WHERE ARE WE GOING?
Africa is a very large and complex continent. We will be visiting the traditional and contemporary music of several African ethnic groups: Shona, BaAka, Manding (Mandinke), and the Ewe. These ethnic groups are located across the borders that were created by colonizers who indiscriminately planted their flag on land they conquered. Today, there are 54 countries on the continent of Africa with over 3000 ethnic groups. The map provided delineates the current borders, but is marked by name with the original and current ethnic groups that we will visit. Place the words Africa Quarters in the search bar of WebGL Earth below to compare the political borders and geographic locations of current countries with the land of the different ethnic Empires. Enlarge the three- dimensional globe to compare the current political boundaries and the country names that you may recognize. Note how arbitrary the borders may seem for an ethnic group that functions as its own nation and ethnic group.
©Bumbim/Shutterstock.com Modified by Dawn Avery and Caroline Manente
In this journey, we will explore the rich traditional culture of several ethnic groups and then look at the thriving new forms of music. Some of these have been created with a fusion of outside influences including those of the French, Dutch, German, British and Brazil. One might call this type of fusion a musical syncretism. Syncretism is usually associated with the fusion of religious ideas and practices, but in this context, it is an amalgamation of different cultures, religions, musical practices and beliefs.
Buying Our Ticket
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Since we are starting with the Shona people, let’s fly first to the Robert Gabriel Mugabe International Airport. The total flight time is about 19 hours from New York City, but that’s without any stops.
While you’re buying your ticket, here are some interesting facts about Africa. Prior to colonial rule, it had over 10,000 states each with their own distinct cultures. Today, ther are over 50% of the population are under 25 years old. Africa has the biggest desert in the world, bigger than the land mass of the entire United States. The continent has the largest reserves of precious metals in the world with over 40% gold, 60% cobalt, and 90% platinum.
Packing Our Suitcase
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Africa covers about 6% of the earth’s surface. Its land accounts for about 20% of the earth’s land area. It is the second largest and second most populous continent (after Asia). The continent of Africa is nearly four times the size of the United States and has about triple the population of the United States.
From the sixteenth to the mid-twentieth century, European countries were the controlling political powers across Africa. After 1960, many regions became independent—sometimes peacefully and sometimes not. Regions retain characteristics of both their traditional roots and their colonial times.
There are approximately 2000 languages on the continent – over 25% of the languages in the world are spoken in Africa. Their long history includes many empires or pre-colonial kingdoms each with their own language, world views, societies, food, dress, military and resources.They each contributed to a variety of innovations including pottery, bronze casting, ancient sciences and technology, dance and music. Some areas have been dealing with poverty and political instability for generations while others live in prosperity with rich traditions and modernization.
Geographic Musical Regions
Northern and Northeast Africa
The Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC) region of northeast Africa contrasts with the rest of the continent due to its petroleum wealth or services that support it. Islamic influence is of historic importance across northern Africa. This influence extended into southern Spain many centuries ago.
Leaving Baggage Behind
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I have had many students who had misconceptions about Africa. We are so fortunate to have an education in which we can dispel stereotypes and learn about this multi-dimensional continent. Let us start out with – Africa is not a homogeneous country. It is a Continent with many, many countries and ethnic groups! I have had students ask if people get a camel license instead of driver’s license, or if people live in huts, and even if people wear clothing. One of my students once pointed out that they still watch National Geographic in elementary school that shows footage of people throughout Africa from the 1800’s and 1900’s. Questions about camels, huts and clothing are from a much earlier time, on several continents. Let us look at current Africa which is a multi-cultural and diverse continent where people live and work in major cities, suburbs and countryside. Each country has their own specialities, but the top five occupations overall are 1. agriculture using new innovations in agricultural technology, 2. infrastructure and sustainable energy, especially with urbanization, 3. mining particularly in Western Africa, 4. services for hire as the middle class grows, 5. information and communication technology with mobile phone usage as one of the highest in the world. I am so glad that people ask and research. There is no dumb question when it comes to understanding another culture. Are there any other biases or stereotypes that you have about Africa? You may want to do some research and seek clarification.
Arriving on the Continent of Africa
Beginning as early as 1600 B.C., the Dhar Tichitt empire developed. Other empires include the Ghana, Mali, Mandinka, and Akan Empires. Some geographical points of interest are the Sahara Desert and Niger River. We will find ancient kingdoms used to rule western Africa. In addition to history of each ethnic group and ruling kingdom, the region exhibits both Muslim and Indigenous influences that were later joined by European styles. In this region, we will focus on the music of the Manding Empire including the polyrhythms of the Dunun Orchestra and the Kora, known as the predecessor of the guitar.
