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African Rhythms and

How they are Learned

Annotated Bibliography

Dan Kruse

Fine Arts Studies Major

2004 Undergraduate
Research Grant Recipient
African Rhythms/Learning - Annotated Bibliography
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Agawu, V. Kofi. 2003. Representing African Music. NY: Routledge.

A provocative examination of the nature and substance of

African music. Much of the book is aimed at dispelling
other authors’ approaches and theories regarding the nature
of African music, polyrhythms, etc. Ch. 8: “How Not to
Analyze African Music”, discusses the rift between music
theorists and ethnomusicologists. Ch. 3: “The Invention of
‘African Rhythm’”; Ch. 4: “Polymeter, Additive Rhythm
and Other Myths”. Useful for a fresh perspective on how to
view African music and rhythms. Extensive bibliography.

Arum, Simba. 1991. African Polyphony and Polyrhythm: Musical Structure and
Methodology. New York, Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Blacking, John. 1973. How Musical is Man? Seattle: University of Washington Press.

A probing exploration into the inherent musicality of human beings.

Blacking pursues the argument that all musical expression has validity
and (often misunderstood) levels of complexity and sophistication.
Many examples from his work with Venda of S. Africa; extensive
transcriptions. Useful for the author’s thoughtful, honest approach to
assessing musicality across cultures, and the demands which this places
upon ethnomusicologists.

Carrington, John F. 1949. Talking Drums of Africa. London: Cary Kingsgate Press.

An examination of the “talking drums” of Africa as a means of

communication. The “language of the drum” as a component
of the language groups throughout the continent. Construction
of drums; playing technique; phrases, etc. The role of
drumming in ritual practices, ceremonies, and sporting events.
Useful in understanding the relationships between sound,
rhythm, and language in African societies.

Brandel, Rose. 1961. Music of Central Africa.

Campbell, Patricia Shehan and Scott-Kassner, Carol Music in Childhood from Preschool
through the Elementary Grades Belmont, CA: Wadsworth Group/ Thomson Learning
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Chernoff, John Miller. 1979. African Rhythm and African Sensibility. Chicago, London:
University of Chicago Press.
First written in 1973-73, one of the “classics” in the study of African music
and culture. Topics include 1) an extensive reflection on the author’s
perspective on participant/observer relationship to the material, 2) a
discussion of the role of music in African cultures, 3) detailed examinations
of musical patterns and forms, 4) musical style and 5) music as an expression
of African values. Useful as an excellent perspective on both the musical and
cultural aspects of African music from an author who has lived in Africa for
extended periods of time. Exhaustive bibliography.

Chosky, Lois; Abramson, Robert M.; Gillespie, Avon; Woods, David 1986 Teaching
Music in the Twentieth Century Englewood Cliffs, NJ: Prentice-Hall

Clements, George N. 1972. The Verbal Syntax of Ewe. London: University of London
(unpublished dissertation).

Cooke, Peter. 1998. “East Africa: An Introduction” in Garland Encyclopedia of Music:

Africa. NY; London: Garland Publishing.

A broad overview of the nine east African nations, their history and
culture. The relationship of music to religion, nomadism, urban music,
etc. Useful as an introduction to east African culture and music in the
continental context.

Dje Dje, Jacqueline Cogdell. 1998. “West Africa: An Introduction”, in Garland

Encyclopedia of Music: Africa. NY; London: Garland Publishing.

An overview of music of 14 West African nations, regarded by some

scholars as a “homogeneous unit”, but with significant diversity.
Discussion of geography (savanna, forest) and historical forces, and the
present-day tribes and tribal clusters throughout the region. Useful for a
broad understanding of tribal groupings and cultural and linguistic
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Floyd, Malcolm. 1999. Composing the Music of Africa: Composition, Interpretation,

and Realisation. Aldershot, England; Brookfield, VT: Ashgate Press.

