Modélisation des savoirs
Jazz, Africa and creolization: about Herbie Hancock.
Pygmies music relies on a layering process, building a kind of matrix, in which each instrumental line is in an interlocking relationship with the others. Here is an example of two interlocking parts:
Figure 1: two interlocking patterns (mokongo, diketo)
Bernard Lubat points out the fact that in such rhythmic formulas, there is no accentuation in the succession of the beats. There is nothing similar to the alternation of downbeats and upbeats which is an essential features of jazz (see Denis-Constant Martin, Filiation or Innovation? Some Hypotheses to Overcome the Dilemna of Afro-American Music's Origin, Black Music Research Journal, 11(1), 1991, p. 19-38). The regular beats are equal, and there is not what Lubat calls a "critical attitude" towards them.
These rhythmic patterns from the Pygmies share a specific kind of assymetry (and syncopation) that has been discovered by ethnomusicologist Simha Arom who called it rhythmic oddity property. There are various African rhythmic formulas built on the same model, and some of them can be found widely in all regions of Africa. These formulas are the following (see Simha Arom, African Polyphony and Polyrhythm, Cambridge University Press, Cambridge, England, 1991):
Figure 2: four African basic rhythmic patterns
In Herbie Hancock's 1973 album Head Hunters, "funk turned out to be a gateway for Hancock to traverse between African and Western aesthetic traditions" (see Steven Pond, Head Hunters: The Making of Jazz's First Platinum Album, Ann Arbor, University of Michigan Press, 2005, p. 33). The fusion of jazz and funk realized in this album has been quite influential, as recalls Bernard Lubat.
The funk grooves developed by Hancock are constructed of interlocking patterns employing many instrumental parts, all contributing to a whole. According to Olly Wilson, Professor of African American music at the University of California at Berkeley, this interlocking technique mirrors the sound matrix organization of Anlo-Ewe ensembles from Ghana (one could also mention Pygmies Polyrhythm) and illustrates an "African conceptual approach to music-making" (see Pond, p. 65).
There is a more specific point of alignment with African aesthetics in the introduction of the tune Watermelon Man from the album Head Hunters, where Bill Summers performs an imitation of the Central African pygmy flute hindewhu borrowed from Simha Arom and Geneviève Dournon-Taurelle's recording The Music of the Ba-Benzélé Pygmies, Unesco, 1965, track 1.
But in this case, there is a cultural gap at the rhythmic level. Summers imitation has a binary beat whereas the original pygmy hindewhu has... a ternary one!... In fact, the rhythm underlying the hindewhu sequence is the second African basic rhythmic pattern (Figure 2). The correct analysis (Figure 3) has been given by Simha Arom in his article "L'arbre qui cachait la forêt. Principes métrique et rythmiques en Centrafrique", Liber Amicorum Célestin Deliège, Revue belge de Musicologie, vol. LII, 1998, p. 179-195.
Of course, Bill Summers or Herbie Hancock did not try to "understand" what was going on in the Pygmy recording. Steven Feld explains: "In an interview with Bill I learned that he "just got the notes" from the opening track of the Arom 1966 LP. And as you can hear there on the original track one, there are no handclaps or other percussion instruments establishing the beat (as there are on later tracks). So Summers basically heard the first track as "free rhythm," took a simplified version of the note sequence, and then put in the funk groove". Morover, Summers clever adaptation has focused on the regular distribution of the bottle notes (every four 8ths) by placing them off-beat. But finally, it reveals two cultural ways of perceiving rhythm: as they are used to the basic patterns of Figure 2, Pygmies probably do not feel the "off-beat" in the same manner.
Figure 3: ternary underlying rhythm of the hindewhu sequence
Steven Feld has studied the recycling of the hindewhu sequence in various popular music records in his article "Pygmy Pop. A Genealogy of Schizophonic Mimesi", Yearbook for Traditional Music, 28, 1996, p. 1-36. It takes place in a "Western music industry context where many performers adapt and thereby come to own other sounds and music elements", which seems to be far away from the idea of creolization developed by Edouard Glissant.
