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Lecture Notes: Africa

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McMaster University
Simon Wood

AFRICA Think - “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 inAfrican music – from mambo to hip-hop and rock to reggae Shona Mbira - read pages 196-201 - Bira: a Shona religious ceremony - Mbria: “Iamellaphone” - Plucked keys mounted on a sound box General principles - interlocking pitches: fitting pitches into spaces between other parts, alternating with another part - call and response - dense, overlapping textures - buzzy timbres (instruments and voices) - cyclical/overlapping forms - ostinato - community participation Music, Culture and History in Sub-SaharanAfrica - Hundreds, even thousands of religions are practiced in sub-SaharanAfrica, and music is a key element of religious practice on many levels - Communal expression often takes the form of poluvocality, involving multipart musical “conversation” involving instruments, clapping, dancing, or other modes of participation Terms to remember - Interlocking; fitting pitches and beat into the space of other parts - call and response - Ostinato Characteristics - Interlocking melodies and rhythms - Dense textures, buzzy timbres - Cyclical forms (based on ostinatos) - Flexibility in rhythm - Descending melodies - Musical roles (core and elaboration) Listening Skills - Call and response - Hocket - Rhythmic complexity Concepts of music - Many that titles but - can be put together in different ways - “The Piece” - Kushaura: “to lead the piece” - Kitsinhira: “to accompany” Mbira music - Complex, hierarchical, centralized states with hereditary rulers - Decentralized, smaller-scale societies The Pygmies - Nomadic - Semi-autonomous hunter gatherers - Equatorial rainforest - Communalism: survival depends on cooperation Key Values - egalitarianism - consensus - unity - can be said to be reflected in their music - performance is non-specialist - vocal music - whole community Musical style - ostinato - interlocking parts (hocket technique) - call and response - bambuti vocal music - listen for hocket style Mande of WestAfrica - sula: “ordinary people” - nyamalo: “craft specialist, including musicians” - jali: hereditary musicians More than drumming:African Musical Diversity and the Kora - Drumming is not the basis of most music inAfrica -Agreat deal of African music does not including drumming at all The Kora and its Musical World - Kora: 21-string spike harp chodophone - 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 streches over the gourd - When playing the Kora, the performer holds onto the 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 theArt 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 normallu specialize in singing only - People born into jeli families have 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
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