A broad-ranging compilation addressing many different aspects of

African music: Egyptian, Ghanaian, Maasai, Kenyan, and others,
plus a discussion of the relevance of African musical assumptions
and paradigms from a composer’s perspective. Ch. 5 (“Drumming in
Africa”) addresses interlocking rhythms and how they combine to
create new rhythmic patterns. Useful as a guide to deciphering such
rhythms utilizing western notation. Ch. 8: “How Not to Analyze
African Music”, a case study regarding the nuances of analytical issues
and presentation of findings; includes an overview of findings by
Hornbostel, Blacking, Arum, Jones and others.

Gaskin, L.J.P. and Wachsmann, K.P. 1965. A Select Bibliography of Music in Africa.
London: International African Institute.

An extensive bibliography of articles, journals and books on

every aspect of African music. Arrangement by geography,
instrument type, dance, author. Total of 3370 entries. Useful for
finding articles on specific geographic regions, or by author.

Jones, A.M. 1959. Studies in African Music. London: Oxford University Press.

One of the original exhaustive studies of African music,

frequently cited since its publication. Discusses African
musical genres, instruments, dances, etc. Speculates on
the “homogeneity” of African music (i.e., the “standard
pattern”), a concept subsequently cited and debated by
many others. Notable for its broad approach to the
subject, covering many tribes and topics. Also, detailed
photo illustrations of Atsimevu technique.

Jones, A.M. 1934. “African Drumming: A Study in the Combination of Rhythms in

African Music”, in Bantu Studies, Vol. 8, no. 2 (March), pp. 1 - 16.

Jones, A.M. 1954. “African Rhythm”, in Africa, Ch. 24, pp. 26-47.
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Kaemmer, John E. 1998. “South Africa: An Introduction”, in Garland Encyclopedia of

Music: Africa. NY; London: Garland Publishing.

An overview of history, people, culture and music of this ten-

nation region. Role of music in politics and royalty. Indigenous
groups and their music. Section on Venda musical and tonal
organization (Cites Blacking, ’65 and ’73). Political/
social/economic factors affecting S. African music in recent

Kauffman, Robert. 1980. “African Rhythm: A Reassessment”, in Ethnomusicology, Vol.

24, no. 3. Ann Arbor: The Society for Ethnomusicology.

Notes the similarities of African rhythms across diverse cultures.

Cites Jones/King’s work identifying the “standard pattern”.
“African hemiola”, macrorhythms, musical form, call-and-
response, “microrhythms”. These concepts are combined to
suggest a new approach to their analysis and understanding.
Useful “table of common African rhythms”.

Koetting, James (Roderick Knight, ed.). 1986. “What do We Know About African
Rhythm?”, in Ethnomusicology. Ann Arbor: Society for Ethnomusicology.

Koetting’s “final word” on the subject (he died the following evening),
presented at the 10/20/84 Society for Ethnomusicology Conference in L. A.
One of the best available articles addressing issues of rhythmic analysis of
African music.

Koetting, James. 1984. Ch. 3, “Africa/Ghana” in Worlds of Music. New York: Schirmer

A chapter discussing a variety of African musical styles, from

Kesena jongo to Highlife. Includes a straightforward explanation
of 2-over-3 cross rhythms (helpful in teaching polymetric
patterns to “western” students). Listening examples provided on
accompanying recording. Useful as a brief, generalized overview
of the topic of African music, rhythms, notational issues and
cultural background.

Koetting, James. 1970. “Analysis and Notation of West African Drum Ensemble Music”, in
UCLA Selected Reports (Institute of Ethnomusicology Vol. 1, No. 3, pp 116- 146.
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Kolinski, Mieczlslaw, 1973. “A Cross-Cultural Approach to Metro-Rhythmic Patterns”, in

Ethnomusicology, Vol. 17, No. 3. Ann Arbor: The Society for Ethnomusicology.