The original hindewhu sequence recorded by Simha Arom with its ternary beat (1965, the beat was recorded in 1986)
The binary hindewhu imitation in Watermelon Man by Hancock (1973) and Sanctuary by Madonna (1994)
According to Lubat, the jazz-funk played by the Head Hunters differs from other electric jazz music from the seventies called jazz-rock. It is not based on the same binary rhythmic feeling, but on what he calls a "trinary" one (using a word combining binary and ternary). This means that the straight-sixteenth rhythmic orientation of Hancock at that time is not as straight as in other jazz-rock groups such as Mahavishnu Orchestra or Return to Forever.
We have made an analysis of Mike Clark's famous drums pattern based on sixteenth notes in the introduction of Palm Grease by the Head Hunters. This pattern has a particular kind of syncopation: the quarter notes of the first bar are all on the beat, and the quarter notes of the second one are all off the beat. This is exactly the third African rhythmic pattern (Figure 2).
We used the Audiosculpt software developed at IRCAM to analyze the "trinary" feeling of this rhythm. Audiosculpt computes a sonogram analysis of the sound and generates markers with a transient detection algorithm. This allows to measure the exact divisions of the beat in a way similar to Parson and Cholakis swing analysis (available online). The result shows that the sixteenth notes are equal and that the rhythm is binary. Thus the trinary feeling comes from other aspects of the performance such as timbre (open high-hat for the third off-beat quarter note) and superimposition of other parts (percussions added to the drums).
Figure 4: sonagram analysis of drums introduction (Palm Grease)
The series of improvised duets for piano (synthesizer Yamaha DX-1) and kora recorded in Village Life (1984) by Herbie Hancock and Foday Musa Suso, a musician from Gambia, is another kind of meeting of jazz and African music. In the liner notes, Hancock explains: "I was initially going to play acoustic piano, accompanying Suso on Gambian folk things. Traditional African instruments are not tuned like a piano. The DX-1 allows for de-tuning, to more closely match the intonation of Suso's kora".
The instrumental aspect of traditional kora performance combines two components, the kumbengo (a recurrent theme which can be described as a fixed ostinato) and the birimintingo (variation and embellishment), see Lucy Duran, Them and variation in kora music: a preliminary study of Tutu Jara as performed by Amadu Bansang Jobate, Widders & Wolpert (eds.), Music and tradition, Cambridge University Press, 1981, p. 183-196.
The piece Kanatente (19:19) begins with a piano solo introduction followed by improvisations on six successive kumbengo, some of them being identified as traditional themes: Si Bang Bang, Ceyla Djaka, Kelefa Sane, Sutoukoum. Here is a transcription of the piano introduction and the first two kumbengo (at 2:00 and 3:00):
Figure 5: cora ostinato
In Down Beat (january 1986, p. 34), John Diliberto wrote that this recording is "the meeting of two divergent cultures finding unity in sound". Bernard Lubat has a quite different opinion. According to him, the piano introduction with its sophisticated chords seems "useless" in this traditional context, and the kora does not evolve away from its "folk clichés". At the opposite side of the idea of creolization, Lubat speaks about "domination" to criticize this meeting. He means that on the one side, Hancock plays alone in order to give a flavour of his deep harmonic knowledge, and on the other side he plays with the kora by restricting himself to the "childlike" simplicity of the "folk clichés".
In Madagascar, trance music is often played with a string instrument called marovany accompagnied with a rattle called kantsa. Here is a video of a trance ritual:
(recorded in 2000 by Victor Randrianary and Marc Chemillier, 215 bpm, 2:35)
The kantsa plays a ternary pattern. When the video is slow down (using iMovie), one can see that the pattern is not regular:
(recorded in 2007 by Victor Randrianary and Marc Chemillier, slow down at 33 bpm, 0:07)
Figure 6: ternary pattern of the kantsa
A sonogram analysis with markers generation using Audiosculpt can show the following ratios:
Figure 7: sonagram analysis of the kantsa pattern
In this repertoire, the musicians play "with" the regular beat in order to increase tension, and it seems to be closer to the "critical attitude" towards the beat that Bernard Lubat has observed in jazz. Perhaps, the fact that Madagascar is an island where various cross fertilisations has occurred must be taken into account in relation to Glissant's idea of "archipelagoization" (see his quotation at the beginning: "the "archipelagoization" of the Caribbean is exemplary and is moving in the direction of creolization").