Steven Feld:
Music in Accra

September 24, 2009

Steven Feld, eco-composer, musician, ethnomusicologist, cultural anthropologist, is well-known for his extended visits during the 1970s and 1980s to the Bosavi rainforest in Papua New Guinea, where he recorded a rich audio archive of the rainforest and studied and documented connections between environmental sounds, bird calls, language, and music. More recently, his interest has been the history and culture of bells in Europe, Japan, and in the past several years, Ghana. He will present aspects of music from Ghana at Ear to the Earth 09 on Saturday evening, October 10.

"I first traveled to Accra, Ghana in 2004, wishing to learn something about bells as time-keepers in drum ensembles. The visit came on the heels of three years listening to church, animal, and carnival bells in European villages, towns, and cities. It seemed right to pause from the Old World and check out a contemporary yet much older-world perspective on how bells make time. But before that could happen, I experienced another local example of how sound delineates time and space: the deep night croaking of the common toad, Bufo regularis, emanating from sewers flanking city roads, their voices intensely amplified by the cement walls of their fetid amphitheater. On that first Accra visit, I also met multi-instrumentalist Nii Otoo Annan ... "

Steven Feld: A few introductory words

Nii Otoo Annan
Thanks to Durham County Story

Performance by Nii Otoo Annan.
The instrument is ashiwa seated rhythm box bass with three metal keys.

Performance by Nii Otoo Annan.
The instruments are gome, kpanlogo, and apentema drums, played with mallets and hands.

Performance by Nii Otoo Annan.
The instrument is a gangokui double bell rack, played with mallets and sticks.

Steven Feld: Comment on polyrhythms

"In 2006, I asked Nii Otoo to listen to the Bufo soundscape I had created for the first Ear to the Earth concert in New York. Taking the headphones off, he connected the dots: 'You hear, Prof, it is like what I have been showing you in our music. The crickets are sounding like the bell with very strict time, and the kawkawdene (the toad's name in Ga, Nii Otoo's first language) are the master drummers, making many rhythms on top.'"

Steven Feld: The environment informs the music

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The sound clips in this article are excerpted from recordings of performances by Nii Otoo Annan on Bufo Variations, a CD produced by Steven Feld. To purchase the CD, go to CDeMusic:


Steven Feld and Nii Otoo Annan are featured performers in the Ear to the Earth 09 festival in New York City. For more information on the concert, go here:

EMF Productions