Village scene, Iddah, Nigeria, mid-nineteenth century
Village of Gourcy, Burkina Faso, West Africa, late 20th century
7 dimensions of West African music performance 1- community context 2- musical performers 3- instruments (including voice) 4- rhythm 5- melodic material 6- form 7- texture
Community Context• Occasional – functions as indispensable ingredient of religious or social activity. Gives meaning to ritual.• Music is “a primary vehicle for man’s communication with the supernatural, symbolizing a person’s identity with a group, reflecting and reinforcing the dominant characteristics, values and directions of a culture.” What happens to the music when a society is moved, changed and not permitted to pursue its old religion(s)?
African American music• What happens to a tribal music when the conditions of life are rapidly and radically changed through geographical displacement, enslavement, and infusion of non-tribal, Western musical and cultural elements?
Musical Performers• Music makers include both men and women, both soloist and ensemble. Soloist is often leader in call and response ceremonial song, which underscores social integration (expert is socially integrated into a community/group)• Cross-fertilization between music and dance – John Miller Chernoff remarks that for an African, “understanding” a certain type of music means, in its most fundamental sense, knowing what dance it accompanies
Instruments (including voice)• Intimate relationship between tonal language and musical sound in performance of African instruments. Use of instruments to emulate human voice, extending to percussion instruments, most notably the kalangu, talking drum of west Africa• Value of “dirty” tones, non-pitch specific sounds which add to richness of sound.
Rhythm• Metrical structure with regular beats complemented by emphasis on syncopation, playing off the beats.• Additive structure of short repeated rhythmic patterns. Prolonged steady tempo gives music cohesiveness and propulsion. Unchaning steady beat called”hot” in Africa and in jazz/blues/rhythm and blues• Rhythmic polyphony displays superimposition of many varying meters over basic pulse pattern. Complex pattern combinations create rhythmic variety.
Melodic material• Melodic contour related to language intonation. Less emphasis on fixed pitch and more attention to pitch relationships. Melodic ideas connected to speech patterns. Pentatonic/heptatonic pitch systems related to blues scales (notes “in-between the keys”)• Tendency to use short phrases or motives to build larger patterns. Additive nature of melodies combine with additive nature of rhythms
Form and texture• Call and response forms. Socially oriented music often improvised for special occasions. Often cyclical structure. Improvisation celebrates special unique nature of the moment, not to be mechanically reproduced. Also characteristic of non-literate societies…• Variety of simultaneous sounds (solo vs. response), variety of melodic phrases (improvised variation, melismas, swoops, growls, timbral changes)
Ruins of Fort on St. James Island Where Slaves Were Held
Cell Where Slaves Were Held onSt. James Island, Gambia, important slave-trade port