Afro-American Folksongs - online book

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

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Fair in Chicago in 1893, for reasons which can easily be imagined; such spectacles as the travellers describe would not be tolerated in a civilized community anywhere in the world at the present time, though the equally frank danse du ventre, which the Latin satirists scourged cen­turies ago, was to be seen in the Midway Plaisance under circumstances which seemed to have been accepted as a palliative, just as the "tango" and the "turkey-trot," the former African in name and both African in dramatic motif and purpose, are tolerated in circles which call themselves polite to-day. The dances of the Dahomans were war dances. These people have been in constant contact with white traders for more than a hundred years, but they probably take the same "delight in singing, dancing and cutting off heads" now that they did when Forbes visited them three-quarters of a century ago. Indeed, a bit of pantomimic action, which I saw repeated several times at the fair, testified, in a way almost too vivid to be amusing, to the love of decapitation which has been so much commented on by travellers.
A dozen or more names of dances, all of vague meaning and etymology, have come down to us in the books of men who have written about the negroes in the Western Hemi­sphere, and so far as can be learned all these dances were more or less wild and lascivious. Lascivious they have remained, even in the forms which they have assumed under the influence of French and Spanish culture. There is no doubt in the mind of Friedenthal, whose observations were wide and whose descriptions are sympathetic, that the rhythmical foundation of the fascinating Habanera is a negro product upon which graceful melodies were imposed. "We shall make no error," he writes,1 in assum­ing that the Habanera, as its name already indicates, originated in Havana. Thence it conquered all of Spanish and Portugese America (i. e, Brazil), and also the European settlements in the West Indies, Central and South America. But it is to be particularly observed that only the real Habanera, the dance with simple rhythms, penetrated ' Op. dt., pp. 115-116.
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