zaterdag 1 augustus 2020

Reparations

A perhaps less widely known aspect of the Black Lives Matter movement - arising in the USA - is their call for reparations for slavery, formulated as such in 2020. This was an actual contrete, tangible - and centralized - advise and guideline aimed at the US government.

One might say that it got drowned in the recent upsurge of attention for the movement, as worldwide protests were organized against racism in, mainly, the form of police violence. This became the main focus, also of the Black Lives Matter movement following George Floyd's death. That movement was essentially decentralized in character, and therefore uncoordinated, but some centralized aspects, including repatriation proposals became part of it, as said in 2020.

Of course, this is not a new theme: reparations for trans-Atlantic slavery of Africans and their decendants, knowing several national variants. The Rastafari movement in Jamaica proposed it in 2004, having calculated a sum of 129 billion dollars to be paid to African descendants in Jamaica, especially by Britain, with as more specific goals also financing with it the resettlement of 500.000 (Jamaican) Rastafarians in Africa.

This 2004 initiative was a shared initiative by all six Rastafari "houses" (sub-organizations) in Jamaica.

DEBATES AND RECOGNITION

Since then it remained an ongoing debate in Jamaica and the United Kingdom.

Yet not just there. I used to work in a scholarly library, with a large Caribbean collection in university town Leiden,in the Netherlands. Mostly, though not exclusively, focussed on former Dutch colonies in the broader Caribbean region (Suriname, Netherlands Antilles). Less known is that also what is now Guyana was for a period a Dutch colony, later taken over by Britain.

The institute was historically focussed, and was largely aimed at, historian scholars, as well as Caribbeanist (other social science) scholars. Of course, many books in the collection dealt with the history of slavery in the Caribbean (Dutch colonies or not). I worked with these books, having catalogized and described many. I even made summaries of them.

Personally, I learned a lot from all this historical knowledge about slavery and colonialism - naturally -, but I recall also from that period that the institute (KITLV) got involved in public debates about slavery, recognition of the Netherlands' slavery past, and also reparations. The particular institute - for more information, see http://www.kitlv.nl - was seen by many Afro-Surinamese activists and commentators as too White and conservative. Understandable, since it was old, and founded when slavery was actually still going on in former Dutch colony Suriname (1840s).

Historians working at the institute, including those I eventually worked under, claimed they were professional and ethically, just neutral "researchers", without public political stances on the issues they study.

This is hard to ensure, however. Corruption, biased choices,and conflicts of interests, slipped in there too, though maybe not as intensive as in the medical and health sciences, now almost under a pharmaceutical hold.

More relevant for this specific post, I remember from the debates the arguments put forth in favour or against reparations by these scientists and scholars in the Dutch context. As elsewhere the predictable argument: the descendants or directly affected are no more alive, was used as argument against Dutch reparations for slavery.

I recall also how excuses for the Dutch slavery past also became a debate issue, as during my time there, the "slavery monument" in Amsterdam's Oosterpark was unveiled, a ceremony involving speeches, and surrounded by wider media attention. This was in 2002, and on 1 July, the date when slavery was formally abolished in Dutch colonies in 1863 (1 August, 1834/38 in British colonies).

Unfortunately, this whole ceremony was tainted, as for the "official" part only official delegates, including the Queen of the Netherlands, were admitted, while the rest of the audience and public were barred off, including many actual Surinamese and other descendants of slaves). This led to some tensions. Still a nice gesture and monument (by the meanwhile deceased artist Erwin de Vries), but it started off somewhat tense, let's say..

Anyway, I found out in that period that words by (the Netherlands') heads of state, and prime-ministers were chosen carefully for legal reasons. "Excuses" for the Dutch slavery past were never given as such, but rather "recognition" of the "regrettable" period ("spijtbetuiging" in Dutch) was the farthest politicians went. Anything closer to formal excuses would open the legal door for, well, reparations. The same - no "formal" apologies by politicians - applied to other European countries (Britain, France a.o.).

Again, this shows, that the reparations for slavery are "under debate" and problematic in several countries. The 2004 proposal by the Rastafari movement (and others) in Jamaica for the mentioned sum of 129 billion dollars for African-Jamaicans, and resettlement of Jamaican Rastafari-adherents in Africa, also never materialized.

Also in the Netherlands, some proposals have been made, to no avail.

The same applies to colonies of other countries involved in the slave trade and slavery, like France, the already mentioned USA, Portugal,and other countries.

I think it will be of little use to describe here all those separate, international "initiatives by organizations and spokespersons for reparations for slavery" in detail (these can be found elsewhere), but I find it more interesting to - upon acknowledging their existence (and recent reappraisal as part of the internationalized Black Lives Matter) - to reflect upon whether this reparations claim is sensible.

Personally, I consider myself part of the Rastafari movement. I am also in favour of reparations, but after careful deliberation. I once joked with an acquiantance when discussing this theme informally that "I'm a Rastaman so I have to be in favour of those reparations for slavery". That was simplified, and I knew it, but still not totally untrue. A serious joke. Not only in light of the already mentioned 2004 proposal by the Jamaican Rastafari movement, but also seeing the history and origins of the Rastafari movement.

MARCUS GARVEY

The main prophet of the Rastafari movement, Marcus Mosiah Garvey, founded an organization called the Universal Negro Improvement Association (UNIA). Most of his thinking, organizing and activities were aimed at just that: improvement of the position of African and Black people worldwide. Not just culturally and mentally, but including material and political aspects.

The difference with some reparations proponents elsewhere, and especially later, was his focus of liberating the African continent from colonial rule. Naming himself the provisional president of Africa, Garvey even tried during his lifetime to negotiate with European powers on an equal level to take control over parts of Africa, such as those abandoned by the Germans after losing World War I. Respectably ambitious, but as could be predicted, he and his envoys were ignored by European delegates, wanting to keep colonial control over Africa. Former German colonies in Africa went mostly to Britain, France, and Belgium.

This points at some wider problems with this reparations for slavery demand: unequal power structures in this world. The historical trajectory is crucial to consider too. When Britain and France started to abolish slavery in the 1830s and 1840s they already started to colonize most of the African continent. Africans thus remained dependent on Europe on a global scale.

COLONIZING AFRICA

The cynical truth was thus that people with origins in Africa saw since then their original homeland and motherland being taking over by the same Europeans once enslaving them. The ambition and dream of repatriating to the motherland, certainly lived on and was cultivated in the African diaspora in the West - to differing degrees -, and Marcus Garvey worked that out most. The Rastafari movement kept and keeps that vision going, and Emperor of Ethiopia Haile Selassie - another important person for Rastafari-adherents - set some land apart for Rastafari wanting to repatriate to Africa, specifically Shasamane in central Ethiopia, in the 1960s.

African Americans also repatriated over time in part to Liberia and Sierra Leone, taking even the role of elite over indigenous ethnic groups, while also - more haphazardly - a number of Afro-Brazilians and Afro-Cubans (of Yoruba descent) were able to repatriate to countries like Nigeria, though more "blending in".

IN FAVOUR OF REPARATIONS

Arguments in favor of reparations seem in reality quite obvious to me. Slaves could not save money to give on to next generations (unlike free white, European settlers in colonies). This caused a severe and lasting economic disadvantage among Black people in the West, continuing in the present.

European countries and the US without a doubt benefitted strongly from slavery gains. This has been documented enough.

A distinction must be made maybe between the ways it enriched European countries: creating wealthy families as concentrated wealth (Spain, Portugal), or more long-term and effectively "invested" in industry (Britain, Netherlands, France).. In fact the Industrial Revolution in Britain had a worldwide impact and was largely funded by colonial and slave trade and slavery gains of the British in the Caribbean. Birmingham in England was worldwide the first "industrial city" as such, largely financed by colonial and slavery profits. This is not even very known widely, world wide, I think. Trinidadian scholar (and later politician) Eric Eustace Williams studied this history for his 1980 work 'Capitalism and slavery'.

In Spain, only in more industrialized Catalonia a similar industry-stimulating effect took place, as relatively many (wealthy, industrialist) Catalans invested in slavery in the Spanish Caribbean (especially Cuba) as slavery increased in Cuba in the mid-19th c., for a period. Catalonia is still one of the most wealthy and industrialized parts of Spain. The same "blood money" ended up in earlier stages more in mainly luxury spending and palaces in Portugal and Spain by early colonizers that went with Columbus, and probably even as sudden wealth of early English pirates/enslavers as John Hawkins. Eventually, though, it stimulated the wealth and economic prosperity in several European countries.

It is okay to focus on and "shame" certain banks and other companies in Western countries that were once involved in slavery, but the economic effects were much broader for Europe and the US. More and more the actual slave-owners and their families and descendants are also known, and it is even recorded well now how much and which slaves they owned. Some inhabit now -ironically - the same European cities (London, Amsterdam, Paris, Lisbon, Barcelona) as descendants of these very slaves.

The long-term, cross-generational effects of the trans-Atlantic slave trade are thus evident, and the argument that " the slaves are no longer alive" thus invalid.

MONEY AND POWER

Unfortunately, in this world we live in, you need money and power to get things done. Power and money mutually enforce each other. Also, political craftiness and privileged positions play a role. Japan and Germany up to recently are still paying reparations to several (citizens of) European and Asian countries for the damage and deaths during World War II. Germany also paid reparations to Jews, and others affected and (decsendants of those) killed by the Nazi regime.

In light of the interrelation between trans-Atlantic slavery, European colonialism , and European dominance over Africa for so long, I think a global approach to these reparations is needed, more than in national cases of reparations (former national dictatorships or human rights abuses), or even wars between some nations.

The degrading and dehumanization of Africans has been global and worldwide for over 500 years now, pepetrated mainly by Europeans, but also Arabs, and and in the wider Islamic world. This resulted over time in an unequal power relation, and much higher poverty rates of African(-descended) people, and a disadvantage of both Africa as continent and the African Diaspora vis-a-vis Europe. History teaches us that this is no coincidence.

This inequality needs "repairing" both culturally/ mentally, and materially. Garvey's focus on Africa has not become the mainstream of the Black Power movement, time has shown. The Nation of Islam chose to focus on (sepatration from Whites within) the USA, and became over time much more influential than Garveyism, or its offshoot the Rastafari movement. Other movements, including the Black Lives Matter one, are also mostly locally, nationally oriented.

