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Contextual Associations

The gankogui is a clapperless metal bell idiophone of Ghana, West Africa. It is included in the instrumentation of a wide array of ensembles of the Ewe, Akan, and Ga peoples of southern Ghana; in this article it will be referred to by its Ewe name, gankogui. Nearly every drum ensemble of the Ewe includes the gankogui. Some of the many recreational ensembles in which it is incorporated include the kpanlongo and kolomashie ensembles of the Ga and the apatampa and brass band ensembles of the Fante (an Akan people).


The gankogui is comprised of two conical-shaped flanged bells of differing size joined at their apexes. Each bell is made from two arched pieces of sheet iron with a pronounced tapering so that when their edges are welded together a deep cone-shaped vessel results. The larger bell is approximately twice as long as the smaller one. The apex of each bell is welded to the flared end of an elongated piece of iron that serves as the bell’s handle. A wood dowel is used as a beater to strike the rims of the bells, which are what vibrates most energetically when the bells are played.

Player - Instrument Interface and Sound Production

The gankogui player holds the handle of the bell in one hand with the bells facing either upwards or downwards. The wood beater used to strike the bells near their rims is held in the player's other hand. Each bell produces one basic pitch, and the larger bell is noticeably lower in pitch than the smaller one. When held facing downwards, a seated player can, in addition to allowing the larger bell to ring at full volume, also press it against her/his thigh to achieve subtle timbral effects. Especially in Ewe ensembles, the gankogui functions musically as the primary timekeeping instrument to which all other instrumentalists and vocalists orient their parts. It can also be used in this role in Akan and Ga recreational ensembles, but more often than not the player of this bell in these contexts has some degree of freedom to spontaneously create interesting rhythms outside the role of rigid timekeeping.


The origins of the gankogui are hard to discern. Vansina speculates from archaeological and other forms of evidence that flanged iron double bells such as the gankogui originated in what is now Nigeria and Cameroon between 500 and 1000 years ago and subsequently diffused from there to the west, east, and south. The Ewe, Ga, and Akan inhabit the western edge of the area Vansina explored.

Bibliographic Citations

Burns, James. 2004. Ewe Drumming from Ghana: The Soup Which Is Sweet Draws The Chairs In Closer. CD and liner notes. Topic Records TSCD924.

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

Vansina, J. 1969. “The Bells of Kings.” The Journal of African History 10/2: 187-197.

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,

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: Akan

Classification (Sachs-Von Hornbostel revised by MIMO)

111.242.221 idiophone--set of suspended bells struck from the outside

Design and Playing Features

Category: idiophone

Energy input motion by performer: hammering

Basic form of sonorous object/s for idiophone: bell-shaped vessel - with opening

Sound objects per instrument: two sounded discretely

Resonator design: sonorous object itself is a general resonating space

Number of players: one

Sounding principle: striking - direct

Sound exciting agent: beater/s - stick/s with unpadded tip/s

Energy input motion by performer: hammering

Pitch of sound produced: relative pitch

Sound modification: none


13.5 in. height 9 in. length (larger bell) 4.3 in. length (smaller bell)

Primary Materials


Entry Author

Roger Vetter, Toby Austin