restricted access 4. The West Central Sudanic Belt
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4 - TheWest Central Sudanic Belt 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 (c£ Kubik 1993: 443—44; see also his recent biography based on interviews, White 1995)—must therefore be something other than repression or amnesia. Paul Oliver, on the basis of fieldwork in northern Ghana (Oliver 1970,1972,1973), suggested that if there was any affinity at all in musical structure between the blues and certain African musical traditions , it should be sought in the broad savanna hinterland of west Africa, from Senegal and Gambia, across Mali, northern Ghana, and Burkina Faso, to northern Nigeria, rather than along the Guinea Coast where previous researchers had sought it. Stylistically, the music played in the west African savanna hinterland, such as, for example, on certain stringed instruments, especially the long-necked lutes (xalam, garaya, etc.) and one-stringed fiddles (gpge, goje, riti, etc.), is characterized by the predominance of pentatonic tuning patterns, the absence of the concept of asymmetric time-line patterns, a relatively simple motional structure lacking complex polyrhythm but using subtle off-beat accents, and a declamatory vocal style with wavy intonation, melisma, raspy voices, heterophony, and so on. Some of these characteristics are, of course, shared with the broader realm of Islamic music and reflect longstanding historical contact between the west African savanna and sahel zone through the Sahara with North Africa and even the Near East in view of regular pilgrimages to Mecca. One of the most celebrated journeys remembered in heroic songs is that of King Mansa Musa of the Mali Empire (fourteenth century). The west central Sudanic belt is the style world 63 that presents the closest stylistic parallel from any part of Africa to what can be heard in the blues. In addition, there is also the rather unsavory and sometimes demonic reputation of musicians in the blues (cf. Oliver 1970: 49, 98—101). That could be matched with the social status of many of the so-called "griots" in west Africa (jali in Mandirj) and that of other itinerant African instrumentalists. Coolen (1982: 75) points out that parallels can "be drawn between the lifestyles of professional xalamkats and the songsters and bluesmen of Texas and the Mississippi Delta/' In other New World areas, for example Brazil, Mandir) slaves regularly ended up as social outcasts. They were believed to have a demonic character and to practice evil magic. Brazilians coined the term "mandingueiros" for practitioners of sorcery (Kubik 1991:19). The Mandirj have a similar reputation in Venezuela (Martinez Suarez 1994: 53—54). In his book Savannah Syncopators—African Retentions in the Blues, Paul Oliver (1970) laid out his conclusions, which then revolutionized the search for historical connections between African-American music in the United States and that of west Africa. He criticized those authors who had up to then looked for the "roots" of jazz on the Guinea Coast, and pointed out—proceeding from his fresh field research in northern Ghana—that in North America many more traits, particularly in the realm of blues, lived on that had obviously originated in the western Sudan. He stressed the pronounced differences in the type of instruments and in musical style between the west African savanna hinterland and the musical cultures close to the coast. Oliver's work was the first attempt to paint an interconnected profile for the west central Sudanic region, pointing among other things to the importance of chordophones (lutes, fiddles, etc.) in this region, in contrast to the dominant role of idiophones (bells, rattles, etc.) and membranophones (drums) in the cultures of the Guinea coast. He also drew attention to the much simpler rhythmic framework in the music of the "savanna" peoples, without complex Guinea-Coast-style polyrhythm in the accompaniment , and to specific melismatic vocal techniques. Oliver postulated that essential elements of the North American blues could only have come from the west African savanna hinterland. Rural U.S. bands composed of fiddle, banjo, and sometimes other string or percussion instruments , as they are mentioned in nineteenth-centurysources,would have perpetuated western Sudanic instrumental traditions under the changed circumstances. Out of Africa v, These changes obviously included ensemble formation. It is rare in the west central Sudanic belt for riddle and plucked lute to play together. In the United States the combination...