BLACK

Even the normalized term "Black" for African-descended people shows that. I have mixed feelings about that term as replacement of Black for African, especially as the cultural connection got somewhat ignored in it, due to a lost connection - largely - with the African origins. Furthermore, it simply does not seem terribly intelligent to name a people or supposed culture after something visual and superficial.

Very relevant with all this, is that Africa has moreover never become a superpower (like now China, US, EU, and Russia) the world has to consider as equal and respect, as Marcus Garvey once envisioned and worked for. In the present, certainly not. Instead Black people in the African Diaspora try to integrate for better and worse in White-dominated countries.

I know, the culturally genocidal loss of languages and last names of Africans that came with trans-Atlantic slavery, makes that these Africans are not so much to blame for this, and make an integration and equality aim in "white man countries" to a degree understandable. Unlike Chinese in e.g. California they learn no languages of their motherland at home with their parents, and neither know their original families surnames. Unlike other migrants, even semi-forced ones like contract labourers, the Africans transported to the Americas, after all even lost their family names, and their languages. These African-descended people instead grew up with (partly Africanized variants of) European languages, some (mixed) retentions of African cultures, and formalized European slave names (Johnson, Williams, Condé, De Souza, Ferrer, Ronde, Seedorf, etcetera, etcetera).

This still shows the global power inequality Africa as continent, and its children, continue to suffer in the present.

With this massive, structural global inequality, reparations are therefore needed all the more, but also, and with a sad irony, harder to achieve.

woensdag 1 juli 2020

Burru

"Burru" is one of those terms that many Reggae fans, and/or Rastafari-sympathizing people, will encounter at one point. It is a term for an Afro-Jamaican folk music form on drums, maintaining much of its African origins, specifically from the Ashanti (Akan) people of present-day Ghana.

Somehow it might be known that it influenced Jamaican Nyabinghi and Reggae music. I know this much too. And a bit more. Yet still, I would like to examine the relationship between Burru, Nyabinghi, and Reggae music more in this post.

I am a Reggae fan and also a percussionist. I even play(ed) Nyabinghi drums too, so all this is - you might say - up my alley.

This does not mean that I know everything about these interrelations, and I hope to find out more through this post, and hopefully my readers too.

SLAVERY

I know from several sources over the years (books, documentaries), that Burru was an African (Akan/Ghana region) drum music genre already played among Africans during the slavery days in Jamaica. It was especially played on plantations in the (then plantation-rich) parish of Clarendon, in Central Jamaica.

Verena Reckord is a (Jamaican) scholar who researched and wrote on Burru quite a lot.

Though African drum music was seldom allowed and even banned in many slave societies, especially by the British and Dutch (Protestant) colonizers (Catholic feast day's and organizations formed an outlet for African traditions in Spanish and Portuguese colonies), the Burru was the exception to the rule, and allowed to be played on many plantations. This was so because the white slaveowners noted it kept the slaves working, as a metronome function. Of course, self-interest and monetary, productive reasons motivated this.

KINGSTON

When slavery was abolished in Jamaica (in 1838), the former slaves who played the burru drumming on plantations, went more than others to urban centers like Kingston's ghetto's and shanty towns, supposedly - as some scholars indicate- because their attention to drumming on the plantations went at the cost of agricultural skills. Many Burru players thus ended up in ghetto, downtown ghetto areas of (mainly Western) Kingston, like Dungle, by the early 20th c..

INTERCHANGE

The same poor areas where many early Rastafari adherents came to reside, as the Rastafari movement developed since the 1930s, and after the Rastas were bullied and forced away from earlier, more rural villages they tried to develop (notably Pinnacle in the parish of St Catherine). The African retentions in Burru, of course, appealed to the Afrocentric Rastafari, and a shared location and social position secured more bonds and interlinkages between the Burru people and the Rastafari.

Very simply put, some authors describe the interchange as such: Rastas had no music as such of their own, but had an own religion/faith, partly an Ethiopian/African rereading of the Bible, while in turn the Burru had an own music, but no African-based religion. Many of the latter Burru thus turned Rastafari, while the Rastas, in turn, started playing drums in the Burru tradition, eventually into what became known as "Nyabinghi" drumming.

NYABINGHI

This seems a clear, one-on-one exchange, and poignantly put rhetorically, but is also a bit simplified. Burru was - as I studied it more - only one of the influences on the "Nyabinghi" drumming of the Rastas.

There survived - after all - also other maintained African traditions in Jamaica, notably the Kumina music and tradition, especially in Eastern Jamaica, more of Congo (Central African) origin, and a few other festive ones, like Jonkonnu, and in Black Church music.

INFLUENCED CHANGES

While the three-part "kete" drum set of present-day Nyabinghi drummers, is clearly modelled after Burru traditions, rhythmically and musically there were some changes over time. The "heart beat" rhythmic pattern comes rather from Kumina drumming. Kumina drumming is overall faster than Burru or Nyabinghi, and also more complex polyrhythmically, but has that heart beat base.

Other influences slipped in too. Other Jamaican folk traditions can be mentioned, like the somewhat fast and lively/frantic Pukkamina (Africanized church music), and Jonkonnu (Afro-Jamaican procession music, of mostly Igbo origin). Besides these Afro-Jamaican folk traditions, the popularized music by (Nigerian) Yoruba musician Babatunde Olatunji, notably through the internationally renowned album Drums of Passion, reached Rasta drummers in Jamaica too, along with other influences (local Jamaican Maroon music, though more isolated than Burru or Kumina), and from other non-Jamaican Afro-Caribbean traditions.

Some shifts occurred, thus, from the original Burru patterns.

COMMUNITY

The community function of African drumming might be quite well known. This was also retained in Burru drumming, continuing traditions as known in Ghana, among the Ashanti, such as praise-songs, or commenting on local events, and also calling out local "sinners" in front of their house. This sounds like some conservative "naming and shaming" through drum and chant, but the thus "shamed" (for e.g. stealing, or adultery), could respond in his defense with another song. It is in this sense more "culture" and communication, than just chastising.

Something of this community "social cleansing" function was maintained in Burru, though not fully, and differently. Celebrating people released back into the community, after release from prison, was one of those "later" functions Burru music festivities obtained.. Celebrating therefore togetherness and community reunion.

Interestingly, with Nyabinghi, the Rastafari gave this drum gathering a more direct spiritual function, combined with the community "reunion" function.

DRUM(MING) STYLES

The three-part drum set follows African, Ghanaian models, but neither exactly. It consists of a bass drum, a medium-pitched Fundeh drum, and the higher-pitched Repeater drum. The relatively small cylindrical drums used in Burru and leter Nyabinghi are called (A)kete drums. This term can be confusing when it relates to present-day Ghana, where the term kete is more used for a (royal) drum ensemble, with not even that shape of drum (but "rounder" drums).

The cylindrical drums that are called Kete in Jamaica now, with open bottoms, are nonetheless found historically in Africa (e.g. in the South Nigeria and Congo regions), so it is still an African retention. Strictly speaking, the two attached drums of the well-known Afro-Cuban "bongó" (bongos) of Eastern Cuban origin - under strong Congo region African influences - are also "cylindrical", only shorter than what in Nyabinghi is called the Kete drum.

That is the shape, but also musically there came changes, by the 1950s, with Nyabinghi. In Burru, the bass drum "carried" the rhythm, while the Fundeh added syncopation, and the higher "Repeater" drum had a more improvizing, melodic role. The same distinctions apply to the Kete ensembles in Ghana, by the way. Also common throughout a large part of Africa: the higher pitched drums as more "telling/narrating" and improvizing "upon" more steady rhythms by the other drums.

With Nyabinghi came a shift, though. The carrying, steady ("heart beat") rhythm was not by the bass drum as such (as in Burru), but by the (several) medium Fundeh drums. The bigger bass drum - called "Thunder" drum in Nyabinghi - merely accentuated that - with slight variations - and the Repeater became kind of "leading", while "crossing" or "syncopating" that main rhythm at the same time. The Repeater drums thus more or less "rode" the underlying heart beat rhythm. One might argue that both the high drum sounds, as the (sometime) varying Thunder bass drum sounds, show influence of Kumina (where bass drums vary and "answer" more), while high sounds in Kumina were played by sticks often too, like high Repeater sounds.

Nyabinghi influenced Reggae through the Rastafari connection. That is true, and known to many. Even that, though, is kind of a simplification.

Early trap drummers in Reggae's precursors Ska, Rocksteady, and later Reggae, notably someone like Lloyd Knibb, as well as later ones, like Santa Davis and Leroy "Horsemouth" Wallace, tended to use aspects from Burru and other Jamaican folk traditions, alongside other traditions (later Nyabinghi, Latin American/Cuban foreign styles etc.), and thus influenced Reggae trap drumming.

So there was a direct line between Nyabinghi drumming and Reggae, but also some parallel indirect lines with Burru and other Jamaican folk music.

Sources on origins of enslaved Africans brought to Jamaica show that close to 50% of Jamaica's slave population came from what is now Ghana, mostly Akan- and Coromantee-speaking. Still not a large majority, but influential enough to legitimize a role in developing Jamaican music of that part of Africa. Yet, it is not the only one, as I pointed out. Nyabinghi by itself already a "neo-African" yet Afrocentric African mixture. With popular music genres since Ska, other (also international) influences were added to this.

Burru is definitely, anyhow, a building stone in what we know now as Reggae music.

PAN-AFRICAN

It is good to point out, that African retentions in large part of the Americas, became pan-African, combining - like the people - origins in different parts of Africa. While in some Spanish colonies, like Cuba, different African "nations" had their own organizations (Yoruba, Congo, Calabar, Arará), maintaining thus more distinct traditions, ultimately influences mixed. This was even the case - to a degree - in Cuba, especially when Afro-Cuban migrants from Eastern Cuba (with more Congo/Central African roots), including musicians, went to the big city Havana. In Western Cuba and Havana, the slave population was varied, but more dominantly Yoruba and Guinea Coast in origin, influencing Rumba, just like Congo music shaped East Cuban Son. To the Son base were added Rumba and other influences, shaping slowly what we now know as Salsa (after added Dominican and Puerto Rican influences).

