5. Blues Recordings Compared with Material from the Central Sudanic Savannah
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5 - Blues Recordings Comparedwith Material from the West Central Sudan Like Oliver's recordings, some of my own from Nigeria, Togo and northern Cameroon since 1960 can be usefully compared with blues records, in spite of the genealogical distance that separates these traditions. I would like to cite the following examples from this material for detectable affinities. Big Joe Williams, "Stack o'Dollars," CD, Blues Document Records, BDCD6003 , item 8. Guitar, one-string fiddle and washboard, recorded in Chicago. Original recording: October 31, 1935, Bluebird B 6231. compared with Meigogue withgoge (one-string fiddle), male, ca. 30years old. Ethnic group: Hausa. Recorded by Gerhard Kubik in Yoko, Cameroon, February 1964. Language : Hausa. (see fieldnotes Orig. Tape R 30,G. Kubik 1964, Ph. A. Vienna). 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 a one-stringed fiddle; and by the relative simplicity of the rhythmic structure. Both vocal part and instrumental accompaniment are also clearly based on a central reference tone that sometimes even assumes the quality of a bourdon 71 resulting from the combination of voice and fiddle. European-style chord changes to subdominant and dominant chords are not used. This is particularly astounding when the singer begins line 2, where a subdominant chord might be expected. The central (tonic) tonality level is held throughout the piece and circumlocated by the melodic lines of voice and fiddle. The latter are also in a responsorial relationship with each other. Meigogue, whose complete name was Adamou Meigogue Garoua—a name derived from that of his goge (one-stringed bowed lute) and the town where he lived, Garoua, in northern Cameroon—was one of those itinerant Hausa musicians one can encounter in many parts of West Africa. He used to undertake frequent long journeys as a trader of various goods, to places such as Yoko in the central Cameroon grassland areas, where I recorded him in 1964. His companions on those journeys were the one-stringed fiddle and also a small oboe made from reed grass (cf. my various recordings, orig. tape R 3o/items 5-7, side i). His one-stringed fiddle had a gourd resonator covered with varanus lizard skin. The single string was wound out of horsehair. The string of the bow was made of the same type of hair. Characteristically, the skin covering the gourd had a circular sound hole, which—he told me—was for keeping "secret things" and money obtained from audiences. This compares to U.S. African-American (and southern European-American) fiddlers and guitarists who also often used to put money inside their instruments, and sometimes magical objects such as rattlesnake rattles, to make the strings sound more prominent through sympathetic vibration (cf. Evans iQyzc; Klauber 1956: 11.1240; and Jack Owens, Bentonia , Mississippi, July 15, 1971, interviewed by David Evans). Meigogue's tonal material for the voice and his instrument is pentatonic, but in his shrill-timbred singing style he uses melisma extensively, including some microtonal shifts of the voice from the pentatonic skeleton, and lots of glissandi. Like the blues of Big Joe Williams, Meigogue's music is also based on the melodic circumlocation of a central tone that functions as a reference, sometimes even like a bourdon. Voice and fiddle part alternate, establishing a slightly overlapping responsorial structure; the fiddle part begins before the voice part has ended. Meigogue's Hausa singing style is, of course, highly determined by the centuries -old cultural contact with the Arabic/Islamic world. The presence of the one-stringed goge, with its history going back to the Maghreb (North Africa), is Out of Africa n another testimony to these contacts. While the basic scalar framework used is pentatonic, the intonation of many tones both in the voice and the fiddle parts is wavy, bent, often approaching a tone from below before reachingmaximum height, then quickly collapsing. Grinding song by a Tikar woman from Central Cameroon. Youngwoman. Rec. by Gerhard Kubik in Morjbra, half a day's walk west from Kong to Ngambe, Central Cameroon, 14 February 1964. Ethnic group and language: Tikar. Grinding stone for maize. compared to Mississippi Matilda (Matilda Powell), voc, ace. Sonny Boy Nelson (Eugene...