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The Cultural Importance Of Ewe Drumming

Sep 15, 2008
It sometimes happens that a certain group of people will become associated with a certain ability or skill. People from Norway or Sweden, for example, are often assumed to be excellent skiers. If individuals are from South America, they are sometimes presupposed to be exceptional dancers. Sometimes such assumptions, which are essentially stereotypes, are inaccurate and unfair. But sometimes they are right on the money. This is true in the case of the Ewe, a group of people who live in Togo, Benin and the southeast corner of Ghana. These people are internationally known for their skill in the art of ensemble drumming, a skill so distinctive and pronounced that their style has actually been named "Ewe drumming." Although Ewe drumming is very diverse and can vary according to locality, it is all recognized as part of a larger style and honored as such.

Ewe drumming is as complex as its history is long. The Ewe people are thought to have migrated to their current location around the 13th century, and their tradition of drumming has long been an established fact. Ewe drumming involves not only complicated drumming but a complex culture as well. These people believe that if a person is a good drummer, it is because they inherited the spirit of an ancestor who was a good drummer. In addition to familial implications, music among the Ewe is used to enhance a sense of community. Clearly, Ewe drumming is more than a simple form of entertainment.

Ewe drums are generally constructed like barrels, "staved" with metal rings, although it is possible to obtain high-quality instruments carved from a single block of wood. The drums are played with either sticks or hands. Enhancing the social importance of these instruments is the fact that they are often named after members of the family: the "kagan" is the "baby brother drum," and it's beats are usually weak and in a repeated pattern; the "kidi," or "mother drum," has a much more active role, but it is still an accompanying instrument; the "sogo," or "father drum" leads the "kidi," and all of these are responsive to the "atsimevu," or "grandfather drum." Such names and roles make clear the importance of drums in Ewe culture.

Ewe drumming involves sophisticated cross rhythms (beats shifted in a metric pattern to different positions) and polyrhythms (simultaneous soundings of two or more independent rhythms). Some authorities hold that the art's use of rhythm is similar to that of jazz which, it is interesting to remember, originated in the African-American communities of the southern United States.

In addition to its roles in family and community, these drums have a place in religious practices as well. The "Tro-u" is a style of drum music used to invite ancestors to shrines on sacred occasions. The rhythms of this style are dictated by a priest or priestess, and the music allows this person to communicate with the spirit world. "Sowu" is one of the sacred forms of music used by the cult of Yewe in worship of the God of Thunder.
About the Author
Victor Epand is an expert consultant for guitars, drums, keyboards, sheet music, guitar tab, and home theater audio. You can find the best marketplace at these sites for drums, Ewe drumming, sheet music, guitar tabs, and home theater audio.
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