Chapter 10 The River and the Path: Conversation and Collective Expression in West African Music African Musics in Context “Africa gave birth to the first human beings and—we may assume– to the first human song.” (Fletcher 2001: 145) Almost every major international popular music has roots in African music—from mambo to hip-hop and rock to reggae. Significant groups and artists include: Angélique Kidjo, Toumani Diabate, Ladysmith Black Mambazo, Salif Keita, Fela Anikulapo Kuti, Miriam Makeba, Thomas Mapfumo, Hugh Masekela, Youssou N’Dour, King Sunny Adé, and Papa Wemba. Insights and Perspectives Isacathamiya and Ladysmith Black Mambazo The South African vocal group Ladysmith Black Mambazo has been the dominant force in isicathamiya music for decades. Ladysmith Black Mambazo collaborated with Paul Simon in the 1980s, and were featured in the documentary film Graceland. They helped to bring attention to South Africa’s apartheid system, a legalized system of racial segregation and separation. CD ex. #3-13 features “Unomathemba,” a song from their album Shaku Zulu. The African Continent, Sub-Saharan Africa, and the African Diaspora Africa’s landmass is second in size only to the continent of Asia, and holds about one-sixth of the world’s population. The African diaspora resulted in millions of people of African descent residing throughout the world. The northern part of Africa covers the Sahara Desert and contains Egypt, Libya, Tunisia, Algeria, Morocco, and other countries. Islam is the dominant religion. Sub-Saharan Africa is the focus of this chapter; root features of ragtime, blues, jazz, rhythm-and-blues, soul, rock-and-roll, rap, hip-hop, salsa, Cuban son, Puerto Rica bomba, Trinidadian steel band, Jamaican reggae, and more may be traced to this region. Music, Culture, and History in SubSaharan Africa Many powerful kingdoms existed throughout Sub-Saharan Africa’s pre-colonial history, encompassing and developing a wide diversity of ethnicities, cultures, and musical styles. Following the 15th century, European (and U.S.) intervention and domination led to much destruction and transformation. The slave trade of the 17th-19th centuries and the colonization of the region were key factors. Since WWII, the modern nations of Africa have experienced great progress and success in many domains, but the vestiges of colonial domination still linger. Warfare, public health crises, and political instability remain major challenges. In response to modern sociopolitical challenges and opportunities, there has been much revival, revitalization, and modernization of traditional forms of African music, dance, and ceremonial practice. CD ex #2-10, “Ingculaza (AIDS),” combines traditional African instruments and musical features with Western-influenced popular music elements in a song that addresses the African AIDS pandemic. Islam and Christianity are widespread in sub-Saharan Africa, often syncretizing with indigenous forms of African religion. Hundreds, even thousands, of religions are practiced in subSaharan Africa, and music is a key element of religious practice on many levels. Communal expression often takes the form of polyvocality, involving multipart musical “conversation” involving instruments, clapping, dancing, or other modes of participation. Drumming Non-Africans frequently associate African music with drumming, although most African musics are not drum-based and much of the music contains no drumming at all. That said, drumming is indeed an important and sometimes central feature of many African musical traditions. CD ex. #3-12 is an example from Ghana, and features an ensemble of percussionists. All play on drums except for one individual, who plays a repeating rhythmic pattern on an iron bell called a dawuro. This style of music is known as Fontomfrom. Fontomfrom: An Akan Royal Drum Ensemble The Akan are an ethnic group who reside principally in Ghana, a form British colony that gained independence in 1957. They are primarily matrilineal, which means that they trace their lineage back through the side of the mother. Akan chiefs were traditionally the principal political leaders of their people, though now their political roles tend to be limited (e.g., handling land issues and domestic disputes, etc.). They use certain types of music and instruments to symbolize their power. For example, purchasing a royal set of drums like Fontomfrom and sponsoring Fontomfrom performances are chiefly traditions. Traditionally, the chief dances at public musical events. An assistant always stands nearby, ready to catch the chief if he should fall. Falling to the ground is a sign of weakness or vulnerability. The Fontomfrom drums may be used for drum speech, making statements like “Nana, bre bre” (“Chief, walk majestically”). Musical Guided Tour Instruments and Basic Rhythmic Patterns in Fontomfrom Music Follow along with the transcript on pages 199-200 of the text as you listen to the Tour for this chapter. Audio Musical Guided Tour Unifying Features of Music in West Africa: Musical Africanisms Complex polyphonic textures Layered ostinatos with varied repetition Conversational element Improvisation Timbral variety Distinctive pitch systems and scales More than Drumming: African Musical Diversity and the Kora Drumming is not the basis of most music in Africa. A great deal of African music does not include any drumming at all. CD ex. #2-4 is an example of one of many highly developed forms of polyphonic music that are purely vocal. It is a traditional elephant hunting song of the Central Africa BaMbuti