You are on page 1of 6

CHAPTER 2

MUSIC FROM THE


NON-WESTERN WORLD

GENERAL BACKGROUND TO NON-WESTERN MUSIC


The Western world has a vast musical heritage that has evolved over many
centuries; however, some Asian, Polynesian, African and Near-Eastern musical
traditions have thrived for THOUSANDS of years. While Japan, China, India and
Indonesia have long-standing art-music traditions (in which music is performed by a
select few well-trained artists), the majority of non-Western societies do not have
art music ("formal concert") traditions—instead, they perceive music-making as a
functional part of everyday life in which the society as a whole participates. Much of
this music is improvised and survives solely through oral transmission; thus, it cannot
be described in standard Western musical terms, or written down using Western
notational symbols. Such music can only be studied through a painstaking
combination of musicological and anthropological means.

Important Musical Considerations in non-Western Music


Most types of Non-Western music are founded on concepts quite different from
those of the Western tradition:
• Rhythm
Non-Western music (especially African) can make greater and more creative use
of rhythm than Western idioms.
• Dynamics
Non-Western music rarely uses dynamics as an independent concept. Changes in
loudness/quietness occur by increasing/decreasing the number of performers.
• Melody
Non-Western music often uses microtonal melodic intervals that are smaller or larger than
those of the traditional Western scales
• Harmony
In general, harmony is not as important in non-Western idioms as it is in the West. Non-
Western music may have no harmony at all, or it may base its harmonies on completely
different scale systems than Western music.
• Tone color
Though non-Western music is primarily vocal in nature, some cultures have also developed
unique independent families of instruments. Colorful percussion sounds, and unique string
and wind instruments are most commonly employed.
• Texture
Since harmony is not an important consideration, non-Western music is often either
monophonic (a single note or melody sounding alone) or heterophonic (two slightly
different versions of the same melody being performed at the same time).
• Form
Non-Western music is more freely-structured than Western music, and most types are
heavily reliant on improvisation (on-the-spot creativity). Such music is transmitted orally;
thus, it is rarely—if ever—performed the same way twice.

9
CHAPTER 2: Non-Western Music

SELECTED EXAMPLES OF NON-WESTERN MUSIC

MUSIC OF THE NORTH-AMERICAN INDIAN


The diverse array of American Indian cultures—from the Arctic Eskimos, to
the Sioux of the Dakotas and the Apaches of the Southwest—have created
instrumental and vocal music that is an integral part of daily tribal life—most often
associated with religious rituals, dancing or courting. Many American Indian songs
are sung to vocables (syllables of chanted prayers that often sound like as "hey-
ah" or "yu-way"), emphasizing melodic or rhythmic subtleties. Because of this
focus on the chanted text, most traditional American Indian music is "monophonic",
even though it is usually accompanied by various rattles or drums (which have
universal spiritual significance in American Indian traditions). Simple flutes and
whistles can also serve important functions. Long before the invention of the
telegraph and telephone, American Indians were using instruments to
communicate "secret" alarms or information over vast distances.

EXAMPLE of AMERICAN INDIAN MUSIC


Sioux Indian Love Song
See MUSIC GUIDE 2 (page 14)

AFRICAN MUSIC
Music—especially vocal music—is an integral part of daily life in the African
world. Practically any event of importance to an individual or to the culture as a
whole is celebrated with music. Many African languages are "tonal" (the meaning
of a word depends on the pitch-level at which it is spoken); thus, African melodies
usually follow the pitch contour of their texts. African melodies are based on
scales that are quite different from those found in the West.
A common feature of African vocal songs is "call and response," in which
the leader of the song will improvise a narrative "call" about a past or current event,
and then the group at-large will sing a repeated "response," that remains the same
throughout the song. Call and response technique eventually became an
important feature of Black-influenced popular music in the Western world.
Improvisation and intricate polyrhythms (the simultaneous combination of
two or more different rhythmic patterns) are richly abundant in African music, and
African musicians have developed these to a much higher level than usually
encountered in traditional Western musical styles.
EXAMPLE of AFRICAN "Call and Response"
Gangele Song (Song of Angola)
See MUSIC GUIDE 2 (page 14)

10
CHAPTER 2: Non-Western Music

ART MUSIC FROM INDONESIA


The Republic of Indonesia is comprised of some 13,000 islands in the
Pacific Ocean, of which only 4,000 are named and only 1,000 are inhabited. This
complex society fuses more than 300 ethnic groups and over 250 different
languages. Out of this diversity has arisen a universal variety of distinctly
"Indonesian" music—the Gamelan of the islands of Java and Bali (especially Bali,
which has a very complex tradition). A Gamelan is a colorful instrumental
ensemble, comprised primarily of unusual percussion instruments including drums,
gongs, and xylophones made of wood (such as the gender) or bronze (such as the
bonang). These percussion instruments may be supplemented by a small
bamboo flute or a simple string instrument, and can be used as an accompaniment
to traditional ritual dances. The instruments of the gamelan feature pitches that
sound "out-of-tune" to Western ears (microtones). As a result, this music cannot
be represented accurately with Western notation.

