly catchy grooves. Here are a few samples from the 20th century:

Sam’s Trio

“In the 1930s, Sam’s Trio, led by Jacob Sam, was the most influential of the high-life guitar-bands. Their “Yaa Amponsah”, three versions of which were recorded in 1928 for Zonophone, was a major hit that remains a popular staple of numerous high-life bands.” Wiki.

E. K. Nyame

“The next major guitar-band leader was E. K. Nyame, who sang in Twi. Nyame also added the double bass and more elements of the Western hemisphere, including jazz and Cuban music…” Wiki.

The Wulomei Cultural Troupe

“These days one hardly hears traditional palmwine music on the airwaves unless on special occasions when one visits such places as Anansekrom, the Centre for National Culture in Accra, or at such social gatherings as funerals and traditional marriage ceremonies.The once popular Wulomei Cultural Troupe has maintained a strong presence over the years and has refused to be pushed out of the entertainment scene into extinction.Gone are the days of ace drummer Big Boy and songstress Naa Amanua who churned out old favourites like Meridian, Maafio, Komi Kala and other distinct Ga folklore music.Several years down the line Wulomei has undergone metamorphosis with the exit of the founding members. A succession plan instituted by the founder and leader, Nii Tei Ashitey has seen of singers who have maintained the rich and original Wulomei flavour.”

It’s not just rising sea levels, but drought and irregular rains which are endangering the livelihood of Ghanaian agriculturalists:

“The dependence on rain-fed agriculture across the country makes farmers in Ghana particularly vulnerable to climate change.

“For instance, the high levels of dependence on agriculture for livelihoods in the north in particular, further makes it the most vulnerable region to climate change.

“The area is also climatically sensitive with low, decreasing rainfall and frequent recurring droughts making the situation more serious.

“Mr Emmanuel Salu, Director and Head of Environmental Education Department of the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), said …there had been a visible evidence of climate change in Ghana and that included rising temperatures in all ecological zones, rainfall levels and patterns increasingly erratic, streams drying up having adverse impacts on livelihoods, health, nutrition and hydropower generation.

“He said majority of farmers interviewed had also expressed the belief that temperature had become warmer with the timing of the rains becoming irregular and unpredictable. There were also increased droughts.


The traditional drumming and dancing of the Ghanaian Ewe tribe now has a huge presence in the West, thanks to the work of charismatic teacher/performers like Alfred Ladzekpo, Abraham Adzenyah, Godwin Agbeli, and Gideon Foli Alorwoyie.

Neither the pop or traditional music of Ghana is in any danger of dying out. But the nation itself is buffeted by extreme weather and some of the other consequences of climate change.

A good source for anyone wanting to hear more contemporary Ghanaian music is

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