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Joseph Hanson Kwabena Nketia

22nd June 1921 -

Renowned ethnomusicologist, innovator of 6/8 time signature for African rhythm.

Swarthmore Library Nketia Music Foundation


JH Nketia is one of the world's most respected authorities on African music. Born in the Ashanti Region of Ghana, he has schooled in prestigeous institutions throughout the world, from the University of London, Birkbeck College, the Trinity School of Music and the famous Julliard School, where he studied musicology and composition.

He was a professor of music at UCLA and the University of Pittsburgh, and has lectured at Harvard University, Stanford, and the China Conservatory of Music in Beijing. He is also an emeritus professor at the University of Ghana.

His concept and interpretation of African rhythm has been influential in academia and performance around the world. His innovation of 6/8 time (as opposed to his mentor, Ephraim Amu's duple time with triplets) is widely used today by scholars to transcribe African music, whereas composers active in the country almost exclusively write in this time signature.

JH Nketia has won several awards including the Companion of the Order of the Star of Ghana, the Grand Medal of the Government of Ghana (Civil Division) and the the IMC-UNESCO Prize for Distinguished Service to Music

The Nketia Music Foundation was created in 2009 "to promote the conservation and development of Ghana’s Creative Legacy in contemporary contexts, and the use of the works of Emeritus Prof JH Kwabena Nketia and other composers for the development and growth of music and culture".

Besides official honours, numerous ensembles, individuals and organisations in Ghana pay homage to this living legend by organising concerts in his honor. It is amazing how he makes time to honour such invitations and is always eager to support the work of much younger composers.

Selected Works by Joseph Hanson Kwabena Nketia

Title Type
Volta Fantasy Piano
Dance of the Forest, No. 1 (Mmoatia Sankuo) Trio for Strings
Atwimu (traditional dance) Piano
Asaadua (traditional dance) Violin & Piano
Adanse Kronkron Orchestral
Ewe-Fon Trilogy, No. 1 (invocation) piano
Three Ghanaian Airs, No.1 (Obi Nya N'ade) Hilife after Kakaiku, viola and piano
Cow Lane Sextet, No. 1 piccolo, clarinet, trumpet, atumpan and brekete
Me Nua Sεεwaa (serenade) flute and piano
Kwadede (folk song) violin and piano

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