Also:       ntorowa      torowa      adenkum      sekere      shekeshe      

Contextual Associations

The axatse is a vessel-rattle idiophone of Ghana. This external-seed rattle is used in a number of ensembles of the Ewe people (axatse is the Ewe name for this instrument) as well as by several Akan peoples (the Asante and Denkyira call it the torowa and it is found in the kete ensemble associated with chiefs; the coastal Fante, another Akan people, refer to this instrument variously as adenkum and danka, and incorporate it in several types of recreational ensembles in which it is usually played by women). Reflecting the international ‘world music’ fascination with this type of instrument, an industrialized version of the Nigerian equivalent of this rattle (called a sekere) manufactured by the Latin Percussion (LP) company (who call it shekere) is also pictured here. The company's stated goal is to manufacture instruments that sound exactly like the traditional ones on which they are modeled, but which will last much longer. Several delicate materials used in the manufacture of the traditional sekere/axatse are replaced by ones of greater strength. The ‘industrialized’ LP shekere has come to be used by African musicians, mostly playing neo-traditional and urban popular styles of music, not only in western Africa but elsewhere in sub-Saharan Africa.


The axatse is made from a dried bottleneck-shaped gourd with the top of the neck cut off and its natural contents removed. The gourd becomes an empty vessel with a circular opening cut into the side of its neck. A mesh netting of plant fiber twine with numerous cracked seeds sewn into it (see the instrument in the first gallery photo) or small shells (in the second photo) is loosely woven over the globular part of the gourd. The thread used for the netting on the instrument in the primary photo on this page is plant fiber, while the other examples use synthetic thread. For the LP shekere, the vessel is made of fiberglass and the beads of plastic.

Player - Instrument Interface and Sound Production

The axatse player holds the rattle by its neck with one hand and strikes the globular section of the rattle alternately against the open palm of the other hand and the thigh. Alternate ways of playing the instrument are found in other traditions: holding the rattle by its neck with one hand and striking the globular section of the rattle  against the open palm of the other hand [view “video clip 1” and “video clip 2” on the “Adzewa” page of the Anomabu, Ghana -- Musicking in a Fante Community website for clips of the danka being performed]; and cradling the globular part of the rattle in the player's open palms and lightly tapping it with the fingers. It is a basic rhythmic instrument in any ensemble in which it is used, and in Ewe and Akan ensembles the rhythms produced on it in general bear a close relationship to the timeline patterns played on bells. 


Rattles like the axatse are ubiquitous throughout much of coastal West Africa and vary only in how the sound is produced technically. Tracing the specific origin of a particular rattle type is difficult because of the lack of distinction between traditions.

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.

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: Ewe

Classification (Sachs-Von Hornbostel revised by MIMO)

112.13 idiophone--vessel rattles: rattling objects enclosed in a vessel strike against each other or against the walls of the vessel, or usually against both

Design and Playing Features

Category: idiophone

Energy input motion by performer: stamping and shaking

Basic form of sonorous object/s for idiophone: hollow spheroid vessel - with opening/s

Sound objects per instrument: one

Resonator design: sonorous object itself is a general resonating space

Number of players: one

Sounding principle: stamping/pounding

Sound exciting agent: beaters - pellets, seeds, shells, beads in net around vessel

Energy input motion by performer: stamping and shaking

Pitch of sound produced: indefinite pitch

Sound modification: none


14 in. height 28 in. greatest circumference

Primary Materials

cord - plant fiber


Latin Percussion (third instrument)

Entry Author

Toby Austin, Roger Vetter