EXAMPLE of GAMELAN MUSIC from Bali


Kebjar Hudjan Mas
See MUSIC GUIDE 2 (page 14)

Bonang Gender

Gongs

Gambung Saron

Common Instruments of the Gamelan

11
CHAPTER 2: Non-Western Music

ART MUSIC FROM INDIA


The musical traditions of India date back some 3,000 years. Indian classical
music is improvisatory, using sophisticated melodic and rhythmic systems
called ragas (melodic patterns) and talas (rhythmic patterns) that govern the
performer's choice of complex pitches, ornaments, and rhythms. Indian performers
consider their music to be spiritual in nature—each raga is associated with a
particular mood, such as tranquility, love or heroism. Indian music is transferred
orally from master-teacher (guru) to the student, who learns by strictly imitating the
teacher—not from a written tradition. Only the basic elements of a piece are
notated—the essential ornaments and elaborations cannot be written down, and
must be internalized through years of intense study.
The most important art-music instrument of India is the Sitar—a long-
necked lute with a wide fingerboard and moveable frets. During the 1960s, when
rock artists such as the Beatles sought enlightenment through Indian gurus, the
Sitar became popular in the West. The most well-known Indian guru/Sitar master is
Ravi SHANKAR, best-known in the West for his performance at Woodstock in
1969. The Sitar may be accompanied by a percussion instrument called a Tabla.
EXAMPLE of SITAR MUSIC from India
Mara-Bihag (performed by Ravi SHANKAR)
See MUSIC GUIDE 2 (page 14)

sitar tabla

THE MUSIC OF MEXICO


Before the Spanish Conquest (1519-21), music was a vital part of Aztec and
Mayan social life on the Mexican peninsula. With the arrival of the Spaniards,
European instruments were quickly blended with native musical traditions. The
most noteworthy outcome of this combination of influences is Mexican Mariachi
music—a lively song and dance tradition featuring singers, treble and bass
acoustic guitars, violin, trumpet, and sometimes harp. Despite their European
genesis, these instruments render sounds that are uniquely Hispanic.

12
CHAPTER 2: Non-Western Music

ART MUSIC FROM JAPAN


Japanese music has enjoyed a rich popular and classical tradition that has
spanned over 1,000 years, with many styles and idioms. The most important
Japanese instruments are the koto, the shamisen (a 3-stringed "banjo"), and the
shakuhachi (a 4-holed bamboo flute). The 13 strings of the koto are tuned to a 5-
note pentatonic scale. The strings are plucked, scraped or struck by ivory "finger
picks" to produce a variety of musical effects. The player may also alter the pitch
of a string by pushing or pulling on the string with the left-hand.

EXAMPLE of KOTO MUSIC from Japan


Mitsuzaki KENGYO: Godan-Ginuta
See MUSIC GUIDE 2 (page 14)

Koto

Shakuhachi
Shamisen

ART MUSIC OF THE NEAR- AND MIDDLE-EAST


The Near- and Middle-East includes many countries bordering the
Mediterranean Sea, West Asia and North Africa, and dominated by Islamic Arabic-,
Persian-, and Turkish-speaking peoples who share folk and art-music traditions
dating back to the 7th century. One of the most pervasive aspects of Middle
Eastern art-music is the 'Ud—a short-necked fretless lute with a pear-shaped
body and five pairs of strings. Unlike the Western lute, the 'Ud is played as a
monophonic melodic instrument, often joined by the colorful rhythmic
accompaniment of the darabukkah—a small clay drum that changes its pitch
when the player applies variable finger pressure to the drumhead.

'Ud Darabukkah

13
CHAPTER 2: Non-Western Music

Selected NON-WESTERN Styles Music Guide

2
Kamien 4-CD set
CD4/Tracks 58-59

Example Style Traits

Africa Gangele Song—(functional music from Angola)


Intricate syncopated POLYRHYTHMS; the leader sings verses to which
the followers respond ("Call and Response"); then all sing the
REFRAIN. This example has many aspects that sound like modern
rock music.
This selection is on CD4/Track 58 of The Kamien 4-CD set

India Maru-Bihag—(art music from India)


This piece for SITAR is introduced by Indian Hindu Guru, Ravi Shankar,
who describes the stylized melodic RAGA and rhythmic TALA
structures.
This selection is on CD4/Track 59 of The Kamien 4-CD set

Japan Godan Ginuta—(art music from JAPAN)


This piece is played by Japanese KOTO master Mitsuzaki KENGYO.
The intricate POLYPHONIC texture is created by one performer.
Melodic IMITATION can be clearly heard in the middle section.

Indonesia Kebjar Hudjan Mas—(art music from the INDONESIAN island of BALI)
This piece is played by a GAMELAN (an orchestra of Indonesian
percussion instruments). Complex POLYRHYTHMS, unusual tone
colors; rondo-like form alternates between a repetitive "circular"
melodic idea vs. slower sections with pauses. The final section of this
piece has an intensity reminiscent of modern rock music.

American Sioux Indian Love Song—(functional music from the Dakotas)


Indian Monophonic; played on a hand-made flute with a unique melodic
scale—very personal, for the music can only be played on this
instrument. Various manipulations of a short basic melodic idea.

14