Saturday, October 24, 2015

Ghanaian Jama (Gyama) - Definitions, Examples, & Comments

Edited by Azizi Powell

This is Part I of a three part series on Ghanaian jama (gyama) and
Ghanaian jama sessions.

Part I includes my speculative definitions of the Ghanaian meanings of the word "jama" (gyama) with examples from YouTube discussion threads. Part I also features an excerpt from a Ghanaian article that mentions gyama. That article includes two text examples of jamas.

Click for Part II of this series. Part II features videos of the Ghanaian football (soccer) team, the Black Stars, singing jamas.

Click for Part III of this series. Part III of this series showcases videos of secular (non-religious) jama songs and jama sessions from Ghanaian secondary schools (high schools), colleges, and universities. Two videos of Jamas from Allan Family, a Ghanaian band, are also featured in that post.

The content of this post is provided for informational and cultural purposes.

Thanks to all those who are quoted in this post.

Disclaimer: I searched online, but couldn't find any definition for the Ghanaian use of the term "jama" (gyama), "jama sessions" (gyama sessions) or "jama songs" (gyama songs). The only article that I found which included any information about Ghanaian jamas is the one which is excerpted below.

These speculative definitions are my conclusions from reading that article, from watching all the videos on Ghanaian jamas that are currently published on YouTube, and from reading all the comments that are found in those videos' discussion thread. (Note: Some of those videos have no discussion thread, and the videos that do have a discussion thread only have a small number of comments.)

I don't speak or read any language other than English and I just learned about Ghanaian jama sessions, and jama songs yesterday. (Read my comment in the section below as to how I happened to look for videos of Ghanaians singing jamas).

Additions and corrections to these speculative definitions would be greatly appreciated. I'm particularly interested in knowing when (decades) the term "jama sessions" and/or "jama songs" was first used in Ghana and whether these terms are also used elsewhere in Africa.

Speculative Definitions For Jama:
In Ghana (and perhaps elsewhere in West Africa and/or Africa), the word "jama" ("gyama") appears to be a noun, and maybe also as an adjective or a verb.

Jama, noun
1. group morale, team spirit
Example: marisol ex, 2014
i love dis show it shows that in ghana we have more jama GH Loudest "Won Shi Jama" Edition 3

Jama, a double noun (or an adjective?)
2. a place or an occasion where jama songs and other jama activity occurs; "a jama session"*, a "jama competition", a "jama celebration"
Example (Summary for the video whose link is given above) GH Loudest, a jama competition codenamed "won shi Jama" featuring 20 supporter groups in Ghana
Note: Jama activity may be quite boisterous, and includes usually
uptempo [?], singing (or chanting ?) that can be accompanied by drums and other percussive instruments (beaded gourd instrument, iron bell), and/or horns, hand clapping, dancing (for example: jumping up and down, Azonto, Kpanlogo), males waving shirts or flags, etc.

Jama, a double noun (or adjective + a noun?)
descriptive of the type of music or songs
Example: (summary statement of "Jama - Allan Family ")
Jama music from Accra Ghana.Ghana music,west african music.
Note that jama songs can be either secular or religious, depending
on the occasion, and place that they are performed. According to some comments in the discussion threads on university jamas, some secular jama songs are quite raunchy (dirty).

Jama, a double noun (or adjective + a noun?)
Example: Sophia..We dont have titles for these songs..They are random songs we use in our jaama celebrations.

Jama (gyama) songs - songs that help bolster group morale and foster group unity.

"Jama" as a verb:
More VIM!!! Jama your way to the Finals! Go Go Go GHANA!!!
-BlazerMax, 2012,
Ghana players singing the night before AFCON opener

*Editorial comment:
It's important to also note that the Ghanaian term "jama sessions" doesn't have the same meaning as the American (United States) term "jam sessions". Two American definitions for "jam session" are
1. a meeting of a group of musicians, especially jazz musicians, to play for their own enjoyment.
2. an impromptu jazz performance or special performance by jazz musicians who do not regularly play together.

That said, because both of those definitions focus on the group aspect of those sessions (musicians playing together), I wonder if the Arabic word "jama'a" which I think may be a source for the Ghanaian term "jama" (gyama) [read more on this below], might also be a source for the American term "jam" and "jam sessions".

Rather than being like American jam sessions, it occurs to me that the Ghanaian college/university jamas are quite similar in purpose and in (some) activities to American pep rallies, at least to how those pep rallies used to be (pre-1990s? or earlier) before they became structured entertainment programs that feature dance performances, lightly competitive comedic games, and other content.

Click for a pancocojams post on American pep rallies.
It's my theory that the Ghanaian use of the word "jama" may have come an extension of the Arabic word "jama'ah". Here are some definitions of that word:
"Ramadan, what do these words mean? Fajr Jamah, Iftar ....?
Jamaah- Arabic word meaning “in group” (rather than individually)

Jamaah- Arabic word meaning “in group” (rather than individually)"

Friday, April 1, 2011 What is the meaning of "Jama’ah of Muslims" ?
"Jama’ah is a term used quite loosely these days to mean ‘majority’. When someone refers to the Jama’ah of Muslims they usually mean the majority of Muslims in a particular country or city. Its usage becomes frequent before the two Eids when Masjids and groups start blaming each other for creating division among Muslims and separating them from the Jama’ah because of celebrating Eids on different days. Without going into a Fiqhi discussion about when to celebrate Eid and whether to sight the moon globally, locally or use calculations, let us look at what Jama’ah actually means in Islam....

