"African ryhthm" was invented in the 1950s when, thanks to pioneering research by the Reverend A. M. Jones, Alan Merriam, Gilbert Rouget, Erich von Hornbostel, and John Blacking, among others, "African music" was construed as an essentially rhythmic phenomenon. Three decades and a sizable body of empirical research later, it is easy to see that an overriding ideology of difference (between "Africa" and the "West") motivated these early efforts. This essay reinvents "African rhythm" not by denying its own ideological construction but by engaging in an imaginary dialogue with earlier researchers in an effort to concretize that which was missing from their representations. In it, I develop a view of African rhythm in which its mechanical aspects (grouping, accents, periodicity) are shown to reside in broader patterns of temporal signification (movement, language and gesture). Although this is a less elegant proposition (in the mathematical sense), it is phenomenologically truer to the African experience. The latter, in turn, is not a mystified precolonial essence but the more "contaminated" and inherently contradictory condition of postcoloniality itself. "African music" in this construction is not synonymous with "African rhythm," although the latter's apparent complexity, explicitly thematized in earlier writings, reemerges against a richer conceptual background.
- Copyright 1995 The American Musicological Society, Inc.