Interestingly, such gradual mixing occurred in the African retentions in Jamaica too. The Burru drummers originally followed Ashanti cultural traditions from what is now Ghana, as the dominant origin of enslaved Africans in the Clarendon area in Jamaica. Later migrations to Kingston led, as already related, to a combination with Kumina (Congo-based) and other influences, such as among Rastas. This pan-African cultural focus is in line with Rastafari thought, as both most important figures for the Rastafari, Marcus Garvey and Haile Selassie I, were doubtless non-limited, active pan-Africanists.

Even broader than this, Reggae ended up very pan-African in its characteristics. Scholars like Robert Farris-Thompson explained how the "Swing" tradition of Black US Blues and Jazz has its origins in Sahelian, Senegambian and Guinea/Mali region "griot" music. Islam-influenced and with more string instruments. Many Africans from this Guinea/Mande-speaking region ended up in the Mississippi delta states (e.g. Mississippi, Alabama, and Tennessee). Blues and Rhythm & Blues, as well as Jazz, influenced Reggae and its precursors in Jamaica, as it was popular on the radio in the 1950s. The other influences, eventually making Jamaicans develop their own genre, came from local music, rural Mento (comparable to Calypso), but also Burru, Kumina, and Nyabinghi, and even Pocomania and Maroon music. These were more from "forest" Africa (between South Ghana and Angola), as scholars call it, characterized by a polyrhythmic structure (several rhythms at once, structured by a "clave/key"). This remained, though watered down a bit over time - remaining quite strong in Kumina, and simplified a bit in Burru and Nyabinghi - but still present in the call-and-response relations between drums and vocals, to differing degrees.

This combined well with a slight "swing" or "shuffle" base that Reggae took from Blues and R & B, when being played by skilled musicians.

Just like the famous Cuban conga player Chano Pozo adapted well the non-swing, but "clave" Afro-Cuban patterns to the Jazz bands he later in the 1940s would play in, in the US. This type of creativity was and is certainly there in Reggae too.

PERCUSSION

I would argue that the influence of Burru is throughout the whole of Reggae music, but strongest in trap drumming and percussion.

Several authors, though, point out that the "skengay" pattern of the rhythm guitar in Reggae was also influenced by the Fundeh part in Burru, as Rastafari influence increased in Reggae. This is a quite structural influence: the Fundeh shaped the guitar "skank", partly defining Reggae. The closed basslines of reggae (as in Rocksteady) show maybe too African origins, but a further study is needed for that (from Blues? specific African origins? drum translations?). maybe a topic for another post, by me or someone else.

The influence on percussion seems most obvious.

The Kete drums (as said, from Burru) tend to be commonly used by percussionsts and still are, and Count Ossie was an early Rastafari-adhering drummer and percussionist, playing Burru and Nyabinghi patterns on an early Ska song from 1959/1960, Oh Carolina, by the Folkes Brothers.

With the increased influence of Rastafari on Reggae by the 1970s, such Kete drums were used even more alongside trap drums, along with more percussion.

This Rasta "Nyabinghi" drumming can be found on many Roots Reggae records, subtly or more directly, by e.g. Burning Spear, the Abyssinians, the Wailing Souls, Peter Tosh, Freddie McGregor, and countless others. Even, abeit soft in the mix, on some Bob Marley songs, as a former Burru drummer called Baba Job, played on Marley songs like Them Belly Full and Revolution (album Nattty Dread).. Not everyone knows that.

The influence on specifically reggae percussion seems obvious. In an interesting article by Kenneth Bilby, 'Distant drums : the unsung contribution of African-Jamaican percussion to popular music at home and abroad' (in journal Caribbean Quarterly, 2010), the influences on and by well-known Jamaican (studio) percussionists like Bongo Herman, Skully, Sticky are researched, through interviews with them. Nyabinghi influenced them, but also Burru, they point out. In fact, they said to be influenced also by Kumina and other Afro-folk drumming they encountered, and describe themselves as free, artistic, percussive "seasoners" of the music (several reggae percussionists use the "seasoning" metaphor), but Nyabinghi seems the shared key entrance.

TOASTING

The Burru influence is there in more ways than one would expect. The syncopated, answering drumming patterns from Burru found their way in the accents and varying "counter patterns" of Ska, Rocksteady, and Reggae drummers, from Lloyd Knibb, to later ones, some influenced by him, such as Leroy Wallace, and Sly Dunbar. This I hinted at already.

There is one more influence, however, and that I did not know - or better said "realize" - that well. I am talking about the "toasting" that soon developed at Jamaican sound systems, when vocalists "chatted" in mics over instrumental "riddims".. The early origins of Rap, many say, although "rhythmically speaking over drum rhythms" has been known among Griots in Africa way before too.

Well now, some authors point out that early Toasters (King Stitt, U Roy, and others) in fact emulated the Repeater (high-pitched) drum's function in Burru: "leading" "narrating", and "riding" over basic rhythms, often improvizing lines.

Of course, as a percussionist, I noticed how "percussive" this Jamaican toasting (and good rapping) in essence was. It is "rhythmical" talking/singing after all, but creative and playful.. as indeed a good Repeater sounds.

It is by the way not a strict Ghana region, but rather a broader sub-Saharan African drum characteristic: that the high drum "tells stories" or variates on the rhythmic base, and in some areas also on the contrary the lower drums are the varying ones (in parts of Central Africa, for instance).. This African trait continues in Afro-Cuban music genres, by the way (three-part drums, higher or lower ones varies). Afro-Cuban music of more Yoruba origin tends to have the "leading", improvizing role more for higher-pitched drums, those of Congo origins more for lower-pitched drums, but even this distinction cannot always be made.

Either way, "riding" a base rhythm is not just a Burru, but an African - and pan-African! - retention, translated vocally in "toasting" in Jamaica. This has proven to be culturally influential in Jamaican, and ultimately, well, in global music (Rap).

There is therefore somehow a historical connection between the Repeater drum in Burru and present-day Rap music. Interesting!

Something I somehow "knew" or imagined but did not fully realize. I even practiced it playing percussion. Some scholarly authors indeed confirm thus what is in fact almost logical: the African retention which is "riding" (on) a rhythm with another improvizing and "narrating" rhythm.

Whereas the "one drop" drum pattern, according to experts, show an indirect Kumina ("heart beat") influence - via Nyabinghi - (accentuating after all the "third" beat after this heart beat), as do the rhythm guitar skanks.. Some Reggae drummers' other variations, the vocal Toasting/deejaying styles on riddims, as well as partly how percussionists in Reggae play (often using Nyabinghi/kete drums too), show clear influences from ultimately this older Burru too.

ETYMOLOGY

I heard the term early on, as I delved into Reggae since my teens, "Burru". As a Spanish-speaker (through my Spanish mother), I noted a similarity with the Spanish word for "donkey", namely "Burro". This did not sound as a compliment, as in both the Netherlands where I grew up, and in her native Spain the word "donkey" ("ezel" in Dutch) were by some used as insults, for a "stupid" person. Donkeys are more common in Spain than in the Netherlands, by the way, for climatological reasons: donkeys adapt better to drier climates (yet are called stupid, haha).

The term "Burru" in Jamaican Patois is, as I researched it, however not a loanword from Spanish, nor does it come from English (or Irish or Scottish).

The academic 'Dictionary of Jamaican English' (second edition, edited by F.G. Cassidy and R.B. Le Page, 2002) has as term "Buru", defining it first as a dance (sometimes seen as "vulgar") or dancing occasions, and the accompanying (drum) music that is the topic of this post.

That Buru dance being seen as "vulgar", might exhibit classist and racist stereotypes of the stiff upper-class, yet the African origins of the term Buru (spelled in different ways), is according to this dictionary from Twi (a language in Ghana), with Buru meaning "filthhiness, sluttishness", according to this dictionary. Other sources confirm this association of the term buru with "wild". These terms can be used positively too, in the sense of "loose" or "wild party", but got associated with the lower class, and even by some with particularly ex-convicts, though they mostly were simply community dances in poor areas. Probably the artist name of "the original Banton" vocalist in Jamaican Reggae, Burro Banton - known for his gruff voice -, relates to all this too.. (his "gruff" style inspired Buju Banton and others in Jamaica)..

CAVEATS

Some researchers emphasized that direct recordings of how Burru original was are actually hard to find. That is a difference with the more intact Kumina tradition in Jamaica, and the later Nyabinghi tradition: recorded and known much better.

There are therefore sometimes conflicting opinions about how Burru influenced Nyabinghi: is the "heart beat" Fundeh pattern from Burru, or rather from Kumina? Were drum roles really comparable, etcetera.

Experienced players still could explain that the role of the Bass drum changed a bit from Burru to Nyabinghi, and the Fundeh became more important.

Furthermore, in historical scholarly research there are different ways beyond "primary sources" to gain trustworthy knowledge.

CONCLUSION

It is at least evident and proven that Nyabinghi music influenced Jamaican popular music, including Reggae. Burru, as one of the few "survived" direct African retention during plantation slavery in Jamaica, surely influenced Rastafari adherents as Nyabinghi developed. The ghetto areas of Dungle and Salt Lane in Kingston were after all shared residential areas of both Burru players and Rastas, resulting in interchanges.

In short, Burru thus continues in Reggae.

Somewhat broader, this was in my case a kind of "missing link", as I studied Kumina (theoretically and to play as percussionist) in an earlier stage, including its linkages to Reggae and Rastafari. I did the same earlier with the rural Jamaican folk genre Mento, and with the influence of R&B and other Black music from the US on Reggae.

So Burru, with mainly Ashanti/Ghana musical origins, was one of the remaining "missing links" in the multifaceted origins of Reggae music. Not unimportant in light of the fact that a large percentage of enslaved Africans in Jamaica were Akan-speaking and from the Ghana region (some sources state about 45% of the slave population), though those of Congo (about 25%) or Igbo origin were also quite numerous.

donderdag 4 juni 2020

Military logic

For this blog, I did not write a lot about the police as such. I had to check my own posts to make that sure, and indeed I mentioned it relatively little. If so, it was often even a side point to the whole thematic thread.

