From a small child on the mothers back, to an unborn child in the mothers womb, to a toddler banging the drum in his mothers lap. From a young child dancing with the ankle beads, to a young maiden playing uhadi, to a married women playing all the instruments and to a mother with a child. The cycle of traditional music continues endlessly through the Xhosa tradition from conception to death, from incarnation to afterlife.
The African experience is a continuation of poetry music and dance. Music is the foundation of African education. Music is part of the child's everyday life. As soon as the child is able to walk, s/he is encouraged to dance. Dance is a product of song. In Zulu : Melody (indlela) is translated to mean a footpath and Music (umculo) to mean singing. They say, “If you can talk you can sing and if you can walk you can dance.”
In African Music, music is produced by the people for the people. “The African mother sings to her child and introduces him to many aspects of his music right from the cradle. She trains the child to become aware of the rhythm and movement by rocking him to music, by singing to him in nonsense syllables imitative of drum rhythms. When s/he is old enough to sing, s/he sings with her/his mother and learns to imitate drum rhythms b rote. As soon as he can control his arm, he is allowed to tap rhythms, possibly on a toy drum. Participation in children's games and stories incorporating songs enables him to learn to sing in the style of her/his culture, just s/he learns to speak its language. By singing songs which contain a moral, her/his mother teaches her/him what his people consider to be right or wrong.” 1
THE PLAN FOR AFRICAN MUSIC: Hugh Tracey presented a paper on the 24 th September 1965 at Liverpool University entitled ‘A Plan for African Music.' 2 the full essay can be reproduced in the book.
His ideal was “to bring indigenous African arts and particularly African music into the normal curriculum of African schools, colleges and eventually into the Universities themselves.” Through research, “We are to codify the logic which lies behind the creation of indigenous styles of music and thus to bring it naturally, without prejudice, into the realm of African education …” 2
THE UNITING PRINCIPLE IN MUSIC THEORY : RHYTHM: A holistic education teaches a single principle and that principle can be resonated harmonically throughout all possible principles that exist thereafter.
Rhythm is the heartbeat of a song. As long as the heartbeat of the song is pumping the song has life. The starting point for African rhythm is in the present moment. Rhythm is something that is yours that you call on when it is needed. It is something that is inherent and it is shared. It exists within the human framework. It mirrors the rhythm of our mother earth which has her own heartbeat.
Rhythm is musical language that has a frequency resonation and vibration all of its own. Polyrhythm keeps the dance alive and exciting. The human body is a rhythmical creation. A human being is a rhythmical body born into the rhythm of life. The present moment is a gift from the creator it is always in the present where we must begin. It is in the present when the rhythm will begin. Tune into the rhythm of the music we are listening to, here how the instruments interplay weaving their multi-coloured tapestry of lived experience .
“Art is identical with Education. Knowledge of this kind is the very stuff of education,” Hugh Tracey.
Rhythm is something that is yours that you call on when it is needed. It is something that is inherent and it is shared. It exists within the human framework. It mirrors the rhythm of our mother earth. Mother Earth has a heartbeat. Picture how nature's orchestra is always playing, the birds singing and the wind blowing through the trees. When I start my rhythm I start my rhythm as one with this infinite orchestra that I am experiencing. Music can be solo and or collective.
CYCLICAL TIME: Ancient music does not express its mathematic foundation through the division and addition of time the same way we do in the West. (Source unknown)
The Western linear system has been used to explain this unsuccessfully as African rhythm does employ a cyclical time. Should you imagine a line of figure of eights lying on their side connecting one to the other, you can accurately plot a course down the centre all the way from one end to the next and you will have an accurate assessment of the time of the song. However, the line running down the centre (linear time) is not an exact reflection of the figure of eight (cyclical time).Through cyclical time you are creating more experience (as seen by the action off the circular shapes) in the same time as plotted on the linear line. It therefore appears that the cyclical time is existing outside of time or beyond time.
African cyclical rhythm is existing inclusive of and beyond linear time. A musical phrase or a musical passage has a rhythmical life. It exists in all three dimensions. Should you wish to make an impression of it on paper using linear notation you will compress it to 2 dimensions. You lose the 3 dimensional experience of actually playing that rhythm yourself and then are left having to recreate the 3 dimensional experience from the 2 dimensional impression of it. Cyclical rhythm involves the whole body and can only be learnt through participation. We are invited to do these rhythm exercises with your morning breathing or your evening stroll and with your daily activities and even if possibly in your sleep time.
RHYTHMICAL PATTERNS: There is no obstacle to rhythm : anyone can explore rhythm in a freestyle unrestricted way.
