AFRICAN MUSIC IN SOCIAL CONTEXT
Authentic African music, the traditional music of the black peoples of Africa, is little known abroad. The non-African listener can find the music strange, difficult, and unattractive; and therefore often concludes that it is not of interest. Both African and non-African music are human inventions and individual notes contain the same elements such as pitch, duration, tone color and intensity. Music plays a similar role in most societies, as work songs, lullabies, battle songs, religious music, and so on. Generally speaking the same categories of instruments are found in Africa as in Europe, namely stringed instruments, wind instruments, and percussion.
The African concept of music is totally different to the Western one though. Traditional African musicians do not seek to combine sounds in a manner pleasing to the era. Their aim is simply to express life in all of its aspects through the medium of sound. The African musician does not merely attempt to imitate nature by music, but reverses the procedure by taking natural sounds, including spoken language, and incorporate them into the music. To the uninitiated this may result in cacophony, but in fact each sound has a particular meaning. To be meaningful, African music must be studied within the context of African life.
Music has an important role in African society. Music is an integral part of the life of every African individual from birth. At a very early stage in life the African child takes an active role in music, making musical instruments by the age of three or four. Musical games played by African children prepare them to participate in all areas of audit activity including fishing, hunting, farming, grinding manize, attending weddings and funerals and dances.
An intimate union forms between man and art in Africa. It amounts to a total communion that is shared by the whole community. This may help explain why some languages in black Africa have no precise noun to define music. The art of music is so inherent in man that it is superfluous to have a particular name for it. The drum is so important in African society that it is sometimes equated with a man. Women must consequently treat it with the same respect that they would show towards their men folk. In some African countries women are not even allowed to touch a drum under any circumstance, though Islam and European colonial influence have softened some of these traditions. African music is nearly always coupled with some other art such as poetry or dance and id one of the most revealing forms of expression of the black soul.
It seems logical to conclude that everyone in black Africa must be a musician by definition. Nevertheless, it would be a mistake to assume that all African are necessarily musicians in the full sense of the word. In some African societies music is a dynamic and driving force that animates the life of the entire community. This communal music may be quite elaborate in form. In other societies musicians form a semi-professional group. They earn their livelihood from their music for only part of the year and rely on some other activity for the remainder of the time. In numerous African societies, the right to play certain instruments or to participate in traditional ceremonies is not open to all, but is the privilege of the professional musician. Such musicians live solely by their art and belong to particular families or castes. Griot is the term used throughout West Africa to designate professional musicians. The role of the griot extends far beyond the realm of music and magic. He or she is the relater of history, philosophy and mythology, the archive of the peoples' traditions. He or she dispenses a healing therapy for the medicine man. He or she is a praise-singer, a troubadour, the counterpart of the medieval European minstrel. People fear griots, admire them but often treat them with contempt because they belong to one of the lowest castes. The fact that music is at the heart of all of the griot's activities is yet further proof of the vital part he or she plays in African life. The equivalent of the griot in equatorial Africa is the player of the mevt (harp-zither). This person is, in some ways, more fortunate than the griot because the admiration that he enjoys is not tinged with scorn, maybe because he does not normally sing the praises of the rich and powerful like the griot does.
The African musician is feeling the effects of the revolution that is currently sweeping the entire continent. Music, as it is conceived in traditional society, is not a function which enables its exponents to meet the demands of modern life. Furthermore, the competition is enormous and under these conditions music as a profession offers very little opportunity. In some societies, music is not conceived as a profession at all, a fact which is even more limiting. As things exist today, traditional music is threatened with eventual extinction and will gradually disappear unless the musician's future is assured. This is especially true for African traditional music which is of course not written down, but handed down from generation to generation.
Drums have played a role in every known culture. Their rhythm transcends race, language, age and gender, appealing to something innately human within us. Perhaps because each of us comes into the world having spent nine months listening to the beat of our mother's heart-drum. Today, thousands of people are rediscovering drumming as an exhilarating way to reduce stress, create a sense of community and center us within our hearts. Best of all it's easy and it's fun!
There are so many different ways to go about making drums. The body of the drum can be carved out of a solid piece of wood, pieced together from staves (long pieces of wood), or adapted from existing objects, such as barrels or tubes. There are other ways to create shells with other materials, such as clay and metals.