I guess "police" is one of those things/phenomena in this world I prefer to avoid normally, unless it is inevitable, like a "mal nécessaire" (necessary evil). Up there with law, paying taxes, bills, working for a boss, or looking for a job in this system, etcetera. I have to consider it simply for living in this society and system, but it does not give me joy.

No enthusiasm or zeal, but neither so much outrage.. one would think. I refer of course to corrupt policemen, but more specifically to police brutality. I have more interest in that, but neither very consistent. I wrote about the Black Panthers for one blog post, related to a documentary I saw, explaining how the Black Panthers formed in California, USA, in direct response to (racist) police brutality.

BRAZIL

I sang/toasted a song about police violence, and later wrote a review of a documentary about it in Brazil, I saw at the International Documentary Festival in Amsterdam. This was for another medium: the Facebook page of the Netherlands-based foundation Agogo - Brazil News in The Netherlands (https://www.facebook.com/groups/806488343059624/). The file luckily came online publicly, but several restraints - financial, organizational, technical - halted the development of the Facebook page as widely spread and read source.

A pity, because the documentary was educational, and the article a summary that would have fitted on my own page (this one), equally. The documentary opened my eyes. My review can thus be read here, on the mentioned Facebook page (https://www.facebook.com/groups/806488343059624/).

The documentary was called - simple and plain, and to the point - Police Killing. It dealt with this, killing by police (not the other way around) in the state of Rio De Janeiro of Brazil. Much police violence there as a response to perceived criminality, often through war-like methods, and consequently unjust killings. Many unjust killings and murders.

Some facts particularly were eye-opening to me. The fact that the total number of unlawful police killings in Brazil is one of the highest in the world. This clearly has racial overtones, many of these Afro-Brazilian/Black teens, in poor neighbourhoods (favela's). Unlawful police violence or brutality, being often both "racist" and "classist". This is also good to emphasize.

Moreover, to illustrate this fact, in the state of Rio de Janeiro alone there were in recent years more unlawful police killings than in the whole (!) of the USA. Rio de Janeiro state has about 16 million inhabitants, the USA about 300 million. This is a staggering figure. With the Right-wing Bolsonaro as current president - even proposing the use of drones to combat crime - this military focus on fighting crime might even increase, and with that the number of unlawful killings.

GEORGE FLOYD

As I write this, there was a quite massive, and international outrage about such an unlawful killing in another country, namely the murder of George Floyd, by policemen in the US city of Minneapolis. Being a suspect for even a petty crime (possible false cheque), he was arrested roughly, and an officer kneeling on his neck eventually choked and killed him. George Floyd, a black man of 46 years of age, did not resist arrest, was not even a (petty or big) criminal, yet lost his life.

Without a doubt murder and unlawful, and most probably racist too, as most of those unlawful killings, elsewhere in the Americas, in Brazil. The policeman ending up killing Floyd was a white man, albeit married to an Asian woman. She divorced him after this, and one of the other officers present (who could have prevented this) was her brother, but that is besides the point. This does not even mean that he could not be racist, or maybe "just" too violent, I think.

It occurred, after all, I think because of racist ideas on the one hand, and of a certain racial logic, including war terminology, I also discussed in my review of the documentary on police killing in Brazil. "War on crime" is taken almost literally, and is furthermore not in an historical and social vacuum. Racial bias decides who some cops are rough on, simply said.

In addition, as was mentioned in that documentary on Brazil: over 96% of the cases of "unlawful killings" in Rio de Janeiro state was not even investigated, just "archived". No justice thus in the large majority of cases. Even less than the fact whether the policeman murdering Floyd should be imprisoned, and not just fired, as he already is. In Brazil, such cases are in most cases not even investigated, safe a few exceptions. A recent requirement in Brazilian law to add camera's in police cars was a well-intended measure, to prevent this evil to continue, but it does not seem to have that effect.

Going on about relative figures is relevant and educational. There are more countries with more unlawful police killings than the US than just Brazil, and the combination with racism, or specific victimizing of racial minorities, is found in the US, but also in several European countries and Latin American countries, and also some Asian countries, for instance. Due to media and cultural dominance, US cases of racist police violence get more attention.

In the Netherlands, where I live, there were a few cases of police brutality (ending up in deaths), and even more complaints of unjust arrests or searches by policemen of black people, just for, e.g. having an expensive car, or behaving supposedly "suspiciously", or being in some place. In other European countries this seems similar. That is international. In Britain, there were even more examples of such unlawful arrests and even police killings of Black people.

Those statistics can be found by people themselves, and are insightful by themselves, but I find it more interesting for my blog to approach it historically, socially, and philosophically, as I so often do on my blog. It is my blog, after all. It is still good to point out, at least, that racist police violence and unlawful police killing is an international, and not an US problem, if there are people stupid enough to think that.

POLICE AND STATE

I have been to police states, places with corrupt police officers, and heard about it.

This made me wonder: what is the function of police for man kind? The idea behind it is "enforcing the law" and a "monopoly of violence", else there would be what they oddly call "jungle law": everyone avenging everyone..

ANARCHY?

I am kind of an anarchist so I sometimes think: do we really need laws above us, and - by extension - officers enforcing them? Do we not innately know what is right, loving, and just? Or is mankind so wicked and corrupted that the absence of higher laws will lead to mass murder, destruction, maiming, rape, theft, exploitation, and negative disorder?

More full-fledged anarchists do not think laws and police enforcements are actually needed in especially small-scale communities, and that in fact the ideal world should be made up of such small, lovingly ordered communities, where the weak are protected. Rastafari adherent and dub poet from Birmingham, UK, Benjamin Zephaniah is one self-declared total anarchist, but I know more, and maybe there is one of them somewhere inside me too, haha. Historically there were also examples in Left-wing circles in e.g. Spain (during its civil war in the 1930s), and France.

BABYLON

I agree with such views, in itself, but we do not live in such an ideal world, that this functioning anarchy should encompass. We live in "Babylon", as Rastafari people say: a large-scale capitalist, Western economic system, based on power and inequality. Most people "have" to work for other people, are dependent on state or commercial resources, and even when achieving self-sufficiency, e.g. with own land and agricultural products, there is still a dependency. Freedom is a beautiful thing - as we had to realize again, and have taken for granted, with the massive "house arrest" - or more moderate confinements - as arguably an overreaction to the new Covid-19 flu virus starting in March in 2020, in several countries across the world.

My parents had to live under dictatorships, of Franco in my Spanish mother's case, and I went on journeys to dictatorships -notably Cuba -, even repeatedly, but could always return to the Netherlands. I got a taste of a police state in Cuba, but was not bound by it, unlike most of the friends I had there.

No, I was used to relative freedom, also of movement. Only money really enslaved me, and was the only force stopping me from doing whatever I wanted - like for many -, e.g. sleep and wake whenever I please, following my heart and true passions: listening to and making music, enjoying life and events, free curiosity, dancing, humour, love, nice tastes and food, love and sexuality, etcetera..

My parents were relatively poor labourers, and could not leave me enough money to just "work on my art" as I call it (which is not the same as being "lazy"). I am in fact forced to find a job, just to get money to survive and pay bills, or else deal with the hassle of being a much-controlled welfare recipient.

So I was still bound to alarm clocks, having to show up for work, report, and earlier going to school: this was neither voluntary, even if I liked that I learned some things at school, being quite curious and inquisitive by nature.

POLICE STATES

Cuba was a police state, e.g. Iran now too, Spain under Franco was too. With odd, ideologically driven, absurd legislation, still strictly upheld by undemocratically operating policemen.

In the case of Spain under dictator Franco (1939-1975), which was basically Fascist, combined with some conservative/Catholic aspects, my mother told me how common labourers did not have any rights vis-a-vis their employers. She got to know that phenomenon of workers' rights when she went to live in the Netherlands in the 1960s. She got some small and big conflicts with bosses under that Fascist regime in Spain, in that period.

Other undemocratic legislation was there in Spain too, such as censorship, against gathering of people (halting unwelcome protests against the regime), and other public behaviour the state wanted to limit or control. Like in present-day Iran, kissing on the street of couples was forbidden and punishable by law; my Valencian godmother was almost arrested for that once in Madrid (she was then joined by my mother): a more zealous police officer could have imprisoned or fined her. In the end, the policeman just gave a firm warning.

CUBA

In Cuba, I later had own experiences, where I travelled several times between 2001 and 2006. The Cuban state - with then still Fidel Castro as leader - needed an economic boost for its still Communist economy, after the supporting Soviet Union was disbanded it 1990.

On the one hand, it started to stimulate tourism to Cuba, but on the other hand wanted to control it for its purposes, weary of too much "dangerous" chaotic - read: freedom-enhancing effects -, not in line with state propaganda.

Several Cubans there told me the same joke: "Cuba has 11 million inhabitants, and of these about 4 million are police".

Indeed, there were quite some police men on the streets, especially in the cities, and even more the very unpleasant "informers" for the state/police, operating in almost every neighbourhood, albeit with differing degrees of intensity or fanaticism. These snitched/informed about what the state made illegal: prostitution, black markets, but also things like having foreigners staying over without government permission.

As can be expected, there was no consistency here, and like elsewhere much was left to the relative (positive or negative) "discretion" in each situation of police officers. This gave them power that could also be abused. In some cases it worked out better, such as the Madrid cop only "warning" my godmother not to kiss her boyfriend in public, instead of detention.

In Cuba, in several busy, tourist spots, semi-informal "prostitutes" or other "hustlers" standardly approached tourists, including me. Sometimes these operated by necessity "sneaky", and hidden from policemen or informers, but in some cases they approached me while police officers were nearby and saw it all, or turned a blind eye.

It could still be capricious. Suddenly, the police or government, could decide to "now come hard" on prostitution and arrest prostitutes being with tourists, or those suspected of it, as I experienced another evening. Someone I knew well got arrested there, together with a friend of hers I knew less well. I even got worried, finding out they took her to the police station. After a few hours she was on the streets again, not knowing quite how she got out (but having some ideas).