A re-evaluation of the western approach to analyzing and

understanding non-western rhythms. Examines the definition of
“rhythm”. Discusses typical western approaches. Cites A.M.
Jones’ work w/Ewe; overlapping polymeters including 12/8, 1/4,
2/4, 3/4, 4/4, 6/8, etc. Useful in understanding rhythmic
comparisons between cultures.

Kongo, Zabana. 1997. African Drum Music: Kpanlogo. Accra: Afram Publications.

A small book offering a complete transcription of Kpanlogo, as

performed by the Master Drummers of the Ghana Dance
Ensemble. Detailed western notations, including “vertical
alignments” of all parts with bell part. Intro, by Nketia. Useful in
teaching/demonstrating these rhythms to any who would benefit
from easily-readable western notation.

Kongo, Zabana. 1997. African Drum Music: Adowa. Accra: Afram Publications.

A small book offering a complete transcription of Adowa, as

performed by the Master Drummers of the Ghana Dance
Ensemble. Detailed with notation including “vertical alignment”
with bell parts. Intro by Nketia. Useful for detailed western

Kubik, Gerhard. 1998. “Central Africa: An Introduction”, in Garland Encyclopedia of

Music: Africa. NY;London: Garland Publishing.

Overview of eight central African nations, their history,

cultures and music. Notation of choral music of Central
African Republic. Relationship of music and language.
Examples of music’s role in group work (i.e., millet-pounding)
and resultant rhythms. Pygmy cultures; Bantu, instruments.
Useful for understanding the discreet “linguistic zones”
and their relation to musics of the region.

Lems-Dworkin, Carol. 1991. African Music: A Pan-African Annotated Bibliography.

London; NY: Hanszell
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Locke, David. 1982. “Principles of Off-Beat Timing and Cross-Rhythms in S. Ewe Dance
Drumming”, in Ethnomusicology, Vol. 26(2), pp. 217-246. Ann Arbor: Society
for Ethnomusicology.

An excellent examination of Ewe polyrhythmic music.

Discusses Africans’ ability to hear 12/8 divided into 4’s, 3’s,
6’s, 8’s, etc. This article really sums it up. Very useful in
notating/understanding the five major principles surrounding
the “standard pattern” in African music.

- 1992. Kpegisu: A War Drum of the Ewe. Tempe, AZ: White Cliffs Media Company.

A study of a specific Ewe dance. Discusses rhythmic

structure, the dance performance, musical notation/
transcriptions, the accompanying songs, etc. Ch. 4:
“The Percussion Ensemble”, provides detailed
rhythmic transcriptions and explanations of cross-
rhythms in 12/8, 6/4, /4, and 24/16 time signatures.

Especially useful in understanding the polyrhythmic

structures and how they combine, and a discussion of
issues involved in notating this type of music.

Locke, David and Agbeli, Godwin K. 1980. “A Study of The Drum Language of
Adzogbo” in African Music, Vol. 6. no. 1. Grahamstown, S. Africa: International
Library of African Music.

Examines Adzogbo, a dance of the Ewe of Benin,

Togo and Ghana. Details the relationship of polyrhythmic
musical texture and the movements of dancers, and the identical
rhythms of the sung/spoken parts and the master drum.
Descriptions of the cultural significance, performance features,
and “drum language” of the piece. Useful for detailed
transcriptions showing relationship of words to bell and drum
parts, and the syllables which represent specific drum strokes and

Locke, David. 1987. Drum Gahu: A Systematic Method for an African Percussion Piece

Merriam, Alan. African Music on LP: An Annotated Discography.

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Merriam, Alan P. 1981. “African Musical Rhythm and Concepts of Time-Reckoning”, in

Music East and West: Essays in Honor of Walter Kauffman (Thomas Noblitt,
ed.), pp 123-142. New York: Pendragon Press.