If you have never made a drum before, you might want to start out by "re-creating" a shell by modifying a found object. In Africa, nothing is wasted. People will pick-up wooden matches off the ground and use them in making some object. One type of object that may be available almost anywhere is cardboard tubing used in construction projects as a form for pouring concrete pillars. No, I'm not talking about something flimsy like the tube that comes inside a roll of toilet paper. These things are thick and solid. They come in different diameters, suitable for making small drums about the size of bongos to big barrel sized pieces suitable for making djun-djuns (the large two sided drums that accompany djembe drums and are played with a stick). If you want your students to making one of these type of drums, start out by trying to find some of these cardboard tubes.
TYPES OF DRUMS
Students will make drums from different parts of the world. The Ashiko is a long, conical hand drum of staved construction, similar to the N'goma drums of Nigeria. Drums styled like Ashikos are found in Cuba, Haiti, Brazil and throughout the Americas. In Cuba they are called El Boku' and are used for playing comparasas at carnivals and festivals. The diameter at the top is different than the diameter at the bottom. The top has goatskin stretch over it.
The Djun-Djun is a cylindrical double headed bass drum. Found throughout South America and West Africa, these powerful drums are worn over the shoulder and player d with two sticks, one for the thunderous bass and the other for a bell tied to the side of the drum. Often the player also has a whistle with which to blow calls and breaks to dancers. The top and bottom has goatskin or calfskin heads stretch over it.
The Tinya one of the most widely-used Andean percussion instruments. The tinya is a small drum with two skins made from the leather of different animals. The musician dangles the tinya from his left hand and plays the drum with a drumstick. It is used in traditional peasant music, particularly in dances and ritual ceremonies (cattle branding, harvest time, etc.).
Students will look at other drums and see how they are put together. Drums will be made of plastic pipes, tan cans, cheese containers, bent wood strips, wood strips (Appendix 7).
DRUM HEAD ATTACHMENT
For drum heads raw hide from cows and goats have been used. The goat hide is good for lots of drums. Typically the cow raw hide is too thick and heave, but sometimes they have thinner stuff. For our drums we will use cellophane, clear sealing tape and a shrinks film to make the drum head (Appendix 6).
MATH FOR THE DRUM
Mathematically modeling the flow of sound in an enclosed dimensional space requires some advanced techniques in the field of "partial differential equations", and many of the solutions require numerical approximation techniques to actually come up with numerical answers, since many of the functions involved can not be expressed in terms of familiar, everyday functions like addition, multiplication, exponential, trigonometric functions, ect.
The 1-dimensional situation (e.g., a guitar string, or a thin pipe) is quite easy to analyze. Think about a wave of sound stretched out along the string or pipe, starting with zero amplitude at the end, and rising and falling as you move along the pipe. The amplitude has to be back at zero at the other end (for instance, in a vibrating string, the ends are tied down and not free to move).
Over the course of one cycle (one wavelength), the displacement of the string (or the compression of air in a pipe) starts at zero, rises to a positive value, drops back down through zero to a negative value, then rises again. So the only places at which it is zero are at the start and end of cycles, and half-way through. In other words, the reason of the spatial pattern in the tube has to do with the reflection of the wave from the end of the tube at specific frequencies.
In order for sound to resonate in the string or pipe (open at both ends), the displacement of the string must be zero at the finishing end as well as the starting end and the pressure must be almost zero at both ends of the pipe, so the length L of the pipe must be an integral multiple of lð/2. Thus, the only wavelengths that will resonate are when lð ð= 2L, lð ð= 2L/2, lð ð= 2L/3, etc. Frequency f is related to the wavelength by f ð=ð ðc/lð ðwhere c is the speed of sound. Therefore, the resonant frequencies are c/(2L), (2c/2L), 3c/2L), and so on; in other words, the fundamental frequency of the string or pipe Is c/(2L); the other are higher octaves. The speed c of sound in a pipe depends on the air density, humidity, temperature, altitude, ect. In a string it depends on the string material and, most importantly, on the string's tension; that's why changing the changing the tension changes the frequency of sound produced.
However, none of this simple analysis applies to drum, where you are dealing with sound waves in three dimensions. Probably the best thing to do is to hunt down a book on the construction of drums; it would likely contain the measurements for an optimal sound. However, you should realize that those measurements (while as accurate in practice as any computer's computation) were likely obtained by good old fashioned trial and error! In truth, these sorts of measurements are always better than those a computer gives you because there are always many overlooked discrepancies between the mathematical model of the drum and the actual drum (every piece of wood is different, as is every piece of goatskin).
While the modelling process is fascinating in its own right, trial and error (or even better someone else's trial and error) may well be the best route in this particular case.