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Priestess of Yeve in Sacred Ritual Dance

Foundation Course

Some Facts About Sub-Saharan Dance-Drumming

By C. K. Ladzekpo

Sub-Saharan Dance-Drumming

Dance-drumming in sub-sahara African tradition is not only a fulfilling creative art, but also an ancient institution of learning and perhaps the nerve system in the development of the sub-saharan human infrastructure. Among its most important activities in implementing the sub-saharan collective agenda, it serves as an essential catalyst for articulating traditional praise-worthy attributes, manifesting them into images of life, putting them on display, and crowning them with glory for the elevation of participants as well as spectators. Dance-drumming, in a sub-sahara African tradition, is a drama of people performing well in life.

A cursory glance through the annals of sub-saharan dance-drumming is not only a mere experience of some masterpieces of human creative art, but a fascinating adventure through essential dimensions of a civilization, its collective priorities, the skills of their implementation and the philosophies that inform them.

Technique of Cross Rhythm

The most important tool of the sub-saharan dance-drumming idiom is the technique of cross rhythm.

In a primary artistic sense, cross rhythm is a simultaneous use of contrasting rhythmic patterns within the same scheme of accents or meter in the process of developing a dance-drumming.

In a broader sub-saharan cultural sense, the technique of cross rhythm, is an instituted preventive prescription for extreme uneasiness of mind or self-doubt about one's capacity to cope with impending or anticipated problems.

The evolution of the technique of cross rhythm spans several centuries and remains one of the oldest communal sound mental health development techniques.

In a highly developed, creative and systematic interplay of varying rhythmic motions, the dynamics of contrasting moments or stress phenomena likely to occur in actual human existence are simulated.

These simulated stress phenomena or cross rhythmic figures are embodied in the art of dance-drumming as mind nurturing exercises to modify the expression of the inherent potential of the human thought in meeting the challenges of life. The premise is, by rightly instituting the mind in coping with these simulated emotional stress phenomena, intrepidity or resolute fearlessness is achieved.

Intrepidity, in sub-saharan view, is an extraordinary strength of mind. It raises the mind above the troubles, disorders and emotions which the anticipation or sight of great perils is calculated to excite. It is by this strength that ordinary people become heroes by maintaining themselves in a tranquil state of mind and preserving the free use of their reason under most surprising and terrible circumstances.

Sub-Saharan Drums

In a primary sense, a sub-saharan drum may be defined as a vibrating membrane fastened across the mouth of a cylindrical body caved out of a solid tree-trunk. Striking the membrane with a stick or hand sets up a vibration that is reinforced by the air column within the hollowed solid tree-trunk.

In a sub-saharan understanding, a drum is a super projection of the human voice. In this view, the role and power of the drum in play embodies the sub-saharan concept of combining natural forces of the universe in forming the supernaturals. In the composition of this conscious experience, human force is combined with other natural forces - skin of animal, hollowed solid tree-trunk, etc. - as a medium in arousing the attention and reaction of mankind. In a variety of tonal properties - pitch, timbre, intensity, and intricate rhythms - the drum and the drummer, in mutual cooperation, create patterns of consciousness that give a moment of inspiration to those they touch.

Among the Anlo-Ewe of southeastern Ghana, a legendary metaphor, "ela kuku dea 'gbe wu la gbagbe" which means, "a dead animal screams louder than a live one," is commonly used to explain the human experience that inspired the origin of the drum. A human being has a tendency to attract a lot more attention when dead than when alive. So when the need came to communicate louder, a super voice surrogate was built out of a skin of a dead animal that could deliver the message louder and clearer.

© Copyright 1995 C. K. Ladzekpo
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