Afro-American Folksongs - online book

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

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minstrel who was certainly the gentlest and least assertive person in the village, if not in the entire fair. All day long he sat beside his little hut, a spear thrust in the ground by his side, and sang little descending melodies in a faint high voice, which reminded me of Dr. George Schweinfurth's description in his "Heart of Africa" of the minstrels of the Niam-Niam who, he said, are "as sparing of their voices as a worn-out prima donna," and whose minstrelsy might be said to have the "character of a lover's whisper." To his gentle singing he strummed an unvarying accom­paniment upon a tiny harp. This instrument, primitive in construction (like the ancient Egyptian harps it lacked a pole to resist the tension of the strings), was yet consider­ably developed from an artistic point of view. It was about two and a half feet high and had eight strings accurately tuned according to the diatonic major system, but omitting the fourth tone. With his right hand he played over and over again a descending passage of dotted crochets and quavers in thirds; with his left hand he syncopated in­geniously on the highest two strings.
A more striking demonstration of the musical capacity of the Dahomans was made in the war-dances which they performed several times every forenoon and afternoon. These dances were accompanied by choral song and the rhythmical and harmonious beating of drums and bells, the song being in unison. The harmony was a tonic major triad broken up rhythmically in a most intricate and amazingly ingenious manner. The instruments were tuned with excel­lent justness. The fundamental tone came from a drum made of a hollowed log about three feet long with a single head, played by one who seemed to be the leader of the band, though there was no giving of signals. This drum was beaten with the palms of the hands. A variety of smaller drums, some with one, some with two heads, were beaten variously with sticks and fingers. The bells, four in number, were of iron and were held mouth upward and struck with sticks. The players showed the most remarkable rhyth­mical sense and skill that ever came under my notice. Berlioz in his supremest effort with his army of drummers
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