Category Archives: Instruments

Atenteben – Ghanian whistle

Whilst researching the music of Erwan Bouvier I came across of a video of him playing in a group with a guest musician playing an unusual bamboo whistle. The musician was Dela Botri, and the whistle was the atenteben. Atenteben is a bamboo fipple flute from Ghana; it was previously used in funeral ritual music, but back in the 50s was adapted to the diatonic scale and popularised with a wider repertoire.  Musicologist and composer Dr. Ephraim Amu was important in this process, and it seems as if atenteben may have even adopted a place in school music that the recorder did in the UK.

Dela Botri is a very popular exponent of the atenteben, and he demonstrates its versatility in this short kwela-like clip (unfortunately I am prevented from embedding it here).

In this video, Begine Owuo Kebibaya explains the ‘mechanics’ of the atenteben:

Six holes on the front, and an enigmatic (octave?) thumb-hole on the back; essentially a diatonic whistle where a pennywhistler’s “E” fingering plays the tonic.

Another exponent of modern atenteben is Professor Emeritus J. H. K. Nketia who is credited with composing the two following, contrasting performances:

In the next video, we’re shown some parts of the process of making atenteben – from collecting the bamboo to cutting the fipple in the workshop:

And to hear what Dela Botri is doing with atenteben in Ghana, listen to him and Hewale Sounds:

Canadian exponent Isabelle Vadeboncoeur plays an impromtu ‘kwela’:

In this excerpt, Hawale Sounds play a tribute to Kanda Bongo Man’s “Zing Zong

And last of all, Ohia Beye Ya (OBY) Band:

Shisa Phata Phata

Its about time there was some practical, hands-on music around here, and to this end I’ve transcribed|arranged|made-up the short and sweet solo section from Spoke’s Mashiyane’s song called ‘Shisa Phata Phata’ (composed by a ‘R. Msomi’).

Phata Phata was a popular dance “down Jo’burg way” (or sometimes “down Gauteng way“) as Miriam Makeba reminds us in her famous song Pata Pata. Shisa (does anyone know what ‘Shisa’ means?) Phata Phata is a different tune to Miriam & Spokes Phata Phata (which can be found on the rather good Miram Makeba – Her Essential Recordings: The Empress of African Song album), but I strongly suspect that Miriam is singing in the original recording (New Sound GB.2975).

Shisa Phata Phata solo, played by Spokes.

More about Donald Kachamba

Following on from my last post about the Kachamba Brothers, I decided to try and find out more.

First of all, I found some interesting photographs of Donald and ‘friends’ jamming together. These pictures were taken by Rike and Henrik Bettermann when they visited Chileka in Malawi as part of their 1996/97 tour of West and South Africa. One of the pictures is the same as the babatoni picture in an earlier post about babatoni – the kwela bass. A linked page contains a biography for Donald Kachamba, and notes that he died on 12 January 2001.

Shortly before Donald died, he was an artist-in-residence (November 1999 until July 2000) at UCLA’s Department of Ethnomusicology. Christie Burns (a.k.a Dulcimergirl) was one of the students that worked with Donald during this time, and she presents some of her memories, and a great recording of the students and Donald together, in her music blog.

You can get hold of the UCLA course material through the Kwela Project Store; a song/essays book, and a CD recording (including the tune in Christie’s blog). I’ll review my copies here, just as soon as they arrive from Amazon.

Babatoni, the Kwela Bass

Babatoni in a kwela band. Donald Kachamba & Friends, Chileka, July 1997, © 1997 H. Bettermann Back in June there was a blip in the visitor stats that was the result of a link to the Kwela Project from a post in the Banjoroots Yahoo group. The post was about Africa-American single-stringed instruments, and as well as mentioning the renowned ethnomusicologist Gerhard Kubik (who happens to play clarinet in Donald Kachamba‘s Kwela Heritage Jazz Band), it talks of the babatoni – South African washtub (well, more accurately, tea-chest) bass. Babatoni, aka Kwela Bass, is just one instance of a vast, worldwide class of single-string bass instruments. So now, when you listen to kwela – listen to what is happening in the bottom-end, far from the wailing pennywhistle. Maybe that’s a babatoni you’re hearing!