Music in Global America



Dununba Dance, filmed by Michael Pluznick in Cankary, Guinea. From Pluznick's notes about the video: 

This is from a Dununba community African drum and West African dance party I sponsored when I was staying and studying with the late, great teacher and master choreographer Komoko Sano in Conakry, Guinea. Sano was choreographer with the national dance troupe Les Ballets Africains in Guinea as well as many other groups in Africa and the USA. It features many African male and female dancers from his troupe and the local area as well as djembe fola from Guinea who live there as well as some who have moved to the USA.
Dununba is not only the name of the traditional party or community celebration and rhythm compositions, it is also the name of the set of 3 drums that make up the Western African drum ensemble, and is always played together with the djembe drum. Dundun is also the name of the lowest-pitched drum in the set. 

In times past a Dununba ceremony was given as a way for members from the community or rival communities to work out their differences in a martial way, hence the Dununba being known as "the strong man's dance." It was originally only danced by the men. With this dance, the men settled a tough, and sometimes even violent and bloody, fight to determine superiority and differences they may have with each other in the village. Dununba now takes place in the cities where it is used as a means of celebration and competition.


Nimbaya! Women's Drum and Dance Company of Guinea
Women performing on djembe drums and other percussion instruments on NYC TV. 

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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