As she was with me shortly before she was arrested, I waited in that instant a while outside the police station in Santiago de Cuba where my friend was held, and it became after 1 o'clock at night.. I had an unpleasant conversation with a cop, after I lamented to him about such an arrest, when she was just going out (the plan was with me and some others, to a music club), and not "whoring". "How do you know?", the cop responded to me. Someone I did not know - but knew her and saw us together - came up to me later, and said, softly and carefully: "she got out.. you do not need to wait here" .. Sources say that Afro-Cuban women tend to be arrested in such ways more often, so a racial aspect also in Cuba (where about 70% is either brown or black in different shades).

Sounds like a spectacular film all this, but I could have done without it. It was one of the bitter tastes of an undemocratic " police state" I experienced in Cuba. A society where the state - through police - could do with citizens what it whimsically wanted, limiting their free movement, without any accountability required of them. Controlling people through intimidation and fear, basically.

The police killings in, e.g., the US and Brazil, in some sense have also a "repressive ideology" behind them, including strong, historical racism, and the "whimsical" aspect making a citizen dependent on the capriciousness of particular cops: if that cop is a virulent racist he might just kill you because you are black, irrespective of a crime you (supposedly) did.

ABOVE THE LAW

My point in relation to such personal experiences, is maybe this: in truly democratic societies, police officers should never be above the law. Only being fired for murdering someone is just not fair.

The good example must be given by those with responsibilities within the unfree aspects of this society: bosses should not discriminate for racism or nepotism, but give a job to the most qualified. Likewise, journalists and media should not present lies or half-lies unquestioned. Also, police officers should be just as accountable for their unlawful actions as any other citizen.

It makes this still not an ideal and equal system - with still no full freedom as a birth right as humans for you and I - just a bit more bearable and livable.

The continued police killings, often with racial overtones, but also the excessive ("anti-virus"?) quarantine measures at present, even disregarding fundamental human rights and freedoms, both showed us that even in formally "democratic" societies like the US and the Netherlands, we must remain vigilant, and that things do not always improve over time..

Our freedom, belongings, bodies, and our life, are everything, and should ideally only be under our own control, and strictly our own responsibility, safe very extreme emergencies.

Unless we want to control or take those of others, than we should be held accountable: citizens and "law enforcers" alike..

RACISM

The George Floyd case is of course as much about "police brutality" as about "racism", though. There were wild protests in parts of the US itself, alongside more modest organized ones. There were protests too in other countries, in direct relation to George Floyd's case. One of these was in Amsterdam the 1st of June, which I attended.

At the central Dam square in Amsterdam it was held, and there were good speakers, and a good atmosphere. Sensible things were said. Police did not intervene, not even for "Covid-19" reasons. Virusses do not survive well in the open air, so that would be quite useless anyway, but that is another issue.

So good speakers, relevant issues, and many homemade/makeshift cardboard signs with relevant, positive message. Not much nonsense, in my opinion. Racism, police violence, and racial inequality, all remained justly the main issue.

RACISM IN THE NETHERLANDS

Some would argue that the Netherlands cannot be compared to the US regarding violent racism and the police. . I would say yes and no. There is structural and institutional racism in Netherlands, mostly present in daily life though subtle and indirect means. Not so often Neo-Nazi's marching on the streets, or mob violent actions against people of another race, or burnt crosses or houses. Neither police officers beating up and killing black people on a daily basis. That is the open kind of racism on which the taboo is more known throughout the world, though found still here and there (US partly, Brazil, Libia recently, parts of Eastern Europe a.o.).

Then there are stereotypes and "verbal racism", as I will call it. People saying openly what they really feel of other races, where their preferences lie. This also has obtained a taboo in the Western world, in the last decades, though again not everywhere to an equal degree. In some parts of Eastern or Southern Europe, among working-class people all over Europe, but also parts of Latin America people seem more "open" in this regard. That is honest, and barking dogs might not bite, but at the same time hateful nonsense should not always be expressed.

In countries like the Netherlands, Germany, the UK, and the US, the cautious "political correctness" is particularly strong. This has good and bad aspects, I gather. Bad, because it is not always sincere, and honesty remains the best policy, as the saying goes.

If an employer does not want to hire for his company a Surinamese person because he does not like Surinamese people, he cannot say this openly due to possible legal action this might ensue. Instead, he simply does not hire him or her, and making up an excuse is easy, and largely uncontrolled (e.g. "the other candidate fulfilled our expectations more..").

Demeaning "jokes" during off-guard moments, is another common, sneaky way of racism in the Netherlands, often "masquerading" racial references and stereotypes as actual cause of the antipathy.

It showed some wisdom, that some of the speakers at the Dam protest in Amsterdam, the 1st of June, mentioned this common form of sneaky racism in daily communication with some White Dutch people, as a point where racism really starts - "unpleasant jokes with stereotypes", calling for not condoning it. It might after all end with arresting Black people earlier than White people for the same crimes or misdemeanors, and treating them rougher when arrested. It sounds as quite a leap, but makes some sense, in my opinion. The basic fact remains: you treat people better who you respect as equal.

Also, the critique - also during this protest - of the Sinterklaas & Zwarte Piet tradition, involving "black stereotypes" and demeaning "blackface" characters during this Dutch festivity, in the Netherlands, relates to it.

POVERTY

Social inequality is also important to address. Higher poverty rates among Black people - and as minority groups - is unfortunately a worldwide phenomenon: in the US, in Brazil, and in Europe (including the Netherlands). In some Caribbean countries even the "shade" of your skin determines largely your socioeconomic position and possibilities. The link between poverty and crime need not be clarified, I think, especially when related to theft or illegal trade. You do not really need to do that when you are rich.

The racial difference is not always decisive, for even when cops are the same race as the general population, police actions often discriminate the poorer classes, or perceived "rebellious" groups.

JAMAICA

The repression of and brutality against Rastafari adherents in Jamaica by police in certain epochs (and still going on) is an example of this. Jamaica's large majority is black, as is that of it's police force.

I have been to Jamaica too, and noted their was quite some corruption in the police force there. State police was not present in poorer ghetto areas, where "Dons" (criminal leaders) have taken over all state affairs. This brings a cynical order in a "disorder of poverty", nevertheless experienced by some inhabitants as "still better than no order at all" .

The police practices in Jamaica get quite some attention in Reggae lyrics.

There is a direct link between the police force in the history of (race-based) slavery in Brazil: set up by slaveholding Brazilians/Portuguese to control slaves, or hunt escaped ones. The same applies to a degree to other colonies in the Americas, like Jamaica, Cuba, and including the US.

Brazil is the country in this world with most inhabitants of African descent outside of Africa, showing the historical magnitude of African enslavement there.

The police force after slavery might have evolved, but the structural inequality "logic" essentially remained: keeping people in their place, as well as a racial dichotomy. Even in spite of in time " democratized" and "humanized" laws, on paper based on equal rights.

ACCOUNTABILITY

I will ignore that anarchist inside of me, and let's just say that a civilized, organized society needs laws to be upheld. Then also people "upholding" or "enforcing" these laws are also inevitable: police, military, government officials/agents, a.o. How then to ensure equality?

The problem in several countries in the world, including Brazil and the US, is that police officers can stand and operate too easily - without sanction - "above the law" . The law should simply apply to them too. It makes no sense to uphold or enforce something you are not part of. Also in the Netherlands, such laws are, as I write this, in the making (making police officers less liable than other citizens for e.g. man slaughter).

Yet, a legal system developed, with some type of "immunity" for police officers against legal actions against their behaviour. The logic behind it is a kind of "war" or "military" logic, as some also noted in the many police killings in Brazil in the documentary I mentioned. "Martial law" or "emergency measures" serving largely as excuse for excesses.

This military logic already is in most cases unwise and unnecessary - in my opinion -, and becomes even more dangerous when combined with racism and classism. Using "public order" as a main excuse should have become more suspect in this day and age, after the Nazi era, and other dictatorships. It bypasses individual human rights. Of course, dangerously violent criminals should be sanctioned, and kept away from people they might harm or kill. This is however a "one-on-one" thing, of individual humans. That is what an ideal democracy should be like.

When "members of a group" are singled out, though, democracy is abandoned and repression and discrimination begins. This indirect military logic has slipped in police practice in several "democratic" countries too, including the US, Brazil, or the UK.

This could be the only reason why many legal systems in even such democratic countries, include laws "protecting" police officers from legal sanctions when in line with their duty, even stating that only other police officers can judge or verdict police actions. This can only lead to partisanship and bias. Thus a lack of justice being done in many cases.

The same does not apply in other jobs, after all. Two colleagues in a shop might be racist toward each other, and in a fight one kills the other, or one working in a shop kills a client because of e.g. racism. These ideally are prosecuted for murder independently and from the outside, and not just based on statements of someone else working with them.

MILITARY LOGIC

Police work deals with criminality and law, everything outside it tramples human rights and should be punishable, including choking a black defendant to death for an (alleged) petty crime, as in the case of George Floyd.

The whole idea of "martial law" that suddenly legitimates trampling fundamental rights because of some emergency situation leads generally to abuse. The Covid 19 virus proved in time not to be so deadly as was presented through media, certainly not enough for - as happened - limiting freedoms and rights. Perhaps only slight annoyances for people in rich countries keeping their jobs, who did not go to bars or clubs anyway, but more bothersome or even fatal for others, especially for poor people or those in poor countries, losing their jobs or means of income, for which they had to leave the house.

"Martial" comes from "marte", the Romans' god of war, so again the "war" or "military" logic, outweighs here basic humanity.

This same "war" logic was identified as operative in the case of many (also unlawful) police killings in Brazil, and can be found also in police killings in the US. Racist or not.

RACISM AND WAR

To return to racism in societies. The racism may be more subtle in countries like the UK or the Netherlands, than in the US. Present, but mostly "limited" to unpleasant jokes, or simply - as some people of colour I know described it - not even be able to "talk as equal" with a Dutchman, with some kind of hidden wall of prejudice between them. Not all Dutchmen, of course, but the racist ones, locked in their own sense of superiority. There are also Italians, Britons, Frenchmen, etcetera like that, of course. Likewise, also people of colour or from ethnic minorities, can be prejudiced or negative in their approach toward random White people, that might not be racist.