Central or Middle and Eastern Africa
The central part of Africa also consisted of historical empires, including the Kanem, Wadai, Lunda and Kongo Kingdoms. The main economy was farming, herding and fishing accounting for a largely nomadic population, with bands of 10-15 families moving from place to place. The geography consists of deserts, highlands, tropical rainforests, savannahs and high mountains. On this part of our journey, we will focus on a type of polyphonic vocal music—multiple melodies performed simultaneously; as well as the interlocking music of the Shona people located in both central and southern Africa.
Southern Africa has been home to such kingdoms as the Kingdom of Zimbabwe, Ndwandwe Kingdom and the Zulu Kingdom. The epicenter of many of Africa’s animal preserves are located in Southern Africa. They are of service in protecting baboons, elephants, lions, rhinoceri and zebras. The diverse geography in Southern Africa consists of deserts, forests, grasslands, coastal areas and mountains. Our focus on the Shona people mentioned above will include a fascinating instrument, the mbira. This music by Mbube Male Choirs in South Africa will be covered in a later chapter entitled “Visit Voices from Around the World.”
Cultural Expression in Music
As with other world musics, African music culture should be understood by its own standards or criteria. When you talk about the place that music occupies in life, it is best to make clear which part of Africa you are referencing. As we look at various culture areas and their music, noted on the map at the beginning of the chapter, we will notice that groups of people moved around, often their language and musical roots moved together.
Like many of the cultures that we have studied, there is a deep interconnection between music, ancestors, spirituality and daily life. Traditional music is usually taught through oral transmission and most traditional and contemporary is not notated. Improvisation is commonplace, but has specific rules and styles; each with their own “composition kits” that vary from region to region.
Few generalizations can be made about African music due to the variety of ethnic groups; each with their own social, political and musical systems.
GENERAL CHARACTERISTICS found in some music of Africa:
· Interlocking melodies and rhythms
· Preference for dense, overlapping textures and buzzy timbres
· Cyclical forms (music based on melodic and/or rhythmic ostinatos or repeating passages)
· Flexible approaches to rhythms often combining or juxtaposing units of twos and threes including complex polyphony
· Descending melodic contours
· Musical roles, including “core” parts and “elaboration” or parts that show variation and musical development
· Group participation (whether singing, clapping, dancing, event planning, feasting)
· Call and Response (a leader starts, a group responds)
· Oral tradition
· Music is a part of daily life
· Importance of the community over the individual
The Function of Music
A high proportion of traditional African music is functional. This means that a musical piece is intended for courtship, work, children, worship or entertainment. Though there is no legal restriction, a functional piece of music is usually not performed outside of its intended context.
For example, work songs are not sung for pleasure outside of work. Dance music is not performed without dance. Music for religious rites is played or sung only at its designated and appropriate time.
This is in contrast to music in the United States where a sea chantey can be sung in-land, religious works may be performed in concerts and both classical and popular dance music is frequently performed without any dancing.
Percussion and Other Music Sources
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The variety of drums and other percussion instruments in Africa is staggering. There are hand drums, stick drums, talking drums, frame drums, pitched drums, xylophones, water drums, slit drums, bells, iron gongs, rattles and sticks.
The human voice is very important. It can be used as a rhythmic or melodic source of music. We will also see that the voice is used to create overlapping polyphonic melodies and harmony.
Other melodic instruments include harps, zithers, fiddles, xylophones, flutes, trumpets, and numerous varieties of lamellaphones (mbiras, also called thumb pianos).
African music does not neglect melody, harmony and other aspects of music in favor of rhythm, but the intricate polyrhythms and shifting meters (regular cycles of strong and weak beats) create interlocking grooves and unusual rhythmic patterns that make African rhythms especially complex. In many cases, Western rhythm can be more straightforward compared to the polyrhythms throughout most of Africa.
Much of what you will see in the following video of traditional African music reflects characteristics noted in the general characteristics of some African music above. Note that in most of the videos in this chapter contain these characteristics.
Music is Life!
