African Sources

A Selected List of Books, Recordings, and Videos of interest to students of African and African-Diaspora Music, Culture, and Religion

Compiled by Richard Hodges
© Copyright 1995, 1996, 1997, 1998

see also: Richard Hodges' Home Page

[items listed alphabetically]

Amadou Hampate Ba,  The Life and Teachings of Tierno Bokar, published in French by Editions du Seuil, 1980, Paris; English translation excerpted in Material for Thought no. 12, Far West Editions, 1990, San Francisco. A record of an islamic African traditional oral spiritual teaching.

 Paul F. Berliner, The Soul of Mbira, Univ. of Calif. Press, 1978, Berkeley. An in-depth study of Mbira musicianship and its cultural context among the Shona people. The Mbira is sometimes called the "thumb piano" in the west. Also contains information on how to make and play a traditional instrument. Several available recordings by the author and others are cited in the text.

Susan Preston Blier, African Vodoun, Univ. of Chicago Press, 1995 A study of sculptural and other representations of divinity in the Fon- and Evhe-speaking region of West Africa. Contains an interesting section on the etymology of the Evhe word for divinity "vodou,." which has the root meaning "hidden."

Philo Bregstein,  Jean Rouch and his Camera in the Heart of Africa, (Dutch Television production) An in-depth look at the film work of Jean Rouch and his associates from Niger who participated in production of many of Rouch's Niger-based films. Bregstein, Rouch, Damoure, Lam, their friend Tollou and others converse about filmmaking and filmmakers who have had historical influence in the field. Segments from several of Rouch's earlier film works are interspersed with the filming in Niger and with interviews. Some of the films from which clips are included and discussed by Rouch and Bregstein are Chronicle of a Summer, Moi, Un Noir, Tourou et Bitti, Battle on the Great River, Jaguar, Les Maitres Fous, The Lion Hunters, and Petit a Petit. Cinema du Reel, 1979

Samuel Charters, The Roots of the Blues, Quartet Books, 1982, London. An English musicologist on a quest doesn't find exactly what he is looking for, but encounters some of the real music of Africa.

John Chernoff, African Rhythm and African Sensibility, U. Chic. Press, 1979. An accompanying audio-cassette is available from the publisher. Also available are CD's based on Chernoff's field recordings: Master Drummers of Dagbon, vol. 1 (1985) and vol. 2 (1990), Rounder Records, Cambridge Mass., and a video Drummers of Dagbon, no. 5 in the Repercussions series. Chernoff is an American who visited Ghana to study its music. He records conversations with masters he met there and adds his own ideas on music and dance and their cultural and philosophical dimensions in African tradition.

Henning Christoph and Hans Oberlander, Voodoo: Secret Power in Africa, Taschen Verlag, Koln, 1996. Coffee-table photographic essay on contemporary practice of Voodoo in Benin. Photographs are excellent: visually striking, culturally interesting, and superbly reproduced.

Donald Cosentino ed. Sacred Arts of Haitian Vodou, UCLA Fowler Museum 1995. Catalog of the museum exhibition with stunning reproductions of Vodou paraphenalia. Especially interesting are the sequined flags carried in pairs during the ritual. Also has excellent articles on Vodou and its sources by a number of leading scholars.

Harold Courlander The Drum and the Hoe: Life and Lore of the Haitian People UC Press, Berkeley 1960.Also Haiti Singing Cooper Square NY 1973. Detailed, reliable ethnography of rituals and other aspects of Haitian Voudun culture. Includes many song texts and notation.

Denis-Roosevelt expedition, Primitive Music of Africa (LP recording), Mainstream records S/6021. An early field recording, with superb material.

Maya Deren, Divine Horsemen, Thames & Hudson, 1953. Other available material includes an LP record Voodoo Music of Haiti (Nonesuch) and a video Voodoo in Haiti (Mystic Fire Video). Divine Horsemen is the classic study in English of the Haitian Vodou religion, a new-world adaptation of African religious practices and ideas, in which music and dance play central roles. Deren, well-known as an avante-garde film maker before her encounter with Haiti, describes her own experiences in Vodou, including her possession by a "Loa" (Vodou divinity).

