Jembe: african music

African music provides African people from everywhere in the world the “ message of solidarity,” which continuously unifies them despite distance and long historical background.  That is wonder in African spirit that is always revived and enhanced every time the music is played because the general feeling and meaning of beatings of drums remind them of their origin.

In a magazine article referring to drumming of djembe music, “ Echoing the unity we experienced earlier while chanting, we now had engaged our entire bodies, and it required every iota of our concentration” (Indianapolis, p. 100).

Jembe or Djembe refers to a musical instrument popular and originated in West Africa characterized by a curved soft wood and an animal skin that made up of a drum. Through the course of time, many non-native Africans gained interest in the instrument and the music and therefore became subject of interest of many research and analysis.

The two authors in your readings are both Americans who have devoted considerable portion of their lives to the study of African music.  What challenges will non-Africans encounter in their study of traditional African music?

Those two authors have given opposing opinions about Jembe or African music characterized as purely beating of drums.  Eric Charry recognized Jembe as a form of music that began to achieve worldwide recognition; John Miller Chernoff found this kind of music as something boring and monotonous.

Perhaps, for Eric Charry, the most important challenge that this music genre is facing is its adaption of Western culture, which for his perspective may obliterate the deeper meaning of the music as Africans are emotionally expressive of their feelings which they usually do in beating of drums.  Chernoff in frustrated tone may consider further improvement of the music by accompanying other musical instruments to gain more appreciation from the audience.

Likewise, non-Africans may feel the necessity to improve Jembe that significantly represents a kind of culture and at the same time functional to other cultures of the world.

In Africa

Due to the growing influence of Western cultures into the music and due to the other social, cultural, and political condition of the country, the music has lessened its relevance especially to younger generation.  At this point of argument, there are challenges that African people must take into consideration.

First, the emergent acceptance of the genre to the world of music in general poses threat to the cultural legacy of the music that represents a unique culture of these people.

This is evident in Charry’s statement, “ The new ensembles further remove jembe drumming from its village roots by almost entirely dispensing with dancers” (p. 3).  As western influence emerges in the music, it may soon lose its original meaning and symbolism.

Another challenge is for Jembe teachers or the expatriates to fully deliver the cultural meaning of the music to their students to strengthen its unique characteristics so as to promote their culture to younger generation.  Charry again mentioned, “ The frustrations of some African teachers when they hear their village rhythms being played wrong, are becoming more visible in workshops” (p. 3).

Outside of Africa

First, there is growing “ misconceptions about the instrument” according to Charry.  This is seconded by Chernoff when he stated, “ People from Western cultures historically have had a difficult time understanding anything African” (p. 10).

Their opinion is pointing towards making the music adaptable to other culture for appreciation of African culture and at the same time making the music relevant to peoples’ lives by learning African language and tradition, and/or by translating the lyric in other language such as in English.

Second, African Jembe may not be able to enter the Western music for the big discrepancy in rhythms.  Chernoff argued, “ Popular Western attitudes towards African music, whether affirmative or negative, are alike in emphasizing an awesome distance between Western and African sensibilities” (p. 4).

Therefore, African may gain acceptance from the public as a diverse and not belonging to contemporary nor pop music.

Thirdly, it is important also that artists “ achieve its communal purpose” (Chernoff), which refers to the quality of the art in accordance with the standard of the music in the perspective of the African people.  Musicians therefore have to “ articulate the philosophical and moral systems” of the society to see its relevance in the people’s lives.

These challenges may either improve the music genre or provide consideration to enhancing the music for its cultural values and sense.