April 13, 2007

Por Por: Honk Honk Music From Ghana

Por_Por.jpgWhen we think about the ways in which technology reshapes traditional music, our ideas are generally influenced by how that process has unfolded in the West in the past century or so. And for us, its largely been about electricity – electrical instruments and amplification forging loud, stadium-filling rock from formerly intimate folk styles like blues and country; electronic synthesisers turning once-organic urban grooves into wholly synthetic dance music; and samplers, sequencers and multi-track recording turning everything into infinitely malleable sound sources. Thus, when “traditional music meets technology” these days, it invariably equates to an overlay of drum machines and synths, and a nice high-gloss digital recording.

But electric/electronic instruments and gadgets aren’t the only forms of “modern Western” technology that can have a ground-shifting impact on a traditional style of music; sometimes it can be something far more humble. In the case of the Por Por music of Ghana, its some of the most low-tech devices you can imagine: the squeeze-bulb vehicle horn (ala the picture at the top of this post), the pneumatic tire wheel, and the tire pump.

Por Por (which is an onomatopoeic rendering of the sound produced by squeezing said horns) is a style of music invented by truck and taxi drivers of Ghana which takes traditional music played on animal horns and bells, and renders it on vehicle horns, tire pumps, and wheel rims. (The style apparently emerged as a result of frequent breakdowns by truckers on deserted back-country roads. Fearfully of attacks by wild animals, they would honk horns and bang wrenches on tire rims “like crazy” and the sound was born.)

Over time, these improvised bangs and honks matured into the fully-developed style, often accompanied by large choirs, but performances were to restricted funerals of drivers, so Por Por remained unknown to the outside world. Until now, that is…

A month or so ago, the music was finally exposed to the world via an album called Por Por: Honk Honk Music of Ghana which you can purchased as a CD or mp3/FLAC downloads from the Smithsonian Folkways site.

To give you a taste of it, here is the song, Otsokobila, performed by the La Drivers Por Por Group.

Posted by Warren at April 13, 2007 09:27 PM | World