Addresses “unacknowledged assumptions” regarding African

rhythms: 1) equal pulse base, 2) derived “steady musical beat”,
3) a basic, organizing principle, 4) “starting points” for rhythmic
groupings. A section on “Time from the Western Point of View”
(a linear perspective), and how this affects our view of African
rhythm, plus time from the African point of view, including “time
reckoning” (how/whether people actually mark time as it passes).
Useful in understanding/contrasting the western and African
perceptions of time, its passage and marking.

- 1958. “African Music”, in Continuity and Change in African

Cultures, William R. Bascom and Melville J. Herskovitz, ed. Chicago: University
of Chicago Press.

An overview of the characteristics of the African “musical system”.

Musical activity as an integral and functioning part of society. Summary of
issues such as the standard pattern, rhythm, melody, form and function.
Useful as a generalized orientation to African music in its cultural context
and several musical/aesthetic issues.

Montfort, Matthew. 1985. Ch. 1: “West Africa”, in Ancient Traditions - Future Possi-
bilities: Rhythmic Training Through the Traditions of Africa, Bali and India.
Mill Valley, CA: Panoramic Press

Detailed and highly instructive guide to executing African

rhythms. Easy-to-understand notations of cross-rhythms,
hemiolas, and methods for verbalizing and understanding
them. Very useful for teaching African rhythms to oneself
or to a group.
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Nketia, J.H. Kwabena. 1962. “The Problem of Meaning in African Music”, in

Ethnomusicology, Vol. 6. Ann Arbor: The Society for Ethnomusicology

- 1963. African Music in Ghana. Evanston, IL: Northwestern University Press

A “brief introduction” (145 pages) to the music of Ghana.

Provides a broad, yet fairly specific, overview. Includes chapters on
the organization of folk music and cultural context; musical types
(classifications: recreational, occasional, incidental); melody; form;
harmony; rhythm. Many detailed transcriptions (melodic, harmonic,
rhythmic). Also a discussion of instruments and their construction
and contributions to the ensemble. Esp. useful for the transcriptions
and commentary.

- 1974. The Music of Africa. New York: Norton

- 1963. Folk Songs of Ghana. Legon: University of Ghana

- 1963. Drumming in the Akan Communities of Ghana. Edinburgh: Thomas


A 200-page study of the Akan tribe in S. Ghana. Primary focus is the social
implications of Akan drumming and its musical and linguistic aspects. Drum
types and construction; modes of drumming (signal, speech, dance). Ch. 4:
“The Verbal Basis of Drumming”, relates drum sounds to speech syllables.
Also chapters on large segments of the population (bands, religious sects,
Warriors, etc.) who use drumming in particular ways. Useful for
understanding the cultural meanings of Akan music.

Panteleoni, Hewitt. 1972. “Three Principles of timing in Anlo Dance Drumming”, in African
Music. Roodeport, Transvaal, S. Africa: African Music Society.

A description of the three primary rhythmic aspects of the Anlo (Ewe) peoples’
“Atsio”. 1) Anlo timing in higher, softer parts, 2) the process of timing one’s
part to the bell, creating rhythmic polyphony, 3) other players performing “in
duet” with this bell, and the resulting timing. Useful for a clearer understanding
of how the players in Anlo music interact (consciously or unconsciously) with
one another.
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- 1972. “Towards Understanding the Play of Atsimevu in Atsia”, in African

Music, vol. 2. Roodeport, Transvaal, S. Africa: African Music Society.

A detailed description of the role of the atsimevu (lead drum) in Ewe’s

Atsia dance drumming. Physical description of the instrument; types of
strokes and sounds; a tablature for notation. Useful for an
understanding of the eight main strokes, the sounds they make, and
how to execute them.

- 1985. Ch. 10: “The Nature of Rhythm”, in On the Nature of Music. Oneonta,
NY: Welkin Books.

A discussion of rhythm as a function of the division of time and successions

of events. Discusses human perceptions as the primary determinant of
rhythm. Offers a graphical method for analyzing multiple rhythmic
components of a musical passage, plus diagrams of metric aspects of poetry
and song lyrics. Useful in applying consistent methods of rhythmic analysis
to varied musical styles

- 1985. Ch. 12: “West African Rhythm”, in On the Nature of Music. Oneonta,
NY: Welkin Books.

