Overview: African Polyrhythms

Everything is a Drum -- Africa (Polyrhythms!)

There are hundreds if not thousands of distinct genres of music in Africa, and there are more being born literally as we speak. African music is extremely local, tied closely to the land and the ancient rhythms of the people who originated each form, but at the same time there is constant cross-cultural communication, both within geographic regions on the continent and also with African-inspired music like blues, jazz and funk, from the West. 

This week in class:

-- We sing "We Are Happy," a hello song from Uganda, to open every All Around This World class. This week we sing hello and goodbye in Ewe --"nilyenia" and "mia dogo."

-- “Tra La La” is a German “landler.” You can hear an original version on the Smithsonian-Folkways’ efficiently (appropriately so) titled, “German Folk Songs.” 

-- “Měla Babka" is a Czech children’s song set to a mazurka, a traditional Polish dance in 3/4 time. (more

-- "YaHalay Yamalay" is a rhythmic dance song from Lebanon and the Palestinian Territories. It most often accompanies a dance called the dabke. 

-- "Lau Lupe" is song from Samoa in the Pacific that seems to be about pigeons, but, like most songs, is more of a musing about life and death (more)


As if mastering any African rhythm isn't tricky enough, one of the most exciting elements of African music has to do with the way several different rhythms intersect when played at the same time. "Polyrhythm" (also sometimes known as "cross-rhythm") means the simultaneous performing of two different rhythms. For example, look at this animated video and you'll see two rhythms at play at the same time -- 5/4 and 4/4. Or try 5/4 and 3/4. Think that's complicated? Then this will drive you bonkers. Or, on actual human drums, you can take a look at multiple rhythms crossing each other at once.

See you in class!  

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