On African music and transculturation

African music forms and rhythms that emerged in the Americas constituted a beat that has “always threaded back to Africa.”

In the words of the Caribbean poet, Edward Kamau Brathwaite, the middle passage created “bridges of sound” that carried memories of Africa to the Americas, music that echoed down the generations from “Harlem” to “Havana.”

Individual islands in the Caribbean and the mainland diasporic slave communities in the Americas shared the basic rhythms (and some instruments) derived from Africa. But these were fused with the instruments and rhythms of the cultures with which African slaves interacted, a process that the Cuban ethnomusicologist Frederick Ortiz termed “transculturation.”

Trinidadian calypso and parang, and the samba and son rhythms in Cuba (son was a modified, more refined version of rumba which became popular in the second half of the nine- teenth century) combined the structure and elements of Spanish canción (song) and Spanish guitar with African rhythm and percussion instruments.

Son, samba, rumba, and other Latin and African-Caribbean dances influenced salsa. In the Southern U.S., the European fife and drum convey some of the rural music that has the most authentic African rhythms.

The fife and drum are also the basis of Jonkanoo music in Jamaica (Jonkanoo is a Jamaican Christmas tradition, incorporating African traditions going back to the days of slavery).
This incorporation of European instruments and music forms demonstrates how Africans in the diaspora subverted the dominant culture and asserted positive African identities. Slaves played for their master and learnt European instruments and rhythms but these became syncretized into popular folk music (defined as played with acoustic
instruments). Jamaican mento draws on the fife and drum of Jonkanoo, Pocomania (an African-Christian revivalist cult) and church music, the European quadrille, and slave work songs passed through the generations.

Musical forms in different parts of the diaspora have also retained purer African elements where percussion instruments and call-and-response vocals predominate. Examples here include rumba in Cuba, Rastafarian Nyabhingi in Jamaica, and the Kongo and Yoruba music found in African-derived religious sects such as Kumina in Jamaica,
Shango in Trinidad, Haitian Voodoo, and Cuban Santeria. Such music was performed “beyond the ken” of whites during slavery and continues to be associated with peasant or urban working-class cultures.

From:

Barbara Bush (2006) African Echoes, Modern Fusions: Caribbean Music,
Identity and Resistance in the African Diaspora, Music Reference Services Quarterly.

Image source:  Nyabinghi Drum Circle with Wolf

On Lalibela pipe and coffee

Two of the pipes from Lalibela cave were subsequently tested for cannabis residue on the inside of the bowls. These tests showed conclusively that the two pipes in question were definitely used for the smoking of cannabis. This, together with the fact that no evidence of elbow-bend pipes was found, has been taken as evidence that cannabis was smoked in water pipes in thirteenth-or fourteenth-century Ethiopia. However, caution must be exercised in drawing this conclusion. There was no direct correlation between the pipes and any dates. Rather there was a general correlation between the pipes and the dates, since both were from the same levels. The sites were rather disturbed, and there was evidence that levels may have been contaminated by the extensive digging of pits. In addition, the culture of level II in both sites was similar to that of the people of the area today. Dombrowski postulated only that the excavation showed that Semitic-speaking Ethiopians had reached the Lake Tana area by c. I I00.

There is thus no compelling reason to assume that the pipes in question were deposited before the arrival of tobacco, although that is the most likely hypothesis, and it is known that these pipes were used for smoking something other than tobacco. Our best guess would be that these pipes were used before the introduction of tobacco from the New World, but this is far from proven. Perhaps advances in radiocarbon technology will allow us to obtain reliable dates from the residue in the pipes which would settle the issue of their dates. In the meantime Ethiopia, rather than Persia or southern Africa, has become the most likely place of origin of the water pipe, which may have spread during medieval times on routes similar to those used by coffee, another Ethiopian innovation.

From: ARCHAEOLOGICAL DATA, found in:

African Smoking and Pipes

Author: John Edward Philips

Source: The Journal of African History, Vol. 24, No. 3 (1983)

Image source: Cannabis and Tobacco in Precolonial and Colonial Africa 

On industry, slackness and spirituality

Another influence was the growing backlash against “slackness” and “violence” music in certain circles. Hence the “banning” of Lady Saw from  performing in Montego Bay proclaimed by that city’s Mayor after her notorious success at one of the music festivals there; or the decision by various members of the Jamaican Federation of Musicians to refuse to provide musical backing for singers of slackness or violence, or a renewed policy of filtering of much of this music by certain of the radio stations and a corresponding promotion of “spiritual” music.

The conditions in the “industry” were therefore conducive to a renewal. It is obvious that the swing benefitted enormously from the emergence of heavily “spiritual” singers of the quality of Garnet Silk in the early nineties, or Luciano slightly after, but the dance hall also experienced a duality in some and an outright “conversion” in others of its major figures. Lady Saw, for example, the top female D.J. who continues to be the undisputed queen of sex lyrics, can sing a highly successful song of praise and thanks to God (“Glory be to God”) for her material advancement resulting from those same “slackness” songs. In the midst of his 1991 album of sex lyrics, “Gold”, Capleton sings a song “Bible fi dem,” proclaiming his religious righteousness. It is neither that these singers are being inconsistent nor that they are being opportunist. Indeed, their reconciliation of sex with spirituality is consistent with a value system that does not dichotomize carnality and spirituality.

Naturally, such a mix does not meet with approval from orthodox Rastafari. In discussing “the anointing” of dancehall, Yasus Afari argues that: “You cannot accept just any song into the dance because the dance is to praise Jah.”

Even Capleton becomes intolerant of sexual lyrics in his more recent phase. And yet, Bob Marley had no difficulty in singing songs of sexual expression, if not slackness, recognizing the validity of this human dimension, just as front-line “conscious” singers like Buju Banton today defend the mix of carnality and spirituality.

Found in: Babylon to Vatican: Religion in the Dance Hall
Author: Joseph Pereira
Source: Journal of West Indian Literature, Vol. 8, No. 1 (OCTOBER 1998)

Image source: Lady Saw Net Worth