Music is a part of everyday life in most of Africa – in the streets, churches, open air markets, concert stages, nightclubs and on the job. When I ask students who are originally from parts of Africa, “where do you hear music?” they wonder why I would ask that question and inevitably answer, “everywhere.” What does this mean? There are more nightclubs throughout the continent than anywhere in the world and most of them are filled to capacity with lines of people waiting to get in. Great bands play on the street on a regular basis. One student from Nigeria told me a story about when she was at work in Maryland and started to sing. Her boss confronted her and said, “why are you singing?” And she looked as surprised as he did and answered, “why wouldn’t I be singing?” Here we see an interesting cultural divide – where they didn’t understand each other’s concept of where music should be and perhaps who should participate in it. This cultural divide seems more so in cultures that consist mostly of musical spectators.
Though music is important in the United States, many listeners are primarily consumers, not practitioners or participants. It is often easy to distinguish the performer from the audience. The performers are on stage and active and the audience is off stage, either passive or active in a different way than the performer.
I am because We are
The Ubuntu proverb, “I am because we are” and the Congolese saying, “A single bracelet does not jingle” reflect an important worldview where community is valued over the individual. During performances, group participation consists of singing, clapping, dancing and moving to the music, along with feasting, family fun and even joining in with the musicians, especially in traditional music by playing melodic or percussion instruments. It is very unusual for anyone to sit still.
Almost all people participate in music as part of their daily life, making the separation between amateur and professional less important. Therefore, music may occur in places that are unexpected.
For example, listen to the following excerpt “performed” in a post office. Then look at what “instruments” are making the sounds.
As you listen to examples, you might want to distinguish between “African music” (traditional) and “Music in Africa” (mixed musics). It may help to identify what is familiar (this is often the Western Europe influence) and what is unfamiliar or “foreign-sounding” (often the influence of traditional music and Islamic cultures).
TOUR THE SITES
© Kendall Hunt Publishing Company
The Shona are located in Zimbabwe, Botswana, Mozambique and border South Africa. Their population is about 9 million people of predominantly Shona ethnicity and their tribal language is Shona (Bantu), spoken by about 70% of the Zimbabwe population. Try saying hello in Shona – Mhoro! Shona spirituality connects humankind with nature, and emphasizes respect of all relationships, including those with their ancestors. An annual rain ceremony is performed before planting season begins in order to ensure a good harvest. The Bira ceremony in which the mbira instrument, also known as a thumb piano, plays a very important part as an ancestral trance possession ceremony. In this ceremony, ancestors are called upon through music, dance, food and community to assist their tribe. Within Shona religious beliefs, Gods are organized hierarchically, with a higher God/ Creator. There are “lesser” gods who have been assigned very specific functions such as healing, helping the clans, and as spirits for harvest, rain, and overall prosperity. In the arts, the Shona are internationally known for both their traditional and contemporary music as well as their stylistic stone sculpture.
DESTINATION 1: Traditional Mbira
Mbira or thumb piano
© Dirk Ercken/Shutterstock.com
Mbira is the genre of music associated with an instrument called mbira dza vadzimu. Both the music and the instrument are deeply connected to the spiritual world, so whether for sacred ceremonies or for entertainment, it is believed that the spirit realm and the ancestors hear the music. Stories about this instrument are almost always shrouded in mysticism and tradition. Respect, proper intention and knowledge are required to learn the instrument. Mbira music is considered protected cultural property.
A thumb piano Image © krsmanovic/Shutterstock.com
Image © Shutterstock.com
Image @ Shutterstock.com
As you can see in some of the photos, bottle caps, seashells or metal jingles may be attached to the instrument to create a buzzing sound when the instrument is played. The buzzing timbre that we will hear on the mbira is also present in the sounds of many drums. It is a popular timbral aesthetic that may be the predecessor of the “sizzle” cymbal, an instrument that is part of the jazz drum-set.
Mbira is part of the lamellophone family. “Lamella” means “tongues,” referring to the sound producing “tines” or pitched “keys” as the tongues. These metallic keys are played with one’s thumbs, thus the English name of thumb piano. The instrument goes back thousands of years when the tongues or tines were made of bamboo rather than metal. You may have noticed that most of the mbira have the longest tine in the center and alternate lengths along the sides. It is also common to have a second set of tines running from long to short.
The instrument is chuned to be part of an ensemble of other mbira who play often play with hosho (gourd rattles) and voice. Chuning consists of creating a good sound by tuning the instrument by adjusting the “tines” and adjusting its resonant and buzzing vibration.
The traditional home of the mbira is with the Shona people of Zimbabwe and Mozambique in the southern section of the continent. It is known by many other names including mbira dza vadzimu, mbila sansa, kilembe, likembe and timbrh.
