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Contextual Associations

The operenten is the name, used generically here, of a single-head hand drum found in a variety of sizes and names throughout the Akan and Ga cultural areas of southern Ghana. Nketia (1963) says that the Akan apentemma, described elsewhere on this site, is a small operenten, and that both are found in some Akan ensembles while in other ensembles only one or the other is used. Amongst the Fante (an Akan people), Vetter (1996) reports that operenten-type drums of various sizes go under the names ampaa, kyenkese, egyeguado, opentsin in a wide range of ensembles. Ga drummer Mustapha Tettey Addy labels the operenten as the master ritual drum of the Ga played for ceremonies in honor of the war god Otu.


The operenten has a goblet-shaped shell carved from a single block of wood. The shape of the shell’s cavity mirrors that of its exterior and its bottom end or stem is open. Six holes are drilled at an angle through the shell and spaced equidistantly around its circumference a little more than a third of the way down from the top opening of the shell. Into each of these holes is inserted a wood peg. The exposed ends of the pegs are notched near their end to produce a cap around which the rope loops of the drumhead will be secured. The drumhead is made of a circle of rawhide that is folded around and between two metal hoops of a diameter slightly larger than that of the opening of the drum shell. A very long length of rope is then threaded around the second hoop, which is situated above the first hoop, in such a way as to produce six sets of loops for attachment to the drum’s tuning pegs. The remaining edge of the hide is then folded over the top of the second hoop and trimmed.

Player - Instrument Interface and Sound Production

The operenten is played by a seated drummer most often with the palms of his hands; in some ensemble settings amongst the Akan a stick can be used in combination with an open palm. Before performance the drummer will adjust the tension of the head to the desired pitch and tone quality by pounding the pegs into or out of the drum shell. Depending on in which ensemble a particular variant of the operenten is being utilized, it can serve as a support drum (sticking to a set pattern throughout the performance of a piece) or a lead drum (varying its rhythm over a timeline and other drum parts).


While we can safely assume that, due to its wide distribution in southern Ghana and its numerous variants and their names, the operenten has had a long history in this part of Africa, almost nothing is known in a precise sense of its origins and evolution. 

Bibliographic Citations

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

Steyn, Michael. n.d. Mustapha Tettey Addy: Master Drummer from Ghana. CD and liner notes. Lyrichord LYRCD 7250.

Vetter, Roger. 1996. Rhythms of Life, Songs of Wisdom: Akan Music from Ghana, West Africa. CD and booklet. Smithsonian Folkways SF CD 40463.

________. Anomabu, Ghana—Musicking in a Fante Community, accessed November 1, 2016, http://vetter.sites.grinnell.edu/ghana/

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

________, and Maria Billings. 2000. Ghana: Rhythms of the People. CD and liner notes. Multicultural Media MCM3018.


Instrument Information


Continent: Africa

Region: West Africa

Nation: Ghana

Formation: Ga

Classification (Sachs-Von Hornbostel revised by MIMO)

211.26 membranophone--goblet-shaped drum: the body consists of a main section which is either cup shaped or cylindrical, and a slender stem

Design and Playing Features

Category: membranophone

Number of drums comprising instrument: single drum

Shell design: tubular - pedestal

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 directly with both hands

Sound modifiers for membranophone: none


24 in. height 10.2 in. width of head

Primary Materials

membrane - mammal skin
cord - synthetic

Entry Author

Roger Vetter