Imagine what consistent exposure to music in other parts of the world would do to your perception of its vastness and the diversity of peoples who occupy it. Yet music feels highly personal—it is the soundtrack of our lives!—and further engenders intimacy. It is a powerful tool one can use to begin to cross the cultural boundaries that often divide us from those who are different from us.
To celebrate Black History Month, the students of this semester’s Music of the World class are offering an introductory look into three musical genres from Africa: Agbekor, Chimurenga, and Afrobeat. Each of them grew out of a rich and complex culture with a history suffused with indomitable resolve in the quest for freedom: from oppression, exploitation, and cultural obliteration.
As we count down to the day of the event, each genre will be spotlighted here to give you a sneak preview. The live stream event begins at 1:30pm on Thursday, February 25. Check the Prin calendar for a live link.
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Agbekor (ah-gbeh-kaw) emerged from the Ewe People who fled the kingdom of Notsie in present-day Togo and settled near the mouth of the Volta River. Originally a war dance that was accompanied by drumming and singing, it served to rouse the warriors’ courage to face the enemies before battle, or to recount the events of the battle afterwards. Fierce drumming was said to have been instrumental in the Ewe’s escape from Notsie (presumably warding off the pursuers), and the sophistication of their drumming tradition bears out its historical importance central to their cultural identity.
The percussion ensemble of Agbekor includes a rattle and bell in addition to several drums, and the highly intricate polyrhythm they create invites one to hear on multiple levels simultaneously. The singing engages in a call and response, and the intonation pattern of the spoken words that revolve largely around themes of war exerts influence on the melodies, as well as adds yet another layer of rhythm to the overall tapestry. The bell (gangkogui) is the nucleus of this shape-shifting universe of beat patterns, though once oriented, allowing yourself to be swept up by the multiple currents is part of experiencing “African musical time.” The Ewe People’s reverence for their ancestors and belief in the care they receive from them are sources of Agbekor’s affecting power: the joy heard in the music is their connection to a history that they, too, will one day accede to in the service of their living kin.