12. Return to the Western Sudan
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12 - Return to the Western Sudan Since the 19705 some of the more recent developments in African American music in North America and elsewherehave 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 that came close to "Creole music" (cf. Borneman 1969 on that style) as found on some of the Caribbean islands and in Louisiana, A jazz-like shuffle rhythm was used, and blues tonality was unmistakable (Kubik i989a: 191). The region of the western Sudan is one of those areas in Africa where in some musical traditions we find nonlinear off-beat phrasing, i.e., a type of off-beat phrasing of melodic accents (cf. Waterman 1952 on the general term) where the accents are developed independently of the elementary pulsation (or regular division of the beat). They are not in a "ratio" with the pulse-line; on the contrary, they seem to fall irregularly in between, or their impact points are regularly retarded or anticipated. In jazz, a master of these techniques was trumpeter Miles Davis. In Africa, nonlinear off-beat phrasing probably has its origins in declamatory speech. It is common in several musical styles of the western Sudan (Senegal, Mali, Burkina Faso, etc.). Modern electric-guitar-based groups have revived this concept. The beat is temporarily suspended (though not lost) in the lead guitarist's perception, and for a short while the lead guitarist's melodic -rhythmic lines seem to be "floating." This floating quality is like that of a lead electric guitarist or harmonica player in contemporary U.S. blues, or a jazz soloist, especially in slow blues with a swing or triplet rhythm. From the west central Sudan we have an example recorded by Mose Yotamu in 1978 in the Cote d'lvoire during a festival in which a Dyula dance band with electric guitars, 186 drums, and other instruments gave a concert (Yotamu 1979, orig. tape no. Y'6/1/1, November 1978, Archiveof the Museum fur Volkerkunde, Berlin). The lead guitarist displayed a harsh, expressive,blues-like style, changing his internal beat relationship during the performance. The Dyula are speakers of a I.A.2 or Mande language; the word simply means "traders" in the Mandirj language. Their history in Mali and neighboring countries goes back several hundred years. These developments during the 19705 cannot be understood merely as borrowings from U.S. styles. Though my description of the guitar style in Yotamu's recording strongly suggests borrowing, that is but one side of the coin; the new music also reconfirms concepts and techniques that existed in the west central Sudanic style area long before any U.S. influences. All these developments have provided the turf for a new brand of more ideologically based, conscious developments in this region during the 19905. The original suggestions arising from the results of researchers' painstaking reconstruction work regarding the "roots" of the blues eventually made their way back to the very region under consideration . Inadvertently, they had an effect on the behavior and tastes of individual musicians and audiences in Mali, Guinea, Senegal, The Gambia, and neighboring countries. Eric Charry, speaking of "The Grand Mande Guitar Tradition of the Western Sahel and Savannah/' has published a detailed analysis of its history and its relationships with instruments such as the lute (nkoni), the bridge-harp (kora), and the xylophone (balo), the latter particularly in Guinea. He writes: It is no coincidence that the Mande stars Salif Keita (from Mali) and Mory Kante (from Guinea) are both accomplished guitarists; it is the guitar that is the link between the ancient and the modern musical traditions that coexist and nourish each other in the Mande world. Most Mandeguitarists are active players in an unbroken and stillvibrant tradition that goes back to the ijth century founding of the Mande, or Mali, empire. That tradition is primarily guarded byjelis, hereditary professional verbal/musical artisans. (Charry 1994^ 21) Eric Gharry's article, Samuel Charters's fieldwork in The Gambia and elsewhere in West Africa, and his follow-up book to Paul Oliver's 1970 publication (Charters 1982) rank among the most important sources for twentieth-century developments in this region. They also testify to how research results influence musicians. Just as Oliver's ideas were accepted in Paris at an early stage and Return...


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