These are the types of rhythms we can employ: The Walking Rhythm relies on the pace that I walk; The Dancing Rhythm expresses the joy in my stride; The Meditative Rhythm brings chants from my soul and the Driving rhythm perpetuates life. All these rhythms rely on a network of interconnected rhythms: The Rhythm of the human heartbeat that is the pumping action of life and the Rhythm of the breath that nurtures the body.
Integrating our rhythmical practices with breathing or breathwork leads to deep meditation and trance states, which is regarded as very beneficial to the soul experience.
POLYRHYTHM: Consider two rhythms : foundation rhythm the heartbeat and our improvisational rhythm the breath beat. The relationship between two rhythms is Polyrhythm. It is unique to Africa.
For instance a famous African Polyrhythm is placing 3 beats into 2 of the heartbeat. Each of the three beats holds an equal time that is equal to two of the heartbeats.
Scientifically what you have created here are frequencies that exhibit a harmonic resonance frequency. The frequency of the heartbeat rhythm and the frequency of the triplet placed inside it creates a harmonic resonance frequency that is 3 : 2. This is equivalent to the perfect fifth melodic interval.
Perfect Fifth is the anti-clockwise direction of the Cycle of Fifths. The clockwise direction of the cycle of Fifths in the Perfect Fourth. The Perfect Fourth has a rhythmical frequency of 3 : 4
INDIGENOUS AFRICAN SCALE: The most ancient melodic instrument across Africa is the musical bow. When you strike the string of the bow and watch it vibrate, you will notice that the string moves most in the centre and least where it is tied to the bow. The player can therefore play either portion of the string therefore producing two sets of fundamental notes.
A tswana induna playing nokukwana called the fundamental of the string, or the first note, molodi. MaDosini (2) called the open note “playing an umhobe (uncontrolled) sound /pitch … it is merely crying /sounding ‘on its own/ by itself '.”
Andrew Tracey says, The bow provides the scales of all Southern African music. Of the two fundamental notes, there is an open note (the player not touching the string) VU and a closed note (the player touching the string) VA : The tuning of these two fundamentals are usually a tone apart but can be a half tone apart. The fundamental note of the string yields a harmonic series through ‘partial vibrations.' Dargie (2) has found that the hexatonic scale is ubiquitous to this music.
The Archives of Traditional Music
"If the roots of your art are firmly planted in your own Soil, and that soil has anything to give you, you may still gain the whole world and not lose your own soul." RV Williams.
Hugh Tracey was born in 1903 in England. His father was a country doctor and preacher. In 1929 he came to Southern Rhodesia to join his brother an ex serviceman in the second world war, to help on the farm. He was near Mashingo and he loved Karanga, which he spoke fluently. While learning the language he learnt the songs and drumming on the farm. He published his first book ‘Songs of the Kraal.' Hugh Tracey's achievements are well known in the recordings of indigenous African music. He made recording an art in communicating and decoding the expression of the musicians; in translating the language in the lyrics and narrative into English; and the music into high quality sound recordings. Hugh Tracey was known as magadagada, like a sewing machine that never stopped. He achieved to put African music on the map. He had a great love for the composers and musicians of Southern Africa. He wrote: “Accomplished musicians the world over belong to a kind of a guild which can be detected in their manner and bearing – regardless of social, racial or economic background. It was largely on this account that I managed to discover so large an elite of musicians at all levels of African society during the course of the tours,” The liner notes of the records state, “Tracey's hand held microphone technique was a reason for the clarity of his recordings; he never used a stand, on the principle that the performers had no experience of working to a microphone. At the end of each session he invariably played back the tape to the delight of the performers. He noted on one occasion, an mbira player on hearing himself played back, said, “I can die now, it does not matter, because I am inside that record now.” “In 1931 Hugh Tracey visited the Royal College of Music in London and met composers Vaughan Williams and Gustav Holst. He played his recordings from Zimbabwe to them and they enthusiastically encouraged him to discover and record. Future musicians, they said, would greatly benefit.” In his career spanning 50 years, he lead 19 field excursions throughout sub-Saharan Africa. These were long trips with a crew, several vehicles and a diesel generator that would have to be parked a long way away so that it would not be heard. He kept notebooks detailing the environment and circumstances in which the communities were living. He recorded over 3000 musical items and collected over 400 musical instruments, wrote a dozen books and countless essays, presentations and scripts. He published as much as he could in his own lifetime through the establishment of ILAM (International Library of African Music), and their publication African Music Journal. ILAM was built in 1954 on a farm in Johannesburg. It has been