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Language, Rhythm, and Sound

Language, Rhythm, and Sound: Black Popular Cultures into the Twenty-first Century

Joseph K. Adjaye
Adrianne R. Andrews
Copyright Date: 1997
Pages: 336
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    Language, Rhythm, and Sound
    Book Description:

    Focusing on expressions of popular culture among blacks in Africa, the United States, and the Carribean this collection of multidisciplinary essays takes on subjects long overdue for study. Fifteen essays cover a world of topics, from American girls' Double Dutch games to protest discourse in Ghana; from Terry McMillan'sWaiting to Exhaleto the work of Zora Neale Hurston; from South African workers toJust Another Girl on the IRT; from the history of Rasta to the evolving significance of kente clothl from rap video music to hip-hop to zouk.

    The contributors work through the prisms of many disciplines, including anthropology, communications, English, ethnomusicology, history, linguistics, literature, philosophy, political economy, psychology, and social work. Their interpretive approaches place the many voices of popular black cultures into a global context. It affirms that black culture everywhere functions to give meaning to people's lives by constructing identities that resist cultural, capitolist, colonial, and postcolonial domination.

    eISBN: 978-0-8229-7177-1
    Subjects: Language & Literature, Sociology

Table of Contents

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  1. 1 Introduction: Popular Culture and the Black Experience
    (pp. 1-16)

    In the past two decades, the study of popular culture(s) has undergone a dramatic transformation, moving from the periphery and neglected backwaters of academic disciplines to becoming a legitimate field of serious inquiry unto itself. In the process, a number of theoretical traditions and fundamental assumptions have been vigorously contested, challenged, or overturned. Simultaneously, the thrust of cultural studies has gradually shifted from “elite” or “high” culture to focus on mass culture and the everyday lives of “subordinate” groups. Yet, even as popular culture slowly enters the mainstream of academic pursuits, the study of blacks, “subcultures,” and cultural minorities lags...


    • [PART I Introduction]
      (pp. 19-22)

      Language, rhythm, and sound act to interconnect the people and (popular) cultures of a globally dispersed people, the people and cultures of Africa and its diaspora. Patterns of language use, rhythm, and sound connect these diverse yet similar cultures and underlie the themes that tie the studies in this volume together, pervading all the essays in one aspect or another.

      In part 1, “The Aesthetics of Culture,” we see these patterns revealed in the subtle nuances of the nonverbal discourse encoded in the patterns and rhythms of Ghanaian kente cloth (Adjaye); in sophisticated, oblique verbal discourses, a “high” art employed...

    • 2 The Discourse of Kente Cloth: From Haute Couture to Mass Culture
      (pp. 23-39)

      The past decade has seen the increasing popularization of kente accessories among African Americans. More and more graduating students all over the United States are donning kente at commencement ceremonies. Some college professors are also sporting kente stoles, often over their academic gowns. Kente stoles and ties are seen at school proms. At black churches, ministers, choirs, and some members of the congregation have equally taken to kente. Arican-American community leaders and politicians have similarly identified with kente.

      What is kente? What are its history and traditions? What symbolic meanings does it embody, and what transformations have occurred in those...

    • 3 Sarbeeb: The Art of Oblique Communication in Somali Culture
      (pp. 40-53)

      Most societies have stylized forms of discourse and ritual action that serve to establish indirect but powerful patterns of communication. The symbols and idioms for expressing a stylized discourse vary greatly, from the mundane to the sublime and from the ordinary to the bizarre. Among the Somalis of the Horn of Africa, the dominant medium for addressing a hidden discourse is poetry – oral and written. This is the form of art that pervades so deeply the social fabric of Somali society.

      The Somalis have been described as a “nation of poets” whose poetic heritage is intimately linked to the vicissitudes...

    • 4 Nana Ampadu, the Sung-Tale Metaphor, and Protest Discourse in Contemporary Ghana
      (pp. 54-73)

      This essay seeks to articulate the resilience and efficacy of the folk tale as a hidden political text and examine the thematic and literary undercurrents that have made it a rallying force for protest within Ghana’s contemporary political history. It is largely informed by the voice of a master narrator whose songs, spanning a quarter of a century, have virtually become a political charter, defining power relationships, lampooning political aberration, and advocating the restoration of ideal political values.

      Noted for their skills in indirection, the Akan of Ghana would rather “speak to the wind” than directly speak to the Supreme...

