Iconography, Documentary Evidence, Continuity, and Akan Musical Expressions Before the 15th Century

Kwasi Ampene


This brief essay is an extract from an unpublished paper that examines the formative processes and the subsequent development of Akan musical expressions based on broad spatial frameworks and periods identified by archaeologists and historians from the Stone Age to the Late Iron Age. In the absence of iconographic and documentary data, my primary aim is to speculate on parallel developments in musical expressions, to establish continuity with the remote past beyond 15th-century data recorded in journals by European explorers. As it became clear in my conversations with Professor Anquandah, archaeologists needed empirical evidence—excavated objects—while historians depended on absolute data. Based on ethnomusicological inquiry and positions, I examine, briefly, the inherent shortcomings in oral histories; and misrepresentation of ivory side-blown trumpets in T. E. Bowdich’s graphic image of a “yam custom” in Kumase in 1817. Outlining potential motivations for Bowdich’s image, I conclude the essay with a word of caution that we all stand to lose essential historical and musical facts if we wholeheartedly accept Bowdich’s graphic description as absolute data without asking critical questions.

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