A discussion of the musical culture, instruments and rhythms of the Anlo

people of Anyako, Ghana. Describes five primary attributes of Anlo music
(non-equidistant governing accents; diverging simultaneous rhythms; levels of
sound; earthward dancing; low-pitched singing). Provides graphical analyses of
diverging simultaneous rhythms and multi-layered sound patterns. Useful in
understanding the complex relationships between all aspects (accents,
instrumentation, lyrics, sound levels) in a particular passage.

- 1972. The Rhythm of Atsia Dance Drumming Among the Anlo (Ewe) of
Anyako. Oneonta, NY: H. Panteleoni

Pressing, Jeff. 1983. “Rhythmic Design in the Support Drums of Agbadzu” in African
Music, Vol. 6, no. 3. Grahamstown, S. Africa: International Library of African

Describes in detail the “support” parts played by gankogui,

axatse and kagan in this warrior (now recreational) dance of the
Ewe. Intricate analysis of phrase structures within the kidi part’s
many variations. Useful for detailed manner in which these parts
support the lead drum.
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Reich, Steve. 1974. “Gahu: A Dance of the Ewe Tribe in Africa”, in Writings About Music.
Halifax: The Press of the Nova Scotia College of Art and Design.

Reich’s personal reflections on his travels to Ghana in 1970, including

detailed transcriptions of Ewe rhythmic patterns for bell, rattle and drums.
Comments on the challenges of learning these rhythms, as well as the
cultural context of the music, and relationship between drum beats to spoken
language patterns. Useful as a source of accurate transcriptions of two Ewe
beat patterns. Interestingly, Reich (in 1980) composed a piece entitled
“Clapping Music”, which hybridizes a typical 12/8 Ewe rhythmic style with
his “process music” compositional approach.

Sachs, Curt. 1965: The Wellsprings of Music. New York: McGraw-Hill.

An introduction to polyrhythms and their importance in African

music, including one notation depicting the simplest polyrhythm, %
to 6/8. Some great generalized statements about the nature of
polyrhythm (for use in Ethno project report).

Smith, Edna. 1962. “Musical Training in Tribal West Africa”, in African Music.
Roodeport, Transvaal, S. Africa: African Music Society.

The author discusses the traditional ways in which W.

African children learn the music of their tribes, based on
“the principle of slow absorption of musical experience
and active participation, rather than formal training”.
Socialization through participation in tribal music.
Discusses disagreements regarding teaching methodologies -
deliberately trained or not? Author notes that with the breakdown of
tribal institutions, these methods are not always followed. Excellent
as a source for traditional teaching/learning methods.

Southall, Aiden. 1975. A letter published in African Studies Newsletter, Vol. 8,

No. 3 (June), pp. 3-4.
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Standifer, James A. and Reeder, Barbara. 1972. Source Book of African and
Afro-American Materials for Music Educators”. Contemporary Music
Project: Music Educators’ National Conference.

An effort to provide music educators with more effective tools for

teaching world (esp. African) music in the classroom.
Extensive bibliography of books, recordings and other resources.
Exercises to develop “multi-layer” hearing in students.
Useful tool to educators seeking to get students started with
understanding and playing African music.

Stone, Ruth. 1998. “Time in African Performance”, in Garland Encyclopedia of Music:

Africa. NY, London: Garland Publishing.

- 1986. “Commentary: The Value of Local Ideas in Understanding African

Rhythm”, in Ethnomusicology, Vol. 30, no. 1. Ann Arbor: Society for

A concise discussion of issues involved in understanding African

rhythm, and the impact of the researcher’s perspective. Stone
contrasts the views of Agawu and Keotting (western notation vs.
grasping to understand the African musician’s own perception of the
music). Useful as a brief overview of the subject.

