ISSN 2158-5296
AAWM JOURNAL VOL. 5 NO. 2 (2017)

Comparisons of African and Diasporic Rhythm: The Ewe, Cuba, and Martinique

Julian Gerstin

Comparisons of African and Diasporic rhythms by both scholars and working musicians have in recent years increased in sophistication and explanatory power. Yet what Polak (2010) calls the “mainstream” view leans heavily on a relatively small number of specific musical cultures, among which Ewe music of Ghana and Afrocuban music are strikingly visible. Should Ewe/Cuban rhythmic structures be taken as paradigmatic of African/Diasporic music? This article briefly reviews current analytical approaches, summarizing the mainstream view, questioning in particular its existing emphasis on formal structures in timelines, and extending it to include dance and the ensemble orchestration of rhythmic roles. The article then presents an analysis of rhythmic structures in music and dance of Martinique, demonstrating that some aspects of Ewe and Cuban rhythm do not apply in other African/Diasporic cases. Specifically, Martinican music is not oriented (that is, structured by a contrast between 3-3-2 and non-3-3-2 rhythms); embedded 3-3-2 figures clash with rather than reinforce one another; and ternary music is based on three main beats rather than the typical Ewe/Cuban four main beats, excepting one highly ambiguous dance that cannot be reduced to either. The article argues for a broader, more flexible picture of African/Diasporic rhythmic structure.

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Contributor Information:
Julian Gerstin, PhD, recently retired after 28 years as an adjunct teacher, most recently at Keene State College. He continues work as a community music teacher, composes, and performs with jazz and Afrocuban groups.

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