    • 5 Using Afrikan Proverbs to Provide an Afrikan-Centered Narrative for Contemporary Afrikan-American Parental Values
      (pp. 74-89)

      Proverbs contain the narrative wisdom of the people from whom they are derived. Stored within them are truth, wisdom, experiences, values, customs, and traditions. Their high status as cultural retainers is illustrated in the number of proverbs about proverbs among diverse cultural groups such as the Yoruba, Igbo, Kongo, English, and Arabic-, Spanish-, Japanese-, Persian-, and Turkish-speaking peoples.¹ By examining proverbs we can perhaps begin to understand the consciousness of the foreparents of Afrikan and Afrikan diasporan people and gain insight into their values and world view.² For Afrikan Americans, this task is extremely important in that it provides an...

    • 6 The Frustrated Project of Soul in the Drama of Ed Bullins
      (pp. 90-102)

      For more than a decade during the sixties and seventies, the turbulent drama of Ed Bullins reigned in the off-Broadway theater. The “theater of experience,” which Bullins helped create and in which he participated, cast blacks in the reality of the urban ghetto. Bullins’s aim was to deliver to a black audience a representation of their true selves, blackness “as it really is,” in spite of contrary demands made by more vocal black and white publics who sought to marginalize Bullins’s intended audience. By unmasking this reality, black audiences would engage in a kind of “mirror stage” appraisal of the...


    • [PART II Introduction]
      (pp. 105-108)

      The essays in part 2 describe a variety of complex, culturally derived mechanisms through which African Americans construct gendered selves, intricate identities of black and female (“blackwoman”) or black and male (“blackman”). While these two categories do not exhaust the multiple possibilities of gendered identities, they do encompass those described in this volume.

      In keeping with the theme of socially constructed identity, in chapter 7 Adrianne R. Andrews demonstrates a continuity in patterns and modes of constructing “blackwoman” identity across generations and regions among low-income African Americans – the “folk” who have come to stand for black popular culture. By analyzing...

    • 7 Of Mules and Men and Men and Women: The Ritual of Talking B[l]ack
      (pp. 109-120)

      Patterns of negotiating respect through verbal assertiveness, through the power of the word, are a part of a living tradition among black women in the African diaspora, including the United States. Evidence of the historicity of this behavior can be found in sociological literature as well as in fiction and folklore. In this essay I explore this tradition as it occurs in gender relations represented in the ethnographic data and folklore contained in part 1 of Zora Neale Hurston’sMules and Men(1935). This is a study of Hurston and her work as an anthropologist who collected folklore and produced...

    • 8 Debunking the Beauty Myth with Black Pop Culture in Terry McMillan’s Waiting to Exhale
      (pp. 121-133)

      In his celebrated essay “Towards a Black Aesthetic,” Hoyt W. Fuller opines: “Black writers have turned their backs on the old ‘certainties’ and struck out in new, if uncharted, directions. They have begun the journey toward a black aesthetic. The road to that place – if it exists at all – cannot, by definition, lead through the literary mainstreams. Which is to say that few critics will look upon the new movement with sympathy, even if a number of publishers might be daring enough to publish the works which its adherents produce.”¹

      By 1996, nearly a quarter of a century after Fuller...

    • 9 A Womanist Turn on the Hip-Hop Theme: Leslie Harris’s Just Another Girl on the IRT
      (pp. 134-145)

      The most discernible developments in the African-American community during the last twenty years have been rap music and hip-hop culture.² These poignant forms of black cultural expression are a result of the synthesis between the creative impulses within black America and the unique postmodern context that African Americans inhabit. Rap music and hip-hop culture are, in some ways, an imaginative response within the black musical tradition to the numerous forces of economic decline, social separation, intraracial division, cultural exploitation, and political despair that comprise the African-American context.³ As market forces would have it, however, much of rap music and hip-hop...

    • 10 Translating Double-Dutch to Hip-Hop: The Musical Vernacular of Black Girls’ Play
      (pp. 146-163)

      These comments capture the ideals of black cultural performance as observed in ring games, hand-clapping games, and double-dutch jump rope. These observations reveal the often overlooked significance of the musical behavior (songs, rhymes, chants, rhythmic hand claps, and dance) associated with the daily rituals of many young black girls. Black girls’ musical games promote the skillful development of musical authority that reflects blackness, gender, individual expressive ability, and the very musical styles and approaches that later contribute to adult African-American musical activities. I intend to show how these games act as oral, rather than written,études³for learning simple and...

