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AFRICA IN SCOTT JOPLIN'S MUSIC

 

AFRICA IN SCOTT JOPLIN'S MUSIC provides a wealth of information on African retentions in Scott Joplin's music, an important area of African diaspora investigation.  Such a contribution is especially welcome since so little research has appeared on any aspect of Joplin's music in recent decades.  The author sees her focus on African music as "an investigation of the fundamental differences in African and Western rhythmic concepts" (p.1). She indicates implicitly that significant musical concessions have been made by African people in order to retain elements of their "highly sophisticated and polyrhythmic heritage" (p.1) in merging with the less complex musical structure of the major culture of the United States.

Not only does Lems-Dworkin offer her readers valuable insight into rhythmic patterns as paradigmatic tools in search of African retentions in the music of Scott Joplin, but she examines how African conceptions of syncopation (a Western-inspired term) have influenced twentieth century African American composers as well as their contemporary European counterparts.

She also seeks to establish a methodological approach to Joplin's music to replace the Western theory developed during the turn-of-the-century by early European Musicologists and White American critics.  Though providing a few transcriptions to support her argument on Western notions of syncopation, Lems-Dworkin shows us that such notation does not figure prominently in the conceptualization of African American music nor is it embedded in the performance style of the musicians, for music is sound and not the printed notes of the score that represent meaning.

The first section of this monograph, "White Man's Music - The Background" and "The Fate of Black Music in the United States" echoes Lems-Dworkin's strongest area of research.  She fearlessly critiques African American scholars for proclaiming Joplin's music as the "whitest" of black music (p.2).  Though many radical Black scholars will be grateful that the author has demonstrated the need to reevaluate the works of Joplin, many Western-trained African Americans will perhaps remain convinced that Joplin's music is indeed the whitest of Black music.

The second section, "The Scotch Snap," offers a valuable overview of ragtime's rhythmic unit, known in Western terminology as syncopation (where the first note of a two-beat sequence is shorter than the second).  Lems-Dworkin points out the serious problem that results from analyzing rhythm within an African context where cross rhythms and multiple rhythms occur simultaneously.  The Snap rhythms do not as yet have a special appellation within the conceptualization of African music performance (p.5.)

Section three, "The Black Snap," begins with the author's critique of Western theories superimposed on African Amerian music.  She investigates early writers such as Henry Krehbiel who proclaims Negro rhythms as aboriginal relics (Krehbiel p. 13.) 

In section four, "The Black Snap and Ragtime," Lems-Dworkin furthers her critique of earlier writers by demonstrating the close association of language and speech in African and African American rhythmic patterns. Her discussion of clapping patterns in South Africa confirms theories of transnationalism and its effect upon music of the African Diaspora.

In the following sections, the author launches her argument on African music and misconceptions about African rhythms in ragtime music.  Taking her cues from the leading expert on African music, J.H. Kwabena Nketia, Lems-Dworkin summarizes common elements linking African music and ragtime....the main body of the monograph is full of clearly valuable information, elegantly presented.  Certainly, the materials within contain important data for further theoretical interpretation.

Kudos to the author of AFRICAN MUSIC: A PAN-AFRICAN ANNOTATED BIBLIOGRAPHY and VIDEOS OF AFRICAN AND AFRICAN-RELATED PERFORMANCE: AN ANNOTATED BIBLIOGRAPHY for another vital, self-published document.

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