The statement of one of the speakers at the protest in Amsterdam against racist police violence that I mentioned before, that racism starts with " a demeaning remark and might end with deadly police brutality" does therefore not even seem that far-fetched. Stereotypes should neither be trivialized in this regard, it is after all a way of dehumanizing. Stereotypes of "criminal (young) black men" have proven stubborn in several countries of the world, and is rarely contextualized as it should: within relative poverty and deprivation. Some would say "lack of self-pride" as psychological mechanism behind criminality. I agree with that partly, but think conditions weigh stronger. Many people with inferiority complexes (of all races) tend to need to criticize and seek to degrade other people a lot, but this can be done just verbally if one has no need to rob, e.g. as boss, policeman, politician, or other "bully function".

Demeaning stereotypes thus dehumanize. It starts with such dehumanizing: if you do not care what an "inferior" and "lesser" one than you has to say in a daily conversation, you might neither listen to that same one objecting when you are choking him with your knee, when arresting that one as a police officer. Especially when at the same time working under a "war" or "military" logic (that even further dehumanizes)..

That's why I say that both historical racism, personal racism of officers play their roles in such police brutality, but also this "military logic" legitimizing it. This stems in turn from "(political) ideology", with simply should not be mixed with legality. Separation of politics from legality is what makes democracies truly democratic.

This separation was/is not there in fascist or communist regimes, or other dictatorships, and should neither be there on a lower level in police activities in formal democracies.

With police officers less immune from legal sanctions, and equally accountable as others, they can still stop e.g. violent gangs in poor areas, violent and extreme crime, namely by being "proportional" in their violence.

Yet, this "proportionality" of police action should be evaluated and judged by the entire public, not by other police officers, and overall independently and externally. That is the only way to get rid of this "military logic" legitimizing racism of police in Brazil, the US, Europe, and elsewhere.

As for the other major problems in this world, racism and poverty: of course these should be solved too, but this proves historically difficult. Still worthy of a continuous effort, without a doubt. I guess Ethiopian Emperor Haile Selassie I said it well, in his speech, also used as lyrics for the Bob Marley song War.

Also the phrase "No Justice No Peace", repeated and yelled at the protest in Amsterdam and elsewhere, makes in this regard perfect sense..

CONCLUSION

Some assume, or hypothesize, that the whole George Floyd case has been used or even orchestrated - and promoted as a media hype - by some higher powers - a wealthy elite - to distract mass attention from their hidden plan of global dominion.

There might be some misuse by powerful groups, but the nature of the riots and protests that followed throughout the US were largely wild and free. Manipulative elites wanting world control detest nothing more than popular free and wild gatherings and protests. It seems in contradiction to it, though they might try to manipulate the uproar.

To divide and conquer, some also say, but that is also not that easy. The recurring message "Black Lives Matter" on many protests is not very extreme or radical. It lacks that "military" logic, I mentioned before, and can hardly be considered a "call for war" or race riots.

I think, moreover, that excessive police violence, is in any case a theme worthy of attention, the "military logic" and unjust "cop immunity" part of it likewise, and even more so as it mixed with racism, suggesting : "targeted groups".

The looting and destruction, part of all this uproar, are probably a matter of opportunism or corruption, as occurs within many social movements. It is disturbing, yet not fully undermining of the main message and just cause of protest, in my opinion.

Besides, I also think it is all relative. After world powers lock a large part of the entire world population (!) to differing degrees up/down, trampling basic human rights and limiting freedoms, even causing more problems and deaths in several countries than the coronavirus itself - which even did not show to be so deadly after all (by itself) -, little can top that injustice. Looting in stores in some US cities is nothing compared to that global injustice.

On a personal level, I became deeper convinced after reflection about both these international issues (" pandemic", lockdowns, international protests against police violence and racism), that in my heart of hearts I am not "kind of" an anarchist.. I am actually a full-fledged anarchist, preferring anarchy as much as possible and reasonable.

Maybe I changed, maybe I just came to full realization about myself, developing further from my earlier life experiences and encounters with "police states"..

You might even say that this all "pushed me over the edge".

dinsdag 12 mei 2020

The flexible spread of the tambourine

Within the wide variety of percussion instruments there is also the tambourine. Over time, the instrument obtained a certain popularity, also in “mainstream” Western pop and rock music. Whereas other percussion instruments, even if quite well-known internationally, such as congas, cowbells, cabasa’s, or even woodblocks, have maintained their more or less “exotic” or “world music” image – as stemming mostly from Afro-Cuban and Afro-Brazilian music -, the tambourine has become more mainstream, even in Western, or “white people” music (simply said) as Rock, Pop, Beat, Folk, or Country. The tambourine is seen often played by known pop and rock stars, as it is often played by singers too. The Bob Dylan song “Mr Tambourine Man” connected it in the popular imagination stronger with US folk music traditions.

How can this relative “mainstream” appeal of the tambourine in Western (US or British) pop music be explained, when compared to other (shaker) instruments, known as more “tropical” ones (maracas, cabasas, chekere)?

I do not know, but I would like to explore that in this post.

ORIGINS

The origins of the tambourine as such are known to lie in the Middle East. Well, many “vaguely” know this, but the history of its spread is complex.

The English Wikipedia article about the tambourine seems to be quite certain that the instrument originated in Ancient Egypt, which is not only interesting, but also quite probable. They were there known as Tof among the ancient Hebrews, and were used in religious contexts. It is even mentioned in the Bible.

VAGUE AND CONFUSING ASPECTS

Origins and early spread

This Wikipedia article, however, has other vague aspects or omissions, compared to other information on the Internet. Maybe because it is not a very good or complete article. Elsewhere – in other sources - I read, after all, that the tambourine came from the Middle East, via North Africa, to Spain and Portugal, with the Moorish rule in Iberia (between the 8th and 15th c.). Again, quite probable, as so did other musical instruments, notably lutes, and the forerunner of what would become the Spanish guitar (which the Arabs in turn derived from Persian instruments). Other sources, however, date its arrival to Europe somewhat later, to the 13th c., and not per se via Iberia.

This explains why in Brazil types of tambourines, such as the “pandeiro”, are much used in popular music, as in other parts of Latin America. It also explains why many Spanish folk music genres include the “pandereta”, as the tambourine (with drum head and bells) is called in Spanish. Yet: it does not explain why it is similarly found in folk music in parts of Europe without that Moorish (or Arab/Islamic) past, such as Italy, France, the Basque country, but also Russia, and Ukraine. Somehow, its appeal made it spread, even when a direct cultural link seems absent.

Types and characteristics

Another confusing aspect is what the “tambourine” looks like, according to definitions. Originally the term was used for a frame drum with a drumhead (or: membrane), with bells on the side, hence also the name deriving from a diminutive of “tambor” (drum in Spanish), or “tambour” (in French). In Italy the tambourine is similarly known as “tamburello”. In the Provence there was also a drum of the name “tambourin”, ultimately giving the present-day its name. The Provençale language is linguistically related to Catalan, by the way. The word “tambor” in Spanish (and similar words in Portuguese, Catalan and Provençale) for “drum”, derives from Arabic “tunbur” (in turn derived from Persian) originally. The Spanish word for “tambourine” is “pandereta”, in turn linguistically related to the word “bendir” for similar frame drums in North Africa.

Frame drums or tambourines?

This brings us to another confusing aspect regarding its definition. I thought of it as a general circular frame drum with bells on the side So, a small drum with bells (or jingles, or cymbals). Yet, without the drumhead (membrane), as a round “jingle bell” so to speak, it also got known under the name “tambourine”. That double meaning I was aware of..

More confusing to me (also in the Wikipedia article) was the mix-up with other “frame drums”, even without the bells. I consider those personally rather as “frame drums”. They can have similar playing styles with fingers as such, but lack the bells defining the tambourine as a whole. For the sake of this blog article, I will define the tambourines as having the side bells. Those without them I consider as “frame drums”, and are not the main theme of this post.

Overall, the “tambourines” can be of different sizes, and tend to be round, most often.

PLAYING STYLES

The playing style of the most common tambourine in Western pop music includes beating on the side (hip) of the body, on the other hand, or just shaking the tambourine. Worldwide there are varied patterns and hand and finger uses and hits on the drumheads, dependent on genres and music cultures. The use of separate fingers recur throughout, hands as a whole, and in some cultures just the hand palm is used, or the tambourine is only shaken.

Rhythmically, it varies from more “monorhyhmic” musical cultures, to a bit more syncopated, “polyrhythmic”, or swinging ones. The Arabs, other Middle Easterners and Europeans have more monorhythmic cultures, and sub-Saharan Africans more “polyrhythmic” ones, but in parts of North Africa – such as among some Berber musicians – such polyrhythmic or “swinging” (Griot culture) influences got to show, as even in some Andalusian folk music, maybe due to African or later Latin American influences.

PANDEIRO/BRAZIL

All this, makes the extensive use of the Pandeiro (Brazilian tambourine) in Afro-Brazilian music so interesting. It is a commonly used instruments there, thus in yet other musical contexts. It is commonly used in Samba, Chorro music (some call Chorro a more “sophisticated version of Samba), as well as to accompany Capoeira, along with other drums. These Afro-Brazilian genres share the 2/4 rhythmic base, as well as certain polyrhythmic characteristics, as much Afro-American music, especially with roots in the Congo or South Nigerian and Ghana regions (as most Afro-Brazilians, especially Congo/Angola and Yorubaland). Quite a step from its (probable) Middle-Eastern origins, via – as is said – Iberian (Portuguese and Galician) forerunners brought to Brazil by the Portuguese. The Pandeiro thus translated flexibly to different cultural and musical contexts.

To be clear, the pandeiro refers to the round frame drum with side bells or jingles; another small frame drum – but without bells – is also known in Brazilian music, but known as “tamborim”.

I asked someone I know who plays Afro-Brazilian music, including for Capoeira, and he explained to me how patterns he plays with the Pandeiro, on Samba, tend to be continuous, yet following the 2/4 rhythmic pattern and accents, in line with the other drums and instruments. In a subgenre of Samba, called Partido Alto – a distinct Pandeiro-playing style is employed, he also pointed out, having e.g. more slaps/hits on the drumhead/membrane, besides the cymbal shaking.

