Afro-American Folksongs - online book

A Study In Racial And National Music, With Sample Sheet Music & Lyrics.

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The general character of African music, then, is the preference for rhythm over melody (when this is not the sole consideration); the union of song and dance; the simplicity, not to say humbleness, of the subjects chosen; the great imitative talent in connection with the music and the physical excite­ment from which it arises and to which it appears appropriate.
In this characterization he might have included at least a rudimentary knowledge of, or feeling for, harmony. There is evidence of a harmonic sense in the American songs themselves, though the testimony of the original collectors does not make it clear that the slaves sang the character­istic refrains of their songs in parts. On this point some­thing will have to be said presently; but the evidence of African harmony is summarized by Wallaschek himself in these words:
Kolbe at the beginning of the eighteenth century heard Hottentots playing their gom-goms in harmony. "They also sang the notes of the common chord down to the lower octave, each one beginning with the phrase whenever the former one had already come to the second or third tone, thus producing a harmonious effect."1 Burchell describes the harmonious singing of the Bachapin boys: Sometimes one of them led the band and the rest joined in at different intervals and, guided only by the ear, attuned their voices in correct harmony. The elder boys, whose voices were of a lower pitch, sang the bass, while the younger oroduced in their turn the higher tones of the treble.8 The Bechuanas also sing in harmony. The melody of their songs is simple enough, consisting chiefly of ascending and descending by thirds, while the singers have a sufficient appreciation of harmony to sing in two parts.8 Moodie tells us that he very often heard the Hottentot servant girls singing in two parts; they even sang European tunes which were quite new to them with the accompaniment of a second of their own.4 The same is said by Soyaux of the negro girls of Sierra Leone.6
Examples of harmony in the music of the Ashantees and Fantees, from Bowditch's "Mission from Cape Coast Castle to Ashantee," may be seen in the examples of African music printed in this chapter (pp. 61-62). That the Daho-mans, who are near neighbors of the people visited by Bow-ditch, also employ harmony I can testify from observations made in the Dahoman village at the World's Columbian Exhibition held in Chicago in 1893. There I listened re­peatedly during several days to the singing of a Dahoman
1 Peter Kolbe, "Caput Bonae Spei Hodiernum," Nurexnburg, 1719; page 528.
8 W. T. Burchell, "Travels in the Interior of Souther' Africa," London, 1822-'24; Vol. II, page 438. Ibid.
4  Op. ciu II, 227.
5  Hermann Soyaux, "Aus West-Afrika," Leipsic, 1879; II, 174.
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E-Book - An Annotated Compendium of Old Time American Songs by James Alverson III