Thursday, May 31, 2007

19. More Branches

Before proceeding, I need to correct an error. The "haplogroups" exhibiting P/B style are A1-A4, but not A5, which apparently comes later and is more characteristic of mainstream Bantu singing, i.e., neither hocketed nor interlocked but generally in "call and response" form. I see that this error has crept into the maps as well. This probably reflects some ambivalence on my part regarding the presence of call and response vocalizing outside Africa. This is a practice which may or may not have been part of the stylistic mix the "Out of Africa" migrants would have carried with them. Call and response is now found in many parts of the world, but it's history isn't clear, since it's less distinctive than either P/B or Breathlessness and might have been independently invented both inside and outside of Africa.

I want now to consider another very important style family, or in this case superfamily: B3, "Social Unison." Social unison is a type of group vocalizing where all parts share the same rhythm, as in a typical Christian hymn. They may be singing either polyphonically (i.e. harmonizing) or in unison. It's easy to take this type of relatively simple group coordination for granted as a reasonable or logical way for any group to organize itself when singing together. It is, however, rare in subsaharan Africa. For that reason, it's unlikely that the Out of Africa migrants or their descendents were singing in social unison at any time prior to the bottleneck. So when, and how -- and also why -- could such a practice have developed?

An interesting clue is provided by the Australian Aborigines, whose history on that continent goes back at least 50,000, and very possibly over 60,000, years, which could not have been too long after the initial migration out of Africa. All indications, including the genetic research, point to their descent from the original African migrants, yet they have a very contrastive and distinctive physical morphology and a totally contrastive musical style. A clue to their origins could be the existence of so-called "Australoid" peoples in southern India, many of whom, such as the Vedda of Sri Lanka, bear a strong morphological resemblance to Australians. Geneticists Alan Redd and Mark Stoneking have reported genetic results that "link Aboriginal Australian populations with populations from the subcontinent of India," whereas their findings "do not support a close relationship between Aboriginal Australian and PNG (Papua New Guinea) populations..." as many assumed would be the case. (Redd and Stoneking, "Peopling of the Sahul: mtDNA Variations in Aboriginal Australian and Papua New Guinean Populations," in American Journal of Human Genetics, 65:808, 1999).

While the genetic picture remains complicated and controversial, with no one clear interpretation dominating, it is possible, nevertheless, to speculate, as I did in my essay, that the Australians may have originated in southern India as one small band of Toba or tsunami survivors, some of whom remained in India while others eventually made their way to Australia. In other words, it looks as though their musical style could have resulted from the same sort of disastrous culture loss that produced the very different style families B1 and B2, associated with the same genetic and cultural "bottleneck." Only in this case, the break with the original P/B style seems to have been more complete, as there is little the two would seem to have in common.

Style family B3 is subdivided into two main branches, B3a, "Unison Iterative One Beat" and B3b, "Polyphonic Iterative." What both have in common is the "iterative" aspect, i.e., a tendency to reiterate the same note, often several times in a row, and especially at phrase endings. Since this type of melody is so distinctive and unusual, and since it is so often associated with social unison, it makes sense to treat all instances as stemming from the same root. In this case we would appear to have no one surviving style that exemplifies the root style and must therefore conjecture that it may have been lost.

B3 subdivides into a polyphonic and a unison branch, conveniently separating Polynesian iterative social unison, predominantly polyphonic and open throated, from what I've called "Unison Iterative One-Beat," a relatively harsh, tense-voiced unison style, often supported by a very simple one-beat accompaniment on drums or idiophones such as clappers or rattles. As I mentioned earlier, in section 11 of this blog, this is a style apparently held in common by two geographically very distant groups, Australian aborigines and native Americans. The two styles, labeled B3a1 and B3a2, have a great deal in common, as already discussed, strongly suggesting that despite the truly enormous geographical distance, they might well stem from a single root -- a root that would have formed very early after the bottleneck, most likely in India.

To understand just how similar the two styles can be, let's pause to compare them. Here, first, is an example from western Australia, followed by a Flathead Indian Powow Dance (Both examples are accessible via Smithsonian Folkways: Note the very striking similarities: tense voices, sung in unison, frequent note iteration, especially at phrase endings, gradually downward melodic trend, and one-beat rhythmic accompaniment. The most significant difference is a tendency for most Australian melodies to employ narrow intervals, while most Amerindian songs favor wide intervals. A great many other similar examples could be provided for comparison, especially among Amerindian groups from the Prairie and Plains regions.

Consulting the third of the little maps, labeled "Post-bottleneck founder effects," we see B3 splitting off in three directions, one toward Australia, another toward Melanesia (where both the unison and polyphonic variants of B3 can be found) and a third pointed northeast, in the direction of Bering Strait. In the following map, "Continued Migrations," we see B3a2 in Australia, and B3a1 in North America, both stemming from a hyphothetical root, B3a, which may have at one point migrated, as in the map, to somewhere in or around China, but is apparently no longer to be found anywhere in Asia. The polyphonic variant, B3b is shown safely ensconsed in Melanesia, from whence it has made its way all points east to the islands of Polynesia.


Brodie said...

Hi Victor-

Could you elaborate further on why you believe the B3 style, as you describe it, branched off in Asia into distinct branches in Melanesia/Polynesia, Australia, and North America? From what I understand, the Polynesians were accomplished navigators and there are theories, albeit controversial, that propose they had Pre-Columbian contact in North America. Is it possible that seafaring island peoples propagated this musical style in Australia and North America, possibly in the more recent past?

Also, I'd be interested to know more about call and response, which you touch on very briefly in this post. Specifically, could you provide some more details of why it is it so difficult to determine if this style is indicative of a common origin or was independently invented at different times?

Your blog has been a very interesting read so far and I look forward to reading more.


Brodie said...

Hi Victor-

Could you please elaborate a little on why you believe the B3 style diverged somewhere in Asia and branched into 3 distinct styles in Melanesia/Polynesia, Australia, and North America? The Polynesians were accomplished seafarers and there are theories, albeit controversial, that they may have had Pre-Columbian contact with North America. Is it possible that the seafaring island peoples could have propagated this style in Australia and North America, possibly at a more recent time? Of course it would seem odd to me that PNG's musical styles would not also be influenced if such was the case.

Also, I'd be interested to hear more details about why it is so difficult to determine if the widespread use of call and response is indicative of a common origin or independent invention?

Your blog has been a very interesting read and I look forward to reading more.


DocG said...

Hi Brodie,
The Polynesian versions of B3 (B3b and B3b1) are very different from the Amerindian and Australian versions (B3a1 and B3a2). Also B3a1 and B3a2 are very widespread in the Americas and Australia respectively, which makes it unlikely that these styles could have originated in Polynesia, which as you suggest has a relatively recent history.

The problem with call and response per se is that it isn't terribly distinctive, so it's difficult to argue that it could not have developed independently. African styles with call and response are in any case different from, say, European styles with call and response, so we can't really associate it with a particular style cluster, as we can with the other musical "haplogroups" I've identified.