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What is an Atenteben?

Updated on July 17, 2014

What is an Atenteben?

The Atenteben is basically a bamboo flute that has its roots in the Kwahu Plateau region of the south-central Ghanain Africa. In its original form the Atenteben was mostly used in funeral processions however in the fusion or the NeoAfrican music it is used for recreational and entertainmeny purposes. It originated in the Akan ethnic group and the credit for making this musical instrument popular goes to the renowned musician Dr.Ephriam Amu (1899-1995). It resembles the European recorder and is played vertically. It can be played chromatically as well as diatonically.


History and Origin

Atenteben was included in Pan African Orchestra by Dela Botri and Nana Danso Abiam. Anteben is an important part of the hiplife music of Botri who has been among the foremost exponents of Atenteben. It is used in many universities and schools of Ghana, both as an ensemble as well as solo instrument. Dr. Kwasi Aduonum (1939), renowned African scholar, educator and music composer, has written an instruction manual for Atenteben.

Use of Atenteben in NeoAfrican and classical music

It is a versatile musical instrument and is used in classical and contemporary music. Most players are skilled enough to play both African and Western music on the instrument. Atenteben is included in the curriculum of the premier educational institutions of Ghana, the University of Ghana and Achimota Secondary School.

The structure of Atenteben (modern Atenteben versus old Atenteben)

The modern Atenteben was developed by the musician, composer and flute player Dr. Ephraim Amu. Atenteben has one bottom hole and six top holes and the musical sounds are produced on blowing the instrument. The old Atenteben that was popular in the early part of 20th century comprised of five holes –one bottom hole and four top holes. Its music was pentatonic or hexatonic and was mostly used in funeral processions. The popularity of this old Atenteben declined in late 1950 after the origin of modern Atenteben and it is now obsolete.

The C antebeten compliments the sounds produced by the piano and it gels well with piano when used by the NeoAfrican musicians in fusion music. The C antebeten is also known as atenteben-ba. The music for B flat antebeten is written one tone higher in comparison to the actual sounds as it is a transposing musical instrument.

K'Lana Vibes - Atenteben jam (bamboo flute); Café Tributerre, montréal

Repertoire for atenteben

It is usually written in C Mixolydian or C Diatonic. Amu wrote at length for the use of this instrument in a choir comprising of thirty two to sixteen players or when the instrument is used in combination with non-melodic percussion instruments and a choir. The atonality and chromatism in Atenteben was introduced by the Neotraditional music composer Nana Danso Abiam who also started the Pan African Orchestra in Ghana. This playing mechanism included halving fingerings and cross fingering for the first time while playing Atenteben and resulted in the whole range of harmonic and chromatic sounds produced by the flute. Today, composers belonging to diverse backgrounds are using Atenteben with great success in different genres of music with ease. Atenteben is a vital part of the fusion music of the NeoAfrican music which combines the traditional African music with the classical Western music.


Atenteben - Tam tams Montreal tamtam


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    • shai77 profile image

      Chen 5 years ago

      You’re welcome, Irob. I’m glad that you enjoyed the article. I hope you will keep checking out my future hubs; I promise you will learn something from each of them. :-)

    • Irob profile image

      Irob 5 years ago from St. Charles

      Very informative, I learend something today - thank you