Title: Anomabu-Omanhene’s Funeral. Label: Vetter field recording, 29/5/1993. Format: Hi8. Catalogue #: VC-10.

Contextual Associations

The kwadum is a single-head membranophone of the Akan peoples of southern Ghana. It is the master-drum of the kete ensemble, which is associated with traditional chiefs. Each kete ensemble involves only one kwadum. Like almost all drumming in Akan society, the playing of the kwadum is restricted to males. Red and black are colors that the Akan associate with death and funerals, and one important context for which the kete ensemble is used is funerals of chiefs, which explains the cloth checkerboard pattern adorning the drum’s shell.


The barrel-shaped shell of the kwadum is carved from a single block of wood, preferably a local variety of cedar called tweneboa. The shape of the shell’s cavity mirrors that of its exterior. Seven holes are drilled at an angle through the shell and spaced equidistantly around its circumference about a third of the way down from the top opening of the shell. Into each of these holes is inserted a peg, ideally made from ofema wood. The exposed ends of the pegs are notched near their end to produce a cap around which the wire loops of the drumhead will be secured. The drumhead is made of a circle of antelope rawhide that is folded over and between two plant-fiber hoops of a diameter slightly larger than that of the opening of the drum shell. A very long length of wire is then threaded through holes (21 in all) on the bottom side of the hide and around one of the hoops in such a way as to produce seven sets of loops for attachment to the drum’s tuning pegs. The remaining edge of the antelope hide is then folded over the top of the second hoop and trimmed. The check-shaped drumsticks used to beat the drum are made from forked branches of the ofema tree. Squares of black and red cloth (see above) are sewn together and then attached to the exterior of the drum shell with nails and tacks.

Player - Instrument Interface and Sound Production

The drumhead of the kwadum is struck with two stick beaters, one in each of the drummer’s hands. The bend in the sticks allows the drum to be struck either with the drumhead facing up (the drummer can be seated when in this orientation), or with it being held horizontally while being carried on the head of a drum-bearer during processions. The drumhead’s tautness, and therefore its relative pitch, can be equalized and adjusted with the tuning pegs around which the head’s wire loops run. The kwadum is the lowest-pitched drum in the kete ensemble and is considered the “master drum,” which means that its performer has some latitude in determining how the rhythms produced on this drum fit with those produced on the more regulated supporting drums and other instruments. The kwadum drummer is also responsible for choosing the appropriate piece/s for an occasion, setting the tempo, and rhythmically signaling transitions within a performance.


Little is known about the origin of the kwadum as an individual instrument, perhaps because its primary use is within the kete ensemble.

Bibliographic Citations

Koetting, James T. 1984. “Africa/Ghana.” In Worlds of Music ed. Jeff Todd Titon. New York: Schirmer Books, pp. 64-104.

Nketia, J. H. 1963. Drumming in Akan Communities of Ghana. Edinburgh: Thomas Nelson and Sons LTD.

Younge, Paschal Yao. 1992. Musical Traditions of Ghana, v.1. 2nd ed. Legon, Ghana: University of Ghana.


Instrument Information


Continent: Africa

Region: West Africa

Nation: Ghana

Formation: Akan

Classification (Sachs-Von Hornbostel revised by MIMO)

211.221.1 membranophone--individual single-skin barrel drum

Design and Playing Features

Category: membranophone

Number of drums comprising instrument: single drum

Shell design: tubular - barrel

Number and function of membranes: one, for sounding

Membrane design: framed with rigid flesh hoop

Membrane attachment: framed membrane hoop connected, by lacing, to pegs protruding from shell

Membrane tension control: adjusting depth of pegs in shell

Sounding for membranophone: striking with two handheld beaters

Sound modifiers for membranophone: none


23 in. height 12.9 in. head diameter

Primary Materials

membrane - mammal skin
lacing - wire

Entry Author

Toby Austin, Roger Vetter