In Capoeira, he further explained, the Berimbau (musical bow) leads the rhythm that the other instruments, including drums, and often pandeiros, follow. It depends on choices by specific Mestres (“teachers”) in Capoeira schools, whether Pandeiros are used as accompaniment to the fight/dance Capoeira, though they tend to be common.

In Chorro music pandeiros are also used, while Chorro is a bit less rhythmically oriented than its relative Samba (wherein string instruments also tend to play rhythmically).

CUBA

An interesting difference with Cuba, also, where I have been several times, but did seldom see tambourine-like instruments being played in music clubs (and I visited several). Mostly “maracas” had in Cuba the shaker function in music, instead, especially in Afro-Cuban music. Neither is the small frame drum without bells (or cymbals), as e.g. used in the Puerto Rican Plena genre, really used in Cuba. I guess those that like “jingly belly” or cymbal-like shaker sounds should check other percussive cultures than the Afro-Cuban, where it is largely absent. Originally at least. This is comparable to much of sub-Saharan Africa, especially those parts where Afro-Cubans tend to have their origins mostly (the Congo region, Yorubaland, the Calabar region).. There are some “jingle bell” shakers known in sub-Saharan Africa, also “foot bell shakers”, but they drown amidst the many other shakers (of e.g. seeds).

Ned Sublette says something interesting in this regard, in his book ‘Cuba and its music : from the first drums to the mambo’ (Chicago Review Press, 2004), in relation to the spread of Afro-Cuban music to higher (White, Euro-centric) often slave-owning classes within Cuba. “..the rhythms were taken up but were shifted over from the drum to the tambourine, an instrument not associated with the vileness of the negro..”. These adapted/watered down Afro-Cuban rhythms developed since around the 18th c., and reached Argentina, and Europe (e.g. Spain, in the Habanera pattern) too.

That cultural difference between (hand) drums as African, and tambourine (European) in the quote of Sublette above, is interesting, and in fact recurring historically here and there, though it is also a somewhat simplistic distinction. The Brazilian Pandeiro, for one, obfuscated that distinction. Black Churches later too.

SPAIN

In Spain – the tambourine has – on the other hand - a long history, similar to Middle Eastern and Arab cultures. It at least goes back to the Moorish rule since the 8th c., but might have been there before (Phoenicians, Romans). It is used in various folk music forms throughout Spain, with special variants per region.

Spanish folklorists argue that the Northern half of Spain specialized for some reason a bit stronger in tambourines in its folk music than more Southern parts, but also in parts of the Central Meseta (highland) of Castile and León, and of the South (e.g. Andalusia) tambourines are quite common, albeit often less “central” in percussion than in some North Spanish forms. After all, hand-clapping and castanets – along with drums –have rhythmic functions in Jota and Fandango there too, and in South-Spanish Flamenco even feet and guitar cases.

In Northwest Spain, Galicia, a region with Celtic influences, a local tambourine (with own characteristics, such as crossed bells) developed (similar to one in Northern Portugal) and often combines with bagpipes, as in bordering Northern Portugal. More with string instruments in Central and Southern Portugal.

In the Basque country, a local tambourine called “panderoa” is used in Basque folk forms, usually combined with an accordion. The playing style in Basque music is relatively fast – with much 16th or even 32th notes (shaken) – and continuous.

In Central and Southern Spain the tambourine combines sometimes with the castanets, some drums, and guitars, and is sometimes slower, but mostly less “continuous”, having more often “closed patterns”, or emphasizing a main beat. It often interrelates with castanets, resulting in syncopation, in e.g. the Sevillana style, and other Andalusian or Extremaduran forms .. Syncopation is a bit less common in European folk music – which tends to be mostly “monorhythmic” as Arab music -, but might be an influence from the Moorish past (when there were also enslaved sub-Saharan Africans in Spain), or from Latin America and Cuba.

Overall, the tambourine's use is a bit more extensive in the Northern half of Spain, which may relate (as I learned from earlier studies) to the presence of instruments in South Spain in turn less common in North Spain, including percussion instruments that can take up the tambourine's "time keeping" role. These include the wooden castanets (though also known in Central Spain), certain bells, and a friction drum, known as "zambomba", aside from the Spanish guitar, originating in Andalusia, that can be played rhythmicallly too, and the "colonial" influence over time, e.g. the increased commonality of the (originally Afro-Peruvian) "cajon" (box drum) as time-keeper in much Flamenco. The castanets can be found in some subtypes of Flamenco, but in most not, and likewise the tambourine is not absent, but neither very "essential" or common, in South Spanish Flamenco music.

ELSEWHERE IN EUROPE

Some parts of Italy use local (smaller and larger) types of tambourines in regional styles like in South Italy, including in the well-known and popular South Italian Tarantella music genre and dance (originally from Apulia, spread all over southern Italy, Calabria, Sicily, including Naples). Like in the Basque country and South France, it often combines there with an accordion, or other drums, though with own patterns, Tarantella being a distinct (and lively) genre of its own.

It is also known in folk music of Sardinia, where it combines with a local type of flute, and other parts of Italy.

Another sign of the tambourine’s flexibility: it combines with different instruments, even in small combinations (bagpipes or accordion in North Spain, guitar and castanets in Central and South Spain, accordion and other drums in Italy and France).

This made me curious about with what instruments it combined elsewhere, or when only with vocals.

ASIA & NORTH AFRICA

In the Arab and Middle Eastern world, the “riq” (a tambourine in the classic sense) is a common and much used instrument, often even a main, “leading” percussion instrument. It usually combines with string instruments, like the Oud in Egypt and other parts of North Africa, including violins, or with (clay or stone) kettle drums like the darbuka, and vocals.

The playing styles of variants of tambourines differ again elsewhere in the Middle East, or South India and Sri Lanka, though also mostly monorhythmic, as Arabic music. In Sri Lanka, local tambourines tend to combine with local types of double-headed drums, including the Dholuk, also found in India. They respond of course to respective musical cultures, such as the complex Indian musical systems, making it for the untrained ear difficult to recognize straight rhythms, even when one is able to in even polyrhythmic Africa. Indian and Sri Lankan music is complex structurally, but not so much rhythmically, to put it simply (often basic beats).

In Jewish culture, the tambourine now known as Timbel has a long history, even connected to the tambourine’s very origins in Egypt. This also shows the “flexible route” of the tambourine over time. It once was used in religious, liturgical contexts, often therefore relatively slow and “solemn”, quite different from the connection to its use with fast dance and secular folk music, as we saw in other places.

The religious use of tambourines continue in the Islamic world, as they are still sometimes played during Quran recitations, as well as among the Christians, as the Salvation Army more or less popularized its use, that spread also to other Protestant and Evangelist churches, accompanying songs of praise. With that we now ended up in North America.

NORTH AMERICA

Likewise interesting, is the tambourine’s following journey after going from religious to secular, namely to a modern Anglo-Saxon world of “pop” music in North America: US folk music, R&B-influenced “Rock”, but even to even “whiter” Country & Western music.

US BLACK MUSIC

As said, starting with the Salvation of Army, several Protestant Churches, including Black ones in the US South, began to use tambourines much. It thus continued its original religious function in Egypt and among ancient Hebrews, though its easy use and small size might have played a role too. It thus obtained a common place in Gospel and early Soul, and with many African Americans escaping the openly racist US South, traveled to the cities in the North (New York, Detroit, Chicago, Philadephia a.o.).

There is an interesting parallel here with the harmonica or “mouth-organ”. The small metal wind instrument the harmonica, that became common in Blues, is actually of South German and Austrian origin, played there to fit local Tyrolean and other genres, often with accordions for instance. With German migrants to the US (many from South West Germany) it arrived in the US, also in parts where many (poor) African Americans lived. The latter appreciated its flexibility, practical size and, moreover, relative affordability. The playing style in “Country Blues” and later “City Blues” became of course markedly different than from the harmonica’s use in the German, European music.

Similarly, the tambourine was played differently by African Americans, than before. The tambourines became even a trademark in the sound of Motown, as I wrote elsewhere on my blog. Its link to the Black Churches – and Gospel - made it apparently popular and appreciated. Some within Motown thought it was a good idea to, besides adding a kind of pleasant “shuffle” or “swing”, also emphasize the main beat accent with that tambourine too. Apparently, Motown owner Berry Gordy thought that too. I do not really agree with that (preferring a bare, sharp “snare” drum hit), but who am I.. It became anyway part of the popular and recognizable Motown sound of bands like the Supremes, the Temptations, Smokey Robinson, and many others, and obtained generally a place in Soul music.

US AND BRITISH POP MUSIC

Perhaps due to that connection to Gospel and later Soul, tambourines became common and popular percussion instruments in the 1960s likewise in US folk, rock & roll, and country music (Bob Dylan a.o.), and British Beat music (by the Beatles and others), eclipsing often other percussion instruments. It remained common since then.

In Rock music and R&B, the “jingle bell”-type tambourine (without drumhead/membrane) became most common, as in Country. In turn, in places like Mexico, the original tambourine as in Spain (with drumhead/membrane) became more used. Moreover, while in some parts of the world (e.g. Ukraine) a beating stick is used, in Spain and in the Berber and Middle Eastern worlds, the drumhead is played with the hand and fingers.

There is apparently something about that shaken “jingling-bells”sound that many musicians in some cultures like, maybe to “glue” all patterns together. Like cymbals and hi-hats of the (trap) drum set – in time mainstream in Western Rock and pop music – the tambourine tended to play “continuous” and walking patterns during songs. Thus it got to serve – as some describe it – as a “carpet” for the other instruments and rhythms. This is a bit comparable to how the Cuban shakers (maracas) function in Salsa, for instance: continuous, hardly interrupted patterns. It “bathes” or “adorns” the rhythm/beat, rather than “varying” on or “answering” it much (notwithstanding occasional variations). This is certainly the case in Rock and Country.

JAMAICA

As a Reggae fan since my teens, I of course find it interesting how the tambourine – as part of this “flexible spread” – got used in Jamaican music genres, like Reggae.

Historically, Reggae music originated in Jamaica from earlier local genres Ska and Rocksteady around 1968, being early on influenced by both Blues and R&B (and Jazz) “swing” influences from Black US music, as well as by African retentions and local Jamaican Afro-folk music with more “polyrhythmic” qualities. In time US Soul and Gospel influenced Reggae a bit too, though some artists more than others.

