Thursday, December 17, 2009

257. The Baseline Scenarios -- 33: The Migrants -- Culture

The easiest aspect of the Hypothetical Migrant Culture (HMC) for me to speculate about is music, since this is the area where I've done by far the most research. And the first thing I need to point out in this regard is the fact that P/B, i.e., Pygmy/Bushmen style, which I've written so much about both here and elsewhere (see, for example, Post 5 et seq., as well as the articles downloadable from Post 172), is 1. in some form or other, vocal or instrumental or both, widely distributed among indigenous peoples in many different parts of the world; and 2. in its most complex, complete and characteristic form found only in Africa, usually among Pygmies and Bushmen, though some other African groups come very close to the Pygmies and Bushmen in certain respects. Even in such cases, however, the style appears to be reserved for certain types of ritual or festival or certain times of year, e.g., associated with planting or harvest time, etc., whereas the Pygmies and Bushmen sing this way as part of their daily life.

I've already made what I believe to be strong case for P/B as an equally pervasive and important aspect of the culture of the ancestral group, HBC. What must be considered now is what role, if any, the style played in HMC.

One clue, as far as Africa is concerned, is the very interesting center of P/B style to be found in a region very close to what is widely considered both a possible birthplace of "modern" humans and the staging area for the Out of Africa migration: the Omo River valley in southwest Ethiopia. According to the Cantometric database, the following peoples in this region, all speakers of "Omotic" languages, vocalize at least some of the time using interlocking counterpoint, one of the most distinctive features of P/B: the Ari, Dorze, Gamo, Ghimira and Wolamo. As far as I know, however, the Dorze are the only ones in this region who regularly yodel, another important feature of P/B among Pygmies and Bushmen.

Whether the culture of the Out of Africa migrants was as saturated with this style as the cultures of today's Pygmies and Bushmen are, or whether it might have taken some more or less "watered down" form by that time, is very difficult to say. Judging from the widespread distribution of certain very distinctive features of this very distinctive style, especially in certain key regions along the southern Out of Africa route, it's impossible for me to believe that a very similar musical practice did not play an extremely important role in HMC.

The following are characteristics of P/B widely found among various (though by no means all) indigenous cultures outside of Africa. Assuming a single migration, the culture of the Out of Africa migrants being the only possible link between HBC and the ancestral traditions of all these different peoples, the same characteristics would therefore have played an important role in HMC as well:

1. Simple shouted "hocket," where one voice or one group half sings and half shouts one or two notes, in rapid alternation with other voices or groups;

2. more elaborate forms of hocket, where two or more voices interlock closely together to produce a melodic or contrapuntal resultant;

3. more smoothly integrated interlocking counterpoint, very similar to the above, and also producing resultant effects;

4. imitative or even canonic forms of vocal counterpoint, often resembling simple rounds, but sometimes much more complex;

5. additive structures, where there are as many parts as there are participants, who enter and exit as they please;

6. a continuous flow of sound, with no audible articulation points and alternation of breathing among all participants;

7. wide, disjunct melodic intervals, often producing a "fanfare" type effect;

8. yodel -- many groups in Africa that sing in variant forms of P/B do not also yodel, but judging from the importance of yodel among so many indigenous peoples outside of Africa, HMP almost certainly did;

9. some form of percussion accompaniment, ranging from handclaps to the striking of sticks or simple rattles -- while such rhythms can be extremely intricate and subtle among Pygmies and Bushmen and indeed many other African groups, we don't find comparable rhythmic complexity outside of Africa, at least not among indigenous peoples, which means that HMC may not have had as elaborated a rhythmic sense as their ancestors;

In the next post, I'll discuss instrumental music, which would most likely have played only a minor role in HBC, but must have been far more important and elaborated among the Out of Africa migrants.


German Dziebel said...

"in its most complex, complete and characteristic form found only in Africa, usually among Pygmies and Bushmen, though some other African groups come very close to the Pygmies and Bushmen in certain respects."

Do you mean those Omotic groups you mention later, or some other African groups? Which African groups come the closest to having P/B style?

DocG said...

"Which African groups come the closest to having P/B style?"

A great many vocalize in some form of P/B, but rarely in a manner resembling either Pygmy or Bushmen vocalizing as closely as they resemble one another. Post 44 ( contains a map of those African groups in the Cantometric database at that time (July 2007) that were coded as vocalizing using either interlock or yodel or both. The ones in red use both and are in that sense closer to Pygmies and Bushmen than those that interlock but don't yodel.

It's been a while since I listened carefully to the actual recordings and some are no longer available to me, but as I recall the Dorze come quite close, as well as the Ouldeme. However, both groups sing in this style only during certain times of year, as I recall. In other words, the style has become ritualized for them, while among the Pygmies and Bushmen it is part of everyday life.