Friday, June 22, 2007

38. Blow Ye Winds of Morning

Picking up the thread from post 36, I'd like to consider the role of certain very significant instruments, notably certain wind instruments: whistles, ocarinas, horns, trumpets and especially pipes -- including panpipes. There are many ensembles in Africa consisting of such instruments, either all of one kind or, in some cases a mixture -- and typically each instrument plays only one or two notes, interlocking with one another according to principles very similar to those of the vocal style we've been discussing, i.e., "Interlocked Hocket." It looks very much as though the instrumental practices might have developed from the vocal style. It's also possible the two could have developed together.

Linguist/ethnomusicologist Roger Blench discusses such ensembles in a recent essay, available online, entitled Reconstructing African music history. See especially the section entitled "3. Polyphonic Wind Ensembles," beginning on p. 8. On page 12, he presents a very interesting map, indicating the distribution of such ensembles in Africa. What struck me immediately on a first viewing was the correspondence of this distribution with the distribution of many Pygmy groups in the central area, and the Bushmen in the south. While Bushmen do not currently have such ensembles, there is good evidence they did in the past, as Blench notes, referring to their presence among the closely related Khoi (Hottentots) "at the time of Portuguese contact." Also, the smaller area he outlines in the northwest is centered in southern Mali, where a group of Pygmies called the Tellem apparently lived at one time, before relocating to central Africa.

Blench does not hear the resemblances I hear between Pygmy/Bushmen hocket/interlock and the types of instrumental hocket he describes on these pages. In the next few posts I'll be looking into various aspects of this relationship in an attempt to sort out some of the similarities, differences, possibilities and disagreements, drawing on a variety of sources and concepts.

Sorry this post must be so short, but I've been spending most of my time lately going through some of the literature on this very interesting and to my mind extremely important issue. I'll be taking a break on Saturday (I DO have a life, in case you're interested) but hope to be back with much more on Sunday.


Anonymous said...

It was very interesting for me to read that blog. Thanx for it. I like such topics and everything that is connected to them. I would like to read more on that blog soon.

Brodie said...

Hi Victor,

Is Blench's essay still available somewhere online that you know of? The link doesn't appear to be working anymore and it sounded like a really interesting read.


DocG said...

Hi Brodie -- I just checked and Blench's website is currently down.
Whether this is a temporary thing or it's down permanently, I have no idea. I hope he's OK. Blench's distribution map can be found on Post 43, Battle of the Maps. (