Filed Under (Ethnomusicology, General) by Rob on 07-06-2007

The Bogo (who speak Igo) are the smallest people groups in Togo, with only around 6,000 of them. Furthermore, until last week they had no church music in their own language or genres. Ethnomusicologist to the rescue…


I’d had an e-mail from a colleague a few weeks back saying:

‘We are losing our traditional songs in favour of Ewe songs, can you help?’


Ewe is a much larger people group, but the Bogo also deserve to use their own music for God, so I agree to come along and help.

After several hours’ driving a final hour of narrow, bendy, poorly-surfaced mountain roads, I make it to the village of Sassanou, situated in a pretty valley only 500 metres from the Ghana border. I was scarcely out of the car when I was met by a whole crowd of women singing a song of welcome. At the end of the song they all gave out a high pitched ‘Eeeee’ cheer and one lady promptly put a necklace round my neck. Wow!  What a warm welcome!
Once we got started, it emerged that the Bogo only know about 4 of their musical genres – I guess the others have died out with older generations, which is sad. Nevertheless, I found out that the following still exist:

  • Ikawo -    Sung by women to express joy.
  • Iyaya -     Sung at funerals and to express joy (yes, you can have both at once here). Sung by women.
  • Okpaja –   Sung after hunting or after harvest, mostly by men. (The initial letter is the short ‘o’ as in ‘hot’)
  • Atungba – Used when a new chief is enthroned. Men sing and play it, women dance to it!

So, over the 3 days we got 11 new songs written, some based on Bible verses and some on parables, which went well.  In the Atungba, large barrel drums are usually played. They said they’d have to get the permission of the village to use them for these new songs. On the day of recording, they not only brought the drums but also an old man from the village came along to play his horn. Here are some of the Bogo folk, singing Biblical songs in their own style for the first time:
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I think you can tell how happy they are!


The Zoho zaha

One of the guys attending the course also brought along his zoho zaha, an instrument made of a wooden cane with grooves and a round seed pod which runs up and down. There is then a flat, dark seed pod held in the left hand acting as a sound box. Here’s a photo:



New gear…

This was the first workshop when I got to use my new Behringer Eurorack portable mixing desk, which worked really well. Here it is:


That’s all for now, cheers!

2 Comments posted on "Breaking new ground with the Bogo"
anne on June 9th, 2007 at 8:08 pm #


Rob on June 22nd, 2007 at 12:34 pm #

Thanks Anne