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West African Drumming and Dance in North American Universities

West African Drumming and Dance in North American Universities: An Ethnomusicological Perspective

Copyright Date: 2014
Pages: 304
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  • Book Info
    West African Drumming and Dance in North American Universities
    Book Description:

    More than twenty universities and twenty other colleges in North America (USA and Canada) offer performance courses on West African ethnic dance drumming. Since its inception in 1964 at both UCLA and Columbia, West African drumming and dance has gradually developed into a vibrant campus subculture in North America. The dances most practiced in the American academy come from the ethnic groups Ewe, Akan, Ga, Dagbamba, Mande, and Wolof, thereby privileging dances mostly from Ghana, Togo, Benin, Senegal, Mali, Guinea, and Burkina Faso. This strong presence and practice of a world music ensemble in the diaspora has captured and engaged the interest of scholars, musicians, dancers, and audiences.

    In the first-ever ethnographic study of West African drumming and dance in North American universities the author documents and acknowledges ethnomusicologists, ensemble directors, students, administrators, and academic institutions for their key roles in the histories of their respective ensembles. Dor collates and shares perspectives including debates on pedagogical approaches that may be instructive as models for both current and future ensemble directors and reveals the multiple impacts that participation in an ensemble or class offers students. He also examines the interplay among historically situated structures and systems, discourse, and practice, and explores the multiple meanings that individuals and various groups of people construct from this campus activity. The study will be of value to students, directors, and scholars as an ethnographic study and as a text for teaching relevant courses in African music, African studies, ethnomusicology/world music, African diaspora studies, and other related disciplines.

    eISBN: 978-1-62103-995-2
    Subjects: Music, Sociology

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. I-VI)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. VII-VIII)
    (pp. IX-2)
    (pp. 3-13)

    West African Drumming and Dance in North American Universities: An Ethnomusicological Perspectiveexplores the strong existence of a world music ensemble and genre in the American academy. For, ever since Mantle Hood’s introduction of world music ensembles into the ethnomusicology program at the University of California at Los Angeles in the early 1960s, West African drumming and dance have gradually become part of the soundscapes and cultural lives of other institutions. Beginning in 1964 at both UCLA and Columbia University,¹ a good number of North American universities have vigorously and wholeheartedly embraced the teaching, learning, promotion, support, performance, and reception...

  5. 1 HISTORICAL OVERVIEW OF WEST AFRICAN DRUMMING AND DANCE IN NORTH AMERICA From the Period of Slavery (1619–1863) until the Early 1960s
    (pp. 14-43)

    This book explores the strong presence of West African drumming and dance at North American universities, an ongoing process since 1964 that I describe as a resurrection. To offer a better understanding and appreciation of the reasons for calling West African drumming in the American academy a novelty, presence, and resurrection of a genre, it is crucial to situate this discussion by first evoking the broader a priori historical context that characterized the absence, disruption, and suppression of a symbolic musical tradition. Accordingly, I subsume this chapter under two historical phases: (1) Slavery (1619–1863), and (2) After Slavery until...

  6. 2 SELECTED UNIVERSITY ENSEMBLES History, Resources, Repertoire, Teaching, Learning, Performance(s), and Reception
    (pp. 44-97)

    This chapter provides narratives on the West African dance drumming programs at University of California at Los Angeles (UCLA), Wesleyan University (Middletown, Connecticut), University of California at Berkeley, York University (Toronto), University of Toronto, University of Pittsburgh, Tufts University (Medford, Massachusetts), Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), University of Mississippi (Ole Miss, Oxford, Mississippi), and Binghamton University, New York. But before discussing these selected institutions I visited as part of my ethnographic study, I provide information regarding other colleges that have African dance drumming ensembles, year founded, founding and current directors, and countries from which ensembles’ frequently performed genres and repertoires...

    (pp. 98-130)

    West African drumming and dance instructors and ensemble directors are an indispensable group of key players in this process and presence of a genre, a group I also call implementers. To facilitate understanding or appreciation of their agency as instructors and performers, I will classify them into groups before proceeding to their teaching approaches. Ensemble directors in North American universities can be subcategorized under (a) former master drummers of the Ghana National Dance Ensemble, or other west African national dance troupes; (b) Ghanaians or other West Africans who have pursued or are pursuing their doctoral or masters degrees in American...

    (pp. 131-155)

    Students are the primary target beneficiaries of West African drumming programs. In addition to Mantle Hood’s multi-musicality, other ends that the course or participation in ensemble offers include the acquisition of pre-compositional resources, team skills, new performance skills and perspectives, relational avenues, professional career development, and practical understanding of theoretical concepts associated with Sub-Saharan African drumming. DjeDje recalls how UCLA granted students’ request to make drumming an end or a performance subject (Interview, July 2007). Most students who take courses in West African drumming and dance are primarily motivated by their desire to learn about another culture and the opportunity...

    (pp. 156-187)

    In the previous chapters I have implicitly shown that the phenomenal changes that characterized the transformation of a genre from a state of neglect to that of serious embrace in the universities cannot be attributed to happenstance or only to broad changes in cultural landscapes and policies of American universities. Certainly, collective actions by groups toward change in any social, cultural, and academic context need to be acknowledged. However, this chapter provides an explicit discussion of categories of individuals who have significantly contributed and continue to contribute in establishing the presence of West African drumming and dance in their respective...

    (pp. 188-224)

    In chapter 1 I provided a historical overview of the fate of West African drums and drumming traditions in the African diaspora, tracing the changes that marked its diachronic trajectory, and then contrasting the period of absence to that of presence. Chapter 6 focuses on the presence. It explores what I metaphorically call the “fertility of the new cultural soil,” which resonates with the Ewe conception of establishing or founding a musical ensemble. Furthermore, West African dance drumming has developed into an important campus subculture of universities where it exists, along with other world music and canonic ensembles and bands....

  11. 7 WORLD MUSIC AND GLOBALIZATION West African Drum-Dance Ensembles
    (pp. 225-253)

    Economic and political ideology stubbornly assume center-stage thematic positions in discourse on globalization. Accordingly, it is not surprising when a student who walks into my world music class after leaving a class discussion on the global economy at an International Studies Institute, for example, challenges his world music teacher (myself) for “falsely claiming” globalization for the domain of music cultures. Certainly, such may not be the reaction of students from cultural studies, diaspora studies, ethnomusicology, anthropology, and other culture-related cognate disciplines. Yet, the lesson I learned from this classroom scenario is not to take the understanding of popularly used concepts...

    (pp. 254-266)

    This book reverberates a body of phenomenological truths about traditional African music, and these include West African dance drumming (1) is one of Africa’s most compelling expressive art forms, (2) is the most researched subject matter (specifically, its rhythmic structure), (3) was a suppressed genre during the period of slavery in parts of the African diaspora, and (4) is a resurrected genre in the North American academy under the auspices of ethnomusicology and world music. And although the fourth point is the central focus of this book, my awareness and/or partial discussion of the other preceding truths have helped me...

  13. APPENDIX A. Interviews: Consultants and Field Sites (University Campuses and Conferences)
    (pp. 267-268)
  14. APPENDIX B. A Survey for Student Members of Ensembles
    (pp. 269-279)
  15. NOTES
    (pp. 280-283)
    (pp. 284-291)
    (pp. 292-300)
  18. INDEX
    (pp. 301-314)