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WITCHCRAFT, AFRICAN MUSIC AND KODALY by Annetta Miller

Several years ago I was riding on a public transport van on my way to rehearse the Nairobi Orchestra in preparation for a rendition of Brahms Requiem. I opened the large conductors score and mentally rehearsed some of the difficult spots. The Kenyan man across from me nudged his partner and asked in Swahili, Is that a book? Indeed, it is a book, he replied, but what kind of a book? Then the lady next to me peered over my shoulder for a long time and then whispered to her neighbour, Ni uchawi! (Its witchcraft!) Witchcraft? I claim Brahms Requiem as part of my musical and cultural heritage. Witchcraft? The songs and dances of my co-passenger on the transport van comprise some portion of her cultural heritage. Trying to appreciate another cultures music takes time, energy and perception. Such music is too easily labelled witchcraft by those who do not understand it. During my more than 40 years in Africa, I have been trying to decipher and understand the music of Bantu East Africa, and I am convinced that cognitive anthropology is correct in its confirmation that cross-cultural understanding is not readily accessible. Indeed, some researchers would even insist that it is impossible. The closed worlds of cultures are designed primarily for intra-cultural exchange and only marginally for cross-cultural exchange.1 Bruno Nettl makes the point that what has been learned musically about a culture has usually been researched by musicological professionals from outside the culture; but of course, there are many factors which the musical outsider cannot know or fully understand. Nettl claims Kubik, Gerhard. Documentation in the Field. Scientific Strategies ad the Psychology of Culture Contact in Music in the Dialog of Cultures: Traditioal Music and Cultural Policy, ed. Max Peter Bauman. Wilhelmshaven: Florian Noetzel. 1991. p. 332.
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that the fundamental problem for ethnomusicologists is this interface issue, namely, the emicetic issue of understanding a culture from the outsiders point of view as well as seeing the culture as those within the culture see themselves.2 Malidoma Some, a shaman from Burkino Faso says, Every day we get closer to living in a global community. With distances between cultures narrowing, we have much wisdom to gain by learning to understand other peoples cultures and permitting ourselves to accept that there is more than one version of reality. To exist in the first place, each culture has to have its own version of what is real.3 I do not claim to possess the full view of the cultural insider. But my many years in Tanzania, Sudan and Kenya have taught me much. The more I observe and participate in African culture, the more convinced I am that the values of African life are reflected in the music. These are the un-stated values which form the basis of societys moral and social fabric. Expressed symbolically in music, the values are also apparent in religion, philosophy, in the healing arts, in conflict and conflict resolution. African music can be analyzed ad nauseam and classified by instrumentation, scale, tuning systems and forms. But if the underlying values which have produced such music are not understood, the most important ingredients are easily overlooked. In Nettls terms, values define the insiders view, in Somes terms, values refer to what is real. What does a discussion of these values have to do with Kodaly and music education? On the one hand, I must confess to a continuing struggle with the adaptability or appropriateness of Kodalys philosophy to African music, generally, and to the music educational system in Kenya,

Nettl, Bruno. Non-Western and Folk Music and Ethnomusicology. The Musical Quarterly, Vol. LXVIII, No. 2 April 1982. 3 Some, Malidoma. Of Water and the Sprit. Penguin Books. 1994. p. 7-8.
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in particular. On the other hand, the more I understand African culture and its music, the better equipped I am to apply Kodalys philosophy to it. The fundamental value in African culture is the high regard for the human being. This is seen in the greetings which people offer to each other. One shakes hands often, for in shaking hands I extend to the other a wish of well being. Time is not about money as it is in the West; it is about relationships. Time is deployed to advance social cohesion and community. Lateness often occurs because engagement with people takes precedence over punctuality. Haste, not taking time for someone else, is the greatest sign of disrespect. Time and life are rhythmic and repetitive. An old person who dies is reborn in his or her children or grandchildren. The sun rises and sets and rises anew. Time is simply a celestial rhythm with an infinite echo.4 Being is more important than doing. Being, in African culture, implies the value of lifeforce. Tempels defines this life force as the invisible reality of everything that exists, but is supreme in man.5 Hospitality is showered liberally, guests are always a blessing and never an intrusion. In many African languages, the word for stranger is also the word for guest. Relationships are built by eating together. Sharing is an important element of African culture. Respect and social acceptability are achieved through giving. Giving food, giving money, giving time and giving compassion are important. One must be seen to go to the afflicted, to weep and to suffer with those who suffer.

