A Collection Of Negro Traditional & Folk Songs with Sheet Music Lyrics & Commentaries - online book

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The dances and the dance-songs of the Creole Negroes— that is, of the slaves belonging to Creoles, the French and Spanish people in certain sections of the South, more especially Louisiana — were dif­ferent from those of the other slaves. Not only was the language different, being the Creole patois,—that strange tongue representing the struggles of Africans with the highly cultured French language, which contains vocal sounds not found in primitive African dialects, — but the dances also were more barbaric and unrestrained, nearer to the jungle.
In an article, "The Dance in Place Congo," in the Century Maga­zine, 1886, George W. Cable tells of the dances among the Louisiana Negroes in slavery times, of barbaric celebrations so indecent that they were finally forbidden by law. He describes the instruments used with these primitive, sinister dances, which were very different from the merry-making of Negroes in other sections:
"The booming of African drums and blast of huge wooden horns called to the gathering. . . . The drums were long, hollowed, often from a single piece of wood, open at one end and having a sheep- or goat-skin stretched across the other. One was large, the other much smaller. The tight skin heads were not held up to be struck; the drums were laid along on the turf and the drummers bestrode them, and beat them on the head madly with fingers, fists and feet — with slow vehemence on the great drum, and fiercely and rapidly on the small one. Sometimes an extra performer sat on the ground behind the larger drum at its open end and'beat' upon the wooden sides of it with two sticks."
The smaller drum was often made from a joint or two of very-large bamboo, in the West Indies where such could be got, and this is said to be the origin of its name, for it was called "bamboula."
"A queer thing that went with these when the affair was preten­tious was the Marimba brett, a union of reed and string principles. A single strand of wire ran lengthwise a bit of wooden board, some­times a shallow box of thin wood, some eight inches long by four or five wide, across which, under the wire, were several joints of reed about a quarter of an inch in diameter and of graduated lengths. The performer, sitting cross-legged, held the board in both hands and plucked the ends of the reeds with his thumb-nails. But the grand instrument was — the banjo. . . . For the true African dance, a dance not so much of legs and feet as of the upper part of the body, a sensual, devilish thing tolerated only by Latin-American masters, there was wanted the dark inspiration of the African drum and the banjo's thrump and strum."

E-Book - An Annotated Compendium of Old Time American Songs by James Alverson III