The Pulse of Life

Do you love jazz? Or may be the place of honour among the discs on your shelf is occupied by a Bob Marley compilation of albums or a collection of soul-blues? Does your son, coming back from school, play rap in his room, and your daughter is interested in dancing and in the weekends disappears to salsa parties...? Sometimes we do not even notice how the culture of another continent, at first look strange and unknown, enters into our home, our life and becomes a part of us. However strange it  may appear - it is only at first glance.

Recently, the wave of popularity of the African culture swept the world: in the parks of China people dance samba, which came out of the Angolan Semba, “black” music dominates the North American continent, boxing, basketball, athletics, football are full with names of black players. Actually, in the world of dancing, music, painting there are many phenomena, which can be safely put the label “Made in Africa”, because one of the most important laws of art, and not only art, but our whole life – the rhythm, refers to the age-old African philosophy.

Rhythm – the pulse and breath of life, it's a vibration that penetrates and fills everything that surrounds us, and that's, in reality, what we are. Everything that is associated with the higher powers on the African continent is inextricably bound up with the rhythm. The introducing beating of an African drum into a trance, the ritual dances kondomble, he power of rhythm helped and still helps the people of Africa to find and keep in touch with God. The Kongo-Angolan group call this power of rhythm – kanga, the people of Northern Congo call this power – elima, evur – the name it got from the residents of Cameroon, niama – the people of Western Sudan. This power helps the carriers of the African tradition to unite their bodies in a tangle of feelings, attaining some inner pulsation, immersing the consciousness in a constant inner contemplation. This power allows Man to achieve Axe.

Axe – the universal cosmic power that a person could connect with through rhythm. The attempt to give a definition to Axe is a quite difficult and maybe even practically impossible task. The Africans consider Axe as the reason that causes the motion of everything that's around, it is the view of the world as a dynamic system, the belief that the true world – this is the world of energy, which is in the eternal process of movement and transformation.

Today, the African culture is one inexhaustible, pulsating source, originating in the deep past of Man and mankind. The traditional native cultures of Africa are little known to modern Man – the Nubian culture, the Nok culture, Meroe, Axum, Igbo-Ukwu, Ile-Ife, Benin...The African continent – that is one still unsolved natural phenomenon, it is a single organism, which is subordinated simply to one law – the law of rhythm. Although from the language and historical perspective, the contemporary African states seem to be disconnected against the expressed lack of external political and cultural ties between them, it appears as an external consequence of the fact that by trying to change the continent through an aggressive, exploitative politics, the past and modern colonizers tore apart the unity of the cultural and religious fields of the entire continent.

When the Portuguese arrived on the African continent in 1482, in Africa had already been formed and clearly expressed a unique culture, which according to its impact on the world and its scale was quite comparable to the influence of the Ancient Egyptian civilization. The historical fact of the colonization of Africa is very ambiguous by its inner meaning: the Europeans, who “conquered” the African continent, scattered the nations and tribes, which possessed well-established system of knowledge about South America and other countries, and thus they only helped to spread the spirit of the Black Earth around the world. Thanks to the several waves of migration, including, first of all, the western part of Africa, and then the central and eastern parts of the continent, in America was formed an amalgam of knowledge, in which today is quite difficult to distinguish the native American or the native African roots of tradition.

For the people of Africa the “vertical connections” (“man – divine power”) had a much higher value than the horizontal (“family-house”, “husband-wife”). And therefore, in principle, it did not matter for them in which location they were in order to build a connection with the higher powers and follow their own tradition. So, when they were already on the new continent, they only needed time in order to adapt and join their already established tradition with the new reality.

African Yoga

Considering the African culture from the perspective of rhythm, it is important to note that after the migration of the Africans into South America and other countries, each cell, thus forming a cultural “network”, started to pulsate in its own special unique rhythm. The art of disclosure of this rhythm can be called African yoga. And one of the faces of the art is music. Jazz, reggae, blues ... all this is the unique result of the mergence between the pulsating African rhythm and the life and cultural heritage of the inhabitants of other countries. In fact, these are the different aspects of a single art – African yoga.

Afro-Cuban yoga

The total number of slaves exported from the west coast of Africa to Cuba, on average, three times (!) exceeded their “import” in the United States. In the first half of the 19th century in Cuba there was the most massive influx of captured Africans, which was the result of the "sugar boom" and the growing need for workers in the processing of sugar cane.

Not surprisingly, that exactly here, in the early 20th century, is where the world famous Afro-Cuban Jazz appeared and started to gain power – one of the secret keys to the understanding of the African soul. It is impossible to perceive true jazz, unless you learn how to hear and perceive rhythm. Originating in the depths of the inner experience, jazz became the art of dialogue, in which every participator in its performance reveals a particle of the divine in himself.

The Afro-Cuban jazz is one of the variants of the Latin American jazz (another, also well-known option, is the Brazilian jazz). The progenitor of this music style is considered Dr. Obdulio Morales, who lived and worked in Cuba in the 1930s.

