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African Music & Poetry

Such devices are not unusual in Western poetry as well nd may create a sense of music without actually being sung or associated with music. Consider the poem that begins "I asked the river," a poem in which repeated patterns of questions are used to interrogate the river, the mountain, and the trees before the speaker states that he is silent because there is no one there to please. In this poem, sounds are repeated as well as phrases, a rhetorical pattern, and a pattern of ideas. Repetition is an important element in both poetic speech and musical expression, and this is true not only in African music but in most musical forms with which I am familiar and many poetic expressions as well, at least poetry that can be considered rhythmic or lyrical. "I asked the river" is a poem that is developed in a series of short lines that are very lyrically oriented as they develop an idea in short bursts, in questions, and in the answers to those questions. The music which the poem evokes for me is highly rhythmic, with a rapid tempo that serves as counterpoint to the speaker who might be delivering such a poem. The rhythmic repetitions of the music have the odd effect of adding depth to the spoken word when a poem is read or repeated over the music, and one reason for this may be that certain speech rhythms have served to create the music, just as another may be the way sixteenth-notes are used in African rhythms to emphasize a pulse structure that seems to breathe life, making the music an evocation of the life force that is very much in keeping with the rhythms of this poem and with the meaning of the words.

Of course, the traditions of the poem and of the music remain very different, and both are somewhat alien to my personal experience. Yet I find that they mix in interesting ways that would clearly not be intended by either musician or poet. Some Nigerian music has a recitative structure that is also evocative of this particul

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African Music & Poetry. (1969, December 31). In Retrieved 21:52, July 01, 2022, from