Music in Global America



Setapa Dance, a traditional dance of the Bantu-speaking Twana people of Bostwana in southern Africa.


Zimbabwe musicians Cosmas Magaya & Ambuya Dyoko play mbiras and sing traditional song "Nhemamusasa"

The mbira is one of many instruments designed to play the repeating melodic patterns that underlie musics of Central and Southern Africa. For a given song, melodic pattern and rhythmic cycle are identical in length, and so reinforce each other. When several melodic patterns combine they create a rich and highly polyphonic texture. The master players on this recording do not simply repeat their melodic patterns -- they improvise by changing them subtly as the cycles progress, so that the overall patterns also change. In the background is the unchanging rhythmic pattern of the shekere.

The singer and her partner accompany themselves with mbiras. The song, "Nhemamusasa" ("cutting branches to  build a shelter"), is among the oldest of traditional mbira songs of Zimbabwe. The mbira is also part of religious ceremonies of Zimbabweans: the rattling of bottlecaps or other material attached to the instrument is believed to attract spirits. Participants may fall into a trance induced by the mbira and its tuning, and become possessed. The first image below shows the instrument and its method of playing; each of the metal "tongues" creates a specific definite pitch when activated by thumb or forefinger. The second image shows the mbira housed in a hollowed calabash to increase its resonance. 

Music of the Baka mbuti 

The Mbuti are a pygmy tribe in the Ituri Forest in Central Africa known for their highly complex musical culture. The video begins with a solo vocalist accompanied by a simple percussion rhythm. After a short break, a song being. A number of singers and instruments participate, creating a rich polyrhythmic texture. The singing style is a type of yodeling, instantaneously switching between low and high notes very far apart. (Note that these pitches are not sliding from one to another.) The second part of the video is a recording of music played on the harp zither, an instrument shown in the video at 2:55. This instrument is played by plucking the strings with thumbs and forefingers of both hands, creating repeating interlocking patterns. The final part of the video, beginning at 3:47, is polyrhythmic music created with water as the sound source.

Live performance of "Debe" with Toumani Diabate (kora) and Ali Farka Touré (guitar)

Two internationally renowned musicians of Mali teamed up for this concert. Mali is part of the Sahel, the area of Africa associated with string instruments, virtuosic soloists, and improvisation. Touré is widely recognized as having provided an intersection between traditional Malian music and Blues, an all-important African-American genre. The kora, pictured below, is a harp-like instrument of 16th-century Malian origin played in "Debe" by the renowned Toumani Diabate, improvising, while Touré backs him up with a repeating phrase on guitar.  

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