In traditional Shona culture, the mbira is held in reverence. As we will see in the upcoming videos, the playing of hypnotic, repetitive patterns and singing of chants or songs is a way of communicating with spirits and ancestors as a prayerful experience that give the player a channel of influence on health and prosperity. For example, some mbira music may request rain during drought or to stop rain during floods. Some songs were believed to bring clouds when crops were burned by the sun or chase away evil spirits. Likewise, it was used to cure illnesses. These powerful songs and ancestral ceremonies are still performed in traditional areas. With Christianization, some believe these are no longer performed since they became associated with witchcraft or superstition.
The mbira is a very interesting example of cultural retention and acculturation. Outside of spiritual practices, the mbira is used in weddings, the installation of new chiefs, in international conferences, community centers, cultural events and government events such as Independence Day.
Mbira and the mbira dza vadzimu can sound hypnotizing with its cyclical rhythmic patterns. The longer you listen, the more “inner melodies” you might hear.
“Mbira Maestros” is one of my favorite mbira videos. As you watch and listen, notice the following interesting elements listed below.
· Different techniques or functions of left and right hands
· Bottle caps on the instrument to provide a “buzz” as they play
· Elders teaching children
· References to ancestor worship and animism (powers that the instrument has)
· Important Shona sacred sites, balancing rocks and ancient rock paintings
· What the mbira is made of
DESTINATION 2: “Nhemamusasa”
Let’s take a journey with the song “Nhemamusasa”
The traditional song “Nhemamusasa” is often played for hours at the beginning of a ceremony and feast to call in the ancestors. The word can be translated as “preparing a shelter”, just as a Shona community prepares for a ceremony and greets each other and their ancestors. It is believed that the ancestors like to be honored with music, dance and food. We are going to listen to a traditional version, a contemporary woman who recorded a traditional studio version and then a contemporary version with a western band. Although all of these have varying levels of improvisation, even more so in the traditional versions, you will recognize the main melody, timbres and rhythms in all of them. What makes each version similar? What makes them different?
Listen for the complex interlocking patterns of many mbira playing at the same time, the groove of the hosho shakers and the soulful chant.
Stella Chiweshe is one of the few women to learn mbira dza vadzimu and to become a successful recording artist who also toured the world. In liner notes for one of her recordings, Stella told a story of her mother being given a message from their ancestors for Stella to start playing the mbira. This posed many challenges since the mbira was banned and women did not traditionally play the mbira, but she received it as an important ancestral message for her to keep tradition alive.
“Nhemamusasa” by Stella Chiweshe (early 1970’s)
This recording sounds relatively traditional, but she used modern recording techniques. The single on this recording went gold.
“Nhemamusasa” by Chinwoniso Maraire (1998)
Chiwoniso Maraire, called the Queen of Mbira, was the daughter of Zimbabwean mbira master and teacher Dumisani Maraire. At the age of 15, she started a band that focused on creating contemporary beats with mbira melodies and is one of the first to fuse mbira rhythms and melodies with western instruments.
As a singer, songwriter, and actor, Chiwoniso introduced her style of contemporary mbira music to a whole new audience. Some of her music spoke to Zimbabwean pride and police brutality. Her recordings were frequently on several world music charts. In many of her songs, the amplified mbira is used as both a solo instrument and as an accompanying groove joined by the bass, keyboards and drums to accompany her singing.
After a traditional introduction, she introduces her band and the mbira takes on the role of a groove instrument.
“Mai” by Chiwoniso
This is my favorite song of Chinwoniso. Sung mostly in English with a great message and the mbira has one of the best pop grooves.
“Paul Tchounga Chiwonisa Live Vanorapa Lafayette”
with guitar, bass, drums, keyboards, saxophone
DESTINATION 3: More contemporary Mbira Music
Thomas Mapfumo and Chimurenga
As much as people may try, it can be difficult to completely kill a culture. Oftentimes, there is someone who keeps a tradition alive, even if secretly. When the Shona people were forced into shantytowns during colonial rule, there was a strict curfew, men were shipped out for months at a time to do dangerous work in diamond mines and those at “home” were not permitted to practice their culture.
