Ewe Women’s Musical Practices in the Volta Region of Ghana:
Survival in Ho-Asogli Traditional Area
Ghanaian ethnomusicologist Dr. Misonu Amu, a visiting scholar at the New England Conservatory of Music this spring, was recently the guest of WARA and the African Studies Center. On Thursday, April 17, 2014 she gave a compelling talk entitled Ewe Women’s Musical Practices in the Volta region of Ghana: Survival in Ho-Asogli Traditional Area.
In her general introduction to Ewe musical practice, we learned that northern Ewe groups use a diatonic scale while southerners use the pentatonic—or five note—scale. We also learned about a range of instruments and some types of songs practiced by the Ewe. Dr. Amu underlined that music among the Ewe is interactive and involves singing, instruments, and dancing.
The core of her presentation was on women’s music. “Women,” she noted, “are custodians of tradition.” And music is among the most important of traditions in any culture. She underlined the key role of music in women’s lives and the many social functions it fills. One of these functions is expressing grief and dealing with death. This is the domain of the Aviha, literally, weeping songs. These traditional funereal songs, performed exclusively by women, with their often philosophical lyrics, pay tribute to the deceased and engage the community in the ritual of grieving. Dr. Amu noted that in Ho, the capital of the northern Ewe region, the Aviha is not permitted to be performed for Christians.
The audience was treated to demonstrations of some of the songs by Dr. Amu and enthusiastically took on their role in the call and response format.