The Unique Forms and Functions of Indigenous Ghanaian Performing and Verbal Arts

Performing arts are the arts that are played or performed which exists only in a stream of time. This form of arts is evident in every activity that the indigenous Ghanaian performs, from the washing of the face right from bed, through undertakings of his/her daily activities, to the time he/she retires to bed. Examples of the performing art forms practiced and used by the indigenous Ghanaians in their everyday life activities include music, dance, and drama.

On the other hand, verbal arts are those that are performed with the mouth with or without body gestures. They are usually spoken with the mouth. Indigenous Ghanaian verbal arts include folklores, tales, appellations, dirges, poetry etc.

Music

Music permeates and accompanies all the activities undertaken by the indigenous Ghanaians such as hunting, fishing, farming, trading etc. Music is played during festivals, rituals, marriage ceremonies, funeral ceremonies, puberty rites, naming and outdooring ceremonies, funeral rites etc. They played various roles such as entertainment, worship of deities, veneration and inviting of the ancestors, etc. Various musical instruments were used for the composing and playing of the music. They included stringed instruments (hites, lyres), wind instruments (flutes, horns), self-sounding instruments (drums, rattle) etc. Music was specially performed in the royal palaces, town squares, courtyards, parks, and streets. The lyrics of the music embody the religious and cultural beliefs of the indigenous Ghanaians, as well as their ideologies, norms, and values. They were purely educative and were used as a channel for moral instruction.

Dance

Dance, like music, plays a vibrant role in the lives of the indigenous Ghanaians. They ranged from graceful movements to very vigorous movements depending on the style of dance and the occasion and context within which the dance is performed. A dance was performing at naming ceremonies, funeral rites, festivals, religious activities, storytelling sessions etc. Some of the dance movements were symbolic and carried important messages. For instance, the dance performed at durbars, festivals, ritualistic performances and ceremonies of the ancestors by a traditional priest and his attendance were interpreted as messages from the ancestors to the people especially the king. Others were purely for entertainment to relieve stress and enjoy oneself.

Drama

Indigenous Ghanaian drama was evident at virtually all places such as the market and public squares, farms, chop bars, meeting places etc. It was performed at storytelling, initiation rites, and ceremonies of the ancestors to instruct the people concerning the laws, norms, taboos and beliefs of the people. They usually illustrated themes regarding the repercussions of not heeding to the laws and traditions handed down by the ancestors. Moral lessons on how to live a good life were enshrined in the drama performances.

Folklores

They are the unwritten or oral stories that portray the culture of a group or community. Indigenous Ghanaian folklores narrate the activities and events of our forefathers and the origin of our societal laws, values, and norms. They are mediums through which the young ones in the society familiarize themselves with their own cultural heritage. These stories are viewed as true and are taken with all seriousness.

Tales

They are stories narrated to entertain and educate people. They are usually fictitious with unreal characters. They are sometimes full of exaggerations and lies though they are used in highlighting the woes in breaking the laid down rules, customs and taboos of the ancestors in the indigenous Ghanaian communities.

Appellations

These are praises shouted on a god, ancestor, king or important personality recounting his achievements, character, and ego. They are shouted on kings and important personalities during important occasions such as durbars, festivals, and ceremonies before they take their seat at a function. During ceremonies where the ancestors ought to be invited, their appellations are sounded. It was believed by the indigenous Ghanaians that doing this would attract favor, goodwill, blessing and help from the ancestors.

Proverbs

They are short wise sayings that illustrate the bravery of the ancestors. They explain the laws, norms, and ideas of the indigenous Ghanaians. They were narrated at festivals, ceremonies and at storytelling times as a form of moral, cultural and social education for the people.

Dirges

They are words composed for the deceased. They are narrated to console and comfort the bereaved family and sympathizers during funeral ceremonies of their loved ones in the indigenous Ghanaian communities. They educate us on the brevity of our life and the wickedness attributed to death, and the hope that we have to live again. In most occasions, musical instruments accompany these dirges.

Contemporary Ghanaian Performing Arts

Contemporary Ghanaian performing arts have been influenced by foreign culture, technology, and education. It is a synergy of the indigenous performing arts with the Western cultural forms of performing arts. There are three main forms of performing arts practiced by the Ghanaians today. These are music, dance, and drama.

