Saturday, May 11, 2013


Tucked away far from the cities in the Central African Republic lies some of the greatest ethnomusical finds of the century. Well, maybe last century.  There are two notable styles of folk music in this area: that of the Banda people and that of the Pygmy people.

The Banda music has been described as “jazzy,” utilizing trumpets and other instruments.  The ongo is an instrument made of wood or the horn of antelopes, and a lot of times, it was used in various ceremonies. The thing about the Banda’s music is that because of it’s jazzy sound, it became somewhat popular outside of this area and outside of Africa. 

The Pygmies have a style of music that uses polyphony and counterpoint.  It’s almost always divided into four parts, with one of the parts functioning as an ostinato bass, except it utilizes variations and may even be closer to a passacaglia. It’s just really hard to believe that in the past (and still today), many people, especially the Europeans who colonized these areas called the native tribes primitive and savages, and that they have no capacity for understanding higher, more complex thinking. It’s absurd. How can Bach be a genius because he utilized polyphony and counterpoint, but Pygmies in central Africa are incapable of such depth even though they utilize it as well? Africans were thriving at commerce and arts when Europeans were still throwing their excrement in the streets. I’m really hoping that there will be a point when we realize that and stop all of this nonsense that certain peoples are innately dumb. All peoples have positives and negatives. Anyway… The Pygmies also use the style known as liquindi, or water drumming. It’s mostly performed by women and girls who stand in the water and cups their hand to hit the surface of the water, making a percussive sound. Some of the other instruments that are primarily used by the Pygmies are bow harp (ieta), ngombi (harp zither), and a limbindo (a string bow). This is an excellent video that goes into much more detail about their music and accompanying dance of their tribe. 

The Ngbaka people use a type of instrument called the mbela, which is made from an arched piece of wood (usually a branch) with a string strung between the two ends, like a bow and arrow.  The performer will put their mouth on the end to use as a resonator. It’s one of the several ancestors to modern string instruments, and there are several variations of this instrument throughout the world.

The sanza, also called mbira or kalimba, is also a popular instrument throughout central and southern Africa.  I was in college taking a required world music course as part of the music major curriculum when I first heard of the mbira. I fell in love with it and with its sound – it was mesmerizing. Last year, I finally ordered one via the Internet. I play it, making up my own songs as a stress release.  The basic construction is a block of wood with metal keys made of steel fixed on it and a hole to help hold it. The bottom of each mbira has a metal bar with rattles on it, made of either metal beads (like the one I have) or bottle caps, or some other kind of metal tab. It goes by many names, and I even found a YouTube video of a five-octave mbira, which is now the object of my fancy. There are different kinds of tuning based on several different reasons and construction, but it’s not based on the octave system as in traditional European instruments – it’s closer to the modes of the Medieval period. And a lot of tuning an mbira has to do with overtones as well.  I came across this video when I first bought my mbira; I really like this song and wished that I could find it to download. 

As far as popular music goes, Western and European rock music, jazz, and other pan-African genres, especially from countries that border it, like Cameroon and the Democratic Republic of the Congo, are commonly listened to in the Central African Republic. Makossa music, soukous, and Afrobeat are some of the more popular styles among the people.

Dance is seen by the community as a means of bonding and bringing the people in the community together. Dance can be done both in public and in private. The types of dances, the location, and times when people dance all depend and determine a person’s role in the community and station in their life. Likewise, some dances are for ceremonial purposes, and some are designated for entertainment. 

Up next: the food!

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