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General News of Wednesday, 9 May 2001

Source: AFP

"No-music" month Provokes Religious Passions

A one-month ban on drums and loud music in Ghana has resulted in a stand-off between traditionalists and those who question an age-old practice of the west African country's Ga ethnic group.

On Monday, a council of Ga elders, comprising priests, priestesses and chieftains, outlawed "the beating of drums" and other loud music for a month to mark their main annual festival, Homowo.

Homowo, according to legend, marks month-long silent prayers by the Ga, an animist group, who were then facing a devastating drought and a famine.

Their prayers were answered with abundant rains and a bountiful harvest, giving birth to the solemn festival which literally means "hunger tomorrow."

The Ga comprise about 10 percent of Ghana's 20 million people. Their traditional homeland is Accra, the Ghanaian capital.

This year's festivities have become controversial because unlike last year, the Ga Traditional Council -- or body of elders -- say the ban will be strictly implemented, especially in Accra.

Last year, the Council overlooked drumming in churches, where Sunday prayers are commonly interspersed with loud music and percussion.

Nii Adottey Obuo, acting president of the Ga Traditonal Council, told AFP: "the Ga people will not allow widespread violation of the ban.

"Our simple demand during the four weeks of the ban is that the citizens should help in the promotion of peace and tranquility.

"Violations of the ban offends not only traditional and cultural sensibilities of the Ga state but also decent-minded people."

Sam Koranchie Ankrah, a leading member of the Charismatic Churches Association, a grouping of Pentecostal churches, disagreed saying he would defy the ban.

"We will not be intimidated by the threat from the Ga Traditional Council. We have the right to worship and we would go ahead. It is up to the security authorities to ensure that a group of people under the name of tradition do not infringe our constitutional right to worship freely."

The month-long ban also provoked tensions in Accra in 1999, leading to clashes between supporters of the Ga Council and Christians who wanted to continue playing drums in church.

About 20 people were injured, church property vandalised and cars destroyed in the violence.

A senior police officer told AFP that things could go awry this year.

"We have been receiving reports of the churches forming what they call 'warrior squads' to fight the Ga youth who may be attacking them for drumming within the churches. Securitywise, it doesn't look too good."

Sources in the Ga community also said they were gearing up for clashes.

Feisal Helwani, a popular music producer and owner of Accra's trendy "Napoleon" nightclub said he had stopped blasting music since Monday.

"I think that we will have to respect tradition," Helwani, a Ghanaian of Lebanese origin said. "We have this month-long ban every year and as music producers and nightclub owners we have to plan around this."

Nii Adokyei-Moffat, a staff writer at Graphic Showbiz, Ghana's biggest-selling entertainment weekly, said the ban would "not affect nightlife too much.

"What will be missing will be the loud music... but people can still drink against the background of lounge music."

Kweku Boateng, a taxi driver who works at night, said his earnings plunged every year during the festival.

"Many people stay at home because the discotheques and nightclubs do not open. And those who open do not have enough customers because they fear attacks if they play loud music."

For Accra musician Korley Laryea, it is vacation time.

"I believe we need to respect tradition. I always take this one month as a rest period."