Edited by Azizi Powell
This post presents information about the Kassena people of northern Ghana & Southern Burkina Faso and the larger group of Gurunsi to which they belong. Information about the Kassena's traditional Nagila dance is also included in this post along with five videos of Nagila dancing.
The content of this post is presented for cultural, folkloric, entertainment, and aesthetic purposes.
In addition to the music and singing, I'm also interested in the traditional musical instruments and traditional clothing that are shown in this video.
All copyrights remain with their owners.
Thanks to all others who are featured in these videos and thanks to all those who are quoted in this post and thanks to the publishers of these YouTube videos.
INFORMATION ABOUT THE KASSENA PEOPLE
..."History: Kassena peoples belong to a larger subset of peoples in the area of southern Burkina Faso and northern Ghana collectively known as Gurunsi. This term is applied to these peoples, who share common histories, languages, and political structures, but it also carries pejorative overtones in local usage.
Most of Gurunsi live in modern day Burkina Faso, and the degree to which recent Kassena history differs from their northerly neighbours, such as the Nuna, Bwa, and Winiama, is because they live in modern day Ghana. These differences arose during the colonial period in the early part of the 20th century, as French and British colonial systems differed in their administrative practices."...
"The Kassena people are an ethnic group of Kingdom of Dagbon northern Ghana and Burkina Faso, and their language is the Kasem language. Their number is estimated to be about 161,000. Their chief lives in the town of Tiébélé.
The Kassena people are part of the greater Gurunsi group and were separated from the Gurunsi ethnic group at the beginning of the 20th century, as a consequence of colonialism and more specifically of the partitioning of the Burkina Faso-Ghana area between France and United Kingdom. As most of the Gurunsi people live in Burkina, the Kassena were isolated and gradually developed an independent cultural identity. Kassena mostly live on agriculture, growing millet, sorghum, yam and, to a lesser extent, maize, rice, groundnuts, beans. During the dry season they also hunt and fish."
From http://kwekudee-tripdownmemorylane.blogspot.com/2013/08/frafra-gurune-people-hardworking.html editor: kwekudee, from Tema, Greater-Accra, Ghana
Note: This blog contains what appears to me to be very detailed information about its subject matter. However, there haven't been any postings in this blog since 2014, and comment sections for these posts have been spammed with lots of profanity and explicit sexual content.
"Yinε san ka ku tinŋa can di" (If God does not kill, the earth will not eat)~Frafra Proverb.
The Frafra (also known as Gorse) are hardworking agricultural Gur-speaking people that forms a subset of Gurune/Gurunshi ethnic group in Northern Ghana and Southern Burkina Faso. The Frafra people who live predominantly in the north-eastern part of the Upper East Region of Ghana, called themselves in Gurune language as "Gorse,' whilst some historians refer to them as "Gurune." However, when a Frafra meets any Gurune speaking person he refer to him or her as "Mabia" (My family).
Their popular name Frafra is a colonialist term given to them by the Christian Missionaries, who when they first encountered Frafra farmers were greeted with the common greeting to people working "Ya Fare fare?", which means "How is your suffering (work)?" The missionaries began referring to these Gurune people as Frafra, a derivation of the greeting, which eventually was adopted by the people themselves and has been popularized by the Southern Ghanaian peoples...
Actually, it is believed that the term Frafra is a name that the British colonials coined to apply to the Gurune-speaking people. It appears that they found it easier to pronounce the word Frafra rather than the proper name Gurune. The term Frafra is derived from a form of greeting in the Gurune language. The word fara-fara in Gurune has two meanings depending on the context. It could mean simply ‘thanks’ for a favour done or a greeting particularly to people who are working. It is, therefore, supposed that when the British found it difficult to pronounce the term Gurune, they resorted to this term, referring not to the greeting or the thanks but to the ethnic group itself. It is not very clear how the term came to be associated with the other ethnic groups discussed above since it is more prominent in the Gurune dialect than in the others. It may be due to the closeness of language, cultural practices and above all ritual action"....
INFORMATION ABOUT NAGILA DANCE
From http://music.africamuseum.be/instruments/english/ghana/frafra/nagila.html © RMCA/Dominik PHYFFEROEN
"The nagila dance is a dance genre that is popular in northern Ghana, particularly among the Kassena and the Frafra. It is a recreational solo dance with a driving rhythm.
A typical feature of the nagila dance is stamping on the ground with the feet in a specific rhythmic pattern and in interaction with the drums. The dance is short: the dancer takes centre stage and performs an energetic dance for about 30 seconds. This is followed by a break during which only the percussion instruments play. When the dancer is ready again, the drums play louder and with more precision. The dance can be resumed in this way some six times by the same dancer, after which a new dancer takes to the floor.
