>Tidbits from Africa

So I’m taking this comparative culture class called “Music of Africa” this semester, and it’s the perfect blend of music and anthropology. It’s right up my alley because I love to study different cultures, and Africa is as diverse as it gets. I’m not exactly well-versed in the technical aspects of music yet, but I’m soaking up as much knowledge as I can. I’ve learned that a major component of traditional African music is polyrhythm, which has multiple rhythms playing over one another. Sometimes polyrhythm becomes so complex that the music blends, and the untrained ear can’t tell one part from another. This can make African music sound chaotic to Westerners, even though each song’s polyrhythm has a specific organization.

The song I have for you here comes from Ghana and is called “Postal Workers Canceling Stamps.” I suppose calling it a song is misleading, because it is simply Ghanaian postal workers slapping and sliding envelopes, posting stamps, clicking scissors and whistling while they work. This is an example of a “song” that was not created for artistic merit or entertainment, but to accompany the men while they work. They create rhythms and whistle hymns that go along with the pace of their arduous work to make the time go by faster. The tune that they create incorporates polyrhythm as well. See if you can selectively listen and differentiate the parts from one another. The light-sounding thud you hear is a letter being slapped rhythmically several times to bring it to table where it is to be canceled, the lowest, most resonant sound is the marker being inked and the highest-pitched sound is the metal stamp at work.

I’ll post more tidbits if I get introduced to any more note-worthy African music, which I probably will. So stay tuned.

By Courtney Flynn

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