3. Polyrhythm *

“Where I come from we say that rhythm is the soul of life, because the whole universe revolves around rhythm, and when we get out of rhythm, that’s when we get into trouble.”

Babatunde Olatunji

Polyrhythm. Polyrhythm is the simultaneous use of two or more conflicting rhythm patterns – meters – that do not necessarily come from the same source. It is perhaps the most prominent characteristic of African music, and can be seen in many Sub-Saharan percussive styles and dances, such as the Agbekor dance of the Ewe people or in Kpanlogo music of the Ga people, played on instruments such as the djembe or the dundun drum.

In Black American Music this polyrhythmic feature is deeply manifest and can be seen, as music historian Ted Gioia points out,  “…in the lilting syncopations of ragtime, to the diverse offbeat accents of the bebop drummer to the jarring cross-rhythms of the jazz avant-garde.” as well as in countless ‘hypnotic’ funk and house tracks.

Personally, there is nothing more liberating than feeling and responding to the call of polyrhythmic sounds: it’s the delight of the soul’s ancient earth-navigator within.

“Music and rhythm find their way into the secret places of the soul”

Plato, c. 400 BC

Agbekor: War Dance from the Volta Region, Ghana. As enacted by dancers for choreographer Jason Aryeh’s Research Project.

Akiwowo. Babatunde Olatunji. 1986. Here you can clearly hear the bell whose role in Sub-Saharan music is often that of the time-keeper.

Free for All. Art Blaky and Jazz Messengers. 1964.

M’Boom. Max Roach. Re 1973

Me’Shell Ndegeocello. Mu-Min. 2005

El’Baka. Raynald Colom. 2012


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