- and Stone, Verlon L. 1981. “Event Feedback and Analysis: Research

Media in the Study of Music Events”, in Ethnomusicology, Vol. 25, No. 2, pp.
215-225. Ann Arbor: Society for Ethnomusicology.

An examination of the use of technological media and the

“feedback interview” as methods for understanding music
events in the field. Discusses issues of communication, multi-
sensory aspects, interpretation, social relationships, etc.
Guidelines for selecting and utilizing recording media.
Useful as both a theoretical and practical guide to field
recording and obtaining performer feedback.
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Sunkett, Mark. 1995. Mandiani Drum and Dance: Djembe Performance and Black
Aesthetics from Africa to the New World”. Tempe, AZ: White Cliffs Media.

Devoted to Mande music and dance traditions of Mali, Senegal and

Guinea, and the ways in which it has been translated into African-
American styles. Strong emphasis on aesthetics. Rhythmic patterns, both
within the djembe drumming and the dance movements are explicitly
illustrated. Technical illustrations of djembe construction and assembly.
Notations of overlapping parts for djembe and other instruments. A brief
discussion of learning methods for young drummers. Extensive chapter on
the art form’s evolution in the U.S. Useful as a broad overview of this
particular tradition and its aesthetics, both in Africa and America.

Temperly, David. 2000. “Meter and Grouping in African Music: A View from Music
Theory”, in Ethnomusicology, Vol. 44. no. 1. Champaign, IL: University of Illinois
An examination of African rhythmic material from a “theory”
approach. Comparison of African and western rhythms.
Recognizes the “significant musical commonalities across cultural
groups in sub-Saharan Africa”. Does African music
have “meter”? Yes - as an underlying plus, felt but not always
heard. How is meter “inferred”? The “syncopation shift” in
African and western (popular) music. Useful in its citation of
many other well-known authorities (Jones, Waterman,
Chernoff, Koetting, Panteleoni, Blacking, Locke, Pressing, etc.)

Thieme, Darius L. 1964. African Music: A Briefly Annotated Bibliography. Washington,

D.C.: Library of Congress.

Lists hundreds of periodical, articles, etc. on the subject of sub-

Saharan African music. Articles categorized by region.
Indices of authors, tribes. Separate section devoted to books on
the subject. A major effort at organizing the many publications,
books and authors who researched African music and culture
prior to 1964.
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Tracey, Hugh. 1969. Codification of African Music and Textbook Project. A Primer
of Practical Suggestions for Field Research. Roodeport, Transvaal, S. Africa:
International Library of African Music.

A very practical (if somewhat dated?) guide to field research into

African music. Suggestions regarding etiquette, locating
performers, achieving rapport, participating in music and dance,
etc. Discussion of field notes, recording techniques, field cards,
etc. Especially useful in developing “field research protocol” for
my Ghana project, summer ’04.

Wachsmann, Klaus and Kay, Russell. 1971. “The Interrelations of Music Forms
And Cultural Systems in Africa”, in Technology and Culture, Vol. 12, no. 3,
pp. 399-413.

Warren, Fred. 1970. The Music of Africa - An Introduction. Englewood Cliffs, NJ:
Prentice-Hall, Inc.

A true “introduction” to the subject, readable by lay persons, and

covering melody, rhythm, form, instruments and music’s role in
African culture. Easy-to-understand illustrations of melodies and
corresponding rhythms. Useful as a text for those less familiar
with the complexities of African music.

Wendt, Caroline Card. 1998. “North Africa: An Introduction”, in Garland Encyclopedia of

Music: Africa. NY, London: Garland Publishing.

An overview of the geography, people and culture of ten North

African nations. Relationship of music to the Islam faith and
worship practices. Music in folk life (events, celebrations, rituals,
poetry, dance) and popular music are discussed. Useful for a
broad understanding of N. Africa’s history, geography and
cultural forces.