POSSESSION TRANCE MUSIC OF GHANA
The Music of the Brekete Cult among the Ɛʋɛ of South Eastern Ghana
The Brekete cult arrived in the southern Volta region from northern Ghana (particularly Dagarti) to combat witchcraft activities. It is built around the propitiation of seven principal gods of northern origin and though it falls into the category of what the Ɛʋɛ refer to as amedzro trɔwo (literally “stranger spirits”), it bears all the characteristics of an indigenous cult, namely spirit-mediumship, typical initiation rites, divination, and ceremonial drumming and dancing in the Aŋlo style. It is interesting to note that the Ɛʋɛ retain the use of the brekete drum (native to northern Ghana) from which the cult takes its name. The musical selections are arranged in the order in which they normally occur during an actual ceremony.
Listen to the Music
Brekete cult songs, of which there are literally hundreds, have several functions. In addition to declaring the power of the cult, they voice praise for the cult gods and invite the gods, who are thought to be fond of music, to make themselves manifest at the ceremony via spirit-possession. With rare exceptions, however, it is not until the master drummer and full ensemble are playing that possession-trance occurs.
With the full ensemble playing, the ceremony begins in earnest. The master drummer plays the brekete drum alternately in song, dance and speech mode in an attempt to bring on possession-trance in the initiates. Song mode drumming, exemplified by the first song in this selection, occurs when the drummer plays a pattern which closely conforms to the phrasing and tone pattern of the song lyrics. Note that the music is structured in similar fashion to astiagbekɔ, except that in this case there are two bells playing a crossing pattern which emphasizes the “4” meter. Kagaŋ sometimes plays a crossing pattern in “3” instead of its usual “4” pattern.
After over an hour of uninterrupted drumming, the cantor stops the proceedings and begins a series of free-rhythms songs which constitute a group invocation of the cult gods. This ceremony within the larger ceremony is sometimes called salah (prayer) and represents an acknowledgement of the parallel Islamic content of the cults coming from northern Ghana. Clearly audible here are the shrieks of mediums already in trance.
Now the brekete drummer begins a series of short drum calls which serve the dual function of entertaining those gods already present and bringing those who have not yet arrived. Many possessions occur during these virtuoso riffs (note screams of mediums going into trance); those already possessed redouble their virtuoso dance styles.
The final hour or so of the ceremony is devoted to drumming and dancing for the general enjoyment of the congregation. Some mediums, who by this time have been dressed in the clothing appropriate to the possessing god, continue to dance and mingle with the congregation. Others remain inside the shrine house in consultation with the sɔfo (priest) and attending to those cult members seeking supernatural advice and blessings.
Look for Richard Hill’s forthcoming book, “Possession-trance and the music of the Brekete Cult of South Eastern Ghana,” containing hundreds of drum notations, master drum parts, song transcriptions, field notes and analysis, on Amazon.com or directly from the author at email@example.com.
© Ghana Trance Music | Design by Brian Wallace
© Ghana Trance Music
Design by Brian Wallace