called, “One of the greatest depositories of African music.” The majority of all this music of Africa Hugh Tracey recorded has been not so much composed as remembered. It is folk music. “Knowledge of this kind is the very stuff of education,” wrote Hugh Tracey. “It may well be that local folk music is one of Africa's most important social assets,” he writes. “Folk musics are handed on from father to son, from musician to musician. Folk music is always alive in the minds of the people. It requires the immediate response of the folk around to participate in a form which they can manage.” Hugh Tracey draws an interesting comparison between African music (which he describes as dynamic) and Western music (as aesthetic). All African music shares practicality in common. “Every piece of folk music works for its living,” he writes. Hugh Tracey's life work was to ensure that African culture would not be lost or forgotten to the African people. Traditional cultural practices of dance, music and instruments are preserved together with a foundation of great wisdom. “The musical arts of Africa provide a channel, a veritable fiord, into the heart of African spiritualities. If the composers know their own hearts, they become our mouths," says Hugh Tracey. It is believed that ancestral spirits mediate between the living and the ‘Supreme being.' They are watching over their families like a ‘cloud of witnesses.' He wrote: ‘Ancestral spirits mediate between the living and God, the supreme being 'Mulingqangi'. His/Her pleasure is music and dance.' Music is a calling. “Patriotic and nostalgic considerations apart, there should always be room in formal education for a study of one's own national music, and today more so than ever, with radio entertainment making unparall eled demands upon musicians, and “majority rule” in music threatening to make Americans of us all,” writes Hugh Tracey. Hugh Tracey presented a paper on the 24th September 1965 at Liverpool University entitled ‘A Plan for African Music.' He quoted Sir Herbert Read as saying “art is a token of mutual understanding,” and then saying himself that “Art is identical with Education.” Hugh Tracey's ideal was “to bring indigenous African arts and particularly African music into the normal curriculum of African schools, colleges and eventually into the Universities themselves. ” “We are to codify the logic which lies behind the creation of indigenous styles of music a nd thus to bring it naturally, without prejudice, into the realm of African education, ” said Tracey. Hugh Tracey was fascinated by the mbira (thumb piano). This instrument is unique to Africa. From the design of the mbira he created an instrument called kalimba which was ‘a blend of the traditional African idea of the mbira and a western scale.' The company African Musical Instruments (AMI) was born to accommodate the demand for this instrument that came initially from America in the late 1950's. The instrument factory, African Musical Instruments (AMI) was set up on the farm.
A special passion for Chopi Music
Chopi musicians by Hugh Tracey “I have devoted most of my holidays from official duties to visiting those areas where the Chopi are to be found, and taking notes in the hope of learning all I could before making gramophone records.” Chopi play large orchestras of Timbila orchestras and orchestral dances called Mijodo. A Ngodo is an orchestral dance in 9 to 11 movements. “They speak with one voice and move with one spirit by mystical participation in the compelling music.” … “The orchestral ground is developed by the composer himself and by his fellow musicians as they play. The composition becomes communal with the players of the various pitches of Timbila (treble, alto, tenor, base and double bass) improving their own parts. They all conform to the master pattern set by the composer. Southern Mozambique 1943 – 63: Music of Chopi, Gitonga, Bonga, Tswa, Tsonga, Sena, Nyungwe and Ndau Opening track features young girls on gourd flutes (ocarinas) recorded in the Quissoca District. “These ocarinas are made from the hard spherical flute of the mutamba orange tree and have 3 holes, one for blowing and 2 for fingering. Notes can also be easily lipped down in pitch. Small girls from 5 or 6 start to play these home-made 3 note instruments for amusement, usually in duet with one chigowilo, always smaller, thus higher pitched.” On track 3 we hear 13 xylophones led by Shambini, recorded at Quissoco. Mtsitso are introductory movements played by the orchestra alone, without song or dance, before the dancers enter. On track 7 we hear the mzeno movement from the timbila dance, it is considered to be the climax. Hugh Tracey notes, “Komakomu's sparkling playing style is in evidence, playing kudala, single note melody on the high notes, or doubling the song in octaves.” On tracsk 8 to 10 we heard mandowa dance played on mbira recorded at Nova Mambone District. The mandowa acrobatic tumbling dance uses four drums. On track 16 we hear the music of the Tswa people, who live North of the Chopi and play an almost identical xylophone called muhambi. On track 19 we hear the hexatonic mbira performed by Jose Machokole, from Save River Mozambique. This is one of the very few African mbiras with 3 ranks or manuals of keys and a 3 octave range, played with 2 fingers and 2 thumbs…
This research was prepared for "Traditional Instruments of Southern Africa:" A film script developed together with Lianne Cox