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June 5, 2012 4:34 PM   Subscribe

I don't think you could find a better illustration of the grace, beauty and compelling power of African rhythm and sensibility than this 10 minute film.
posted by flapjax at midnite (26 comments total) 19 users marked this as a favorite

 
The film looks and sounds better at Vimeo, as posted in the main link, but since someone mentioned in a recent thread that they can't do Vimeo for some reason, here's the film on YouTube.
posted by flapjax at midnite at 4:37 PM on June 5, 2012


That was a lot of fun, although I'm not sure I'm convinced by the idea that everything is done to a rhythm in any self-conscious sense, which is what I thought the narrator was trying to imply. I really loved the section around 3:30 with the three metal hammerers.
posted by OmieWise at 5:04 PM on June 5, 2012 [1 favorite]


As I watched the video,an ice cream truck pulled up outside blaring its tune. Worlds collided.
posted by orme at 5:05 PM on June 5, 2012 [3 favorites]


I'm not sure I'm convinced by the idea that everything is done to a rhythm in any self-conscious sense

I think I know what you mean. Some of the editing creates a sense of *rhythm* where such direct parallels may not consciously exist. But I also know that the filmmakers were, with that sort of montage device, going for something... poetic. Something directly illustrative of the idea that rhythm permeates all aspects of "traditional" African endeavor (tending fields, pounding yam, carrying water, etc) and in fact that is really not far off the mark.
posted by flapjax at midnite at 5:12 PM on June 5, 2012


Something directly illustrative of the idea that rhythm permeates all aspects of "traditional" African endeavor (tending fields, pounding yam, carrying water, etc) and in fact that is really not far off the mark.

Yes, I think that's what made me a bit uncomfortable. I liked it as an editing technique, I thought it was really cool. But I guess I don't know enough about the truth of it as a cultural assertion that doesn't also apply to all manual labor based cultures. Given the US and European history of treating African as the repositories of a primal sense of rhythm and musicality, those aspects of the video trod a bit close to a common stereotype that I don't find to be particularly useful. I don't think the video was overwhelmed by that, I thought it was very well done, but that part was not my favorite.
posted by OmieWise at 5:17 PM on June 5, 2012 [1 favorite]


Something directly illustrative of the idea that rhythm permeates all aspects of "traditional" African endeavor (tending fields, pounding yam, carrying water, etc) and in fact that is really not far off the mark.

Dude. This is exactly the sort of thing the folks at Africa is a Country devote their time to knocking down (and rightfully so). Rural West Africa != Africa!
posted by asterix at 5:22 PM on June 5, 2012 [2 favorites]


yah, i'm missing what's so essentially *African* about any of this footage. this is all from one small village in Guinea.

i have done a lot of manual labor and, as anyone who has done such labor knows, rhythm is absolutely essential to maintaining endurance in the face of tedious work. this footage seems to exoticize this quite a bit. and too: the role of rhythm in public celebration? is this somehow essentially African?

this whole idea of essentially "rhythmic" Africans is more than a little problematic. especially coming from white folk.
posted by jammy at 5:32 PM on June 5, 2012 [2 favorites]


And as far as the notion that rhythm permeates all aspects of "traditional" African endeavor... I guess it also permeates all aspects of logging.
posted by asterix at 5:39 PM on June 5, 2012



yah, i'm missing what's so essentially *African* about any of this footage. this is all from one small village in Guinea.


I thought the film-makers themselves had specified that this was all based on Malinke rhythms - I didn't see any generalising 'African' descriptions in the film itself, just here in the post.
posted by Azara at 6:07 PM on June 5, 2012


I had the same concerns as others voiced here, and I'm certainly not trying to speak for flapjaxatmidnight, but I will say that this is a pretty beautiful musical film. There's no small amount of tension here.

