As we approach the season when we will travel to West Africa to film scenes for the Reality Show, My African Love, http://www.myafricalove.comwe continue to search for an understanding of the culture and people we will interact with during our stay as guest in those countries. As we are continually exposed to music in America, it seems important to know how and why the music may differ in West Africa and how we can appreciate the difference. The drums of Africa is not just another instrument in the “band” in Africa.
Drums and Drummers.
The vast range and variety of African percussion or “banged’ instruments is so large that only a few selected examples may be mentioned here. Africa may be called the “Drum Continent”, because nowhere else in the world has a greater range of types or number of drums. Since Africa was the continent where man originated that is probably where music itself originated. It is widely recognized that Africa has a rich variety of instruments and in the case of drums there is the goblet, conical, barrel, cylindrical, and frame. These drum of Africa would have their own names based upon the different thousands of languages and dialects. The drums of Africa are also totally different from the Western culture’s point of view. The Drums of Africa span various tonal frequencies to imitate voices and some are actually tuned, like timpani and to play pieces with vocals, solo, but not tuned like a xylophone with measured hollow chunks of wood
We must keep in mind that Africa is not a country. It is a continent like Europe or America, so it must be realized that in it will lie as many various styles as in our Western continents too. Hence drums in Africa belong to particular regions of the continent:
“The entenga tuned drum ensembles of the kings in Uganda, the processional drums carried on horseback in northern Nigeria, the ritual drums laid horizontally on platforms in coastal West Africa, and the hourglass drums of Africa that play, glides, and slides off pitch as the player presses the thongs connecting the heads and tightening the skins with lightning velocity. Music, which has no meaning in any African language, was not intended to be the only use for such developed drums, as in is in the West, or any other instrument for that matter. African music is not merely about entertainment, it is in the culture.
The peoples of Africa make and listen to music that is intimately bound to the visual and dramatic arts as well as the larger tapestry of life. Music is integrated into life, and though Africa has the most diverse people on the planet, some common elements penetrate the myriad of details. Among the drums of Africa the use of “talking drums” is a fine example of music throughout Africa being employed to further the use of instruments and to aid their existence through integration with traditional apparatus.
African languages operate on two levels: rhythmic speech and tonal inflexion. Combined, these may be interpreted by differently- pitched drums or single log drums capable of producing more than one pitch, any ambiguities becoming clear by intelligent appreciation of the context. The music and drums are almost always an accompaniment for many manners of ceremony – births, deaths, marriages, seduction – together with a ritual dance. The vicious sound of many drums pounding together is also a necessary inspiration to stir and heat up emotions in a battle or war to inspire excitement and passion.
But with the music and the beating of drums meaning so much to the African people, it must be
realized that there is an essential feeling to the music. On a spiritual level it is vital to everyday life, but with the addition of stirring rhythms, provokes a need to take part and listen, so the combination of vastly developed music, far from the influence of commercialism. The need to survive by way of music suggests exactly what it really means to these people. Describing the emotions stirred by music is a task, because words fall short. We are just beginning to learn about the affective aspect, which for some people is even more important than are the mechanics of music, the mere nuts and bolts. For many Africans, singing and playing moves them to do unusual things, calms them if they are overwrought with grief, and stirs them to dance if they are apathetic. These special qualities, which go beyond the ordinary, characterize a performance after the ensemble is playing smoothly and things are going well.
Western tradition dictates that music is normally recorded, whether it be physically or in a literary form. This is so the music can be re-performed and experienced without a live encounter or without already knowing the music. Therefore, some European music is so complicated and technical, because of these methods, that it cannot be repeated exactly. In Africa this is not the case. Just as British folk music establishes itself on self-tuition and traditional folk tunes without sheet music, so do the Africans.