Colloquium in Historical Musicology and Music Theory
Friday, April 17, 2020, at 3pm, 622 Dodge Hall
Prof. Kofi Agawu (Graduate Center, CUNY)
"Finding the Beat in African Music: Further Notes and Caveats"
Abstract: A central issue for (mainly non-African) analysts of African music is the question of a regulative beat: does it exist, is it made manifest or merely assumed, and is there a single beat in
ensemble performance, or are there multiple beats? Proceeding from the belief that what is now needed is not another grand, overarching theory of African rhythm but detailed studies of individual performances, this paper describes some of the factors that shape beat awareness in a handful of West and Central African repertories. I note the absence of a word for beat in
many indigenous languages, along with the normative embodiment of meter by dancers. My main caveat is that beats are not intrinsic to the sonic material and so cannot be discovered by
internal means; rather, beats are mental constructs of conventional origins brought to the music by acculturated listeners, drummers and dancers.
Speaker Bio: Kofi Agawu was born in Ghana, where he received his initial education before studying composition and analysis in the UK and musicology in the US. His work focuses on analytical issues in selected repertoires of Western Europe and West Africa. He is the author of five monographs and numerous articles and reviews. His awards include a Guggenheim Fellowship, the Dent Medal, the Frank Llewellyn Harrison Medal, the Howard T. Behrman Award from Princeton University, and honorary degrees from Stellenbosch University (2017) and Bard College (2019). He has served on the editorial boards of leading journals in musicology, music theory, African studies and ethnomusicology. A Corresponding Fellow of the British Academy, he is a Fellow of the Ghana Academy of Arts and Sciences, Honorary Member of the Royal Musical Association, and Adjunct Professor in the Institute of African Studies, University of Ghana, Legon. He was Music Theorist in Residence for the Dutch-Flemish Music Theory Society in 2008-09 and George Eastman Visiting Professor at Oxford University in 2012-13.