Folk & Traditional Music of the Western Continents

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drumming, evidently originated.6 "Hot" rhythm in West Africa is particularly important in ceremonial music, and the more exciting the rhythm, the "hotter" the music is said to be.
The more spectacular rhythmic complexity of African Negro music appears, however, in the rhythmic polyphony, the superim-position of several rhythmic structures. Its most obvious manifesta­tion is found in drumming, but of course it is also present in the combination of several voices or—more frequently—of instruments with voices. There is a great deal of drumming, but in other ways, also, the music seems to be dominated by a percussive quality. Indi­vidual tones in singing are attacked strongly, without a semblance of legato. There are few instruments on which one can slur notes to­gether, and generally the music is vigorously accented. Thus the im­portance of drumming can perhaps be traced to the need for strong rhythmic articulation.
The perception of various simultaneous meters seems to be widespread among Africans. Rhythmic polyphony of a rather com­plex type can be performed by a single person who may sing in one meter and drum in another. The superimposition of duple and triple meters, called hemiola rhythm, is evidently a basic ingredient of much West and Central African rhythmic polyphony.
In music using three or more drums, the rhythmic polyphony is developed to its most complex level. While such music can be mechanically notated in a single meter, the various drummers are actually performing with independent metrical schemes; one drum may use duple, one triple, a third quintuple meter. Moreover, if the several drums or other instruments use the same basic metric scheme (such as 3/8), the beginning of the unit or measure may not come at the same time in all of the drums; thus we may have the following combination: 3/8, 5/8, 7/8, as in Example 7-5, which is a sample of Yoruba drumming with the pitch variations on the individual drum omitted.
The melodic element in drumming, as illustrated by the "royal drums" of the Watusi, which accompany the supreme chief when­ever he emerges from his tent, is also important; drums used to­gether always contrast in size and thus in pitch, and it is possible to
« Richard A. Waterman, " 'Hot' Rhythm in Negro Music," Journal of the American Musicological Society I (1948), 25f.

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