BLACK PEOPLE’S MUSIC
Early in African history, hunting, planting, marrying, raising a family were an interwoven part of daily life. Similarly, such Arts as tales, poems, sculpture, painting–despite each having its place– were in the shadow of Dance and Music (e.g. Drumming and singing). Still, all were part of the rest. Music has always differed from other Arts because it affects Feelings and/or Emotions directly. Even though its impact is not through the medium of ideas, its manifestations can stimulate memories–communicating by speaking to something subtler than the intellect. To elaborate, Music’s link to Dance derives from the presence of its rhythmic component and is supported by the African belief in sound being evocative–i.e. having mystical powers of tremendous potency able to evoke psychic forces in the Seen and Unseen realms. So, what matters is not so much the Music or the movements stimulated by the Music, as it is Music’s evocative power. However, the combination of Music, Chant, and Dance used by Very Ancient African Shaman in Trance had proven powers to generate Form-Constants (geometric shapes) and other Metaphysical effects. Others specialized in different aspects for purposes of creating evocative powers. For example, some Dancers, in association with Music, trained for many years to perfect their skills for laughing and playing. It was a way to express love and reverence for their Ancestors–a way to celebrate initiation ceremonies–a means of offering tributes to the gods of Nature. Music, Dance, and Poetry in the forms of pleasure and fun were particular favorites when young men and women would court each other.
The Minianka of Mali, West Africa have traditionally practiced a healing art that helps restore emotionally and psychologically disturbed people to harmonious human functioning through appropriately pulsating music (Diallo, Healing Drum, p85, 131, 115). Furthermore, these very same things, in association with wild dance and mystical speech, were all intended to impress the patient and the people with the mysteries of healing. The overriding idea is to reproduce the rhythm of the heart beat by means of drums, clapping, and the dancer’s jumping or whirling as, for example, in the Hathorian dance. In West Africa there are dance sessions lasting five hours or so which supposely provoke trances. However, the mental state may be the result of exhaustion rather than a trance. In other instances, performances were done for entertainment and amusement. Associated with such comedy drama were skilled storytellers—called Groits–who employed their voice, hands, and body to best effect while mimicking the antics of the story’s main character. Others that began in trouble and ended in peace were associated with song and dance in a festive spectacle.
Dance, drumming, and singing were customarily performed at funerals so that the community could express feelings of loss; give messages to the living through gestures and intricate foot, hand, body, and head movements; and to pay homage to the departed Soul. In this way, the family was supported by the community’s involvement in all sharing the experience. Throughout subsequent ages, the performance was based on the performer’s own skill and power coming from his/her education (theory) and training (practice). Nowhere has this been more apparent than in the Performing Arts–the drama, dance, and music generally presented before an audience. Here, the activity of the artist forms a central feature of this creative visual art. In contrast to most other goals whereby one cultivates a reality, performing artists provide the means of recreating or creating some aspect of their act. In other words, he/she becomes a partner to the author of the art being performed. It is the artist who gives more clarity, more depth, and more breadth to the aim of the author’s artistic work. The basic principle is Stylization–a word implying selectively: (1) the choice of and emphasis on essentials; (2) the methods for synthesizing beauty; and (3) the synthesizing of beauty that all of good taste can agree to. These styles urge one to create variations and continually perfect them via spontaneous and innovative moves of their bodies and flow of the Universe to rhythmic and percussive beats, not by a calculated repetitious count, as Europeans learn the waltz. The stylization’s vibration meets an Astral vibration in the Receiver so as to awakens the Receiver’s Heart. [This entire series is from Bailey, Teaching Black Youth] jabaileymd.com
Joseph A. Bailey II, MD, FACS
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