African Polyphony and Polyrhythm: Musical Structure and by Simha Arom

By Simha Arom

During this special examine Simha Arom takes a brand new and unique method of the knowledge of the advanced and complicated styles of polyphony and polyrhythm that characterise African tune. contemplating specifically the harp, sanza, xylophone and percussion tune of significant Africa, Simha Arom develops a rigorous technique for the research of the track and for the recording and interpreting of the various strands of polyphony and polyrhythm. via a scientific breakdown of the numerous layers of it appears improvised rhythm he unearths the fundamental constitution which underlies this wealthy and intricate song. encouraged additionally by means of linguistic ideas, Professor Arom regards the tune greatly as a grammatical procedure.

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But the missionaries' strictly musical contribution was a fairly limited one. They devised canticles, based, with varying degrees of success, GENERAL INTRODUCTION 5 on melodies and melodic phrases derived from local tradition, and by the introduction, in religious services, of some traditional instruments, especially percussion. This 'hybridisation' did not seriously damage an ancestral patrimony that was firmly established, and organically linked to the social life of the community. Nevertheless, in the past few decades, various factors have together conspired to undermine the traditional musics, without at the same time replacing them with a specific 'modern' music.

Finally, tempo, or what Claudie Marcel-Dubois calls 'organic speed or movement' (1965: 204), is the only constant element in Central African musical discourse; all the others (melody, rhythm and instrumental patterns) may give rise to variations. But there is never, within the one piece of music, the slightest variation in tempo; it remains constant right to the end, without accelerando, ritardando, rubato or fermata. If, for ritual reasons in particular, there are successive pieces of music with differing tempos (during a ceremony for instance) Central African musicians never create a transition from one piece to the next; they juxtapose them, preserving a clean break between the two.

7 T H E MUSICIAN The peoples of the Central African Republic do not have castes of musicians, nor are there any professional musicians. Alan Merriam observes in this respect that 'Distinctions between the artist and his audience [. ] are not so sharply drawn as in our own culture. In some parts of Africa the cultural expectation involves almost everyone as potentially equal in musical ability, although this is not the case everywhere' (Merriam 1962: 129). I would maintain that this is the case in Central Africa also.

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