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Ghana Post Digital Address: GA-018-1233

Inaugural Lecture-2024 Performing Petition Kete-Songs Lineage and Kingship in Akan – Prof Kwasi Ampene

About the Speaker



Kwasi Ampene is the chair of the Department of Music at Tufts University in the USA. He is a Fellow of the Ghana Academy of Arts and Sciences and an External Examiner of Theses in the Department of Music and Dance at University of Cape Coast-Ghana. Ampene specializes in the rich musical traditions of the Akan people of West Africa. He has disseminated his research at national and international conferences and speaking engagements at major universities in Africa, United States, Europe, Asia, the Caribbean, and South America. He has provided expert advice for public engagement projects on Akan culture and music to the British Library, Princeton University, and the Fowler Museum at UCLA. Ampene’s book publications include Asante Court Music and Verbal Arts in Ghana: The Porcupine and the Gold Stool (2020); Engaging Modernity: Asante in the Twenty-First Century (2016) and Female Song Tradition and the Akan of Ghana: The Creative Process in Nnwonkoro (2005). He is the leading editor of, Discourses in African Musicology: J.H. Kwabena Nketia Festschrift (2015). Asante Court Music is the winner of the J.H. Kwabena Nketia Book Prize by the African and African Diaspora Music Section in the Society for Ethnomusicology for the best monograph on African music in 2022. In addition to book publications, he has published several articles in prestigious journals. Ampene is the producer of the film documentary, Gone To The Village: Royal Funerary Rites for Asantehemaa Nana Afia Kobi Serwaa Ampem II (2019). He is a member of the Editorial Board of the School of Oriental and Africa Studies (SOAS) Music Series at the University of London. Ampene is the recipient of the 2023 3G Media Lifetime Achievement Award in New York, for his outstanding contributions to highlife music and the music industry in Ghana. Ampene is the immediate past President of Ghana Studies Association (an international affiliate of the African Studies Association), the immediate past Chair of the Society for Ethnomusicology Council, and the past Chair of the African Music Section in the Society for Ethnomusicology.

Synopsis of Lecture

In contested formal spaces involving court ceremonies and rituals, how do you navigate the complex web of Akan interactional routines and communication protocols to directly articulate the collective anxieties of the masses to the Asantehene following the death and burial of the Asantehemaa, Nana Afia Kobi Serwaa Ampem II? 

I address the above question and additional questions that may arise by examining the performed petition presented to the Asantehene by members of the Kete chorus. I argue that in matrilineal societies, the critical role of women in lineage, kinship, and governance confers counselling and advisory role to female leadership in the matriclan. Additionally, in their privileged position as members of the exclusive Kete chorus, they used their artistic immunity to negotiate communication strategies in formal spaces to present the contrapuntal voices of the masses directly to the Asantehene. As a form of political dialogue that indexes diverse registers of concerns, they implored the Asantehene, through songs, to not only choose the most qualified member of the 4yoko lineage to succeed the late Asantehemaa, but also to remind him of his obligation to his forebears who made untold sacrifices to establish a state with enduring socio-political, economic, and cultural institutions.

My presentation is in two parts. First, I examine events that provided the impetus for sonic actions and performed petitions, the critical role of women in lineage, kingship, and governance, interactional routines in greetings and communication strategies in formal settings, and how artistic immunity and musical performance create space for agency and empowerment. In the second part, I highlight the first song unit, Aka Wo De1 (It Is Now Your Turn), performed by the Kete chorus for formal analysis, poetic and rhetorical devices, and gesture and rhetoric, as artistic enablers for the performed petition. I will conclude with a brief discussion of the implications of the performed petition for democratic dispensation and protest movements in Ghana.

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