Credit Where Credit Is Due

“it’s very exciting and beautiful WHEN YOU BECOME AWARE OF IT”
This is what a musician who worked with Steve Reich said about African music. He was speaking of the overlapping patterns used by West African drum choirs (and many other instruments) to produce the kaleidoscopic, shifting patterns of the music. In an interview I have taped from npr from several years ago (there are quite a few listed for npr that you can listen to), Reich is very clear about the inspiration he took from West African music; he not only saw a book which I assume was A.M. Jones’ Studies In African Music b/c he references the scores which make up the entire second volume and were recorded in the 50s in a most clever manner, but he even studied in Accra. If you know anything about West African music, you can hear the Akan sort of sound he produces in his composition “Drumming”. Even more interesting, his piece speeds the tempo up, which makes it sound like the music of the Baoule over next door in the Ivory Coast, a group related to the Akan culturally; they play the same rhythms, just faster………… like Reich.
So I’m asking myself the same question I often do: why do people in the U.S. like to listen to the Blues………. played by White guys. Why do they like to listen to African rhythms……… played by European Americans? I don’t quite get the point. I have many, many records of African music which sound like Reich’s music, except they are the traditional music of West Africa. It was said that Reich’s trip to West Africa was cut short by a bout of malaria; why didn’t he go back? Why was he not more like the young Ben Paulding (, who is in Ghana as we speak (or I write) and has stuff posted to YouTube that should make you quake inside. As far as I can tell, he was like any other North American White kid but got interested in percussion and went for the African stuff. But he acknowledges that.
Now, I am not taking anything away from Reich’s obvious talent and body of work, nor am I even questioning the validity of using the West African traditional music as a base or inspiration or model or source of ideas…….. whatever you want to call it. I would just like it recognized that whatever Reich has done has been done and is being done daily in the music of the West Coast of Africa and in the interior, from the Senegambia down through Angola and is done in unbelievable variety. Reich’s music has been described as one of the one hundred greatest pieces of music of the 20th century; West African music has been described as one of the wonders of the world.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *