Africa and the Blues
Publication Year: 1999
Published by: University Press of Mississippi
Title Page, Copyright
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List of Examples
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List of Figures
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List of Photographs
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As I am writing about the blues after a thirty-seven-year interval—the last time I had specifically touched the subject was in 1961—this book is unfolding before my eyes as if I were in a state of trance. Obviously, I haven't been sitting in idleness during the last three decades. Besides covering much of sub-Saharan Africa in field research and writing, I have also written much about the extensions ...
Part I. Out of Africa
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Within these areas of inquiry, the third has been the best covered. Besides written sources, pictorial documents, and oral tradition, commercial recordings have been our most important twentieth-century source for the history of the blues. These are augmented by the immense field recording work done by researchers since the 1930s. ...
1. Sources, Adaptation, and Innovation
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Anyone studying the history of the early rural blues and its proclaimed "roots" will be aware of the complexity of such an undertaking. To recall a few basic data of the general history of the United States might therefore help us to avoid the most serious errors, such as suggesting a direct, unilinear descent of the blues from any specific eighteenth- to nineteenth-century ethnic African musical ...
2. The Rise of a Sung Literary Genre
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Many proposals have been put forward as to the possible "African roots" of the music called blues. The blues as oral literature—though studied in great detail by various authors (cf Dauer 1964-65, 1979, 1983a and b; Oliver 1990; Evans 1978b, 1982; Ferris 1973; etc.) for their social and historical commentary, their literary value, and their compositional structures—have remained somewhat ...
3. A Strange Absence
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For those of us with training in the percussive rhythms of Guinea Coast music (cf. Richard A. Waterman 1952, discussion in Merriam 1953), much of our Guinea Coast experience is inapplicable to the blues. This is so not just because of the absence of drums and complex polyrhythms in early blues; there is, in addition, the very specific absence of asymmetric time-line patterns in virtually all ...
4. The West Central Sudanic Belt
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The explanation for the absence of time-line patterns in the blues, and from the North American scenario in general—with the exception of their shadowy appearance in Louisiana early in the twentieth century, and in more recent times, for example in Bo Diddley's music (cf Kubik 1993: 443—44; see also his recent biography based on interviews, White 1995)—must therefore be something ...
5. Blues Recordings Compared with Material from the Central Sudanic Savannah
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Big Joe Williams was born in Mississippi in 1903. His recording "Stack o'Dollars" from 1935 can be compared with traditions of the western and central Sudan, especially in three areas: in vocal style by the abundant use of melismatic passages, the pentatonic basis of the pitch-lines, and his voice quality; in the instrumental realm by the use of a combination of stringed instruments including ...
6. Some Characteristics of the Blues
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Rural blues in the Deep South is not a completely homogeneous tradition. Enough time has elapsed since pre-blues traditions crystallized into something toward the end of the nineteenth century that could be called "blues" to allow for early processes of divergence analogous to how a language splits into dialects, and subsequent processes of convergence, i.e., mutual influences and borrowings ...
7. Why Did a West Central Sudanic Style Cluster Prevail in the Blues?
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Africans deported to the United States left their home countries through many ports along the west African coast. But just as the Portuguese slave trade (especially from Angola, Nigeria, Dahomey, Guinea-Bissau, Gabon, and Mozambique) was mainly directed to Brazil, so was the British and French slave trade directed to North America and the Caribbean islands. The influx of slaves from ...
8. Heterophonic Versus Homophonic Multi-part Schemes
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No serious student of African-American music will subscribe today to all-encompassing formulations such as that "harmony" in jazz and other African- American music is "European" in origin, while "rhythm" is "African" (i.e., a sort of pan-African hodgepodge). One still occasionally encounters the opinion, inherited from early twentieth-century writings, that "all African music w ...
9. The Blues Tonal System
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Carl Gregor Herzog zu Mecklenburg and Waldemar Scheck (1963: 9) give an overview of the numerous theories by means of which Western musicians and musicologists from the 1920s to the 1960s tried to come to grips with a phenomenon in the blues that seemed to run contrary to all established harmonic rules of Western music: the "blue notes/' By this term normally two tones are understood ...
10. The "Flatted Fifth"
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There are many unusual scalar patterns in the blues, and some could perpetuate tonal concepts found in regions of Africa outside the west central Sudanic belt. One of the issues to be accounted for in any study of the origin of the blue notes is the so-called "flatted fifth" (cf. Schuller 1968:51-52). It was only recognized as a blue note in the 1940s, but there is no doubt that it existed in some of the ...
Part II. Return to Africa
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The most trenchant external influences on African music in the twentieth century were not European, as might have been expected in the face of colonial structures; instead they were African-American. These have included nearly every aspect of the New World music from the Caribbean and from South and North America. In the 1930s it was rhumba and some jazz-derived forms of ...
11. The 12-Bar Blues Form in South African kwela and Its Reinterpretation
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South Africa was not a slave-raiding area for the New World labor market, and South African musical traditions therefore did not influence New World music before mid-twentieth-century contacts and exchanges (e.g., Louis Armstrong's adaptation of August Musurugwa's "Skokiaan" theme; the recording of " Wimoweh" by the Weavers in 1951 [Decca 27928]; the emigration to the United ...
12. Return to the Western Sudan
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Since the 1970s some of the more recent developments in African American music in North America and elsewhere have radiated back to the western Sudan. In 1981 I was startled, during a visit to the "Conservatoire National" in Dakar, Senegal, to find an ensemble consisting of a brass section (trumpet and trombone), saxophone, piano, electric bass guitar, and jazz drums, playing in a style ...
Summary and Conclusions
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Page Count: 260
Publication Year: 1999