Afro-American Folksongs - online book

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

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as is shown in an example by Mr. Schauenburg.1 He saw at Kujar a negro beating the drum with the right hand and varying the tone by pressing his left on the skin, so as to imitate the sound of the Mandingo words. During the wrestling match it sounded 'Amuta, amuta' (attack); during the dance 'ali bae si/ and all the participants understood it.2 .... Sir A. C. Moloney observed this system of language among the Yorubas. . . and says it is an imitation of the human voice by the drum. To understand it one has to know 'the accents of pro­nunciation in the vernacular and to become capable of recognizing the different and corresponding note of the drum.'"
The art of making the drum talk is still known in the Antilles. In "Two Years in the French West Indies,"8 Lafcadio Hearn says:
The old African dances, the Caleinda and the Bele (which latter is accom­panied by chanted improvization), are danced on Sundays to the sound of the drum on almost every plantation in the land. The drum, indeed, is an instrument to which the countryfolk are so much attached that they swear by it, Tdmbou! being the oath uttered upon all ordinary occasions of surprise or vexation. But the instrument is quite as often called ka because made out of a quarter-barrel, or quart, in the patois ka. Both ends of the barrel having been removed, a wet hide, well wrapped about a couple of hoops, is driven on, and in drying the stretched skin obtains still further tension. The other end of the ka is always left open. Across the face of the skin a string is tightly stretched, to which are attached, at intervals of about an inch apart, very thin fragments of bamboo or cut feather stems. These lend a certain vibration to the tones.
In the time of Pere Labat the negro drums had a somewhat different form. There were then two kinds of drums—a big tamtam and a little one, which used to be played together. Both consisted of skins tightly stretched over one end of a cylinder, or a section of a hollow tree-trunk. The larger was from three to lour feet long, with a diameter of from 15 to 16 inches; the smaller, Baboula, was of the same length, but only eight or nine inches in diameter.
The skilful player (bel tambovye), straddles his ka stripped to the waist, and plays upon it with the finger-tips of both hands simultaneously, taking care that the vibrating string occupies a horizontal position. Occasionally the heel of the naked foot is pressed lightly or vigorously against the skin so as to produce changes of tone. This is called "giving heel" to the drum— baitty talon. Meanwhile a boy keeps striking the drum at the uncovered end with a stick, so as to produce a dry, clattering accompaniment. The sound of the drum itself, well played, has a wild power that makes and masters all the excitement of the dance—a complicated double roll, with a peculiar
1 Eduard Schauenburg, "Reisen in Central-Afrika," etc. Lahr, 1859,1, 93.
2 Sir Alfred Moloney, "Notes on Yoruba and the Colony and Protectorate of Lagos," in The Proceedings of the Royal Geographical Society, New Series, XII, 596.
Harper & Bros.; 1890.
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