people. CD ex. #2-2 features the mbira dzavadzimu, a plucked idiophone from the Shona people of Zimbabwe. Note the melodic complexity. CD ex. #3-15 features the Ugandan endongo, played by Damascus Kafumbe. Other chordophones include the knokwane (CD ex. #2-8), a one-stringed “musical bow”. The Kora and Its Musicultural World The kora is a 21-string spike harp chordophone. All spike harps have a neck that pierces the resonator of the instrument to form a post at the lower end. It has a straight neck and a resonator made from a half-gourd, and a cowhide stretches over the gourd. When playing the kora, the performer holds on to handgrips mounted on either side of the neck and plucks the strings with the thumbs and forefingers. It is traditionally played from a seated position, although playing while standing or walking is possible. Mande History and Culture The traditional homelands of the Mande span across areas of western Africa in a region that was formerly home to the powerful Mande, or Mali, empire. Traditional Mande music and culture are preserved and continue to develop. Colonial history has left a strong mark on Mande culture. Areas once colonized by the French, English, and Portuguese continue to maintain these languages. The Jeli and the Art of Jeliya The art of kora has traditionally belonged to a hereditary class of professional Mande musicians known as jeli. Male jeli normally sing and play instruments, while the female jelimuso normally specialize in singing only. People born into jeli families have the exclusive right to preserve classic jeliya repertoire, which focuses on praise songs. Traditionally, jelilu (plural of jeli) have been not only musicians, but also historians, genealogists, and social and political commentators. They alone had the right to sing about sensitive Mande social and political issues historically. Other instruments associated with the jeli include the bala, or balafon. It is a xylophone constructed of between 17 and 21 wooden slats suspended over a wooden frame. The koni is a plucked chordophone similar to the banjo, and is made from a hollow piece of wood covered by an animal hide. Photos of both of these instruments may be seen on p. 207 of the textbook. Seckou Keita: Kora Master, Jeli, and Radical Royal It is generally discouraged for non-jeli individuals to play jeli instruments. This is especially true for Mande of royal lineage. Mande custom states that those with the royal name Keita are forbidden from being a jeli, but some individuals have broken rank and defied this convention. The Malian-born singer and world beat superstar Salif Keita is one example. He blends traditional jeliya features, contemporary popular sound, and political commentary in his music. He is a controversial figure due to his decision to be a professional musician despite his noble lineage. “I am not shy to sing and play the kora” Seckou Keita is another royal Keita who broke rank to be a musician. A kora virtuoso, his composition “Founé” is featured on CD ex. #2-7. This track has musicians singing and performing on drums from varying regions of western Africa. Seckou Keita was born into a “mixed-heritage” family in southern Senegal. Half Keita and half Sissoko (the latter traditionally a hereditary jeli musical family), his musical prospects were unclear. His gratitude for being able to follow his musical destiny is featured in his song “Sabu Nginma” (Good Help). Another of his songs, which is a focal track in the text, is “Dounuya,” which may be heard on CD ex. #3-16. A Meeting of Musical Worlds: “Atlanta Kaira” “Atlanta Kaira” (CD ex. #3-17) is a neo-traditional ensemble jeliya performance featuring two singers, two koras, a bala, a koni, and an acoustic guitar. The guitarist is the American blues musician Taj Mahal, whose search for his musical roots led him to Mali, among other African nations. The polyphonic layers present in the performance include the singing, kora playing, the parts of the bala and koni, and Mahal’s guitar playing. They exemplify the power of collective expression so characteristic of West African music. Angélique Kidjo Kidjo was born in the nation of Benin, a small country with a population of around six million people. The official language of Benin is French, but the country’s major ethnic groups (e.g., Fon, Yoruba) maintain their individual languages. Kidjo is of Fon descent and sings many of her songs in the Fon language. Kidjo was raised in an artistic household and grew up listening to James Brown and Beatles records. She established herself as one of Benin’s only professional female singers by the age of 20, but moved to Europe as a young woman in pursuit of greater professional opportunities. Once in Europe, she pursued a “crossover” career, combining her musical roots with the diverse musics she encountered there. Kidjo’s 1994 dance hit “Ayé” brought her international fame, and her 1996 album Fifa was even more popular. Among other artists, it featured Latin rock guitarist Carlos Santana. Following Fifa, Kidjo released a trilogy of albums devoted to exploring the African roots of African-derived musics of the Americas. Today, Kidjo resides principally in New York and maintains a busy schedule of international touring and recording. CD ex. #3-18 features “Okan Bale.” The Western instruments and elements reference a cosmopolitan/international style. Despite this, the Fon lyrics and style of vocalization, as well as the prominent presence of the kora, suggest a pan-African identity within the song’s broader cosmopolitan identity.