It is a terrible and wonderful truth that the greatest boon to musical expression in the past 250 years (and quite arguably much longer) is the unintended result of American slavery imposed upon Africans. Along with the obvious emphasis of rhythm, this infusion of musical ideas also championed pervasive group participation, improvisation, and incorporation of musical celebration into the cracks and crannies of everyday actions. While this film focuses on a very particular region (ostensibly one with strong ties to native musical tradition) it still makes for a great vignette of the aspects of capital-A African musical tradition that have revolutionized the artistic world for the past couple of centuries.

Which is to say that I liked it.
posted by es_de_bah at 6:36 PM on June 5, 2012


Quick clarification: It's absolutely inevitable that these musical ideas would have spread without the historical event of slavery. I'm just trying to get a sense perspective on the tension and beauty of this film as fam framed it in the post . And yeah, the film-makers themselves don't say anything about this being emblematically African.
posted by es_de_bah at 6:40 PM on June 5, 2012


I haven't traveled widely enough in Africa to have an informed opinion about how pervasive rhythm really is, but I do know that I really, really want the hat the guy at the start of the film was wearing. (I've rarely had a more uncomfortable dinner than the one I had with some white missionaries at their field station in a small town in Africa, though, where they spent the whole time telling me how "animalistic" and "natural" the local Africans were; I'm too polite to argue with someone who is feeding me dinner but it's a perspective I wasn't wanting to hear in such detail.)
posted by Forktine at 8:13 PM on June 5, 2012


yah, i'm missing what's so essentially *African* about any of this footage. this is all from one small village in Guinea.
posted by jammy at 17:32 on June 5 [1 favorite +] [!]

Which is, *yah*, in Africa. So, your point is what? That this particular village in Guinea is so incredibly distinct in its culture as to be in no way representative of millions of rural villages across sub-Saharan Africa? Like, you won't find people doing any of these things outside of this town? Hmm. Yes, perhaps those *are* the only three women in Africa who pound their yams or grain in that elegant and utterly locked rhythmic way. Those blacksmiths as well, no doubt. And the myriad children you saw dancing so incredibly (you did see that, right?), those children are some sort of anomaly, surely. No doubt other kids across the continent do steps more akin to say, Irish jigs: hands locked to their sides, backs straight, toes up, down and occasionally out. Oh, and the adults, too: that amazing dancing you saw in the film, not by *professional* entertainers or anything, just by everyday folk, that kind of thing is strictly limited to this one small village in Guinea, for sure. Other Africans dance more like Russians, actually. Right.

Jammy, as someone who has travelled in Africa, studied music there, listened intensively to and focussed on the music and culture of the continent for, hell, the last 35 years or so, I can tell you that this small village in Guinea can, yes, can serve as a microcosm example of the kind of rural culture you're likely to find all over the continent. In that sense, yes, it IS *African*. It's not *European*, it's not *Chinese*, it's not *North American*. It's African.

Now, will expressions of rhythm across the vast continent be exactly the same? Of course not. There are, naturally, all sorts of variations of rhythmic expression. Different instruments used, different tools, different cultures that give rise to different shades of expression, and so forth. But I would argue that in traditional culture from Senegal to Uganda, from Nigeria to Botswana, from South Africa to Niger, from Kenya to Mozambique, there are common threads of musical sensibility that can only be defined as *African*. As distinct from European, Chinese, etc. Any of you are free to disagree with me on this point, but I'd also have to wonder to what extent any of you have really considered all this, and to what extent African music has been a real part of your lives, and for how long.

Rural West Africa != Africa!
posted by asterix at 17:22 on June 5 [1 favorite +] [!]

