Honk Night

Drums & Space | July 2nd | Dead & Company | Boulder, CO

Tonight’s Drums & Space is inspired by the newest work from sonic anthropologist, Steven Feld. While visiting Accra, Ghana’s capital in 2005, he discovered a remarkable and previously unknown style of music: Por Por (pronounced “paw paw”). Performed uniquely by a union of truck drivers and played on antique circular squeeze-bulb klaxon honk horns, Por Por is performed for the funerals of departed lorry drivers, with parades and dancing in the streets reminiscent of the New Orleans Jazz Funerals.

Local photographer Nii Yemo Nunu, himself the son of a famous honk horn lorry driver, offered to guide Feld into the world of Por Por music, and the pair has gone on to produce CDs, films, and a photo book devoted to documenting Accra’s honk horn music.

It turns out that in the days before electric horns, these squeeze-bulb klaxons were introduced in West Africa by merchants from India, Syria, and Lebanon. Drivers quickly created a system of horn honks to signal danger or to frighten off dangerous animals when driving through bush roads at night. Soon enough, the honking was accompanied by the rhythmic sounds of wrenches on tire rims to energize drivers when pumping up flat tires.

The 2007 Smithsonian Folkways CD Por Por: Honk Horn Music of Ghana introduced this honk horn music to the world, documenting the music’s rough and ready street styles that accompany funeral parades and ceremonies. The CD was a US government gift to celebrate Ghana’s 50th anniversary of independence in 2007.


One of the first and most steadfast advocates for this honk horn music since the time of that release is Feld’s old friend and colleague, percussionist Mickey Hart. “Mickey is no stranger to turning noise into music and music into noise,” said Feld. “Whether rainforest insects or honking horns, he hears the power of percussion to excite consciousness. So of course he was right there with me from the very start, wanting the world to know this unique form of honk horn musical expression.”

With Hart urging him on, Feld published a follow-up Por Por CD in 2009, Klebo! Honk Horn Music from Ghana, this time to document the more polished sound the Por Por group developed for cultural performances. This CD includes the band’s only song in English, “Sunshine in Africa,” which is also available as a MTV style music video.



In addition to these CDs, the sounds and stories of Por Por are presented on three films.

A Por Por Funeral for Ashirifie tells the story of Por Por’s musical driver funerals and their connection to the jazz funerals of New Orleans.


The Story of Por Por features twenty-five elder drivers telling the story of how the squeeze-bulb signaling horns became musical instruments sacralized for musical undertaking. And M.V. Labadi is the story of Nii Yermo Nunu’s father, the driver Ataa Anangbi Anangfio, as told in family photographs.


The Klebo! CD and films The Story of Por Por and M.V. Labadi are now newly packaged in a 150 page photographic book, Cool Running: The Story of Ghana’s Honk Horn Lorries and Por Por Music


The latest work from Feld and Nunu is Horn to Horn: The La Drivers Union Por Por Group Meet The Texas Horns, a unique across-the-ocean collaboration linking Accra, Ghana and Austin, Texas. Here you have the por por horns honking it out with soulful saxophones and bluesy brass. Check out the exciting sound and videos of this brand new recording at www.horn2horn.com.