Joseph Hanson Kwabena Nketia

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Joseph Hanson Kwabena Nketia
Born (1921-06-22) 22 June 1921 (age 95)
Mankessim, Mfantsiman District, Central Region, Ghana
Nationality Ghanaian
Other names J. H. Kwabena Nketia
Occupation Ethnomusicologist and composer

Joseph Hanson Kwabena Nketia (born 22 June 1921) is a Ghanaian ethnomusicologist and composer. Considered Africa's premier musicologist, he has been called a "living legend" and "easily the most published and best known authority on African music and aesthetics in the world".[1]


Born in 1921 in Mankessim, Mfantsiman District, Central Region, Ghana, J. H. Kwabena Nketia was his parents' only child.[2] He attended the University of London from 1944 to 1949, beginning with two years of study in linguistics at the School of Oriental and African Studies. In 1949 he began three years' study at Birkbeck College, University of London, and Trinity College of Music, London, obtaining a B.A. degree. In 1958 a Rockefeller Fellowship allowed him to come to the United States, where he attended Columbia University (studying with Henry Cowell), the Juilliard School, and Northwestern University, studying musicology and composition.

He was a professor of music at UCLA and the University of Pittsburgh, and has lectured in many prestigious universities worldwide, including Harvard University, Stanford University, University of Michigan, City University London, the University of Brisbane in Australia, the University of Kansas, Lawrence, and the China Conservatory of Music, Beijing.[3] He is an emeritus professor of music at the University of Ghana, Legon, Accra, where he began teaching in 1952. He currently directs the International Centre for African Music and Dance (ICAMD).

His concept and interpretation of time and rhythmic patterns in Ghanaian and other African folk music were revolutionary, and became standard for researchers and scholars around the world. For example, he introduced the use of the more readable 6/8 time signature in his compositions as an alternative to the use of duple (2/4) time with triplets used earlier by his mentor, Ephraim Amu. Although this practice undermined Amu’s theory of a constant basic rhythm (or pulse) in African music, and generated debate, Nketia pointed out that the constant use of triplets in a duple time signature was misleading. Today, many scholars have found Nketia’s theory very useful in transcribing African music.[4]

He has composed for both Western and African instruments, and has written more than 200 publications, including his world-acclaimed The Music of Africa, which has been translated into German, Italian, Chinese, and Japanese.

Awards and honours[edit]

Nketia has been honoured with many awards in Ghana, including the Companion of the Order of the Star of Ghana, the Grand Medal of the Government of Ghana (Civil Division), a DLitt (Honoris Causa) of the University of Ghana, the Ghana Book Award, ECRAG Special Honour Award (1987), Ghana Gospel Music Special Award (2003), and the ACRAG Flagstar Award (1993).

Other international awards he has received include the Cowell Award of the African Music Society; the ASCAP Deems Taylor Award, for The Music of Africa (1975); the IMC-UNESCO Prize for Distinguished Service to Music; the 1997 Prince Claus Award; and the Distinguished Africanist Award of the African Studies Association of the USA (2000).

In 2009, the Nketia Music Foundation was formed "to promote the conservation and development of Ghana’s Creative Legacy in contemporary contexts, and the use of the works of Emeritus Prof. J. H. Kwabena Nketia and other composers for the development and growth of music and culture".[5]

On 27 February 2012, Goucher College presented "Tradition, Creation, and Life: A Celebration of Professor Joseph Hanson Kwabena Nketia and the Music of Ghana".[6]


  • 1963 - African Music in Ghana. Northwestern University Press
  • 1974 - The Music of Africa. W. W. Norton. ISBN 0-393-02177-7. ISBN 978-0-393-02177-6.
  • 2004 - African Art Music/The Creative Potential of African Art Music in Ghana. Companion booklet to ICAMD CD recordings (ICAMD - DMVI - ICAMD - DMV4). Accra: Afram Publications (Ghana) Ltd.
  • 2005 - Ethnomusicology and African Music – Collected papers, Volume One: Modes of Inquiry and Interpretation. Accra: Afram publications. ISBN 9964-70-400-3.

Further reading[edit]

  • Akrofi, Eric A. (2003). Sharing Knowledge and Experience: A Profile of Kwabena Nketia, Scholar and Music Educator. Accra: Afram Publications. ISBN 978-9964-70-342-4.
  • African Musicology: Current Trends. Vol. 1: Festschrift presented to J.H. Kwabena Nketia. ISBN 0-918456-62-2


  1. ^ Nanabanyin Dadson (Daily Graphic), "J. H. Kwabena Nketia - Portrait Of A Young Man At 90". Modern Ghana, 23 June 2011.
  2. ^ Akrofi, Eric A. (2003). Sharing Knowledge and Experience: A Profile of Kwabena Nketia. Accra: Afram Publications, p. 1.
  3. ^ K. Gyan-Apenteng, "Nketia and Nrican Nketsia at PAWA Pan-African Lecture on Wednesday", 25 February 2013.
  4. ^ J. H. Kwabena Nketia biography on ghanaweb
  5. ^ Nketia Music Foundation. Retrieved 1 April 2012.
  6. ^ Goucher College website. Retrieved 1 April 2012.

External links[edit]