Afro-American Folksongs - online book

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

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DANCES OF THE AMERICAN NEGROES
to these lands. Extended and complicated rhythms are known only where the negroes are to be found outside of the West Indies, in Brazil and on the coasts of Venezuela, Colombia, Central America and Mexico. In other countries, as, for instance, the interior of Mexico, the Plata states and' Chili, where there are no negroes, ex­tended and complicated rhythms are entirely unknown." Commenting in another place1 on the influences which created the dances of the American Creoles, he says:
Not much less can have been the share, on the other hand, which the Spaniards and Creoles took in the dances of the blacks. Every day in their hours of rest they had opportunities to see the partly sensual, partly grotesque and wild dances of their black slaves, and to hear their peculiar songs. What impressions may not these fascinating, complicated and bizarre and yet trans­parent rhythms of the negroes have made upon the Spaniards who themselves possess a refined sense of rhythm. Added to this the strange instruments of percussion which, while marking the rhythm, exerted an almost uncanny effect.
Here, then, two races confronted each other, both highly musical but reared in different musical worlds. No wonder that the Spaniards also bene­fited from and promptly took up these remarkable rhythms into their own music. Of all these rhythms, however, the simplest which can be heard from all negroes is this:
which, we have already learned, is the rhythm of the Habanera. The melody of the Habanera, which we would derive from Middle or Southern Spain, and the rhythm which accompanies it and had its origin in Africa, therefore re­present, in a way, the union of Spanish spirit with African technique. We thus get acquainted with a hybrid art in the Habanera, or Danza, but as must at once be said here, the only hybrid art-form of Creole music.
The Habanera, as a dance, is not vocal, but its form has been used most charmingly in vocal music, and in two of its manifestations, Carmen's air in the first scene of Bizet's opera and the Mexican song "Paloma,"
it is universally familiar. I have found a few Afro-Ameri­can songs in which the characteristic rhythm is so persist­ently used as to suggest that they were influenced by a subconscious memory of the old dance; but the evidence
1 Page 95.
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