    • 11 The Language Culture of Rap Music Videos
      (pp. 164-178)

      This study is a perspectival rhetorical analysis of the language culture in rap music videos created by urban male African Americans in 1993.¹ Using both the verbal and nonverbal discourse of rap music videos, this essay will compare the development of rap music to the evolution of the blues; it will trace the evolution of rappers we will call “organic intellectuals” while identifying their roles in the creation of a national popular culture (that is, a culture that reflects the perspectives of young urban blacks); and it will analyze the discourse of rap lyrics. The historical evolution of the communities...


    • [PART III Introduction]
      (pp. 181-184)

      Part 3 begins with an essay by Louis Chude-Sokei (chapter 12) concerning the multiple transformations in “inventions” of Africa as Jamaicans “navigate the complex postcolonial maze of late–Babylon culture,” inventions of Africanity that simultaneously embody cultural continuities and discontinuities. Chude-Sokei critiques what he perceives as the racial essentialism underlying Rasta’s universal roots, reggae, and “dread” knowledge. He asserts that the digital technology of dance hall sound offers new possibilities for constructions of African “authenticity” and identity, for this is where they are constantly invented, refashioned, and contested.

      In postcolonial Jamaica, Chude-Sokei argues, music is less concerned with romantic black...

    • 12 The Sound of Culture: Dread Discourse and Jamaican Sound Systems
      (pp. 185-202)

      Now that the dust has settled around that grand event, that spectacular black cultural explosion called Rasta, and an entirely new generation of diaspora articulation has come swaggering out of its mythic shadows (ashes?), I think we can finally ask the question: what was Rasta anyway? For to ask this question, freed of thezeitgeistof the cultural nationalisms of the seventies and freed of the rhetoric of repatriation and ethnic authenticity – in short, freed of negritude and its utopian myths – is to face the raw present of black diaspora, a present that is clearly in the process of inventing...

    • 13 “An-ba-chen’n la” (Chained Together): The Landscape of Kassav’s Zouk
      (pp. 203-220)

      The success of contemporary French Caribbean music can be traced to two popular musical forms – the biguine and mazurka² – and two traditional drum rhythms and dances (gwo kafrom Guadeloupe andbel airfrom Martinique). Among the black elite and the béké (white) urban population, the popularity of the biguine and the mazurka began to decline during the 1960s. This was largely due to the disappearance of thepunchs en musique(morning punch parties), the thé dansants (afternoon tea dance parties), and thebals(evening dances). Haitiancompas,Latin American salsa, and Dominican cadence-Iypso became the popular and preferred sounds....

    • 14 Mas’ in Brooklyn: Immigration, Race, and the Cultural Politics of Carnival
      (pp. 221-240)

      Contemporary scholarship on racial formation points out that race is a social construct, shaped by a confluence of discourses about policy, local politics, and cultural identity.¹ Less clear in this analysis is the role that popular cultures play in this always dynamic, always dialogic process. Focusing on the history of West Indian carnivals in New York City, this essay examines the many intersections of popular practice and official policy. Carnival, a Caribbean hybrid of African and European cultures, migrated with West Indian people to New York in the twentieth century and it changed along with their lives. Blending European Lenten...

    • 15 Popular Music, Appropriation, and the Circular Culture of Labor Migration in Southern Africa: The Case of South Africa and Malawi
      (pp. 241-256)

      In this discussion, it is assumed that the meanings behind the social and political trends within subaltern nationalities give way to the interest of transnational capitalism via the migration and appropriation of cultural expressions that serve the consumer fetish of capital and subliminally disrupt colonial discourse with the intrusion of the Other. The relationship between the cultural institutions of transnational capital (the entertainment industry) and indigenous Third World cultural expressions demonstrates the tendency of hegemonic institutions to absorb and control Third World images and the tendency of these images to puncture popular notions of pleasure. In conflict in this collaboration...


    • 16 Cultural Survivalisms and Marketplace Subversions: Black Popular Culture and Politics into the Twenty-first Century
      (pp. 259-272)

      African-American history is paradoxical. It can be characterized as one in which black people’s sustained and heroic struggle for freedom, equality, and justice has resulted in both greater and lesser degrees of each. Various struggles for and against parity for African-Americans have produced uneven and contradictory forms of black political and social progress and new forms of isolation and economic fragility. Much has been achieved, but great hurdles remain. As we approach the next century, what strategies can we imagine for responding to what will likely be newly figured and less visible means of social, political, ideological, and material oppression...