As a part of the revolution for freedom and to revive their culture with Bira ceremonies many Shona secretly practiced late at night after curfew when they would not be stopped by English government officials. Of course, kids loved staying up all night and were encouraged to get interested in the traditions of their elders. During these secret festivities, people kept their language, dance, music and stories alive. Mbira were made out of cereal boxes and a variety of cans that were hidden in the kitchen pantry amongst the other canned and boxed goods. In some townships, curfew was extended on Saturday nights, allowing for socializing and musical gatherings, such as a “battle of the bands.” Rock bands in the area would get together and compete, usually playing cover tunes by great guitarists such as Jeff Beck, Jimmy Page, Eric Clapton, as well as songs by rock bands of the 70’s.
I like to call Thomas Mapfumo the Mick Jagger of Zimbabwe, not only for his popularity as a very talented rock musician, but also for his talent, innovation, and energetic performances. He was especially popular in the 70’s and 80’s. After competing in many of the battle of the bands and never winning against the “white bands” who played all “white” music, he started his own band to create a new kind of freedom music, based on the short sounds of the mbira. The bands never used the mbira dza vadzimu, nor mbira melodies, his band incorporated a mbira timbre with short percussive-like melodies in the muted plucking of the guitars and bass, the tight cymbal rhythms, short horn notes and the interlocking patterns between many instruments.
Chimurenga is a style of music about freedom and was part of the revolution for independence in Zimbabwe. New songs continue to be written for specific causes such as freedom from poverty, homelessness, disease and for other countries to be freed from dictatorships and war.
“Mukanya Live in Concert” with Thomas Mapfumo
Listen to the short interlocking sounds of the guitars, keyboards and cymbals, along with the amplified mbira.
What is the function of the mbira and the voices? What do you notice about the electronic beats? What other electronic instruments do you hear? How do the sounds and video create a mood? What is that mood?
DESTINATION 4: BaAka Polyphonic Music
The BaAka, also known as rain forest people, are traditionally semi-nomadic, hunter-gatherers of equatorial Africa. Formerly referred to as Pygmies (considered a derogatory and disrespectful term) the BaAka people have an average height of five feet and have been marginalized from society, often with great discrimination.
It is fascinating that the BaAka have an egalitarian society with no political leaders or hierarchies, nor gender discrimination. With strong community values, they make their decisions together based on what is good for the whole. One of the best ethnographies that I ever read is called “Seize the Dance! BaAka Musical Life and the Ethnography of Performance” by Michelle Kisliuk (2002. Oxford University Press, NY). She tells many stories about the communal world view.
One story that she recounted was her recollection of a time that she brought a fresh tomato back to the BaAka village where she was living. As she was preparing to enjoy this rare and exciting find, a child came to her hut to visit. She felt obliged to share half of her precious tomato, upon which the child cut it into about 16 pieces to share with the other children.
The women, men and children create temporary camps of huts in order to hunt, fish, collect plants and honey. As nomadic people, they do this until their resources become insufficient making it time to move to another part of the rainforest. The BaAka worship the forest spirit (Djengui) who, as in many ethnic religious systems in Africa, is a mediator between a main god and the people. A variety of songs are sung while hunting and gathering, cooking, relaxing, and in ceremony, and celebrate a successful day of hunting. Knowledgeable about plants and plant medicine, the BaAka healers are often sought out by non-BaAka.
The BaAka are not one homogeneous group, but consist of communities including the Aka, Asua, Baka, Bongo, Efe, Kola, Koya, Sua, Twa. Each group has its own distinctive characteristics. Today, they do not live in total isolation, but are in contact with neighboring ethnic and non-ethnic groups, sharing socioeconomic ties, especially in agriculture.
As an ethnic minority, the BaAka have been mistreated by the government and do not have the same rights as other people in Central Africa. Although this is improving, prejudice still exists. As an unusual culture that lives predominantly in remote rainforests, missionaries and researchers have had a special interest in them, often threatening their lifestyle and sustainability as a culture. These interlopers had preconceived notions as to what was socially and religiously appropriate and brought western ideas and practices. These altered their lifestyle and sense of community. One of the current issues for the BaAka is deforestation that is also destroying their way of life. There are groups today such as Survival International that are helping Indigenous groups to retain their lands and traditions.
The groups that we will listen to come from the area of Cameroon, the Central African Republic and the Republic of the Congo.
Image © Emir Simsek/Shutterstock.com
The spontaneous improvisation found in BaAka music incorporates yodeling and polyphonic singing. As a reminder, polyphony is the musical texture where more than one melody is created at the same time. In their vocal singing, there may be four melodies sung at the same time, accompanied by hand-clapping, percussion instruments and stringed instruments. In the forest, you may hear children sing a melody as they play, while people fishing sing two other melodies at the same time. As a listener, the melodies have complex polyphony.