Already in the first Ska songs around 1960, that following on an earlier more rural genre in Jamaica, called Mento, tambourines could on occasion be heard. Interestingly, in Mento, the “shaker” role was more played by Cuban-like maracas or shakers, with a less “jingly belly” sound. With more “urban”, Ska music, the more ”modern” or Western tambourine made its hesitant way into popular music in Jamaica, so after 1960.

Hesitant, because its use was not standard in Ska, neither in following Rocksteady or Reggae. Some musicians, percussionists, chose to use tambourines on occasion, as one of the many percussive addition options to choose from. Just as often, though, they chose other shakers, like maracas, or woodblocks, scrapers, hand drums, etcetera.

Over time tambourines became, like in US Soul and Funk, a bit more common in Reggae songs, but hardly as “standard” presence. The more extensive hi-hat drum set patterns in Reggae since 1968 (with more 16th notes, when compared to earlier, “emptier” and “metronomic” Rocksteady), made the tambourine often less essential or fundamental in most Reggae grooves, with seldom continuous/walking patterns. More often, it rather got to add a “swing” or “shuffle” feel to many Reggae grooves, or even a polyrhythmic feel, as “responding” to the other rhythmic patterns in songs.

On the other hand, the very sound of the tambourine is comparable, but not similar to the hi-hat (though both are essentially "cymbals"), so it can add an "extending" shuffling feel to the hi-hat patterns, although it might "drown" amidst full hi-hat patterns, or along other shakers in the song, or when mixed in with a soft sound, in Reggae songs. Yet, even when quite soft, it of course still has a - subtle - musical function in the whole groove, only not so much "in your face".

Again, all this is a sign of the “flexible global route” of the tambourine, to another cultural and musical context.

USE IN REGGAE

It is certainly interesting to study the tambourine’s use in Reggae. Such a study is however not easy, because the written liner notes mostly tend to state “percussion” in general, and not specific instruments. Percussionists in Jamaican music and Reggae – such as Bongo Herman, Skully, Sticky, and others - tend to be flexible in their use of a variety of percussion instruments, differing per song. In that sense there are less standards or obliged choices (or “unwritten laws”) for Jamaican percussionists, unlike in other genres, and they are more free to choose. Reggae developed besides from a mix of influences, ranging from US R&B, Black Churches, and Jazz to African polyrhythms, hand drumming, and spiritual music, as well as some Afro-Cuban influences. In Brazil and other parts of Latin America, there are more unwritten rules regarding this.

It comes down to this: you have to actually listen to Reggae songs to know whether a tambourine is used. There are no percussionists that specialize in it more than others, or artists that use it more than others. It differs per song, and perhaps album.

Like I explained before: the hi-hat patterns are relatively “full” in Reggae, therefore often fulfilling a similar “carpet” musical role, as a tambourine can do. The tambourine thus became less essential in Reggae with such full (varied 8th, 16th notes) hi-hat patterns. Yet, this differs per song and artist too: not all drum patterns in Reggae are that “hi-hat full”, and even so, some percussionists still found a creative way to add something to a groove (e.g. a “shuffle” feel, or a counter-rhythm), if they chose to use a tambourine on that song. In Reggae the membrane-less jingle tambourine is common, though some Jamaican percussionists (like Uzziah “Sticky” Thompson) said they used the other tambourine with drumhead on some recordings too.

One album where it is used relatively a lot, in combination with other instruments, is on the Culture album Harder Than The Rest. Further analysis showed that the band Culture uses the tambourine relatively often, also on other albums (e.g. Good Things and Payday).

Other artists using it include Ijahman Levi, Gregory Isaacs, the Wailing Souls, Dennis Brown, the Itals, Bob Marley, Peter Tosh, Rod Taylor – and others - but – with all these artists - more occasionally than commonly. Only on specific songs. The same applies to more recent and current artists and productions in Reggae and Dancehall (Sizzla, Chronixx, Tarrus Riley a.o., who partly reuse older Reggae riddims). It can occasionally be heard in some newer Reggae songs and Riddims, as other percussion instruments

It in any case never became a standard instrument in Reggae. Not really ignored, but at most an occasionally used one. Predictably, the Gospel influenced Toots & the Maytals used a bit more regularly tambourines, but neither on all their songs.

Tambourines are – anyway – used in some well-known songs in the Reggae world, such as Ijahman’s Jah Heavy Load, Black Uhuru's Plastic Smile, Dennis Brown’s Should I (adding a nice shuffle feel around the hi-hat pattern), the Wailing Souls’ Jah Jah Gave Us Life, Culture’s Payday and Free Again, or Peter Tosh’s Pick Myself Up.

Bunny Wailer’s Boderation is an example of the tambourine with a “counter rhythm” function, reminding of polyrhythmic patterns, also found in Ijahman Levi’s beautiful song Are We A Warrior. Elsewhere, tambourine patterns remind of the Black churches or Gospel, as there are several also in Jamaica (Black Protestant churches with music). Often subtle (due to the nature and size of the instrument, of course, but effective.

Luckily, despite some Soul or Motown influence in Jamaica, even on Studio One (they say even equipment was taken over from Motown), luckily (in my opinion) the loud tambourine on the snare (mostly accentuated on the 3 in 4/4 beats in Reggae) as in some Motown Soul was not imitated in Jamaican music: tambourines tended to play around that accent, making it to my tatste often nicer and groovier. Also when on the snare drum accent (as in Culture's Tell Me Where You Get It, or Chronixx's Most I) it was not too loud.

MYSELF

I play in and rehearse with a Netherlands-based Reggae band as a percussionist for a few years now (Flavour Coalition). I use various small and big instruments (including hand drums, scrapers, bells, rattles, etc.). The other members were mostly appreciative of my percussion additions, yet someone nonetheless asked me why I did not use so much the tambourine. It was a Reggae band, and since he knew it is used in Reggae too, he found that a pity. He noticed other percussionists (in Reggae and other bands) used it often, I hardly.

I ended up responding that it was not my preferred percussion instrument, finding the tambourine sound too “cliché” or Poppy (Euro-mainstream), something like that, I said.. I also pointed at the lacking necessity, in light of the “fuller” (and similar) role of the (drum kit’s) hi-hat in many Reggae songs. I therefore preferred some “sharper” hand drums, scrapers, blocks, or bells, or other types of shakers (like the nice Cabasa), I liked a bit more, and considered more necessary.

Apart from personal preference, my personal “musical route” in and toward percussion also would explain it. I caught the flame of my love for percussion for a large part travelling to and in Cuba (between 2001 and 2006), where I heard and saw - often up-close - many live performances of Afro-Cuban music groups, often largely acoustic, and with percussion instruments. These did in Cuba seldom include tambourines, but instead bongos, scrapers, or congas, maracas, shekere variants, etcetera.

I immediately found some of these Afro-Cuban percussion instruments groovy and intriguing. The first instrument I took lessons for, in the Netherlands, was therefore the Bongos, with the two attached cylindrical drums of different sizes, of which I liked the edgy, groovy sound, as well as its inherent flexibility. This was followed by lessons for the Conga, another hand drum instrument I more or less fell in love with, and enjoyed playing a lot, including later in improvizing jamsessions, playing different genres: in the good tradition of legendary Cuban conguero Chano Pozo, varying from Jazz, to Blues, Pop, Rock, to Salsa, Reggae, and (relatively often) Funk.

I also went to specifically Reggae jamsessions, but mostly to play congas or bongos, or some small percussion instruments, like scrapers, or wood blocks. I certainly enjoyed myself enough, and felt no need to add so much the “cliché” tambourines, even if present. I also played cylindrical kete drums, during Rastafari-inspired Nyabinghi chants, often also shakers. Again, tambourines were not common there.

Over time I learned the basics or even advanced skills in other instruments I found interesting, focusing on sub-Saharan Africa, a part of the world that intrigued me since I was a child. I delved into Yoruba, Congo and other cultures, and thus into instruments like the (Yoruba) Ashiko, Djembe, the (Nigerian) Udu, and the Talking Drum, including even taking some djembe and talking drum lessons..

Growing up as a youth, with my Spanish mother, we had a few small percussion instruments at home, such as a toy drum, bells, and castanets, but seldom (as I recall) a tambourine as such. I did enjoy the castanets’ flexibility, and picked them up later as percussionist again. Maybe the regional origin of my mother in South Spain played a role, if we would have been Galician, we maybe would have a tambourine in our house, but instead our culture approached more the Andalusian model.

Neither was my Italian father from the Tarantella areas, but from the Alpine North. He played accordion and harmonica in his youth days, he told me. Combine this whole trajectory of mine (starting in the Afro-Cuban school of percussion, sub-Saharan African interest) - and simply not stumbling upon tambourines - with the fact that I have been a Reggae fan since my teens, and in Reggae music tambourines were not unknown, but neither standard or required.. Then it is largely explained why I am not the most fanatical tambourine user of all percussionists in the Netherlands. Another part of the explanation is my personal preference..

CONCLUSION

Yet, to be clear. Though it is not my main preference, and find it a bit too well-known, I certainly do not dislike the tambourine in and of itself. I have obtained some (both with and without membrane/drumhead), used it in some compositions, or sometimes with bands and in live performances, to variate with other instruments. For instance, I use it in my Vodou-music based composition Apwoksimasyon (in Haitian music the tambourine is used sometimes), of which particularly the bell pattern was a nice challenge for me. Also I used it in a composition based on Spanish Paso Doble (Paso Doble Adelante) and e.g. one on Samba (Samba Natty), and the tambourine without drumhead also, e.g. on Kafue. Just to give some examples of my own use as composer.

I recognize and appreciate its occasional “softening” and “jingly” possibilities for – like other percussion instruments – embellishing or even strengthening a groove or rhythmical interplay.. It is on the other hand only one of the many possibilities and options within the varied world of percussion.

In addition, as is shown above: the tambourine’s history, trajectory, and spread is very interesting, showing a tremendous flexibility and resilience over time and across cultures and countries, despite (or perhaps because of) its somewhat “subtle”, understated sound. Granted, its small size played a role in its spread (they say many sailors brought it with them, across the world), but of course also its possibilities and distinctive sound.