“’The one who sees in his Ameer something which displeases him, let him remain patient, for he who separates himself from the community (Jama’ah) by even so much as a hand span and dies (in this state), he will die the death of Jahiliyyah.” [Bukhari and Muslim]

In the above Hadith, distancing oneself from the Ameer (leader) of the Muslims is referred to as separating oneself from the Jama’ah."...
My position is that the term "Jama'ah" meaning "community" or "majority" was extended to mean "that which foster community (group) morale and unity." As a reminder, Ghanaian jama songs can
be religious or secular.

Here's some information about Islam in Ghana, West Africa:
"Islam is one of the major religions practiced widely in Ghana. Its presence in modern-day Ghana dates back to the 10th century to coincide with the demise of the Ghana Empire. The population of Muslims in Ghana quoted from different sources stretch from 18 to 45 percent.

The majority of Muslims in Ghana are followers of Sunni Islam, with approximately 16% belonging to the Ahmadiyya movement and approximately 2% belonging to Shia Islam

...Despite tensions in the Middle East and North Africa since the mid-1970s, Muslims and Christians in Ghana have had excellent relations. Guided by the authority of the Muslim Representative Council, religious, social, and economic matters affecting Muslims have often been redressed through negotiations. The Muslim Council observes the responsibility of arranging pilgrimages to Mecca for believers who can afford the journey.[1] The National Chief Imam of Ghana is the highest authority on Muslim affairs in Ghana."
I've no knowledge about whether music is a part of Islam in Ghana. However, I've read that vocal and instrumental music is frown upon by some Muslims worldwide. I'd love to have more information about this subject.

21 July 2010 14:16 CET
"Reliving InterCo through Old School Gyama Songs"
By Esi Woarabae Cleland
"I know I'm always going on and on about how I didn't enjoy secondary school, and how I wish I'd gotten so much more out of the experience. But there is one aspect of life in secondary school that I can't get over. That I absolutely loved, and that I keep remembering.


Back in the day, I was an athlete. Not a fantastic athlete but an athlete nonetheless. Which means I got to go to all the InterCo, and Super-Zonals and Regionals...

Now a big part of InterCo is the gyama that goes with it. And I wasn't part of the gyama squad (yes, people, Gey Hey had a gyama squad), but I was always excited to join in the fun.

Even had favorites. So here are two of my favorites.

What a mighty school gey hey
What a mighty school gey hey
Holy bow before us
Kwabotwe adore us
What a mighty school gey hey
Augusco w'a we o
Augusco w'a we o
Kwabotwe w'edi first
Adisco w'edi second
Augusco w'awe o
Here's the translation for the non-twi speakers.
Augusco placed last
Augusco placed last
Kwabotwe placed first
Adisco placed second
Augusco placed last."...
"Interco" probably means "Intercollegiate". The names given above are names of colleges, universities, or halls (divisions) of colleges/universities. [Additions and corrections welcome].

Notice that the songs include boasting and putdowns, two characteristics of a lot of African Diaspora music, including Hip Hop.

I found this entire article to be quite interesting from a folkloric standpoint. I recommend it to that those interested in the subject of Ghanaian culture.

Thanks for visiting pancocojams.

Visitor comments are welcome.


  1. On October 22, 2015, I received an email from Franknaros, a Ghanaian living in Norway who wrote that he found a pancocojams post on the Ghanaian song after hearing a Norwegian football team singing Che Che Kule after winning their football championship. That comment motivated me to see if I could find a video of that team singing "Che Che Kule". When I was unsuccessful with that search, I looked up Ghana's football team the Black Stars to see if they sang that song. That's how I happened upon videos of that team singing Jama. I had no knowledge about Ghanaian jama sessions before that search resulted in me watching those videos and reading comments in those discussion threads.

    1. Correction: The comment from Franknaros was posted as a comment to the pancocojams post on Che Che Kule and not sent as an email to me.

      That pancocojams post and its comments can be read by clicking:

  2. Here's another quote about the origins of the term "jam session":
    … "no one knows for sure why an improvisational performance or informal session by a musical group is called a “jam session.” This usage, which dates back to the 1920s jazz scene, may be using the “pile on” or “pressure” sense of “jam” to describe the effect of many musicians playing together without a score. Or it may be invoking the use of “jam” in the “jelly” sense to mean “something sweet; a very nice treat,” a usage that dates back to the 19th century (“Without Real Jam — cash and kisses — this world is a bitterish pill,” Punch, 1885). I tend to think this “sweet treat” sense of “jam” is more likely to have been the source of “jam” in the musical world, given that we are taking about the slang of musicians, to whom a “jam” represents a welcome opportunity for self-expression.
    Some sources suggest that this meaning of the word "jam" may have come from the word "jamboree". Here are two definitions for "jamboree":


    a carousal; any noisy merrymaking.

    a large gathering, as of a political party or the teams of a sporting league, often including a program of speeches and entertainment."
    Could the Arabic word "jama'ah" (meaning "community") be a source for the word "jamboree" as well as the music meaning of the word "jam"?