8. Heterophonic Versus Homophonic Multi-part Schemes
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8 - Heterophonic Versus Homophonic Multipart Schemes No serious student of African-American music will subscribe today to allencompassing formulations such as that "harmony" in jazz and other AfricanAmerican 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 was originally pentatonic" and that "the Portuguese brought heptatonic harmony to Africa," as I noticed to my surprise in the discussion following a lecture I gave to a scholarly circle in Chicago on August 20, 1997. Harriet Joseph Ottenheimer (1992:32) begins her "radical proposal" concerning the "Comoro Crossroads" of the blues with this statement: "Blues, for example, draws its harmonic structure from Europe and its melodic style from Africa." Even Thomas Brothers (1994.* 479)* whose thoughtful analyses of jazz improvisation provide ample evidence to the contrary, seems to feel the need to pay lip service to some of these stereotypes by elevating them in his introduction to the status of a "core of truth." It is at best a "grain of truth," in the sense that jazz and blues players certainly have a sense of I-IV-V based European-style harmony or other more complex derivatives.But the essence of this process is that they reinterpret and constantly convert it in ways that are based on unconscious African models. The same process occurred in twentieth-century developments of African popular music, with the result that, for example, the harmonic cycle C-F-G-F prominent in Congo/Zaire popular music (cf. Kubik 1995, video African Guitar) simply cannot be defined as a progression from tonic to subdominant to dominant and back to subdominant (on which it ends) because in the performers' appreciation they are of equal status, and not in any hierarchical 105 order as in Western music. In some forms of the blues—for example, much of Robert Belfour's and Jessie Mae HemphuTs music—Western-style harmony is even completely ignored or referred to only in the most perfunctorymanner. The popular belief that jazz and blues all inherited European harmony is kindled by authors who proceed from classical music theory. Using Western harmonic concepts as a blanket explanation for all the harmonic qualities in the blues, they fail to explore how the Western schemes are converted. Some jazz musicians have linked up with such perspectives—for instance, Charlie Parker when he stated in interviews that Arnold Schonberg was an inspiration to him. In the jazz world the identification of harmonic sequences in Western terminology has been elevated to "jazz theory," which is now required material for college students studying to be jazzmusicians. This is all the more surprising as the principles of several heptatonic harmonic traditions along the Guinea Coast and in west central Africa are well known (cf. Waterman 1952; Jones 1959; Kubik 1981, i994a, etc.). Some of these principles persist in the structuring and approach to linear arrangements of harmony in New World styles, such as in vocal music (from the spirituals to the 1940$ and 1950$ vocal groups) and in instrumental settings like swing jazz (e.g., Count Basie, Jay McShann, and others) as well as in chord clusters and progressions of bebop. As early as 1930 Percival R. Kirby was able to isolate in Negro spirituals at least one African-derived structural principle of counterpoint, comparing it to identical schemes in Nguni homophonic vocal harmony of South Africa (Kirby 1930, 1961; Kubik i994a: 169—209). Kirby's was the earliest statement of what I later termed the "span process" or "skipping process" (cf. Kubik 1968: 29,19943: 174), a structural principle implying that usually one note of a given scale is skipped by a second singer to obtain harmonic simultaneous sounds in relation to the melodic line of a first vocalist. It gives the most varied results in African harmonic styles, depending on the type of scale underlying a tune—that is, the kind of tonal system to which it is applied. In this way it became possible to isolate an abstract structural idea behind some of the most diverse bi-part and multipart harmonic singing styles in Africa, a principle that has interregional validity and explains why in certain harmonic styles certain simultaneous sounds must follow each other, while some other progressions cannot occur (cf. fig. 11 Out of Africa 106 below). A functional relationship between the type of tonal system and type of harmony was thereby detected, giving us...