BaAka Dance is a whole other area of study, but you will notice in this first video that there are many different types of dancers and they dance around the musicians.
The first example was produced a few years ago as part of a United Nations Educational, Science, and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) video. The narration begins to explain the polyphonic singing.
BaAka Women’s Songs
In this next selection the women sing many melodies and yodel (yelli). Note how the children join in with this communal music.
© Travel Stock/Shutterstock.com
Water drum music, called liquindi, is an activity reserved for women and girls, usually when they gather at dawn to honor the forest and the animals before they go hunting. The women do this in hopes for a successful hunt and ask that they will not have to go too deeply into the forest. It is performed by drumming or slapping the surface of the water as they sing. The sound is produced by slapping the water by trapping air in their hands to create a change in air pressure. The technique requires both air and water. A specific type of dance is done by the women and girls as they play this music.
In this example, it seems to be “play” until you listen a bit and hear the singing and “drumming” are clearly music. BaAka women are playing the water drums. What do you notice about the timbre and rhythms?
This next example consists of a traditional sound uniquely developed in this part of Africa called the hindewhu. This is a style of alternating voice and a small flute-whistle, as if speaking to each other. This sound that has made its way into some American music, particularly world jazz. Do any of these sounds remind you of one of the women’s music videos above?
DESTINATION 5: “Borrowed” BaAka
Many questions arise as to the use of Indigenous culture for consumerism or artistic use outside of the culture. Most Indigenous art, created by cultural specialists for specific (often sacred) purposes, is not appropriate for public use, even if it is available to the public. One should always get permission before incorporating and cultural material into their own projects. This is a complex issue that has been addressed by many ethnomusicologist and cultural specialists some of whom have successfully fought for legal precedence. Among most Indigenous peoples, culture has been stolen and misappropriated, so this issue requires respect and communication.
As a listener, you have heard that the polyphonic melodies have a complex contrapuntal quality where the polyphonic melodies work with each other. This has been compared to the equally complex (although in a totally different way) works of J.S. Bach who is a German classical composer from the 1700’s. His contrapuntal works from the word counterpoint employed a Baroque western classical composition technique that has many theoretical rules.
Bach meets “BaAka” of Gabon
Producer and musician, Hughes de Courson, worked with Gabonese singer and composer, Pierre Akendengue to create what he calls “multi-cultural collisions.” In a very successful project called “Lambarena Bach to Africa”, they mixed traditional African music, including that of the BaAka, with music by J.S. Bach.
Listen to the two styles of music and how they each use polyphonic counterpoint in different ways. How do the images represent this juxtaposition of culture with the music?
Herbie Hancock, world famous jazz pianist who won a GRAMMY for best album in 2008, wrote a song called “Watermelon Man” featuring the hindewhu and an imitation of yelli in this next selection. Listen to how the traditional sounds meld into sounds of the and electric bass and how it builds into the entire band playing. This is one of the songs that caused some controversy as he took the sounds from old recordings. Today there is a lot of sampling also with issues of copyright and appropriation.
Lastly, I would like to introduce the French group, Deep Forest, who mix sounds of the BaAka with electronics and dance beats.
Manding (Mandinke) Djali
The Ghana Empire began before 1000 BCE and lasted until after 1000 AD. The Mali Empire dominated the same general area of western Africa from about 1,200–1,600 CE. The Mande people, an ethnic and language group of about 40 million people trace the lineage to both of these kingdoms.
From these societies grew the djali or jeli (dje’-lee), also known as griot (gree’-oh), social class. Their inherited tradition was passed down through generations. Mandinika is a language within the Mande group, and in Mandinka the name djali means “blood.” Djali or griots were said to have powers or connections to religious, social and/or political powers. As a result, they are given a higher status.
A djali or griot is not only a musician, but an important oral historian, praise singer who honors family heroes and lineages, spiritual adviser, genealogist, counselor and diplomat. They are important cultural specialists who hold tradition in their communities.
Earlier, we learned about the almost mystical or magical powers that musicians have in some societies: in the chapter about Hawaii (kumu hula), China (mask makers and dancers in Noh Theater) and Bali (instrument builders and dancers).
DESTINATION 6: Manding Kora
The kora is an important traditional chordophone from western Africa. The resonator is a large calabash (gourd). It has twenty-one strings in two parallel rows. Eleven strings are played by the left hand, ten by the right. The seven-note scales are much like the ones we use, so the music sounds quite “comfortable” to our Western ears.
