AKOM: THE ART OF POSSESSION

Image Trance drumming of
the Akan of Ghana

 

About the Music

Akom: The Art of Possession explores a style of music performed to compel spirits to enter the human realm.

Akom [ah-COMB] is an integral part of traditional religious expression among the Akan [ah-KAHN] of Ghana. Akom encompasses not only the state of being possessed by a spirit, but also the performing arts which surround and invoke possession.

Possession An obosom (spirit)
takes possession
of an okomfo
(priestess) at
the annual yam
festival of Nana
Ntririwa

Senior drummer Kwasi Asare Adae describes Akom drumming: "Each note I play represents a certain message, so it depends on where I put the beat, on how I hit the drum that makes you respond to a certain thing. For me it's a religious matter. Drumming goes with my religion. Drumming is a language -- this language belongs to my religion."

Possession An integral part
of Akan religion,
Akom drummers
play to inspire
possession

Producer Scott Kiehl selected the tracks for Akom: The Art of Possession from digital field recordings he made over seven years at the annual yam festival of 100-year-old priestess Okomfo [oh-COMB-fu] Nana Ntiriwa. A 24-page booklet describes the spiritual tradition though color photographs and in-depth notes.


Reviews

"Fascinating field documentation, from southern Ghana, of ecstatic polyrhythms accompanying spirit possession of members of the Akan priesthood at an annual festival. At the ceremony unfolds, the drumming and chanting intensify as participants rediscover their groove and their improvisation grows bolder. These recordings were made between 1993 and 1999, but the editing creates an absorbing listening experience. Informative sleevenotes, with fine photographs, display Village Pulse's characteristic meticulousness."
--Julian Cowley, The Wire

"Here's one for the drummers among us. Akom: The Art of Possession is the latest in an extraordinary series of percussion-centered releases from Village Pulse focused on various aspects of West African drum music. These CDs are extraordinary because you get village drum music as it is played, unadorned and captured in situ for its own purpose. Even more, these projects take advantage of modern and easier-to-use technology to document and make available to wider audiences the music practices that may one day vanish. Akom is the Akan word used in Ghana to talk about spirit possession and the ritualistic drum music and chants that invoke the spirits.

"Frequently associated with natural features (mountains, rivers, trees, stones), these spirits and deities (abosom) abound in the region. These recordings are part of the less frequent, but publicly performed, possession dances that take place at the gatherings. Featured here is the spiritual leadership of Nana Ntiriwi, a now elderly okomfo (priestess) who was first possessed at age 14 and who hosts the Yam Festival held annually at Eastertime. The selections involve dance, typically begun with call-and-response chants. However, the multi-layered rhythmic drum patterns are what stand out. The editors selected from several years of recordings (since 1993) to illustrate the 'widest range of stylistic and instrumental differences' you might hear at the annual event, while featuring the emotional and spiritual peaks of the festivities. Let Akom lead you to the rest of the Village Pulse catalog, which strives to record some of the less frequently performed drumming styles of Senegal and Gambia. These styles are changing and, even in percussion-rich West Africa, at risk of fading from practice and memory. Outstanding."
--Richard Dorsett, RootsWorld

"We are graced by the arrival of this compilation of Akan religious music, beautifully recorded at its source over seven years by musician Scott Kiehl. The Akan are Ghana's largest and most diverse ethnic group, 'akom' being one of their words encompassing spirit possession and all the activity that surrounds it.

"Unlike other West African tradtions that were successfully salvaged or reborn in the Americas, there is no well-publicised continuation of specifically Akan music. Why is important to know this? Only because the first-time listener may be lost at first having little to which to relate the subtleties of the sound. There is an ensemble of differently tuned drums, bells, rattles and voices, and the singing is (necessarily) repetitive. Nothing special in this description so far, but the power of the drumming is unbelievable. Akan drumming is noted for its generally un-jagged, focused and flowing nature, making it much less obvious for unaccustomed ears to find the intricate interlocked melodies between the drums, created as if nothing should stick out from the overall sound to interrupt the forward momentum of the ensemble.

"This quality of seamlessness and intensity will not be lost on those brave enough to try it. The final track of tigare rhythm (12 minutes out of the whole disc) is physically exhausting with its unrelenting energy, and left me glowing like I'd had a good workout. Turn the lights out, the volume up and tune in -- a truly unique and worthwhile experience."
-- Barak Schmool, Songlines

Audio Samples

[Button] From track 2, "Enyete" (MP3 format, 30 sec, 456 KB).

[Button] From track 3, "Mo mora" (MP3 format, 30 sec, 352 KB).


Catalog Reference

Title: Akom: The Art of Possession
Artist: Various
Cat. No.: VPU-1009 (CD)


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