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.