Uh, yeah, I think everyone (that is anyone who thinks about it at all) is aware that there is an urban Africa, that there are people who work, say, desk jobs in the cities, and whose daily lives are filled with the rhythms of typing or ringing telephones and not the pounding of mortars and pestles and the village drum maker or blacksmith. Absolutely. What, you're suggesting the filmmakers are somehow not aware of that, because they've chosen to focus here on a rural West African village? Or you're suggesting that the OP here (that would be yours truly) is not aware of that, because I used the term "African" instead of "Rural West African". Oh, really sorry, dude, to not be specific enough for you. But come on, you know what's being looked at and discussed here. Your looking to pin some sort of generalizing mindset on me for posting this and referring to it as "African" is, honestly, really coming off as some sort of cheap one-upmanship. Go find yourself another strawman, though.

That said, thanks for the link to Africa Is a Country, but no thanks for the condescending way in which you did it. Cause, you know, I'd wager I know a lot more about Africa than you do. If I'm wrong about that, I'll be pleased to discuss it further with you, though. As long as you treat me with a little respect.
posted by flapjax at midnite at 9:18 PM on June 5, 2012 [2 favorites]


Given the US and European history of treating African as the repositories of a primal sense of rhythm and musicality, those aspects of the video trod a bit close to a common stereotype that I don't find to be particularly useful.
posted by OmieWise at 17:17 on June 5 [1 favorite +] [!]

this whole idea of essentially "rhythmic" Africans is more than a little problematic. especially coming from white folk.
posted by jammy at 17:32 on June 5 [1 favorite +] [!]

The obviously well-intentioned disinclination to appear patronizing about any sort of African *rhythmic primalness* or *innate rhythmic ability* or whatever, is totally understandable. But when folks take it so far as to, oddly, seem to deny that there is in fact an incredible fountain of rhythmic excellence, beauty, complexity and power across the African continent that is simply not comparable to other world musical traditions, then one is, I dunno, blinded by good intentions, or something.
posted by flapjax at midnite at 9:25 PM on June 5, 2012


Or you're suggesting that the OP here (that would be yours truly) is not aware of that, because I used the term "African" instead of "Rural West African". Oh, really sorry, dude, to not be specific enough for you.

I don't care what you are or are not aware of. I care that the framing you chose in the OP perpetuates a particular stereotype of Africa, one that I think is far more widespread than you realize. (That's why I linked to Africa is a Country: so that you and others could see just how pervasive that stereotyping is. If you really haven't encountered it, you've been far more fortunate than I have.)

Seriously though, what would it have cost you to be a little more specific?
posted by asterix at 10:35 PM on June 5, 2012


Seriously though, what would it have cost you to be a little more specific?

What would it cost you to be a little friendlier, less fighty and not so pettily pedantic?
posted by flapjax at midnite at 10:39 PM on June 5, 2012 [5 favorites]


Might I also point out, with regard to the mention of "white people's" and "US and European's" apparently misguided (and, suggestively, racist) ascribing of a kind of all-pervasive, primal rhythm sensibility to Africans, it is an African who is making those points repeatedly in the film. Just wanted to make sure y'all remembered that. I quote:

"Everything is the rhythm."
"Everything, all work, all sound, is the rhythm".
posted by flapjax at midnite at 10:40 PM on June 5, 2012


Also asterix, sorry, but your link to the Coldcut clip to illustrate your apparent point that these filmmakers did nothing more than cut up random bits of footage and put them together, in a sort of sampling style like we see in the music of Coldcut and similar artists, really falls totally flat. The key difference is that this film was chock full of actual rhythms being made/played by actual people. Many of the rhythms were daily activities (pounding grain, for example) others were overtly musical, others were in between. The occasional synching of say, an axe hit to the music track was merely a bit of icing on the cake, a flourish. But the cake itself, ah, the cake itself is the little boys jamming like badasses on tin cans and plastic buckets. Playing music more rhythmically sophisticated than most any adults anywhere in the world could even get a handle on. The cake itself is the women's group playing the long calabash gourds. And of course the drum ensemble. That ain't no copy and paste ProTools sequencing, man.