Leslie G. Desmangles, The Faces of the Gods: Vodou and Roman Catholicism in Haiti, Univ. North Carolina Press, 1992. A study of the intersection of African and European religious and cultural elements in Haitian Vodou (this spelling is based on the recently adopted Haitian orthography that replaces French spellings with pronunciation-based spellings. The author uses this throughout the book). Cultural context and historical background are brought to life by the Haitian-born author.

Dunham, Catherine, Island Possessed, U. Chicago Press 1969, and Dances of Haiti, Center for African-American Studies, Univ. Calif., Los Angeles (with photographs by Patricia Cummings). The famous African-American dancer records her encounter with Vodou in Haiti. She undertook several degrees of initiation. Her account of the Canzo initiation ritual is the only one extant in English by a person who actually underwent it.

Yaya Diallo and Mitchell Hall, The Healing Drum, Destiny Books, 1989, Rochester Vermont. An audio-cassette is also available from the publisher. An African's story of his childhood which included intensive training as a musician-healer of the Minianka tribe, a division of the Senufo.

Verna Gillis, Rara (video), Original Music, Tivoli NY. Also, Caribbean Revels: Haitian Rara and Dominican Gaga (CD), Smithsonian Folways CD SF 40402, 1991, Washington DC. A new world musical tradition based on Central African models, now associated in Hispaniola with Easter.

Marcel Griaule, Conversations with Ogotemmeli, Oxford Univ. Press, 1965, London. French anthropologist's seminal account of the complex metaphysical and spiritual inner teachings of the Dogon of the upper Volta region, revealed to him under conditions of an extraordinary trust which developed over years between him and his African hosts. Includes interesting material on the drum and its symbolism.

A. M. Jones, Studies in African Music, Oxford U. Press, 1959, London. Pioneering effort, still unexcelled, to annotate and understand an African music from an ethnomusicological perspective. Vol. 2 contains complete scores of several extended performances among the Ewe people of Ghana, with whom Jones worked.

Geoffry Haydon and Dennis Marks, Repercussions, Home Vision, 1984, Chicago. A series of seven one-hour video cassettes documenting African and African-American music and dance, with interpretive commentary.

Richard Hodges, Drum is the Ear of God: Africa's Inner World of Music, in Material for Thought no. 13, Far West Editions, 1992, San Francisco. A study of the way in which rhythm is integral to African spiritual culture.

Richard Hodges, The Quick and the Dead: the Souls of Man in Vodou Thought, in Material for Thought no. 14, Far West Editions, 1995, San Francisco. The African-Diaspora religious tradition of Haiti throws a fresh light on the meaning of the idea of the soul and its possible development.

Jahnheinz Jahn, Muntu: African Culture and the Western World, Faber, 1961. A classic study of African religious and philosophical ideas and practices. Jahn extracts a system of metaphysical categories as a framework for presenting a wide range of traditional, literary, and anthropological material on Africa. At times, his writing evokes profound depths of feeling and thought.

Gerard Kremer, Balafons et Tambours D'Afrique, Playa Sound CD PS 65034, 1989, distr. Auvidis, Gentilly, France. A good collection of music from several places in Africa.

C. K. Ladzekpo, Foundation Course in African Music (WorldWideWeb version). Practical course on African drumming technique, musical ideas, and cultural context by a great master drummer of the Anlo-Ewe people of Ghana (also see CIA factbook entry on Ghana) and Togo. Based on his extensive experience teaching African music to Westerners in the Music department of the University of California at Berkeley.

Original Music, a publisher and distributor of world music recordings, books, and videos, 418 Lasher Rd., Tivoli NY 12583. Their periodical catalog covers a wide range of African, African Diaspora, and other material. It contains generally dependable thumbnail reviews of the items they sell.

Georges Niangoran-Bouah, "The Talking Drum: a Traditional African Instrument of Mediation with the Sacred," in African Traditional Religions in Contemporary Society, Jacob K. Olupona ed., Paragon, 1991, New York. Has some beautiful translations of traditional poetry and sayings.