The dancer bends the upper part of her body forwards at the hips so that the thighs and back form almost a right angle, bending her knees and bringing her heels off the ground. She holds her elbows either in front of her or behind her.
The nagila dance can be performed for entertainment purposes, at public gatherings of chiefs and during festivals."
27 July 2003 Source: ghanamusic.com Ghana Music of the Northern Tribes
..."Ensemble of weii* (notched flutes), gulu (cylindrical drums) and gungonga (pressure drums). Music for the Nagila dance. Recorded in Navrongo. Gulu are two-headed cylindrical drums played with two curved sticks or a stick and a hand. The hourglass drum is called gungonga. A complete ensemble includes six or seven flutes.
The highest pitch one (wubala) plays the most important part of the melody and may improvise on it. The flutes in the middle register play one or two notes in hocket with the wubala, as does also a lower pitched flute. The performance of such music is often related to chiefs."
Example #1: APIOU Best African Dance - kassena wedding - Burkina Faso
awetanga Uploaded on May 13, 2008
That's how we rejoice in Burkina Faso during a wedding ceremony. this dance is from the kassena, and ethnic group located in the south of the country : Province of Nahouri, Po, Tiebele
Here's a comment from that video's discussion thread:
waqar al'adun gargajiya, 2008
"Great stuff! That wedding looks live! :) My Grandfather's side are mixed Gurunsi and Hausa originally from near Paga, Northern Ghana. My Dad once went to Po as a child, and couldn't tell the difference, as everyone spoke the same language and belonged to the same group, either side of the border :)"
Example #2: Gurunsi Dancing
Jezuz415, Published on Jul 9, 2012
Departing the village of Tiabele in Burkina Faso
Here's a comment from this video's discussion thread:
Augustine Ayelah, 2013
"Seeing this makes me relive my childhood. I am a Gurunja (singular) from the village of Sumbrungu. In Ghana we are called Frafra - a misnomer. I am just very happy the French did not change our ethnicity. Great work! Great work indeed."
Example #3: La danse des Gourounsi
Fasolangue Published on Jul 24, 2014
A lengthy summary statement is given in French. Here's the Google Translate English translation of part of that summary:
"Gourounsi are a population of West Africa present in Burkina Faso and Ghana. They are distributed along the northern border of Ghana to the localities of Koudougou and Reo. They consist of several sub-groups spread in south-central Burkina Faso. The Kassena known their original architecture in the Po region Tiébélé and Leo, the Lele or Lyélé in Reo Region, Nuni in the region of Leo, of Pouni and Zawara the Nounouma in Tchériba Region, Sissala around Leo, the KB area Siby"...
Example #4: Nagila (Kassena Dance)
DERCMERC STUDIOS, Published on Jun 5, 2015
kassena dance at a school in paga, Kambridge International Academy
Example #5: NAGILA DANCE OF THE KASSENAS
DERCMERC STUDIOS Published on Jun 26, 2015
THE NOBLE DANCE OF THE KASSENA/NANKANA PEOPLE.
Our noble dance is here once again
PANCOCOJAMS EDITOR'S NOTE- SIMILARITY TO HISTORICALLY BLACK GREEK LETTER STEPPING
Perhaps because I've been doing research on historically Black Greek lettered fraternity stepping, but much of the Nagila dance reminds me of stepping, especially when it is done by a group of male dancers standing in a vertical line or in horizontal lines.
I'll leave it to dancers to point out all of the similarities and differences, but I noticed that the upper body of these Nagila dancers are bent more than it is done in stepping. Also, these Nagila dancers are accompanied by live musicians which isn't the case in stepping and these Nagila dancers don't chant or sing as is often done by historically Black fraternity (and sorority) step teams. And one stark difference that I noticed in one of the videos (given as Example #3 below, beginning at 1:21) was that at one point in the dance the men had both hands on their hips. In the United States, only females put one or both hands on their hips.
To be clear, I'm not saying that the Kassena's Nagila dance is the source of African American stepping. It's possible that African Americans came up with stepping on our own without any direct or indirect influence from Africans. However, these Kassena Nagila videos demonstrate that foot stomping dances occur in other African and African Diaspora cultures besides South African boot dances and African American stepping.
There are many different styles of stepping. But, for comparison's sake, here's a link to a video of stepping -also known as "boppin'", "marching", and "hopping" - that is performed by members of Omega Psi Phi Fraternity, Inc. on Steve Harvey's television show. (Television personality Steve Harvey is a member of that fraternity and also steps in this video)
Omega Psi Phi Stepping on the Steve Harvey Show https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=hvHhsGDS7lE
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