Two African Drumming Culture Style Cultural Studies Essay
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The world has different kinds of people who are from different races, places and they speak different languages. This creates diversity in terms of culture and practices of the people. Culture of various people has been studied over time and recorded in various media. It has been noted that each culture is unique in its own way. However, no matter how diverse they seem, some similarities can be spotted. Nobody can ever speak about culture without having to mention music. Music and culture especially in the old community were closely related. Music is the art of arranging sounds for effect by rhythm and melody.
Among the cultures studied, Africa presents a diverse rich culture. Africa has the highest number of ethnic community thus provides researchers and scholars a wider area and a larger field of study when it comes to culture issues. Another reason why Africa is preferred for study is that a variety of Native speakers who still practice their traditions up to date. An example of an ethnic group that still practices its tradition is the Maasai community that is found in Eastern region of Africa. Africa still remains a preferred choice to study culture and music.
Music plays an important role in African culture. Every celebration or occasion has a song accompanying it. They also have songs that relate to their daytime activities. It is practically impossible to repeat the same experience because of the unlimited number of culture in Africa. Music instruments always accompany the music. Some of the instruments used include; drums, horns, and tambourines among others. For one to understand music and the African culture people have to understand the event, cognition, symbolism, pulse, variation, beat and a rhythmic cycle. These are the basic things that one needs to know before understanding culture.
Beats, cycles and rhythmic cycle in Music
An event is the arrangement of sounds in time and space that constitute music. Cognition is the understanding of the event. Symbolism is words that are used to explain our understanding of a musical event. A pulse can be divided into beats and a variation is a kind needed to identify the end of a cycle. A beat is a unit in time and a rhythmic cycle consists of a fixed number of beats. The character of a rhythm pattern is built up by rhythmic cycle, pulse grouping, presence and placement of unvoiced beats and nature of the different sounds that fall on the voiced beats.
The standard African pattern is in a 12 beat cycle which has seven voiced beats and five unvoiced beats. It also has four possible pulse structures and 12 possible rotations therefore it has forty eight different ways the same event can be understood. The time-line patterns can be summarized as follows; "most time-line patterns are asymmetric with few having symmetrical division of the cycle, time-lines are taught by means of mnemonics, which may or may not be meaningful in the semantic domain, a structural analysis of the mnemonics reveals something about their intra-cultural conceptualization, same time-line patterns may be conceptualized somewhat differently across cultures. Time line patterns are not performed in isolation they serve as an accompaniment for example in solo singing. Each time-line pattern has a complimentary matrix some performers make it silently with a fingertip object used for playing it. Lastly, although on the level of structural analysis it cannot be denied they different distances of strokes or combining two or three elementary pulses are added up within the cycle, performers do not think of timeline patterns as additive rhythms consisting of pulses." (Kubik, 2010, 59).
Drumming Culture of the Ashanti Adowa
Ashanti Adowa is an ethnic group found in West Africa, their native home being Ghana and some places of Ivory Coast. They have three major subgroups; Akan family, Kumasi and the Twi. They have rich traditional culture especially when it comes to music. The Ashanti people had a variety of instruments which were used for various celebrations. The instruments were also used to pass communication among community members. Some of the instruments that the Ashanti used are the gong hoe, speaking horn and signal drum, atumpan which are the Master drums, Dawuro; boat shaped bells, ntorwa rattle, donno drums, petia and apentemma drum among others.
The atumpan; the master drum is a pair of large wooden drums each with different pitches and are capable of producing many different tones. They are played with two v-shaped wooden sticks. Several supporting instruments are played together with the atumpan. These instruments are the Dawuro, donno drums, apentemma, ntorwa, petia, and Adowa ensemble. Some of the possible ways the drum is played is as follows; ntorwa and Dawuro can create the basic timeline and donno gives the pulse, another way is playing the petia mute tones as snare cross-sticks and open tones on the high and low tones among others.
The twelve beats per cycle are as follows, 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12. This cycle is repeated for the Adowa dance. Hartigan (1995, 37) says that Adowa rhythms can be heard as starting at a number of places. He advices the people studying it to try approaching it from different perspectives for instance beginning on the second main beat of the origin time as given in the notations. He also says that omitting the base drum will produce a straight-ahead feel.
Drumming culture among the Ewe Community
The Ewe community is an ethnic group that is located in southern Togo, southern Benin and south-eastern parts of the Volta region of Ghana in West Africa. They speak the ewe language. They also have a rich traditional culture when it comes to music and dance. They have a variety of dances and songs for celebrating various occasions within the community. Some of the dances are the Adevu a hunting dance, Agbaza a war dance, Atsiagbekor that is in reference to oaths taken by people, Atsia performed by women among others. Almost every situation or occurrence in the community has a song accompanying it.