Furthermore, the Coldcut thing wasn't even that great, actually. Kinda impoverished in the pocket department, really. They've put together much better tracks than that.
posted by flapjax at midnite at 10:57 PM on June 5, 2012


[Please take further derailing about geographic specificity to email or Metatalk. Thanks.]
posted by taz at 11:28 PM on June 5, 2012


I thought this was terrific, and did not think twice about it's locale. Because I've spent weeks and months doing manual labor that was only got through with rhythm (whether overt or implicit) I applied what he was saying to that experience.

I'll show this to the kids later, they'll get a kick out of it.
posted by From Bklyn at 1:23 AM on June 6, 2012


I liked that the film's use of silences. It is the accidental or deliberate punctuation of silence that gives birth to rhythm - then music then dance. I guess rural Guinean villages exist in a rather quiet world. Presumably those kids at around 7.20 lug those plastic containers to and from the water source daily - and I guess the journey is a bit long and tedious without some entertainment. I like the idea their parents did not object to them carrying sticks in their free hands to make music - even if the containers eventually got some holes beat into them.
posted by rongorongo at 3:16 AM on June 6, 2012


This is the sort of story that reminds of my uncle working at the rubber plant in Indonesia in the forties. Everything was rhythm, the hammering, the machines, the chanting of the workers. After work they kept the beat and played to this with the band (of factory workers).
posted by ouke at 5:10 AM on June 6, 2012


While it's true that most people aren't consciously aware of rhythm and intonation when speaking, we do all use them. Indeed, I've long wondered whether being "tone-deaf" is a societal construct that arises from mistakenly narrow definitions of "tone", because every time I've spoken with someone who believed themselves to be tone-deaf, I've noticed them using intonation and pacing (rhythm) just as properly as anyone else. Their voices were not blank slates into which anything could be read; they conveyed emotion through tone – essentially, that is music.

I started playing piano when I was 3; finally convinced my parents to get lessons for it when I was 5. Studied music through university. I also speak several languages (more and less fluently), and every time, the first things I pick up are the tones and rhythms. Six months of living in Finland, Finnish people who only heard me speak a few words (meaning, not advanced enough to mess up) thought I was a native because I hit their intonation (rather flat compared to English) and rhythms (really easy if you've been a musician and hit on the truth of Finnish "it's spoken like it's written"). I'm taken for a native French speaker as well, in spite of only having started learning at age 11. Same thing: tone and rhythm. This has always been clear to me; feel as if I'm singing when I speak a foreign language. In order to convince French people I'm originally American, I stop "singing in French" and start "using French words as an English song".

Great orators make conscious use of pacing (rhythm) and intonation (tone; "notes").
posted by fraula at 6:13 AM on June 6, 2012 [3 favorites]


But when folks take it so far as to, oddly, seem to deny that there is in fact an incredible fountain of rhythmic excellence, beauty, complexity and power across the African continent that is simply not comparable to other world musical traditions, then one is, I dunno, blinded by good intentions, or something.

I don't think that's really a fair characterization of my comments here. I've tried to be very specific about the limits of my concerns, and the limits leave plenty of room for appreciation here. I sent this video to all of my African friends, something I would not do if I felt very strongly about its being a bad presentation. (And they liked it!) I'm not sure how else to say what I've said, but if you go back, I think you'll see that none of it is assholish, or wildly overstated, or particularly sure of itself. I would characterize my general position here as diffident.
posted by OmieWise at 7:58 AM on June 6, 2012 [2 favorites]


OmieWise, you're one of those people here at the site for whom I have immense respect, and I don't for a minute doubt that you have a great awareness of the richness of African musical culture, so apologies for casting my net a bit too wide by including your "US and European" quote in that comment. Indeed your comments here were measured, well-spoken and appropriately nuanced. Sorry for getting a little paint on you with my admittedly overlarge brush.
posted by flapjax at midnite at 3:48 PM on June 6, 2012


No worries!
posted by OmieWise at 5:18 AM on June 7, 2012


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