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The African Imagination in Music$
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Kofi Agawu

Print publication date: 2016

Print ISBN-13: 9780190263201

Published to Oxford Scholarship Online: March 2016

DOI: 10.1093/acprof:oso/9780190263201.001.0001

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The Rhythmic Imagination

The Rhythmic Imagination

(p.155) 4 The Rhythmic Imagination
The African Imagination in Music

Kofi Agawu

Oxford University Press

Rhythm is often regarded as the most elaborate of all the dimensions of African music. Without undermining this premise, this chapter argues that the complexity of African rhythm is a rational complexity, not the result of happenstance or spontaneous improvisation. Distinguishing between the rhythms of speech and those of the body, the chapter first outlines a variety of manifestations of rhythm. Three principal ways in which the rhythmic imagination is exercised are then described. The first consists of the use of bell patterns or time lines as points of temporal reference in ensemble playing. Second is, polyrhythm, the simultaneous unfolding of several different rhythmic patterns in a texture saturated with repetition. In the third, lead drumming, a versatile drummer draws on stock materials to spin extended rhythmic narratives. The chapter finishes by suggesting that African rhythmic patterns that look complex on the surface are often based on simpler patterns, and that the speculative reconstruction of such complex patterns is a worthwhile exercise.

Keywords:   time lines, polyrhythm, lead drumming, talking drum, improvisation, notation, African rhythm, repetition

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