Happy Workers Day!
Several countries set aside the first day of May to celebrate workers: the many members of society whose daily contributions to the economy make our lives pleasant. Naturally, musicians have chosen to reflect on civil work and nation building as themes for their artistic expression. We’ve put together a list of our favourite recordings appropriate for your May Day holiday.
We start off with Ephraim Amu’s “Asem Yi Di Ka”, as performed by Harmonious Chorale at their “Ghana Our Motherland” concert. The celebration of the founders of Ghana’s choral art music tradition, JH Nketia and the composer of this piece has yielded some of the best recordings of their works currently available online. It’s little wonder that we picked the anthem with the iconic “enye obiara” refrain as our first song.
Our second recommendation comes from the same pioneer of Ghanaian art music. In “Adikanfo, Mo”, Amu celebrates as “men of valour and pioneers of our struggle”, those who laid the foundations for the institution that will grow to become Achimota Senior High School, an institution pivotal in the forging of Ghana’s national identity, and Amu’s own alma mater. Our selected recording comes from the legendary Winneba Youth Choir, conducted here by Paa John Yamoah at the auditorium of the British Council in Accra.
The Winneba Youth Choir has enjoyed the pride of place in the recent history of Ghanaian choral music as one of the main ambassadors of the nation’s musical face.
Oman Ghana is a contemporary composition written for french horn and piano. It was composed by Kwaku Boakye-Frempong as an expansion of the “Ghanaman” theme commonly performed by the Ghana Police Band. Its first public performance was by L/Cpl. Solomon Adonoo, a member of that band at the Afro Classical Nights concert in 2019.
Our fourth and fifth recommendations take us back several years to the generation of musicians that developed, as it were, in Ephraim Amu’s tradition. Prof. JH Nketia’s career saw him earn the respect of ethnomusicologists the world over with this scholarly work on Ghanaian art music. Among his most enduring works are a series of pedagogical pieces for piano he wrote as a primer to people interested in exploring African art music.
From this collection, we pick two short but remarkable pieces: the Builsa and Dagarti Work Songs. Both pieces, each less than three minutes, are named after ethnic groups in Ghana’s northern regions. The Builsa Work Song is played by Joseph Amusah, a music teacher, pianist and director of the Sixteenth Angelic Choir and Orchestra, based in Takoradi.
The latter is performed here by Marten Tilstra, a face familiar in the Ghanaian choral music space. “Kofi Martens” (as he likes to call himself) has been a huge fan of Ghanaian music. His numerous visits to the country, along with the many recordings are proof of that.
We hope this little exploration of Ghanaian art music will spur you on to greater appreciation of what the tradition offers. And to all those who work hard to make this sort of artistic expression possible, there's only one thing we can say: thank you!