Saturday, February 15, 2014

Muslim Roots, U.S. Blues

If you link out to one thing from sansfife today (or ever), make it this.

The back-to-back recordings of the adhan (the Islamic call to prayer) and the early Delta blues singing of ex-slaves cannot be missed.

And here's the kicker, primes: slave owners let their slaves have their instruments so they could go on and sing their songs. With one exception.

The drum.

Turns out that the slave owners "felt threatened by its ability to let slaves communicate with each other and by the way it inspired large gatherings . . . ."

They were right. And I'm not sure that we ever really got off the plantation.

Find out more here.

Tuesday, February 11, 2014

85 People Own Us

The 85 most monied people in the world share a combined wealth equivalent to half of the entire world's population.

I've mentioned this statistic at our Primal Music gatherings, but it's worth getting the details here.

What does this have to do with primal music?

When you steal a man's voice, it's pretty easy to get away with taking just about everything else.

As Primal as it Gets

I just came across the work of this man, Mr. Marc Anderson of Wild Ambience.

He sets up his mics and picks up the music that's in the air!

Dim the lights and check out this fascinating recording from a frog pond in Malaysia!


Saturday, February 8, 2014

Drum Circle Today!

Rowan Storm will be facilitating a drum circle today (2/8) at the Levantine Cultural Center.

Her circles are great, attended primarily by women. Children are welcome.

Take the family!

Monday, February 3, 2014

Primal Music Monday 2/10

With God's help and permission, we'll bellow and bang in ancestral fashion as we gather for February's Primal Music Monday next week at Zawiya Perspective.

1800 East Garry Ave. Suite 101
Santa Ana, CA 92705
(949) 394-6090

The drums went over real big last time, and you can expect that there will again be plenty of pounding. I'll do a quick demo and then it's off to the races. If you're feeling it, shouts, calls, grunts, and all manner of primal vocalizing is more than encouraged!

We'll groove until we're spent or when things start to look like Sunday Service in rural Kentucky, and then we'll break for a happy toast: a glass or two of a cold linden flower-mint infusion. It makes men happy.

Those inclined to keep the rhythm going may do so as we transition to song, some Arabic stuff for sure, but moving quickly into an exploration of American folk and protest songs. We've got Guthrie, Seeger, and Dylan on the menu.

Dangerous stuff, for sure.

Again, a quick reminder of the rules:

1) This gathering is for men only.
2) Show up groomed and smelling good.
3) Absolutely no tuned instruments allowed. Bringing your own drum is encouraged.
4) Sound recording devices are fine, but no photography or video, please.

There are no other rules.

And we've actually got some door prizes for our guests! Show up and get your Primal Music Calendar! I might even have some stickers, and if you get one, do resist the urge to tag your local minbar. Please.

Looking forward to an evening with you, insha Allah.

Circle up!

Sunday, February 2, 2014

On Musical Instruments

I'll cop to this right out of the gate:

I'm a Muslim. I am conservative in my personal practice. As such, I take the conservative position of those Islamic scholars throughout history who have ruled that musical instruments, with the exception of the frame drum, are impermissible.

There are and have been other scholars, good men with a different, more liberal opinion on the matter of musical instruments. They have their followers. I am not one of them.

But I am also somebody that loves a good song. I can think of few things more powerful than the right song at the right moment. There was a time that I was handy with instruments, but I have long since given that up. Suffice it to say, I have lived both sides of the musical coin.

And as long as we confine our discussion to the individual's experience of musical instruments, whether playing them or listening to them, we are unlikely to reach any real conclusions on the matter of tuned instruments being ultimately beneficial or detrimental.

Where we can find some clarity, I believe, is when we look at the effect of tuned instruments at the societal level. And in order to do this, we need to go way, way back.

Jeremy Montagu, in his book Origins and Development of Musical Instruments speculates that it is "likely that musical instruments began with the concussive sounds of two objects struck together." He goes on to say that this striking may have been incidental, occurring as early man engaged in flint knapping. Maybe he was cracking nuts. We don't know, but we can imagine thumping and banging, maybe a whole lot of it all at once as members of the group worked at their projects. Communal rhythm is born.

And this is, according to Mr. Montagu, almost immediately attached to ritual and dance. Communal work leads to communal rhythm that bleeds out to facilitate the communal ties of religious ceremony and celebration.

People being what they are, we can imagine that things changed in a hurry. Some got good at all that rhythmic banging. This may have facilitated more intricate ritual and dance and the rhythmic practitioner may have been accorded greater esteem. As time goes on, man hits upon melodic possibilities. Striking slit logs produces different tones. Perhaps, in the stretching and drying of animal skins, we intuit the membraphones, or drums. A strong wind blowing over a hollow tree stump or a stand of reeds portends the early flute, and so on.

Each of these elements is refined over time, and while the community is still brought together by the sounds and effects of these early instruments, something else is happening. As the instruments become more complex in their construction and manipulation, a new class of person is making quite a splash.

The musician. Or perhaps the shaman? There is a relationship, then and now.

Gilbert Rouget, in his book Music and Trance: A Theory of the Relations Between Music and Possession, tells us that:
For the shaman, shamanizing and musicating are two aspects of one and the same activity. So much so that among the Yaruro, in Venezuela, he is called tõewame, which means "musician," or, more precisely, "he who sings and dances."
Though the ancient shaman's instruments were often quite simple and almost always of the percussive type (drums, rattles, sticks), there was introduced into his performing an element of spectacle that clearly separated him from the rest of the group. It was, as Rouget puts it, "a truly theatrical performance, or, more accurately perhaps, a one-man show."

Captivating, no doubt, with the experience enhanced in many cases with fermented beverages, tobacco, and hallucinogenic mushrooms.

Ladies and gentlemen, we have The Grateful Dead.

We've covered several millennia in a few short paragraphs, but seeing as there really is nothing new under the sun, let's make our points and wrap this up.

In addition to the vocal noises that our ancestors made, rudimentary percussive instruments added new sonic dimensions to our experience in a way that initially brought us together in ritual and celebration. It was all really easy, really accessible, and totally tied to the rhythms of life as they existed.

With the advent of the musician and his instruments, we see the community split and manipulated. We have been separated into performer and audience, respectively active and passive in our societal roles.

Fast forward to the present where communal singing has all but disappeared and stadiums are filled every weekend with inebriated drones professing their love and allegiance to corporate-funded prostitutes squawking their auto-tuned tommyrot through over-driven PA systems in what can only be described as the ultimate circus of political distraction.

Musical instruments, for all they might offer by way of immediate pleasure and distraction, have proven to be seductively divisive.

But what about a little campfire guitar? That brings the kids together real good, don't it, mister?

Sure. But what if someone forgets the guitar? Are we courageous enough to sing anyway?

Or have the instruments stolen our voices, cut us off from engaging one another in song, in celebration and remembrance?

There are some very conservative Islamic scholars that have gone as far as to say that it is legally permissible to break the musical instrument of the one playing it, an act that would be blatant and punishable destruction of property in any other context.

Although I do not advocate this, for all that these musical instruments have broken within us, the ruling does not strike me as unjust.

Saturday, February 1, 2014

Communal Singing Disappears in America

The article is a couple of years old, but a good read.

Best line:

 ". . . as civic engagement declined, our store of true folk songs evaporated."

And could it work the other way, I wonder? Through the primal exercise of group singing and drumming, are we likely to become more engaged citizens?


Go on and read a bit more here.