The Kpanlogo – A Dance, Rhythm and Drum
Today we’re going to talk about an important (and fun!) part of contemporary Ghanaian culture – Kpanlogo.
Kpanlogo (pronounced Panlogo) has three separate and interconnected meanings –
Firstly it refers to a dance.
The Kpanlogo dance originated in the south of Ghana in the late 1950’s and early 1960’s, amongst the Ga people of Accra and the surrounding area.
Kpanlogo’s creator, Otoo Lincoln, said he invented the dance to accompany a story his grandfather told him:
“…there were three girl triplets called Kpanlogo, Mma Mma and Alogodzan. Their father, who was the chief of the town, said that the man who would guess the three girls’ names could take all three and marry them.
So one man went to the house dressed as a madman and met Mma Mma in the yard and she shouted to her two sisters to come and see someone dancing. As they called each other, the man learned the three names. To remember them he kept on singing to himself, “Kpanlogo, Alogodzan, Kpanlogo Mma Mma”…when the man came the chief gave him his daughters” – Otoo Lincoln
Some dance moves of the Kpanlogo represent the pulling in of fishing nets, the traditional occupation of the Ga people. Other movements appear sexually charged and… well, a little bit raunchy, and for this reason it became and unofficial youth courtship dance, with dancers of the opposite sex flirtatiously performing it with each other. Worried about the suggestiveness of the dance, the Arts Council of Ghana banned Kpanlogo in 1964, however the dance was later redeemed through a demonstration to the council.
The Kpanlogo dance remains an important part of urban culture in Ghana, and it is performed at both informal and formal events throughout the year, where it can be seen danced in pairs on in groups – like in the video below.
The rhythm that supports Kpanlogo Dance is also called Kpanlogo, and this rhythm is one of the most common rhythms heard throughout Ghana.
This rhythm is adapted from traditional rhythms such as Gome, Oge and Kolomashie which are frequently performed by musicians of the Ga tribe of Ghana, despite originating in other African regions.
The Kpanlogo rhythm also draws influence from Highlife; a musical combination of European instrumentation and dance steps with traditional Ghanaian rhythms, and was initially performed exclusively for the wealthy and elite Colonial rulers, during the British occupation of Ghana
Of particular importance is the recreational nature of Highlife, which was an importance influence in the creation of the Kpanlogo. Both of these styles of music are not specifically for ceremonies, events, or communication, but are treated more like we treat pop music in the West – good for getting together with your friends, singing, dancing and being merry.
The Kpanlogo rhythm forms the basis of many different (though similar) popular songs, which are widely known; they are often call-and-response in nature, are an expression of Ghanaian national identity, and a source of cultural pride. We will hear a selection of these pieces below, in the recordings.
When performing the Kpanlogo rhythm to support the Kpanlogo dancers, what instrument must you play…? That’s right the Kpanlogo, and it looks like this:
The Kpanlogo drum is similar to a lot of other Ghanaian drums such as the Sogo, in that a wooden shell covered by an animal skin is held taut with wooden pegs, driven into the shell. The Kpanlogo shape is similar to the Conga, and is typically played with a much lighter attack than the Djembe.
A master drummer will perform on up to six Kpanlogo’s at a time, each tuned to slightly different pitches, to give the rhythms enhance the melodic effect of the drums.
In addition to the Kpanlogo drums, the Fao, a shaker similar to the Axatse, and the Nono Bell, a single slit bell are used to play the Kpanlogo rhythm.
Occasionally its also augmented by Dununs, Djembes or a Gome, however as we will hear at the end of the article, the Kpanlogo rhythm can be played on anything…even cutlery…
At the heart of the Kpanlogo rhythm is the Nono bell pattern, which plays a clave known to Western musicians as the Son-Clave. This Clave is extremely prominent in Cuban music, and its existence in Cuban music is a direct remnant of the slave trade.
Further enhancing these rhythm is the claps of dancers and singers who aren’t playing instruments. These claps always fall on beats 4 and 1.
If we were to refer to my system of rhythmic Layers (as introduced here), this would comprise the first Layer.
The second layer would be comprised of 2-3 interlocking Kpanlogo-drum parts.
Other crucial parts include the Fao, filling out the sound with continuous shaking, or clicking sounds.
And lastly the third layer would include a soloist (perhaps on kpanlogo, atumpan or Gome-drum) and the group vocals.
A more thorough examination of the Kpanlogo parts can be found here, written in semi-notation for those interested.
The Kpanlogo Rhythm is difficult to classify – on one hand it is steeped in Ghanaian traditional music, through its rhythms and instrumentation, on the other hand it’s social function, recreational nature and young age would perhaps qualify it to be a popular modern music.
In his book Culture and Customs of Ghana, author and historian Steven J Salm classified Kpanlogo as a Neo-Folk music for these reasons, and described it as representing “an attachment to the past, as well as a progressive attitude towards the future”.
Whilst in Ghana in early 2014, I heard many performances of the Kpanlogo rhythm, and managed to record several different interpretations, which I think demonstrate its flexibility.
All three recordings here are excerpts from larger recordings.
Salaka perform the Kpanlogo with full band, including 4 Kpanlogo drums and Gome drum – a great rendition of the Kpanlogo rhythm.
Impromptu performance by Salaka
This excerpt was taken from a spontaneous performance for the hung-over tour group, on January 1 2014, as three members of the group Salaka began to perform for the tour group on the only items available.
What you can hear here is forks, cups and drums being played expertly in the Kpanlogo rhythm. If you listen closely you can hear lead singer Tuza singing peoples names, and “everybody looks so tired”.
Performance by the Tenani Cultural Group
This excerpt has been included mostly to demonstrate the party atmosphere, with everybody singing, clapping, dancing and shouting.
Some things to listen for in the recordings:
- Nono Bell pattern. This will help you align the pulse of the piece, and the start of the phrase, so you don’t get confused.
- Hand claps. When the audience gets it right in these recordings, you’ll hear everyone clapping on beats 4 and 1, which I think is a pretty interesting variation on the back-beat.
- When I listen to these recordings, particularly the final one, I find it hard to differentiate the individual Kpanlogo parts. This is probably the idea, but it might be worth looking at this, whilst listening to try and separate it all out.
One of the reasons I find this rhythm so interesting is that it can be simplified down to its bare essence, as in the second recording, and still retain its fundamental qualities, and make for an interesting groove. Whereas other pieces like those we discussed in other posts, may not work so well without the interlocking parts, the stripped back Kpanlogo is excellent I believe.
So to help you out, being a friendly guy and all, here’s a transcription of a super-easy to use Kpanlogo rhythm. Show it to your drummer friends, clap it with your mates or program it into a sequencer to play forever and annoy your mum.