Posts Tagged ‘african’

Body Percussion

Photo: K. Linnea Backe.
Leonardo Sandoval of Music From The Sole uses body percussion in dance.

Music is everywhere. You just have to listen for it. Children know. Most of them make music out of pots and pans before they can walk. I have pictures of my children and grandchildren sitting on the kitchen floor surrounded by everything they pulled out of the lower cupboards and getting ready to drum a joyful noise. You may have pictures like that, too.

Brenda Dixon-Gottschild at Dance Magazine writes about a kind of percussion that’s even more accessible than your pots and pans.

“Crash. Bump. Thump. Thwack. Whack. Knock. These are a few of the many synonyms of the word ‘percussion.’ All of them are appropriate when we look at the ways world cultures use the body as an instrument. …

“Clapping, stomping and striking body parts from head to feet in rhythmic or repetitive ways is a timeless means of human interchange, whether for pleasure, protest, entertainment, ritual, healing or survival. Hand- and body-clapping children’s games accompanied by sung or spoken rhymes are common around the world. … Enslaved Africans used body percussion as furtive communication — fearful of its messaging potential, plantation owners prohibited the use of drums, and to sabotage this taboo, the Black body became the drum.

“The juba dance, brought to the Americas in Middle Passage — the grueling sea journey of Africans captured from their homelands to live enslaved on foreign territories — was performed during plantation gatherings. In this dance of prowess, one person entered a circle of movers to exhibit their extraordinary variations on jig, hop and jump steps and was joined by a second dancer as the outer circle alternated rotating and remaining stationary. Pattin’ juba, the juba dance accompanied by clapping hands, chest and thighs, and the juba song — composed of short, rhymed verses that seemed like nonsense but carried double meanings — were ingenious later adjustments made to accompany the dance and send messages when drums were banned. Pattin’ juba further morphed into the hambone, a variation that centers on body percussion and is performed standing in place or seated, while retaining the original rhythm of the dance. …

“For Rennie Harris, legendary hip-hop concert dance choreographer and artistic director of Rennie Harris Puremovement and RHAW (Rennie Harris Awe-Inspiring Works), hambone was second-nature: ‘I don’t remember exactly when I learned or who taught me. In fact, I don’t even remember seeing it or being introduced to it — I just remember doing­ it,’ he says. ‘I was 7 or 8 years old; this was on Master Street in North Philadelphia. We used to sit on the stoops and challenge each other, doing the hambone, seeing who could do it the fastest, cleanest. It was a summer pastime. We sang the song, as well. Being older, I’d run into people who still do it, so it’s kind of interesting and cool. We’d add parts of it to dance steps. I didn’t learn the history of it, pattin’ juba, until later in life.’ …

“The basic hambone beat got a second life in the world of popular music. The 1950s R&B legend Bo Diddley made the five-accent hambone rhythm famous as the Bo Diddley Beat, a recurrent riff that has been appropriated by many white rock musicians.

“Tap dance, another style of body percussion, has impacted almost every culture. Using toes, heels and the full foot in rhythmic fashion goes beyond any one era or continent and includes traditions as diverse as African American buck dancing, Irish step dancing, English clogging and South Indian bharatanatyam.

“Beyond those traditional examples, the complex, polyrhythmic fusion of tap, combined with hambone-inspired body percussion, has proliferated with present-day artists across continents. The South African gumboot dance was transformed into a performance mode from its goldmine workforce origins, where it was created by Black miners as a sly replacement for conversation, since the white mine owners exacted harsh punishments for verbal communication among the workers.

“Other spinoffs include ensembles like Colombia’s Tekeyé; The Percussion Show, from Egypt; and the U.S.-based Music From The Sole, which draws on Afro-Brazilian influences. These artists transform a combination of tap and hambone to a glorious, millennial sensibility through the lens of hip hop and jazz.

“The art of flamenco includes a special kind of tapping — zapateado — as well as body-percussion elements that resonate with hambone.

” ‘Flamenco was being born in the mid-19th century. Certainly, by the 1902 arrival of the cakewalk in Spain, Black dance cultural motifs were transmitted, and flamenco artists expressly emulated Black American dance,’ says Dr. K. Meira Goldberg, author of Sonidos Negros: On the Blackness of Flamenco. “New forms that were created in explicit response to competition from Black artists in Spain emphasized percussive footwork, and over the past 30 or so years flamenco footwork techniques are increasingly influenced by tap and hip hop. It is fair to say that other modes of body percussion (hambone, or making percussion by snapping fingers, clapping hands or hitting hands on various parts of the body mixed with footwork) are also increasingly emphasized. Flamenco is always ready to absorb new performative ideas, and these ideas are reinterpreted and reinvented: In Spanish, the saying is “Llevarlo a tu terreno,” or “Make it your own.” ‘ …

“Indonesia has its share of corporeal clapping traditions as well. The Saman (‘dance of a thousand hands’) of the Gayo ethnic group of Aceh, Sumatra, is known across the island and performed by large groups to celebrate special occasions. Dancers sit on the ground with their legs crossed or folded beneath them, torsos upright. Though there are also mixed-gender performances today, ensembles had traditionally been separated by gender: Women do gentle tapping or patting on chest and thighs accompanied by hand-clapping, singing and rhythmically moving the torso and head, while the men move vigorously and their taps become slaps. …

“Exploring body percussion reinforces the understanding that everything we humans create has roots in something that went before. Even the most sublime innovations have a precedent. … The concealed riches of ‘the before time’ have become available on a global basis, thanks to social media, YouTube, streaming platforms and international touring by artists of every origin.

“Interestingly, hip-hop movements and music act as a unifying factor crossing cultural, class, racial and economic divides, transgressing differences, blurring boundaries and allowing a current generation of artists to travel beyond the assumed limitations of their genres, to try new things and experience other realms.”

More at Dance Magazine, here. No firewall.

Read Full Post »

I had to share a delightful report from the radio show Studio 360 in which Khrista Rypl looks at the cultural aspects of African textiles.

She writes, “African textiles are distinctive for their vibrant colors, bold patterns, and batik dyes that give the fabric a unique crackled texture. But I had no idea that some of the trendiest of these prints are actually designed and produced in the Netherlands by a company called Vlisco.

“Inge Oosterhoff wrote a wonderful deep dive into the history behind the Vlisco textile house, and explained how their designs have remained hugely popular in Africa since the late 1800s. But Vlisco doesn’t just make fabric; they’re known for their printed designs. … Some patterns are designed with different countries in mind, while others are distributed widely around the continent. As the patterns catch on among shopkeepers and consumers, many of them get colorful names like ‘Love Bomb,’ ‘Tree of Obama,’ and ‘Mirror in the Sun.’ …

“Many patterns are sold widely in Africa, and different countries and cultures adopt different meanings and associations. [A swallow] print is a perfect example. The fabric was used for airline uniforms in Togo, so there the pattern is commonly referred to as ‘Air Afrique.’ The pattern also symbolizes asking for a favor, like the hand of a woman in marriage. In Ghana, the swallow refers to the transience of wealth, and the pattern is referred to as ‘Rich Today, Poor Tomorrow.’ It has a similar connotation in Benin, where it’s referred to as ‘L’argent vole,’ where it could either be interpreted as ‘Money Flies’ or ‘Stealing Money.’ ”

More designs and more of Studio 360 report, “Textiles Tell a Cultural History,” here.

Photos: Vlisco

Read Full Post »

%d bloggers like this: