Introduction and background information
For every kind of music there is a culture behind it. Rarely does music develop out of nothing. Culture means the general way of life of a particular people. This includes how they led their lives, how they related to each other, how they related with their neighbors and the like. It also includes what they infer about religion, the supernatural and also about their origin. All this reflects in the kind of music they create. Music just like culture is not static it is vibrant and dynamic and is in essence a cultural heritage.
In light of the above, a closer inspection of a particular people’s music reveals that the music talks about nature- this is generally the people’s environment- whatever is around them- the explainable and the un-explainable. It also talks about war and conflict be it intra- tribal or inter-tribal war and conflict and the like. Through a people’s music one can infer their feelings towards any subject that concerns them and how they feel that things and situations should be. Also shown is the way the people think and in general their world-view –this is how a given people perceive life and whatever it encompasses. Music also story-tells who the people concerned are. Their origin their migrations and settlements e.t.c
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Music is rarely unaccompanied. Most cultures have their own unique instruments, some universally used instrument or a version of a universal instrument. These instruments accompany the music practiced and performed by these people and from them you can learn something about the people and their way of life. For example, the people might create instruments that produce certain animal sounds common in their region. These can be like horns and trumpets to produce elephant noises. The performers might themselves produce the animal sounds in their music, for example, chirping sounds in imitation of birds and the like.
In this paper we are going to look at the kamba music and what it reveals about the kamba people as compared to other cultures and their music.
Though now almost if not completely extinct is the kamba dancing. The dancing is the most spectacular manifestation of this people’s culture. The dancing is characterized by awesome acrobatics that include somersaults leaps and high jumps performed to throbbing polyrhythmic drumbeats. These vigorous dances have themes and not surprisingly military ones. These arose from their huge participation in the in the country’s armed forces where they fought in the first world war in India under the British government. The kamba were opposed to colonial occupation and rule and therefore included this in their music.
One of the enduring dances is the “kilumi” dance. Formally the kilumi was performed by old women showing that kambas had different dances for different age groups and genders. Nowadays the dance is performed and danced to by even men. Just like most kamba dances drums, mostly two that accompany the ululations and singing, are used in kilumi dances
This is a dance performed in celebrations by young unmarried people. It is very short mostly because of its tiring pace. This dance is performed in pairs and gets vigorous as it nears the climax, which is when the male dancer (Anake) makes a high jump and somersaults.
The instruments used in this dance are a set of four drums and three whistles.
This is a dance for strictly circumcised teenagers. It is very popular because it is in this dance that most youths choose their life partners. The performance of this dance shows that circumcision is highly regarded by the kamba people. Being circumcised gives the young man the right to marry and own property. The uncircumcised boys are often looked down upon by those who’ve already undergone the right. This comes out clearly in their exclusion from this dance. It is also a drum dance.
This is a dance for all community members. It is mostly performed after the community has had a good harvest. During this celebration, a goat is slaughtered, it’s blood poured under the holy “kitutu” tree and it’s meat left under the tree for their God- “Mulungu”. This celebration and dance shows that the kamba are religious people and recognize that there exists a supernatural being who created them and the universe. They recognize that he is the one who gives them rain to grow their crops. The kamba value their relationship with their God and that’s why they perform this rite to him. This dance also involves the drum.
This is a relatively young. It came into existence during the Second World War when the kamba and the Giriama served together in the colonial army. The dance is performed as an accompaniment while elders enjoy beer made from honey. The dance is not primarily for dancing. The instruments involved are two drums, one small and one large. From the performance of this dance shows that the kamba had different leisure activities for different age groups. In this case the elders take beer that is made from honey. It also shows that most probably only elders are allowed to take beer.
There are many different types of songs in the kamba community. The songs are composed on a wide range of topics affecting the community. All types of songs have names
Mbathi sya kivalo
These are songs commenting on the general society. They rebuke the social misfits and outlaws. These are accompanied by dance and mostly instrumental music. Whistles, jingles and shakers feature prominently when it comes to instrumental music. The distinguishing factor in these songs is the steps performed and the drum used. Some songs are also unaccompanied. These songs show that the kambas value good social and moral conduct.
These are mourning songs performed by unmarried girls at a newly married girl’s home to “mourn” the loss of one of their colleague. They are mostly sad, mournful and unaccompanied songs. These songs show that the kambas esteem marriage.
These songs are neither danced to nor accompanied. They are sung during the interlude between dances, at weddings or after work. These songs covered events, experiences and attitudes of the kamba, conserving traditions and defending customary norms. They also conveyed the people’s hopes, aspirations and fears. The language used is highly figurative with metaphors, similes and innuendos using imagery common to the people and their surrounding. They challenged people to decipher their meaning. They denounced deviant behavior and helped discipline wrongdoers and rogues. The wrongdoers were exposed in public through the use of these songs.
Afro-American music and culture
In comparison we will look at afro- American music and what it reflects about the afro-American culture. This is because most African music and cultures are more or less similar to the kamba; therefore, for the sake of diversity we look at afro-American music. Afro-Americans are originally Africans who were sold as slaves to the Americas to work in the up-coming industries and plantations. With time and as they multiplied in numbers they needed to assert themselves and preserve their own history in the face of foreign land, language and culture. They performed songs that did this for them in more than one way. We will look at some of their compilations.
Spirituals are sacred songs sang in churches. They are mostly sang in unison and are usually unaccompanied. If ever accompanied, the instruments used are minimal and might include just the keyboard. Only recently are these songs being accompanied by drums electronic guitars and dances. These songs despite being sacred called attention to their plight and demanded equal treatment since God made them all equal.
This was sung by labour organizers to call for and encourage collective action. It was a powerful symbolic response to their oppression under the new system installed by the Anglos thoughout the southwest. Afro-American music draws on the lived experiences of ordinary men and women who were and often are defined and limited by the cultural construction of race, class and gender.
Afro-americans use music as a means of transcending racial segregations since there is no way of segregating airwaves.
Through music blacks and white could come together and transcend social limits imposed by segregation. It is pointed out that travelling black and white often come into contact and influenced each others’ musical repertoires and playing styles. Responses to racism and social segregation were reflected in the American roots music. For the afro-americans there has been a long reciprocal connection between religion, song and the reproduction of “community”
Unequal power relationships, shaped by differences in race and class and often gender have characterized the development of “folk” music from its roots in local communities to wide and diverse audiences in their quest for rights.
From the above we can see that freedom has been a key theme in American music, both in terms of the ideas expressed by the music the uses to which the music is often put within the social change movements. The history of American roots is intricately woven with individual and collective struggle for social change and freedom from oppression. Afro-americans musicians mostly transform their harsh experiences into powerful musical expressions and embody the spirit of freedom and refusal of constraint. This is prominent in present day rap music that is dominated by Afro-Americans. What they sing and rap about is their demand for rights, fair treatment and equal opportunities.
The instruments used by these musicians have always been more advanced than those used locally. These include the piano, keyboard guitar and other electronic instruments. This is the only glaring difference between their music and the kamba music. Otherwise the themes incorporated are similar in more than one way. They both demand freedom and liberation, from the colonialists in the case of the kamba and their former masters in the case of the afro-Americans. They sing about the ills of society and how people should treat each other and their neighbors. Both sing about their origin and identity and also what they want to attain in future.
From the above we can see that music really does reflect a people’s culture. This is simply because whatever music a people create is influenced by whatever is around them. Their environment, their general way of life and mostly, how they perceive the universe. The kamba had different songs and dances for different genders and age groups whereas in the case of the Afro-Americans anyone could join in the songs and performances. From this we can infer that Afro-Americans really wanted to be accepted as part and parcel of their new habitat. They showed the unity and accommodation they needed so badly, in their songs by making them inclusive for all.Idenity has always been the major crisis on their part and that is why it dominates most of their music. However, they also have music for entertainment and relaxation like the blues and jazz music. The kamba had none of this quest and instead wanted the colonialists out of their motherland. They sang about their neighbors, the hunting and cultivation: this is what dominated their everyday lives.
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