Minstrel Banjo

For enthusiasts of early banjo

Repertoire advice? Early banjo pieces that show African influence?

Hi everyone--really enjoying everyone's videos and high level discourse, a relative rarity online these days, it seems!

Anyway, sorry if this has been beaten about somewhere before, but I'm putting together a little lecture/recital on traditional bloodlines of early banjo music, exploring African/ Celtic and European contributions to early repertoire and playing styles.

I wanted to ask if anyone could suggest some pieces that best represent the West African roots of the banjo, that would be good examples to include in this concert.

I was thinking of adapting some Ekonting riffs off of videos, but that seems kind of like extreme reverse engineering, since that music has obviously developed over the last 200 years, and mostly seems to consist of repeated ostinato figures under ornately sung melodies.

I think the argument can be made for "Injun Rubber Overcoat," with its bluesy flat 5th and call and response form, but would appreciate any other ideas or input. 

Thanks!

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There was plenty of cane and sticks in the Caribbean to be found and to make an instrument from.  It was a deliberate innovation, just as the tuning pegs were.  Someone, or some people were bent on making a better instrument.  Adding an additional playing string, changing the finger board around, adding tuning pegs are all innovation and experimentation.  You certainly see evidence of this in the 19th century as well, 5 and 6 string banjos, frets, tension rods, a wooden hoop.  It was an instrument that was evolving.  Some of the innovations did not stick, others did.

I'm afraid this isn't a reply but a request. I, too, am putting together a "historic" program in late October. I am gathering instruments and numbers and I would like to have at least two examples of West African influenced music. Should you wish to share what you find with me I would greatly appreciate it.

I think that "Roustabout" might be a West African influenced number but that is because of it's similarity to current West African music. The words of Roustabout are "floating" verses, appearing in a great many, especially "play party", tunes.

What seems West African to me is Roustabout's tune. I'm new to this genre of music and obviously not an ethnomusicolgist, heck I don't even have a formal education in music.

If you find what you are seeking please post it if you can.

Tom

Hi Tom-

Roustabout certainly has that floating melody over intense rhythm, like the Ekonting songs all seem to.

I was also planning to do a more elaborate (audience friendly) version of Juba, based on the variants in Converse book, adding as many fancy strokes as I can safely pull off! I wrote a little cakewalk tune to use as "bookends" since the Juba is really just a 4 chord (A-D-A-E) vamp.

I think that all of the suggestions by people here have basis for a strong argument, especially since there probably is no one "Holy Grail." I buy Paul's theory that the Gottschalk holds the key for what playing techniques are most authentic, so trying to include those strokes and effects could help make tunes like Debble on a Holiday, Injun Rubber, or even any of the Briggs hornpipes/jigs sound convincing. They are after all, the first generation of notated material for the banjo, and a logical place to start looking for echoes. I also like the idea of Hobson's Jig, but maybe because I like playing it. Oh well. 

Don't forget Dan Emmett's manuscripts as a source for early tunes. If I were you, I'd err on the side of caution when modifying these tunes to exaggerate (what we think are) west African influences. It isn't right to change these tunes to make them sound how you want so that you can use them to support an argument or educate an audience. If you want to teach them about west African music, you should play the Ekonting. Likewise if you want to inform them about minstrelsy, you should play some minstrel tunes. If your goal is to teach them about perceived west African influences in minstrel tunes, I think it doesn't respect history to exaggerate those influences. Instead you should play the tunes the way we found them, and explain what about them is related to west African music and why. Just my two cents.

I hear you, John. Yes, any "creative reconstruction/reinterpretation" would definitely require a warning label, as an guess at best, hindsight bastardization at worst. But hopefully not a mortal sin...

I'm just waiting for Eric Prust to start making Ekontings-

Thanks for the Emmett reminder! 

I misspoke (wrote) I meant the Roustabout from Mike Seeger's CD but then I heard another Roustabout, I think from the Return to Cold Mountain CD...maybe not. Any way, even so, I still see that possible African influence. I am trying to find out as much as I can handle and what I can easily present in an hour and a half to an audience that considers Dueling Banjos the epitome of banjo music! I don't have a scholars appreciation of "our" music but I truly love its many manifestations. I came to this music because of what I heard. I heard a music sympathetic of the "human condition". Corny as it might sound, Willie Nelson's definition of country music being "three chords and the truth" actually means a great deal to me and though I might be a bit naive I believe truth is more to be found in music than all other works of man.

This has been a fascinating discussion and I am grateful it is going on.

Thank you all.

Tom

 
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Jared Denhard said:

Hi Tom-

Roustabout certainly has that floating melody over intense rhythm, like the Ekonting songs all seem to.

I was also planning to do a more elaborate (audience friendly) version of Juba, based on the variants in Converse book, adding as many fancy strokes as I can safely pull off! I wrote a little cakewalk tune to use as "bookends" since the Juba is really just a 4 chord (A-D-A-E) vamp.

I think that all of the suggestions by people here have basis for a strong argument, especially since there probably is no one "Holy Grail." I buy Paul's theory that the Gottschalk holds the key for what playing techniques are most authentic, so trying to include those strokes and effects could help make tunes like Debble on a Holiday, Injun Rubber, or even any of the Briggs hornpipes/jigs sound convincing. They are after all, the first generation of notated material for the banjo, and a logical place to start looking for echoes. I also like the idea of Hobson's Jig, but maybe because I like playing it. Oh well. 

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