Folk & Traditional Music of the Western Continents

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relaying of drum signals over a long distance is legendary; horns are also used for this purpose, and, for more conversational ends over short distances, the same principles may be applied to xylophones. In some tribes, signaling takes on the character of Morse code, that is, arbitrary signals are used to indicate words or concepts. More frequently, however, the system of signaling is tied to the pitch structure of the language. The languages spoken in Negro Africa belong mainly to three families: Khoi-San, characterized by the famous clicks, which is spoken by the Bushmen and Hottentots; Niger-Congo (including the Bantu group), which occupies most of the area through the Congo region and the Guinea Coast, and which is a closely knit group of languages clearly related to each other; and Sudanic, which is spoken in the northeastern region of Negro Africa, and which consists of languages whose common origin is surmised rather than concretely proved. Most of the Bantu and many of the Sudanic languages are tone languages; that is, the rela­tive pitch at which a syllable is spoken is relevant to the meaning of the word. Thus, in Jabo, a language spoken in Liberia, there are four "tones"; that is, four different relative pitch levels of speech are distinguished for purposes of meaning, and we can number these from 1 to 4, highest to lowest. In Jabo,3 the word ba may mean four different things, depending on the pitch. Ba(l) means namesake, ba(2) means "to be broad," ba(3) means "tail," and ba(4) is a par­ticle expressing command. In signaling, the pitches of the words— or rather their internal relationship, for of course the language tones are not fixed pitches but can be understood only in terms of the pitch of the surrounding syllables and of their place within the speaker's voice range—are transferred to the drum. Jabo signaling is done with two drums, one large, the other smaller, made of hollowed logs with slits. They are not true drums, of course, but idiophones. The pitch on each drum is varied according to the place at which it is struck. And, interestingly, the two lower tones of the language are combined into one tone on the large drum. The fact that many words or sentences could have the same sequence of tones, and that in the drum language tones 3 and 4 are indistinguishable, would seem to make deciphering of messages difficult. Only a few men are qualified to signal, and only certain things should be said in signal
3 George Herzog, "Speech-Melody and Primitive Music," Musical Quar­terly XX (1934), 453.

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