Robert D. Pelton, The Trickster in West Africa, a Study of Mythic Irony and Sacred Delight, Univ. of Calif. Press, 1980, Berkeley. Pelton, a Catholic priest who studied the History of Religions with Mircea Eliade, conducts a masterful hermeneutic exercise on four trickster traditions in West Africa: The Ananse (spider) stories of the Ashanti: the messenger-god Legba of the Fon; Eshu of the Yoruba; and Ogo-Yurugu of the Dogon. Pelton works with sources rather than field experience. He brings a profound spiritual scholarship to the material, with the result that we feel deeply into our own tradition as well as these African traditions.

Gilbert Rouget, Trance in Music, Univ. Chicago Press. Rouget examines a wide range of different cultural manifestations of trance involving music. Some of his data is based on his own field work in Africa and elsewhere. He enunciates a distinction between "shamanic trance" and "possession trance." In the former, the soul of the shaman is said to travel to other worlds; in the latter, a spirit of some sort is said to enter the body of the person possessed, temporarily displacing his ego.

Louis Sarno, Song from the Forest, 1993. Sarno hears a recording of the music of the pygmies and is called to go live among them. With extraordinary self-revelation and poignancy, he recounts the story of his reluctant acceptance by the Ba-Benjeli pygmies of Central Africa, and of his courtship and "marriage" to a pygmy woman. He also managed to record some remarkable music and sounds of their life on a portable cassette recorder (tape available from H. W. Targowski, London).

Thierry Secretan, Going into Darkness: Fantastic Coffins from Africa, Thames and Hudson, London, 1995. Photo-essay on the funerary practices of the Ga people of Ghana. The amazing carved and painted wood coffins are made by specialist craftsmen to remind of some important aspect of the deceased; for example a fisherman is buried in a giant silver sardine! The funerary processions shown are most interesting: the coffin is carried on the heads of the deceased's friends and relatives.

Malidoma Some, Of Water and the Spirit. Dagara-born Malidoma, a name which means "he who makes friends with his enemies," was kidnapped at an early age by Jesuits. Raised in a seminary, he was estranged from his village traditions. He movingly describes his struggles to return to the heart of his native culture. Later, he studied at the Sorbonne, receiving a doctorate. In this book, he brings a needed message for the West, about the importance of ritual, and the place of "Spirit" in the life of the community.

Paul Stoller, Cinematic Griot: the Ethnographic Film of Jean Rouch, University of Chicago Press 1992. Well-known African anthropologist Stoller places Rouch's epoch-making film oeuvre, created among the Dogon and Songhay of Mali and Niger, giving detailed descriptions of several films. These films range from "straight" ethnography to improvised fiction constructed from ethnic materials. A student of Griaule, Rouch was influenced by early twentieth-century currents including surrealism and postmodernism. He in turn had a great influence on contemporary cinema; he was the inspiration for cinema verite. His influence in cinema remains greater than in anthropology, where film is viewed, as Stoller documents, with suspicion. Stoller concludes that Rouch is at heart a Griot, a historian/storyteller in the African tradition.

Robert Farris Thompson, African Art in Motion, Univ. Calif. Press, 1974, Berkeley. An art-criticism approach to material artifacts associated with African dance and ritual, and to cultural and spiritual ideas connected with them. Many photographs of extraordinary objects including the great masks used in certain ceremonies.

Hugh Tracey, The Music of Africa Series (series of ten audio-cassettes), Traditional Music Documentation Project, 1972, Washington DC. Wide variety of traditional and early urban popular music, well annotated. Some of the recordings are old and not up to modern technical standards, but contain excellent material not available elsewhere. Hugh Tracey founded the International Library of African Music.

Colin Turnbull, The Forest People, Simon and Schuster 1961, New York. Selections from Turnbull's field recordings are also available as Mbuti Pygmies of the Ituri Forest, Smithsonian Folkways CD SF-40401, 1992, Washington DC. Agreat pioneering work, sympathetically portraying the Pygmies as a beautiful, highly spiritual people.

Lyall Watson, Lightning Bird, E. P. Dutton, 1982, New York. True story of Adrian Boshier, who went into Africa alone and encountered the depths of tradition. Interesting section on magic powers of certain drums.

White Cliffs Media, Lower Village, Gilsum, NH 03448, is a distributor of instructional videos and books on African music and dance.