Kap-Kirwok. Does the African Culture Shut Out Modernization? NATION (newspaper) January 18, 1997. p. 19. 5 Tempels, Placid. La Philosophie Bantoue, as quoted in African Philosophy in Search of Identity by A. D. Masolo. Indiana University Press, 1994 p. 48.
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It is not considered impolite to ask for a gift. A request expresses friendship and strengthens mutual relationships. Expressing gratitude is not part of the culture, since life is defined as a mutual give and take. In all of this, we see that people exist only in deep relationship to each other. Initiation rites and rites of passage play an important part in the development of a person. It is through the rites that one experiences human relationships and thus becomes a person and a full member of the community. Malidoma Some tells of his month-long initiation into manhood. Initiation was a gruelling experience but upon his return to the village as a man, the exuberant circular dancing and the singing was the sound of homecoming, the kind that tells you that you are linked to the people who care. I liked what I heard, a melody never experienced before, so peaceful it produced within me a joy beyond definition. I understood that what makes a village a village is the underlying presence of the unfathomable joy in being connected to everyone and everything.6 Many African proverbs confirm the value of such relationships: -Swaziland: It is through people that we are people. -Malawi: Life is when you are with others: alone you are like an animal. -Swahili: We are our relationships. I am because we are: we are because I am. -South Africa: One person defines another. The proverbs indicate that Africans live in a culture of relationship in contrast to Western cultures in which the individual becomes the measure of life. How do these cultural affirmations relate to music? In Africa, music has to do with its social function, with the community; it is seen as the social glue holding these relationships together. Circumcision songs, funeral songs, work songs, praise songs, etc., are functional songs
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Op. Cit. Some. P. 301.

and not simply a decoration to life. Music is functional to the degree that many African languages have no distinct word for it. It is simply part of the human environment. Closely related to the importance of the human being are the community values of inclusiveness, participation and cooperation. The call-and-response songs characteristic of subSaharan Africa illustrate the importance of participation. One author says that without participation there is no meaning and again, the music of Africa invites us to participate in the making of community.7 The African philosopher and former President of Senegal, Senghor, says that while the European reason is analytic by utilization, that of the black man is intuitive by participation.8 In music, singing, of course, provides the greatest scope for participation, so much so that Africa is often referred to as the singing continent. In many southern African languages, the response in a call-and-response song is vuma, meaning to agree. So when you sing the response, you are participating and agreeing with me. Even listening demands participation, demonstrated by the uttering of what Westerners would call meaningless noises, such as Mm or Eh! In Africa such a response indicates that the listener is agreeing with or recognizing the speaker and participating in the conversation. The final value to be examined here has to do with ngoma which is a Bantu word referring to dance or drum or rhythm, though according to Peter Pels, its generic sense suggests that the drum is the embodied-danced, drummed or otherwise performed change in the rhythm of life that metonymically connects different states of being within society and beyond it.9 Chernoff, John Miller., African Rhythm and African Sensibility., University of Chicago. 1979. p. 23. 8 Senghor, L. S. LEsthetique negro-afracaine in Diogene (Paris) October 1956. pp. 202-3 as quoted in D. A. Masolo. African Philosophy in Search of Identity. Indiana University Press. 1994. p. 26. 9 Pels, Peter. Kizungu Rhythms: Luguru Christianity as Ngoma. Journal of Religion in Africa. Vol. XXVI Fasc. 2. May 1996. p. 108.
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Ngoma is a full-orbed embodiment of the African world view; a world view in which the living are linked with the ancestors. Newborns are often named after a deceased relative, an ancestor, thus linking the living with the dead. Some, the shaman from Burkina Faso, chides the Western world for not dealing with its ancestors. Why is it, he asks, that the modern world can not deal with its ancestors and endure its past? It is my belief that the present state of restlessness that traps the modern individual has its roots in a dysfunctional relationship with the ancestors. In many non-Western cultures the ancestors have an intimate and absolutely vital connection with the world of the living. They are always available to guide, to teach, and to nurture. They represent one of the pathways between the knowledge of this world and the next. Unless the relationship between the living and the dead is in balance, chaos results.10 The ngoma symbolizes the larger community of African culture; a community which includes the ancestors, spirits, and gods that communicate with and protect the world of the living. Drums are used to invite the spirits of the ancestors and to interpret their messages.11 The drum, as Some describes it, is a transportation device that carries the listener into other worlds To refuse to drum is to refuse to travel. To forget how to drum is to forget how to feel.12 In 1994 I attended the Panafest (cultural) Conference held in Ghana. As part of the introductory ceremonies, there was an elaborate procession of the chiefs, each of whom was accompanied by drummers to signify status. I was informed that drums and not a sceptre were symbols of chiefdom and represented voices of the ancestors. Op. Cit. Some. p. 9. Connor, Kimberly Rae. Conversions and Visions in the Writings of Africn-American Women. Tennessee Press. 1994. 12 Op. Cit. Some. P. 229..
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Even though the human values examined in this paper are being eroded in some measure by modern education, television, western films and videos and by urbanization, they nevertheless remain integral to African culture. Africa does use 20th century technology and enjoys consumer goods from the industrialized nations. In this regard, Africa looks to Japan and Korea as models: both of these countries have modernized and industrialized, but neither has surrendered its national cultural values. Where does the Kodaly philosophy fit into all this? In my own efforts towards applying the Kodaly philosophy of music in the Kenya music educational scene, I have followed my Western organizing impulse by collecting and analysing over 400 Kenya folk songs in anticipation of having them published for educational purposes. But in doing so, I am fully aware that I have severed these songs from their context and thus in some measure from the values these songs embody. Some says literacy has the effect of severing him from traditional values; It dawned on me that literacy, from the traditional point of view, occupies a space within the psyche that is reserved for something else. So my knowing how to read and write meant that I would never be able to access certain traditional knowledge as long as I lived.13 If literacy does this, how much more would music literacy sever one from certain traditional knowledge? For Africas functional music is not about literacy, but about a profound expression of human values. Samuel Huntington in his book, The Clash of Civilizations and the Remaking of the World Order, ascertains that the end of the Cold War has revealed more clearly the underlying forces that have always shaped history. Because we no longer view geopolitics in a misleading bipolar manner, it is now possible to see the world in its actual multi-civilization dimensions. His chief contention is that, far from integrating into some universal civilization, the world is instead undergoing a process of indigenization, whereby non-Westerners are becoming more
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Ibid. pp. 178-9.