Many people refer the kora as an African harp. There is a good argument that the kora is the predecessor to the blues guitar. In the examples below, you can see how Toumani Diabate plays a bass line with fills in the alto register and a melody in the higher register while singing stories. This is similar to the complicated parts played by one person in early blues music, such as that by Robert Johnson who we will visit in the chapter about music in the United States.
Toumani Diabate, comes from a family lineage of Malian djali and world-famous kora players. His father recorded the first kora album in 1970. His younger brother is also a virtuoso kora player. GRAMMY winning recording artist, Toumani performs traditional and cross-genre, multi-cultural music to sold-out audiences around the world.
This first video is an excerpt of Toumani Diabate demonstrating how to play all three different parts of music (bass, alto, melody) on the kora.
In this next video clip, he is playing jazz kora with an African ensemble. It features improvised sections with different instruments similar to American jazz.
In this clip, Toumani Diabate starts by playing an improvised introduction into talking about his interesting kora heritage and how he came to play multi-cultural music in many genres. Start around 2 minutes.
If you like the banjo, Toumani Diabate plays “dueling banjos” with Bela Fleck at a Bluegrass festival in the United States. They did a recording together in 2020 called “The Ripple Effect”. Note the extraordinary technique as they try to outdo each other!
Although many cultures claim to have invented the guitar, many of the scales on the kora incorporate notes called blue notes that were played by blues guitarists that came from Africa. In the early 1960’s, “western” style guitars found their way back to Africa with new bands consisting of three to five guitarists.
Sona Jobarteh is a prominent female griot. This song, Jarabi, is a very popular example of kora music. Link is within the last sentence.
After Hours Concert
Back Stage with AMADOU KOUYATE
Born in Washington, D.C., Amadou Kouyate is the 150th generation of the Kouyate lineage and has studied and performed Manding music since the age of three. Amadou is a dynamic djembe and koutiro drummer. He also plays the 21-string kora, that he first learned with his father, Djimo Kouyate a master diali of the Manding tradition in West Africa. Amadou has dedicated his life to the task of becoming an ambassador for African culture. The catalyst for such a responsibility is the passion he has for reconnecting those of the African Diasporas to one another. His repertoire ranges from traditional songs of the 13th century to contemporary original compositions incorporating blues, jazz and hip-hop riffs. Click the link below to learn more about Amadou Kouyate.
Amadou, thank you for meeting with us to answer a few questions before your performance! Since you probably need to get ready soon, we will just ask a couple of questions and feel free to add anything else. How does your culture affect your music? How is it contemporary? How is it traditional? And what message is important for you to put out there?
“My culture is at the root of my music, no matter what the expression may be, it is the framework from which I inform my creativity. I make it a point to always represent my culture in my music, but also the building blocks that I use to create are from my culture. I’m currently working on creating an organization to help develop support and structure for groups and institutions committed to African drumming and dance, making them sustainable.
My music is traditional in the sense that I use traditional instruments and I utilize traditional systems in my learning and teaching as a foundation. With the kora, a lot of the music that I created especially in my younger days I was playing traditional songs and tunings, and over time I added my own ideas, embellishments and innovation. With djembe, I also use the traditional foundation of specific rhythms and I try to stay consistent with representing certain musical ideas for particular reasons. I’m actually right now working on an interpretation of a rhythm konkoba and inside of that is my own arrangement for it, but I still have some of the music in the traditional context, and I am expounding by incorporating my own ideas, like new melodic arrangements, different cadences and breakdowns. A lot of the traditional music doesn’t modulate, so I’m finding progressions in the music so I can tell the same story, but a little bit differently. One konkoba is specific for agriculture, and another for the guardian of the Kouyate family. It means the spirit of nature.
Most of the stuff I do is outside of very traditional music. I just finished this project working with the Cora Coleman Orchestra, sponsored by several audio companies. They got musicians from all over the world, using technology to put together arrangements for orchestra online, on which I’m playing kora in a cool funk kind of thing. My own band, the Proper Skanks, is just about everything else than traditional; again, a song starts with something traditional and then takes all kinds of shapes. With that band funk, jazz, rock, hip-hop can all be in the same set.
It’s important for me to communicate love and ingenuity. I think everybody is free to articulate their own experience. Sometimes we can appreciate that when we listen more carefully. I play with my heart first.”
Listen for the amazing improvisation, including jazz rhythms and harmony, on the kora, drum-set, and djembe.
