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Book Commentary/Review – World Music: A Global Journey, Part VIII December 13, 2012

Posted by rwf1954 in Andrew Shahriari, Bahamas, book review, books, Caribbean, Cuba, Dominican Republic, ethnomusicology, Haiti, Jamaica, music, Trinidad and Tobago, world music.
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I indicated that my final blog post on this subject would be about Leonard Bernstein’s The Unanswered Question, a discussion of tonality and the nature of music. We will get there, but after a ten-part detour into commentaries on the book World Music: A Global Journey by Terry E. Miller and Andrew Shahriari. This is a logical detour after absorbing Bruno Nettl’s information about ethnomusicology. I will do individual blog posts about each of the areas covered in the book, focusing mainly on the musical examples provided. I will first comment on general observations about the area and the selections provided. I will then post specific notes on each individual selection. These comments are not intended in any way to be definitive exhaustive examinations of the types of music discussed. They are just my comments on the musical examples provided in the context of my discussion of music, physics and metaphysics. (Also, this study will contribute to the new music I am in the process of creating, an effort to meld many international styles together. This is not some politically correct effort to create a global music for humanity. It is simply my fascination, as a composer/music creator, with all the different sorts of musical approaches available to humans. Technology allows me to explore this fascination and create based on it.)

The Caribbean: Haiti, Jamaica, Trinidad and Tobago, The Bahamas, Cuba, The Dominican Republic

General Comments: This music is already a melding of disparate international styles—African with European/Spanish styles. We have complex rhythms underpinning “Western” tonality. This can be diatonic harmonies, and also the exotic modes and instruments of some of the music of Spain, including Arabic-tinged modes and instruments.

CD 3, Track 4 from World Music: A Global Journey
Haiti: Vodou Ritual
The solo-response African concept permeates this selection. It is raw and emotional, with a single thin voice emoting, backed up by a mixed ensemble with percussion instruments and a few “bamboo trumpet aerophones.” The melody lines derive from a pentatonic scale, in some places with moves reminiscent of a blues scale. The drums pound out a steady complex beat. The second half slows in tempo. The tonality appears to be the same, but the aerophone emphasizes a different pitch in the scale, making it feel even poly-tonal briefly.

CD 3, Track 5 from World Music: A Global Journey
Jamaica: Reggae
This is a familiar style to any casual listener of “Western” pop music, a style that has influenced “Western” pop artists and has also been popular on its own. This song is a tribute to Bob Marley by reggae artist Carlos Jones. The distinctive identifying feature is the off-of-the-beat rhythm section chords following the downbeat in either a quarter notes or eighth notes. The timbale fills at the edges of phrases in eighths and sixteenths. This is basically a I-IV vamp with a B section that slips briefly away, landing in V before going back to I-IV again. The instruments are “Western” pop—drum kit, bass, electric guitar, electric organ, with flourishes of exotic drum sounds added. The drum kit uses rim shots as opposed to snare hits, giving the music a lighter style than a typical rock song. The drum kit acts as a background anchor, a straight man for other, mostly subtle percussive effects.

CD 3, Track 6 from World Music: A Global Journey
Trinidad: Calypso
The vocals dominate, giving a philosophical statement in melody, but with the words clearly intended to be more important than the melody. This is a sung recitation over music. The instruments could be playing classical chamber music (except for guitar, bass and congas—but they all offer a quiet background rhythm). We have a piano, clarinet, trumpet and violin sounding melody lines and fills, sometimes in unison, sometimes in counterpoint. The music is minor-key tonal, slipping to the relative major for the B section before a strong V takes us unambiguously back to the minor key.

CD 3, Track 7 from World Music: A Global Journey
Trinidad: Steel Band
This is one of the most fun and distinctive Caribbean sounds. We have a percussion sound that plays pitches. These pitches can be used to play all sorts of music. Their detuned sound gives the notes a rich, exotic timbre. The sound doesn’t sustain, so tremolos and trills are needed to sustain longer chords. This selection is a I-IV-I-V little ditty that seems to capture the basic feel of the sound, the “standard” feel. But the timbre of this sound brings incredible possibilities, both on its own and as hybrid sounds realized electronically or by doubling.

CD 3, Track 8 from World Music: A Global Journey
Bahamas: Rhyming Spiritual
World Music: A Global Journeytells us that “Tories” fled the newly formed United States and took their black slaves with them to the Bahamas. This music lets us know they took their “negro spiritual sound” as well. This is the African solo-response concept. A solo voice sings out a line, and follows through on the song words while a small chorus of voices sings a repeated refrain. There is no percussion or other instruments. The cadences alternate between resting on the 1 and 5 of the scale. The scale is a major scale, but sometimes fuzzes the third, giving us a blues feel. When the lead vocalist reaches for the 7 of the scale, he hits a flat seven, giving us a Mixolydian blues feel at times.

CD 3, Track 9 from World Music: A Global Journey
Cuba: Son
Here is a clear blending of Spanish and African. Drums pound out a strong rhythm in four, with complex timbale rhythms filling the sound. The guitar gives this a Spanish feel, as well as the words in Spanish! A wailing, almost whining trumpet moves in and around the vocal lines. There is room for improvisation, sort of jazzy, but not totally. We have a long guitar solo that recalls flamenco and jazz. The tonality is harmonic minor, with a natural 7 and the flat 6. The vocal harmonies are in thirds. The i minor becomes a I7 to move to iv, then to II7 to go to V7 and back to I. The unambiguous third of the V7 chord gives us the melodic minor scale.

CD 3, Track 10 from World Music: A Global Journey
Dominican Republic: Merengue
We have a quick tempo here, in four, with accents on two and four. An accordion underpins the solo-response feel of the vocals. The chords are simple V-I, over and over. The accordion breaks into florid but simple scale lines during a break for a solo. The percussion instruments provide lots of motion, lots of notes, to bring energy and drive to the selection. This again is a blend of African and Spanish/Western European influences.

Personal Compositional Note: I love the steel drum sound, a distinctly Caribbean contribution to the world’s musical palette. I will be using that sound as part of the new music I will be creating. Also, there is a lot to learn from the way musical styles have melded in these Caribbean examples. The Cuban music brings together African rhythms with “Western” tonality and language. The example of the Dominican Republic merenge has an accordion playing joyfully over syncopated African type drums. The Caribbean example is an invitation to try anything—nothing is out of bounds.

The next post will move to South America and Mexico.

Previous posts from World Music: A Global Journey:
Book Commentary/Review – World Music: A Global Journey, Part I
Book Commentary/Review – World Music: A Global Journey, Part II
Book Commentary/Review – World Music: A Global Journey, Part III
Book Commentary/Review – World Music: A Global Journey, Part IV
Book Commentary/Review – World Music: A Global Journey, Part V
Book Commentary/Review – World Music: A Global Journey, Part VI
Book Commentary/Review – World Music: A Global Journey, Part VII

Previous posts on this topic:

Musicophilia: Tales of Music and the Brain by Oliver Sacks

This is Your Brain on Music by Daniel Levitin

Music, the Brain and Ecstasy by Robert Jourdain

Music and the Mind by Anthony Storr

Good Vibrations/The Physics of Music by Barry Parker

Measured Tones by Ian Johnston

Exploring Music by Charles Taylor

Music and Mathematics: From Pythagoras to Fractals, edited by John Fauvel, Raymond Flood and Robin Wilson

Harmonies of Heaven and Earth: From Antiquity to the Avant-Garde by Joscelyn Godwin

The Study of Ethnomusicology by Bruno Nettl