confrontational and re-assertive, defining characteristics of their own civilizations, often in ways highly antagonistic to the still dominant, but declining West.14 In closing, I quote again from Some, the African voice; Alienation is one of the many faces of modernity. The cure is communication and community a new sense of togetherness. By opening to each other, we diminish the pressure of being alone and exiled Because the world is becoming smaller, people from different realities can benefit from learning about and accepting each other. The challenge of modernity is to bring the world together into a unified whole in the middle of which diversity can exist. The respect for difference works only if connected with this vision.15 In the coming century it is imperative, as Kodaly says, to have an educated mind, with the ability to appreciate music in its actual multi-civilizational dimensions, trying always to discover the insiders view or what is real. For it is through such understanding that we can join hands globally, realizing that music made (and may I add understood) together may one day heal mankind.16

XIIIth International Kodaly Symposium Manila, Philippines August 1997

Footnotes

Huntington, Samuel P. The Clash of Civilizations d the Remaking of World Order. Sion ad jShuster, New York. 1996., 15 Op. Cit. Some. pp.. 10 and 13. 16 From the theme song of the Kodaly Center of America..
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1)

Kubik, Gerhard. Documenttion in the Field. Scientific Strategies and the Psychology of Culture Contact in Music in the Dialog of Cultures. Tradtional Music and Cultural Policy. Ed., Max Peter Baumann. Wilhelmshaven, Florian Noetzel. 1991. p. 332.

2)

Nettl, Bruno. Non-Western and Folk Music and Ethnomusicology. The Musical Quarterly, Vol. LXVIII. No. 2. April 1982.

3) 4)

Some, Malidoma. Of Water and the Spirit. Penguin Books. 1994. p. 7-8. Kap-Kirwok. Does the African Culture Shut Out Modernization? NATION (newspaper) January 18, 1997. p. 19.

5)

Tempels, Placid. La Philosophie Bantou, as quoted in African Philosophy in Search of Identity, by A. D. Masolo. Indiana University Press. 1994. p. 48.

6) 7)

Op. Cit. Some. p. 301. Chernoff, John Miller. African Rhythm and African Sensibility. University of Chicago. 1979. p. 23.

8)

Senghor, L. S. LEsthetique negro-afracaine in Diogene (Paris) October 1956. pp. 202-3 as quoted in D. A. Masolo. African Philosophy in Search of Identity. Indiana University Press. 1994. p. 26.

9)

Pels, Peter. Kizungu Rhythms: Luguru Christianity as Ngoma. Journal of Religion in Africa. Vol. XXVI Fasc. 2. May 1996. p. 108.

10) Op. Cit. Some. p. 9. 11) Connor, Kimberly Rae. Conversions and Visions in the Writings of African-American Women Tennessee Press. 1994. 12) Op. Cit. Some. p. 229. 13) Ibid. pp.178-9.

14) Huntington, Samuel P. The Clash of Civilizations and the Remaking of World Order. Simon and Shuster. New York. 1996. 15) Op. Cit. Some. pp. 10 and 13. 16) From the theme song of the Kodaly Center of America.