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Master Fiddlers of Dagbon

Mahama Braimah goonji group leader
Mahama Braimah, goonji group leader

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Master Fiddlers of Dagbon

Dagbamba Goonji Fiddle Music
(essay and recording notes)

"Much of the rhythmic drive comes not from solo work but from the music’s steady yet shifting pulsations.  Goonji music offers a superb illustration of how one may attribute the notion of percussive attack to a fiddler’s bowing technique.  The rattles’ complementary flourishes are broken by extended periods of straightforward yet energized time-keeping, and I cannot think of any other music in which that simple beat from the rattles would seem so stunning. "

Sample songs: 
Dogua Bayoyoyo (7:04)
Wanda Ya Chi Magani Yaa Baata (6:35)

"In most goonji songs, the vocal phrasing of the chorus or responsive line is duplicated in the responsive parts of the fiddles.  The songs generally begin with this phrasing maintained for enough time to establish the song and its rhythmic dynamic.  The leader sings various stanzas against this response, and the song gradually builds in intensity as the tempo quickens and the goonjis take flights on their instruments."

Sample MP3s present only the first few seconds of a song, and getting a real sense of goonji music from such a sample is futile.  To encourage understanding of goonji music, I would recommend listening to a full song.  The tempo and dynamics of the song begin changing about two minutes in and by four minutes in, the music is in full swing.  


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Alhassan Braimah chorus leader Dancing to goonji music

Alhassan Braimah, goonji chorus leader Dancing to goonji music, Tamale

Goonjis with young zaabia girls, Tolon
Goonji players with young girls on zaabia, Tolon

Goonji at gathering, Tamale
Goonjis at gathering, Tamale

Dancing to goonji music
Goonji dancer with zaabia players

Goonji playerGoonji player

Goonji Tamale 1970sGoonji Tolon

Giving money to goonji dancer
Giving money to a goonji dancer

Goonji dancer
Goonji dancer surrounded by sound

Master Fiddlers recording group
Master Fiddlers of Dagbon recording group

Goonjis in front of chief's house
Goonjis in front of chief's house, Tamale 1975