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Re: African Music

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From: Melissa Enderle (melissa_at_TeacherArtExchange)
Date: Tue Oct 24 2000 - 12:25:22 PDT


>Fascinating. Could you give me an idea for including African music
>in an African unit. Not much time to put it together but would
>appreciate the ideas for next year if not this.
>

Ann,
I cannot nor will I proclaim a high degree of knowledge on African
music. So, I will tell you of my experiences - take them as you see
fit. Also, there is a nice section on west African music in the
Lonely Planet - West Africa book.
Music is an integral part of the people. You'd be hard pressed to not
find music occurring somewhere in your surroundings - whether it be a
drum, or simply a small radio. What I have noticed is that African
music and dancing is not what it initially appears to be - it is not
just random beats of a drum or movements. Rather, there are many
complex rhythms occurring simultaneously. The dancer, who is trained
and is knowledgeable of the many different dance movements, will pick
up on a rhythm of the instrumentalists and begin the appropriate or
fitting dance steps. The dancing requires precision, endurance, a
sense of rhythm, and aerobic ability. Drums vary in size and shape.
They are typically played in ensembles - many people playing at the
same time. At the artisan market, I saw people smoothing the top of a
skin (leather) for a drum head - with the bottom of a glass coke
bottle!

I will have to admit, though, that my favorite instrument is the
kora. Historically the instrument played by the griots, the kora has
21 strings and is one of the most sophisticated instruments in
sub-Saharan Africa. I is a cross between a lute and a harp, with the
look more resembling the lute. The main part of the instrument is
made of a gourd with leather stretched over the top. The player
plucks the strings, with the instrument held upright. It's simply
amazing to see how fast notes can be played by using one's thumbs! I
do have a picture of a kora player on my zing website. Anyway, the
instrument has such a beautiful sound - much like a harp but unique
onto itself. I went to a restaurant on Saturday and the kora player
had me in a melodic trance. The music was delicate and yet powerful.
A common theme and melody was replayed often, with slight variations.
The music (he was also singing) told of things such as the great
combination of hope, love, and trust. He was so into his music - it
just flowed from his fingers. I am seriously looking into learning to
play the kora. Another stringed instrument is the ngoni - which looks
a little like a boat-shaped narrow lute.
While in Senegal, I also heard some beautiful flute playing - reed
flutes that is. Gosh, they were doing acrobatics while playing! The
other instrument that I have seen quite often is the balafon - a type
of wooden xylophone with keys (15-19) made of hardwood suspended over
a row of gourds which amplifies the sounds. Wooden mallets are used
to strike the keys.

Some Mali music you might want to find CD's of: Oumou Sangare (female
singer of Mali), Ali Farka Touré (acoustic guitars), Salif Keita. For
Kora, the popular players are Jali Nyama Suso, Jali Musa Jawara,
Demgo Konté and Kausa Kouyate.

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| Melissa Enderle |
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/ / / / Melissa Enderle
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