In Book I of Africn Polyphony and Polyrhythm, Simha Arom is presenting the general features of traditional music. The fundamental characteristic he feels is temporal organization. Music in Central African societies is “a succession of sound capable of giving rise to a segmentation of time during which it flows in isochronous units. The music is always measured and should be “danceable”. ”. (Arom, 11)
In Central Africa “music and language are very closely interconnected” states Simha Arom. Quoting Senghor:
“Languages are themselves pregnant with music…tone languages in which each syllable has its own pitch, intensity and duration…”
Arom and Senghor’s observation brings to mind the piece Different Trains by Steve Reich. He transcribed the pitch and rhythm of various snippets of monologues and then assigned these transcriptions to the Kronos quartet. During the performance the snippets were played back complementing the string sounds and thus allow the Kronos and audience to hear how the string melodies were derived.
Arom notes that in Central Africa music and performances are not institutionalized and anyone can participate. While in Burkina Faso we noticed that there were various dance troupes in the village of Zogore and surrounding area. People join them like a club. One evening we were feted with a wonderful dance performance celebrating our visit from the US as well as the work our son does there as a Peace Corps Volunteer.
As with Central African dance, this Burkina Faso troupe performed measured and steady dance-movements. Attached to their legs were jingles sounding in time with their steps. Heard along with this dance was the regular pulse of a drum.