2. The Rise of a Sung Literary Genre
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Z - The Rise of a Sung Literary Genre 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, i983a and b; Oliver 1990; Evans i978b, 1982; Ferris 1973; etc.) for their social and historical commentary, their literary value, and their compositional structures—have remained somewhat neglected as concerns their African backgrounds in content, diction, and psychology . In part, this could be the result of a prevailing musicological tendency —also encountered in some studies of African music—to underrate literary aspects in favor of an abstract appreciation of the music, or,alternatively, to study each realm separately. For this reason I recommended in 1988 "an integrated approach towards west African music and oral literature/' as demonstrated in my earlier fieldwork on Yoruba cbantefables in Nigeria (Kubik i988a: 129-82). So far, the African background of the oral literature dimension of the blues has been studied mainly in one specific area—"magic" and "voodoo," including the permeating presence of the "devil." (On some of these subjects see Evans 1996; Ferris 1989; Finn 1986; Katz 1969; Kubik 1996; Oakley 1976; Oliver 1990: 117—37; Spencer 1993; LaVere 1990; and others.) A basic thesis of Finn and Spencer is that blues as "devil's music," as it was popularly called, demonstrates a process of reinterpretation of the Yoruba and Fo religious concepts of Esu and Legba respectively. The bluesman is seen as a "voodoo" priest in disguise and also as a trickster (see also Floyd 1995: 72-78, for an assessment). As fascinating as such conjectures may be, my own field experience in Togo and Dahomey among the Fo, and in Nigeria among the Yoruba (cf. Kubik 19883, i989d: 110-43, I 994t> ) has taught me to exercise restraint when faced with 21 the pleasures of freewheeling thought associations. Traditionally, E$u and Legba have no negativistic connotations such as "the devil." Legba mud sculptures found in the courtyards of many houses in Dahomey and Togo function to warn the inhabitants through dreams about any imminent danger of illness, even early death, caused by witchcraft. Legba is also intimately connected with the fa (in Fo; ifa in Yoruba) oracle. A communal Legba called Tolegba is put up some two hundred meters from the village to protect against epidemic disease and arson, even harmful insects. Legba is a male being in love of truth. Nothing can be hidden before him, not even one's sexual organ. He himself is usually shown with a pronounced male sexual organ. African-American studies seem often to pass through a stage in which the cognitive worlds of several distinctive African cultures are mixed up and grossly reinterpreted by the authors, with the Guinea Coast and particularly Nigeria providing the most easily accessible materials. What for a long time had been a dominant trend in the literature on Afro-Brazilian cultures (cf. criticism by Mourao 1980: 7; Kubik 1991: 147) is now being repeated in the United States: the Nigerianization of African-American studies, notably since Henry Louis Gates Jr.'s TheSignifying Monkey (1988). It is true that the Yoruba ori§a (transcendental being) called Esu and the Fo vodu equivalent called Legba, about whose connotations Danhin Amagbenyo Kofi (in Kubik i989a: 126—35) has informed us through firsthand observation, were variously targeted by Christians in Africa and in the New World and recategorized as "devils." Somewhat later, anthropologists labeled them "trickster Gods." But they have shared that fate with some other religious ideas in Africa. For example, in southeastern Angola Kavok, one of the masked characters appearing during the season of the mukanda initiation rites for boys, was reinterpreted by Christians as the "devil" (Kubik, field notes 19657 Angola). In Venezuela certain masks used in carnivalmanifestations with (possibly) remote African components are called "devils' masks" (lasmascaras de los diablos—cf. Pollak-Eltz 1977, 1979). In Malawi and Zambia, Seventh Day Adventists and other Protestant American churches have been in the vanguard up to the 19905 in calling the traditional masks of the Achewa and Amarjanja people zausatana (things of Satan), Probably no one will suggest that all those African religious traditions, variously stigmatized by Christians as "devil's things," must have survived in the back of the mind of blues singers. But why then also pick Esu and Legba, who Out of Africa u incorporate religious ideas from just one delineated culture area of...