The Sapashinima of Kakpagyili


The two gentlemen in these recordings are two of the finest and most widely respected musicians of the Dagbamba performance genre called Sapashin-waa. They are each members of a lineage of warriors, called sapashinima, who trace their ancestry to Akan migrants who moved into northern Ghana sometime in the late 18th or early 19th centuries. Buaru is among the most senior and revered sapashini drummers in Tamale and throughout the surrounding village communities. Nakɔha is a praise-singer from the community of Tampion, about 30km northwest of Tamale. He is well-known for his knowledge of history and powerful voice.

Buaru and Nakɔha perform a genre of music that is separate from the better-known music of the Dagbamba lunsi drummers (see Harouna Abdoulaye and sons Like the lunsi, they recount history and praise chiefs, but the topics are typically limited to the deeds of past warriors and sapashini chiefs. The musical ensemble includes the Dagbamba talking drum, called the luŋa, and is augmented by the iron double-bell called dawulε, which is of Akan origin. The warriors’ Akan lineage is also manifested in the use of Akan-Twi proverbs in some of the chiefs’ praise-names.

Nakɔha sings the praise of his family ancestry as well as that of great sapashini warriors and chiefs, past and present. Buaru’s drumming both mirrors and extends upon Nakɔha’s texts, adding praises using drum language, rendered as melodic rhythms on the luŋa. The majority of the praising is done through musical settings of “praise-names”—proverbs that are associated with chiefs and their descendants—although portions of the praise-singing are done through prose that recalls historical actors and events.

The written texts are transcriptions of interviews with Nakɔha and Buaru, in which they explain the praise-names, proverbs, and some of the historical contexts for their singing and drumming. The interviews were conducted by John Issah and Saeed Alhassan Dawuni, and translated by John Issah.

The recordings on this site were taken from a recording session at a studio set up in the courtyard of Muhammed Alidu’s Jisonaayili home, and produced by Karl Haas. The full session features a full Sapashin-waa ensemble which performs several of the most common pieces in the sapashini repertoire. The men who perform in this ensemble typically perform in the retinue of the sapashini chief of Kakpagyili, a community located in the southernmost outskirts of Tamale. They perform frequently throughout the Dagbon traditional area at funerals, wake-keepings, traditional festivals, and the enskinments of chiefs.

Karl Haas & Buaru Alhassan Tia

Karl Haas & Buaru Alhassan Tia

Karl Haas (Ph.D., Boston University, ’16; M.A. Tufts university, ’07; M.M. Boston Conservatory, ’02; B.Mus.Ed., Montana State University, ’00) is an ethnomusicologist whose research focuses on traditional performance, gender, and development in urban West Africa. Since 2006, he has been conducting research with the Dagbamba warriors of northern Ghana. His book project, The Warrior’s Blood is Only His Sweat, explores the relationship between performances of traditional music, local preservationist discourses, and the construction of masculinity in the first decades of the 21st century. More recently, Karl has been working on the place of music and dance in Dagbamba youths’ negotiation of tradition-based values and future-oriented narratives of development as they negotiate Africa’s growing “youth crisis.”

See all metadata and notes (pdf)
See transcript (pdf)

  • Ethnic Group: Dagomba
  • Language: Dagbanli
  • Country: Ghana
  • Recording date: June 9, 2014
  • Recording location: Jisonaayili neighborhood, Tamale, Ghana
  • Technician: Mohammed Alidu
%d bloggers like this: