Kete (Ashanti Royal Court Dance-Drumming) by NY Ghanaian Dance & Drum Unity Ensemble
The NY Ghanaian Dance & Drum Unity Ensemble performs Kete Ashanti royal court music as part of the City of Mount Vernon and ArtsWestchester's program "An Eveneing of West African Dance and Drumming."
The Ghanaian enclave in New York City, centered in the Bronx, is home to upwards of 27,000 Ghanaians, the largest African immigrant population in America’s biggest city. This community not only contains Ghanaian restaurants, markets, and churches, but also hosts Ghanaian events including funerals, royal palace festivals, and weddings that look, sound, and feel remarkably similar to comparable cultural practices in the homeland of Ghana. Situated deep inside this enclave, the New York Ghanaian Dance & Drum Unity Ensemble is comprised primarily of immigrants from Kumasi, Ghana. They usually perform within the Ghanaian community in New York, playing Kete at funerals to celebrate the life of the departed, at royal palace events to add prestige and grandeur to a chief or queen mother’s public appearance, and at weddings to escort the bride down the aisle. The ensemble also performs outside of the traditional Ghanaian context at schools, workshops, and public festivals – this video is an example of their performance of Kete at an outdoor concert for the general public.
Gloria Nyame, dancer and group manager, is seen in this video playing the ntorowa rattle. Her husband Richard Dwomoh, also a renowned Asante dancer, performs donno tension drum. The lead kwadum drum, responsible for starting and stopping the music, setting the tempo, interacting with dancers, and cueing the support drummers, is played by Kwabena Berchie. The group’s usual lead drummer, Nii Boye, plays aburukuwa support drum in this recording. Hola Kutte, raised in Ghana’s capital Accra, brings an exuberant performative energy on the apentema hand drum. Samuel Anyanorh plays petia, providing the music with a strong rhythmic drive. Michael Ofori and Ben Paulding play two interlocking dawuro parts, setting the foundation upon which the complex and syncopated rhythmic designs of Kete are built.
Kete royal court dance-drumming originates from the Akan people of Ghana, West Africa. The term Kete simultaneously refers to a specific set of instruments, the music played by those instruments, and the dance performed to that music. Originally existing exclusively within Asante royal court system, Kete is now heard at funerals and weddings, as well as royal palace events. Kete constitutes one part of the broader Asante dance-drumming repertoire – including Adowa, Akɔm, Apirede, Fɛntɛmfrɛm, Mpintin, Nnwonkoro, Sikyi, and others. This video reflects the performance style of the Asante people of Kumasi – Ghana’s second largest city and the current hub of the Kete tradition.
Kete contains at least twenty distinct pieces, each with its own history, purpose, and specific musical content. Two of these pieces are performed in the video above: Abɔfoɔ and Adaban. Abɔfoɔ (0:00 – 1:45) has origins in the music of hunters associations, and Adaban (1:46 – 3:32) traces its heritage to the intimidating music of Asante royal palace executioners. The Kete ensemble uses seven instruments: kwadum lead drum, apentema hand drum, petia stick drum, aburukuwa stick drum, donno hourglass-shaped tension drum, dawuro iron bell, and ntorowa gourd rattle. Four of the Kete drums – kwadum, apentema, petia, and aburukuwa – are traditionally covered in red and black-checkered cloth.
Written by Ben Paulding, Ashanti Drummer and Director of the Brandeis Fafali Ensemble
 Paulding, Ben. “Asante Kete Drumming: A Musical Analysis of Meter, Feel, and Phrasing.” Tufts University, 2017.