The Ewe (ev’-eh) ethnic group is predominantly located in Ghana, with smaller populations in Togo and Benin. The Ewe have strong lineages headed by a male elder with ancestors that can be traced back many generations. The land owned by the Ewe is considered an ancestral gift and they will not sell it. Traditionally, the women are the merchants and traders. Their traditional religion is called voodoo which means “spirit” and it, like many of the ancient African religions, has a higher god/creator and lesser deities. For the Ewe the lesser deities can influence a person’s destiny and grant favors. Fifty percent of the Ewe has converted to Christianity, but they continue to practice rituals from their ancestral religion.
DESTINATION 7: Ewe Talking Drum and Dance
Ewe have many genres of music, many of which are tied to spirituality. They believe drummers inherit their ability from their ancestors. There are songs related to war with topics about battles, warriors, courage and success, as well as funeral songs, mystical songs, ritual, ancestral and nature songs. The Ewe have a large variety of dances that vary by region. The drum ensembles are world renowned for their complex polyrhythms.
Follow the demonstration of the talking drum by Kweme Ansah-Brew at Frostburg State University. Be sure to listen through to the part where he plays a familiar children’s song.
Now listen to singers, multi-layered polyrhythms of the drums and metallic sound of the bell.
The talking drum is a wooden drum in the shape of an hourglass. By squeezing the chords fastened to drumheads, the pitch can be manipulated. This gives the “talking” effect. The drummers in this example, each individual rhythmic pattern. Although relatively simple and repetative, once put together, the overall effect is rhythmically complex and polyrhythmic. Often the polyrhythms consist of patterns of three against patterns of two (3:2), an important polyrhythm in many drum pieces across Africa.
DESTINATION 8: Contemporary Music from Ghana and Nigeria
Ghana is home to the popular music called Highlife. Early highlife is a mixture of West African characteristics and Cuban jazz.
JuJu is a popular music style that originated in nearby Nigeria. King Sunny Ade was the first internationally recognized JuJu performer. Bands had twenty to thirty members and included a wide variety of instruments. It began in the early 1900s, adding electric instruments over time. You may recognize the influences from Caribbean and Latin music. In turn, JuJu has also influenced those cultures. Here is a representative example.
Ghanaian Hip Hop (GH Hip Hop) developed in the late 1990’s. M.anifest, born Kwame Ametepee Tsikata, won best Rapper and Hip-Hop song of the year in 2017 Ghana Music Awards.
· The African continent is a large, diverse geographic area with many different societies. They each have their own distinctive music and heritage; however, there are some common general musical characteristics and approaches that we can identify.
· Some traditional African music favors ostinati (repeated rhythmic and melodic cycles), polyphony (multiple melodic parts performing at once) and interlocking parts.
· Musical performance is often a communal participatory activity.
· Pieces often comprise a collection of melodic or rhythmic formulas that are subject to group variation and thus differ from one performance to another.
· Many musical performances accompany religious or civic rituals.
· Social structure and conditions influence music and performance; for example, the nomadic BaAka use fewer instruments and favor vocal performance. Instruments that they use tend to be smaller and lighter to suit their traveling lifestyle. On the other hand, the Buganda kingdom, with a highly organized, centralized government, developed elaborate court music ensembles.
· Key instruments include lamellaphones (like the mbira), strings (like the kora), xylophones, trumpets, flutes, musical bows and percussion, including drums.
· During the twentieth century, cosmopolitan musical influences from the United States, Latin America, the Caribbean, Europe and Asia have been incorporated into the African musical scene. They have been combined with local styles and practices for the creation of new, vital African musical styles.
LAST NIGHT OUT
A representation of foods from each area that we visited is impossible to put in one menu. Some staples that are available in many areas throughout Africa are spicy stews with vegetables, meats and sometimes peanuts that may be served over rice. Fufu is a starchy food that is also served with stews, made of mashed yams, cassava roots, plantains and/ or taro roots. Popular desserts include a variety of cookies, tarts, pastries, puddings and fruits. A delicious mug of cacao can complement that dessert.
What’s on the Menu?
A representation of foods from each area that we visited is impossible to put in one menu. Some staples that are available in many areas throughout Africa are spicy stews with vegetables, meats and sometimes peanutsthat may be served over rice. Fufu is a starchy food that is also served with stews, made of mashed yams, cassava roots, plantains and/ or taro roots. Popular desserts include a variety of cookies, tarts, pastries, puddings and fruits. A delicious mug of cacao can complement that dessert.