These dances have songs and musical instruments that accompany them. Some of the instruments among the Ewe community are; Atsimevu (master drum), Sogo (Support drum), Kidi (Support drum), Kagan (support Drum), Gankogui (double metal bell), Axatse (gourd rattle), Gboba (master drum in the piece Gahu) and Atoke (Single metal bell). All these instruments are used in all their occasions with a major instrument on the drums. They have a master drum with the rest being support drums. Hence, the drumming culture among the ewe people is very significant and is an area of interest when studying about drumming cultures in Africa.
The 12 beat cycles is used in formal and solemn occasions and they have a sixteen beat cycle which is used in recreational events. The songs appear to be in free rhythm but they have a fixed time background. The cross rhythm is a three against two or four beats cycle and generally revolve around these two and their multiples. The Gankogui plays a key pattern as the orchestra is built. The tempo is always set by the master drummer and the Axatse accompanies the standard pattern.
Similarities between the drumming cultures
Both communities originate from the western region of Africa there are a couple of similarities that arise when the two cultures are studied closely. The two communities are from the same region therefore this might be a contributing factor to the similarities that arise when talking about their drumming culture. Another factor that may be considered is that there might have been borrowing of ideas of these two cultures in their native years thus bringing about their similarities. Taking this into consideration some of the similarities in the drumming culture are as follows.
Both communities have the basic standard twelve beats per cycle in their culture. The ewe uses it for recreation activities while the Ashanti people have this cycle in all their occasions. The rhythmic pattern is also similar with few notable differences. Both Cultures also have master drums and several drums that accompany it. The drums have different pitches hence a different set of tunes are produced by this drums. These drums also have other instruments accompanying them thus creating diversity in the different genres of traditional music.
Both cultures have a unique way of drumming in that one cannot just point out the drum language unless they are told. In the past, that was the secret way of passing a message and for people to encode they had to go to drum specialists. Omojola (2012,46) says that the dagbamba drummers often did not know the meaning but had to consult the chief drummer of the paramount chief of the dagbon to find out. Dean (2012,40) says that both the Ashanti and the Ewe high-pitch drums play a consistent pattern that acts as the framework for the musicians, the intermediate drums play with slightly complexity sometimes connecting with higher pitched drums or playing against that rhythm.
Differences of the drumming cultures
Despite the similarities in drumming cultures of the Ashanti and the Ewe communities, some differences arise when it comes to the drumming culture. This is because of the differences in their cultural practices. This practice creates a diversity which brings about the differences. It is also because of the different ways the drums are stroked that brings about the differences. The material that creates the drums also brings out a difference in terms of tune. Taking these reasons into considerations, the differences are discussed in details in the subsequent paragraphs below.
One of the differences of the drumming of the Ewe and Ashanti cultures is the 16 beat cycle of the Ewe community. The Ewe has incorporated this cycle in their musical culture and as stated earlier this cycle is used for recreational activities. This brings about a diversity and complexity in the music as compared to the single twelve beat cycles of the Ashanti people, which appear to be monotonous and easily predictable. This sixteen beat cycle is what differentiates the different occasions of the Ewe people and also differentiates the Music of the Ewe from the Ashanti.
Another difference between the two drumming cultures is the dependence of the drums by the Ewe community. The drum was part and parcel of this community. The drum was part of their everyday activities and was also used to tell proverbs to the young by the older community. Ham (2009, 73) says, "the tonality of the Ewe spoken language and the rhythm of particular phrases and proverbs are combined in drumming to produce messages that range from the commonplace, which everyone understands to a specialised repertoire known only to the master drummers. The Ashanti community uses drums for specific events within the community.
Social significance of the drumming cultures
The drumming cultures of these communities have a variety of social significances. Some of the significances include; entertainment. The drums provide entertainment to the community members. It is practically impossible for members to just sit with the beats playing in the background without some form of entertainment being provided. Both communities bring this out evidently during their social activities. The drumming is accompanied by music and dance too. The other significance of drumming is that it is used for passing important messages to the community. There were different ways in which the drummers would stroke the drum and some of the messages that were passed across was; an invader was coming so the warriors would prepare. Drums would also pass messages such as the death of a community member, birth of a baby and would also pass the message for community meetings summoned by the village elders or the king. Music in the accompaniment of drums was used to praise the hard workers of the society and scorn the lazy people therefore encouraging people to embrace hard work.
In conclusion, though there are social similarities in the role of the drum in the community and in the standard cycle, each community is different in its way. The differences of these communities are what make them unique in terms of the drumming culture. The drum still is an important aspect of the African community. Rarely van one mention about the Music culture of Africans without a mention of the Drums. With the changing times it is important for some of these cultures to be preserved for the purpose of further explorations in the future. I believe it’s high time that the world embraces this culture and work towards preserving these cultures for future generations.