Music

Ghanaian contemporary music has been influenced by foreign music styles and concepts though there is not a total eradication of the indigenous music styles. Some contemporary Ghanaian musicians blend the indigenous and foreign music styles in composing their songs. The foreign music styles that have influenced Ghanaian music today include jazz, pop music, Blues, Rock and Roll, Reggae, Ragga, R&B, Indian and Arabic songs. Contemporary Ghanaian music includes highlife which has more of the indigenous music elements, the hip-life which fuses slow lyric choruses with Ragga or rap music. Currently, there is the hip-pop music that is an exact rendition of the Western style of music though the lyrics and language are mostly Ghanaian in nature. There is also the church or choral music, brass band music, regimental or military music as well as the classical music.

Several foreign musical instruments are used hand in hand with the indigenous musical instruments. These include guitars, pianos, trumpets like the saxophone, foreign drums, cymbals etc. Unlike indigenous Ghanaian music, contemporary Ghanaian music is recorded in high technological recording studios where other artificial elements are added to the originally composed music to bring it to foreign standards. They are then copied on Compact Disks, DVD’S, VCD’S, EVD’S etc.

Contemporary Ghanaian music is played at theatres, church services, parties, concerts, dance halls, and parks. They are played during religious services to enhance praises and worship. They are also played during social functions like marriage feasts, sporting activities and the like to entertain those in attendance. During workshops, talks, and seminars, music is played to relieve stress and boredom during intermissions of the program. They are played to boost the morale of competitors in various forms of competitions. Others are played to educate us on morality, patriotism and nationalism. There are various music contest and competitions held in Ghana to promote music. These include TV3 Mentor, X-Factor, etc.

Popular contemporary Ghanaian music stars include Dr. Ephraim Amu who composed various Coral songs for the Ghanaian community. Others include Agya Koo Nimo, Cindy Thompson, Yaw Sarpong, Daddy Lumba, Kojo Antwi, Nana Acheampong, Obrafo, Sarkodie etc.

Dance

Contemporary Ghanaian dance, like music, has been influenced by foreign dance styles. Some of these foreign dance styles include cracking, electric boogie etc. Dance is performed to entertain people and to express their sentiments towards one another. Contemporary Ghanaian dance forms include quickstep, mambo, waltz, foxtrot, salsa, boogie, cha-cha-cha, robot movement, twist, break and now, Azonto. These dance styles are performed at various functions such as church, weddings, funerals, parties, durbars, and festivals etc. Several dance competitions are held today in Ghana to promote dancing such as the Malta Guinness Street Dance contest. Dancing is now a very lucrative enterprise in contemporary Ghana.

Drama

Contemporary Ghanaian drama is performed on a stage in a theatre. Unlike the indigenous Ghanaian drama where the audience sometimes interact with the audience while the performance is in season, contemporary Ghanaian drama is performed uninterrupted by the actors and actresses who play the various roles in the story depicted in the performance. The audience, however, participates by clapping, booing and shouting in a bid to express their sentiments towards the performance. Contemporary Ghanaian drama includes plays, comedies, operas, and cantatas.

Popular contemporary Ghanaian drama groups include the Abibigroma drama group, the National Dance Ensemble, Osofo Dadzie drama group, Adabraka drama Troupe and the Tsadidi drama group. Popular drama themes in contemporary Ghana include the ‘The Black African Slave Trade, by the National Dance Ensemble, ‘Ananse and the gun man’ by Joe deGraft, ‘The dilemma of a ghost’ by Ama Ataa Aidoo and the celebrated ‘Marriage of Anansewaa’ by Efua Sunderland.

Contemporary Ghanaian drama is staged in churches and mosques to illustrate some Christian themes to educate members about the Christian and Muslim doctrines and the relevance of leading a good moral life in line with the principles and regulations of God. During social gatherings, parties, and festivals, drama is performed to entertain those in attendance. Others are staged to educate the general public on social issues such as healthy living, personal hygiene, laws and norms of the land, patriotism and the like.