Friday, August 6, 2010

327. Some Thoughts on Evolution, Natural and Cultural: 11

One of the things that distinguishes Pygmy and Bushmen singing from literally all other indigenous music is the extraordinary degree of cooperative integration required, to the extent that everyone participating must be aware of what everyone around them is doing. And, since everyone present is expected to participate, it seems clear that all members of each band must be "gifted" with musical awareness and skill well beyond what might be expected of the average individual in just about any other society. The extraordinarily open, resonant, relaxed and effortlessly fluid qualities of Pygmy and Bushmen voices have astonished many musical professionals in our own society. Such abilities are, amazingly enough, widely shared among just about all members of any given band. In this case, we are not talking about the remarkable musical abilities of a small number of unusually "gifted" individuals, but of the society as a whole.

While elements of P/B style can be found in both the vocal and instrumental music of indigenous peoples in many other parts of the world, in most such cases the degree of spontaneous integration is much less. Typically, such music is performed by especially selected individuals, who must carefully rehearse before presenting their music to the rest of the group, usually as part of a ritual associated with a particular time of year or special occasion (e.g., harvest, planting, initiation, funeral). Among Pygmies and Bushmen such performances occur spontaneously, on a daily basis.

It might be tempting to dismiss the special musical aptitudes of these populations as a coincidence, a quirk of nature with no further significance. However, as I have demonstrated, it is precisely the Pygmies and Bushmen of Africa whose lineages are consistently associated, in study after study, with the deepest branches of the human family tree. And on the basis of this evidence, coupled with the musical evidence, I've been able to produce a "Hypothetical Baseline Culture" (HBC), representing the culture of our common ancestors, based on evidence drawn from traditions held in common by various Pygmy and Bushmen groups. (See Post 226 et seq.)

Therefore, unless I am mistaken (always possible), our Most Recent Common Ancestors would very likely have had more or less the same remarkable musical aptitudes as today's Pgymies and Bushmen. Which suggests that musical ability might indeed have provided a powerful adaptive advantage during the earliest stages of human history. But what could that advantage have been?

(to be continued . . . )

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