Folk & Traditional Music of the Western Continents

The folk & traditional music of Europe, Africa & the Americas explored.

Home Main Menu Singing & Playing Order & Order Info Support Search Voucher Codes

Share page  Visit Us On FB

Previous Contents Next
The social structure of the Afro-American cults is a fascinating chapter in the study of the cultural context of traditional music. In the Afro-Bahian cults,4 there are both priests and priestesses, but most of the initiates are women. At the public performances of the cults' songs and dances, rhythmic accompaniment is produced by various kinds of rattles and bells as well as by hand-clapping. But most important are the drums.
Drummers have a very high and exalted position. They are musicians par excellence. According to Herskovits, the master drum­mer "moves about the scene, confident, respected. . . . Relaxed, the drum between his legs, he allows the complex rhythm to flow from his sure, agile fingers. It is he who brings on possession through his manipulation of these rhythmic intricacies, yet he himself never be­comes possessed."5 Each cult house has its own master drummer (master drummers are also persons of great prestige in West Africa), who has an important place in the hierarchy of cult leadership. Sing­ing has a somewhat lower value than does drumming. But music is essential to the worship of the deities, for it is through song that they are invoked to participate in the ceremonies. Drums are never played by women, but women do sing and function as leaders of song.
In the Afro-Bahian cults and, typically, in other Afro-American cult groups, drums are played in groups of three; sometimes an iron gong replaces one drum. Each of the two smaller drums usually re­peats a single rhythm, while the largest and lowest varies its beats, producing some of the complex and intensely exciting rhythms typi­cal of the Afro-American styles. The drums are played either by hand or with drum sticks. And the making of a drum is itself a com­plex ritual in which the drum receives its power to communicate with the deities.
While the ceremonial music of the Negro communities of Latin America and the Caribbean is its most prominent—and stylistically most African—musical expression, we must not forget that other kinds of music are also produced. There are work songs, social dance songs, narrative songs of sorts, love songs. The calypso, which pre­sumably originated in Trinidad and spread rapidly throughout the Caribbean, is a unique kind of satirical song (but there are satirical
4 Melville J. Herskovits, "Drums and Drummers in Afro-Brazilian Cult Life," Musical Quarterly XXX (1944), 477-80.
5 Herskovits, "Drums and Drummers in Afro-Brazilian Cult Life," p. 477.

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