Ewe: Musical Instruments

Gankogui - Iron Bellcow_bell4.jpgcow_bell4.jpg

The gankogui, is a double bell played with a wooden stick. It is made out of
forged iron and consists of a low-pitched bell (often referred as the parent bell)
and a high- pitched bell (or the child bell, which is said to rest on the bosom of
the protective parent), which are permanently bound together. The gankogui
is the skeleton, backbone, and foundation of all traditional Ewe music. The
gankogui player must play steadily and without error throughout the piece.
The gankogui player must be a trustworthy person, and is considered blind
if they do not have a concrete understanding of the instrument and its role
in the drumming ensemble.






slit_bell4.jpgAtoke - Banana Bell

The Atoke is a forged-iron bell instrument and is shaped somewhat like a
boat or a banana. It is held in the palm of the player's weak hand and is
played with a small forged-iron rod, held in the player's strong hand. The
atoke serves the same purpose as the gankogui and is sometimes used
instead of or a substitute for the gankogui. The gankogui and atoke come
in all various sizes.







chekere4.jpgAxatse - Gourd Rattle

The axatse is a hollowed-out gourd covered with a net of seeds or beads.
Played in a number of ways. When sitting down. It is held at the handle
and in the players strong hand and is shaken up hitting the hand and down
hitting the thigh making two different sounds. The axatse often plays with
the bell with some extra added notes in between the beats. It has also been
described as enriching or reinforcing what the gankogui plays. Overall it gives
energy to the music and drives the music. The axatse produces a dry ratting
but energetic sound.





Agbadza_Drums_5.JPGAtsimevu - Master Drum

Atsimevu is the tallest of the Ewe Master Drums. In order to be played, it must be leaned over a stand called a vudetsi.To play the drum, the master drummer stands by either side of the drum and either plays it with two wooden sticks or one hand and one stick. It has a carved body of about 4 ½ feet tall a broad belly and a drum head of about 9” in diameter. It usually has an antelope head. In a performance position, the drummer stands parallel beside Atsimevu, which is tilted by the help of vudetsi, bringing the height of the drum head below the chest for a good leverage and aiming position. It is played with two sticks or stick and hand.


Boba - Master Drum

Boba was invented by the Ewe in the 1950s
to play a newly invented song called gahu.
It is wide drum, the lowest and deepest
sounding drum of the Ewe drums. It is played
leaning over on a stand like the Atimevu.

- Master & Support Drum

Sogo can be played as basic master or support. The sogo and the Kidi are seen as Father and Mother. Father being a slightly taller and fatter version of mum, with large head and belly. It is closed at the bottom. It si about 26” tall. With drum head of about 9” It can be played with two sticks, hand and stick or two hands.

The name Sogo was derived from a description of the shape of the drum that looks somewhat similar to the shape of a large gourd calabash commonly used in sacrificial offerings to So, an Ewe divinity associated with thunder. (lit. So - Divinity associated with thunder + go - gourd-calabash).

There are two types of stick techniques in the art of support drumming. Each of these techniques produces a distinct pitch of the support drum pitch series.

An open strike of the stick (a bounce) sung “de” or “ge”. “de” is the lead hand and “ge” is the other,

A closed strike of the stick (pressing the stick on the skin) is sung “du” or “gu” hands as above.

The first stick technique produces a middle range pitch referred to in vocal syllables as "De" or "Ge". This is achieved by delivering a stick shot which rebounds after striking the center of the drum head, allowing the membrane to vibrate in its entirety. The syllables "De" is normally assigned to strokes delivered by the strong hand and "Ge" is assigned to strokes


Kroboti.gifKroboto and Tododzi - Master & Support Drum

The kroboto or totodzi are two more types of master drums, essentially the same, differing only in pitch. These are the smallest master drums used by the Ewe. They measure lengthwise around eighteen inches. The two drums are not only used as master drums in some songs but sometimes play the same role as the kidi. The kroboto and totodzi are always played with two wooden sticks, and their player is usually seated.

Kidi_pro.gifKidi - Support Drum

The kidi is a mid-sized drum played with two wooden sticks. It functions mostly as a supporting drum and uses the same technique as Sogo.
The kidi does what is described by the Ewe as talking or conversation with lead drum. The kidi often improvises a little bit during the song at the appropriate time.Kidi is a similar shape to the sogo but smaller, and a little higher in pitch. 23” high with a drum head of 8”

An open stike of the stick (a bounce) is sung “ki” or “di”. “ki” is the lead hand and “di” is the other.

A closed strike of the stick (pressing the stick on the skin) is sung “ku” or “du” hands as above.


Kagan_pro.gifKagan - Support DrumThe kagan is the smallest and highest pitched drum used by the Ewe, It is like a very small Atsimevu. It is around 20 inches tall, with a 6 inch head. The kaganu is played with two long skinny wooden sticks, usually with the drummer sitting down. Like the gankokui and axatse, its pattern does not chance for the duration of
the piece. It is often playing a high up beat giving energy and drive to
the music. It is held between the legs of the drummer seated on a stool.
he light sticks are slapped against the skin, tuned to produce the highest
pitch of the drum ensemble.


The Ewe Family Tree

Atsimevu - Grandfather

Kroboto - Uncle Tododzi - Aunt

Sogo - Father Kidi - Mother

Kaganu - Naughty Child