The Afro-Cuban yoga is also famous for its hot rhythmic dances: mambo, rumba, timba (the Cuban version of salsa) – these dances can light a fire, with the first splashes of the melody, in the blood of the inhabitants of both the hot Cuban Havana and the cool Russian Petersburg.

Mambo – a Cuban musical direction and dance style. The word “mambo” (“communion with the gods”) is the name of one of the priestesses of Haitian Voodoo.

Rumba – this word is used to designate the groups of the musical rhythms, and also for certain forms of movements of the dance style that originated in Africa and, thanks to the export of African slaves, was brought to Cuba and the New World. The so-called meditation rumba rhythm is a kind of a standard African rhythmic pattern, associated with the regrouping of the four quarters rhythm into the scheme of 3 +3 +2 or, less frequently, 3 +5.

Afro-Caribbean Yoga

Reggae and Rastafari

Today, in the minds of millions of people around the world the terms “reggae” and “Rasta” have merged into a kind of indivisible whole and very often are seen as synonymous. They are actually painting the picture of a sunny Jamaican party, where under the positive vibrations of the pulsing rhythm of a bass-guitar some barefooted young coloured people, overgrown with dreadlocks, meditatively smoke ganja. However, each of these concepts – “Rasta” and “reggae”, has its own special story, and perhaps for many it will be unexpected, but the roots again are going deep into the Black Earth.

On the way from Africa to America part of the slaves – the most violent and irreconcilable, those who tried to organize riots, who attacked the guards along the road and in every possible way messed up the blood of the invaders colonizers – were put off on the islands of West India, where for the “black wood” (the dealers of live load called the slaves that way) were opened wide enough opportunities. The preservation of their traditions, the mystical rites, dances, chants was, perhaps, the main or even the only way for the Jamaican slaves to survive. Therefore, on the territories of the Caribbean Islands was established a perfectly special religious-mystical atmosphere.

Rastafarianism, like all other modern African spiritual formations, that's some kind of a code that in a newly way opens the deep knowledge of the universe. Also Rastafari gave a new angle of comprehension of the Bible code and as a result it got a different interpretation under the name of Holy Piby.

According to Holy Piby, the basis of any teaching is rhythm, and the first conductors of rhythm on Earth were the black people. The God-conductor in Rastafarianism is God Jah (short for Jehovah).

The Rastafarian movement is widespread across the globe mainly through the music of reggae, the most famous performer of which became Bob Marley – the King of Reggae.

Reggae has a typical swinging rhythm with the accent on the downbeat stroke (not on the 1st and 3rd, but on the 2nd and 4th). Also very brightly expressed is the pulsating line of the bass-guitar, leading to the basic melody, while the guitar is performing mainly a rhythmic function, emphasizing the downbeat. Due to the separation of the downbeats is created a certain effect of "energy gap" or “hanging”, which can be used by Man's perception, his unconscious, as an “entrance” in the space of transcendental experience, the reality of experiencing a meeting with God.

Voodoo

The well-known terrible word “voodoo”, and what it actually designates, also hails from the Caribbean Islands and, in fact, is also a part of the African yoga, or rather a part of its Afro-Caribbean line.

The voodoo art and rituals, in fact, are part of the history of actually seven million people, whose ancestors were taken as slaves from West Africa to Haiti. These people made the only one successful national revolution of black slaves in the history of mankind and created the world's first black republic, where all citizens were truly free. In order to honor their spirits, in the conditions of a total influence of the Masonic and especially Catholic Church, the Haitians created rituals and ceremonies that were based on the native African traditions, but they used some Catholic symbols and attributes (statues, candles, relics, artifacts).

One of the manifestations of the Black Land's spirit in Haiti is the musical style papa. The papa music is closely related to the religious line of Voodoo. The Haitians like to joke with themselves that when they play on drums and dance – It is their food and drinks. The ceremonies can last for sixteen hours straight, including also a separate celebration of spirits, connecting the mankind with the Supreme Divinity.

Papa – a unique musical form, which can be found certainly only in Haiti. A group of musicians performs papa in its pure form, playing on pipes, made of bamboo stem. The musicians utter only one note, but the duration of its sound changes. Blowing into the mouthpiece of the bamboo pipe, the musicians at the same time are knocking on its lower part, thus setting the proper rhythm. Every year during the spring the papa orchestras start travelling, infecting their audience with fun and leading huge crowds of dancing people in the streets and squares of the cities.

The Catholic Church for many years was unsuccessfully trying to fight with the cult of Voodoo. The Catholics burned churches, beat priests of the cult and demanded their social stigma. However, in the mid-20th century the Catholic Church made peace with Voodoo - the drums and music became elements of the service of the Catholic Church, and most of the Voodoo followers were formally enrolled as Catholics. But the date of the final victory of the Black Earth's spirit could be considered April 2003, when the president of Haiti, Jean-Bertrand Aristide signed a law, declaring Voodoo as one of the state religions.

Afro-Brazilian Yoga

Among the captured Africans, imported to South America between 1549 and 1888 by the European colonizers, there were many African ministers of religious cults, who despite the strict prohibition of the Catholic Church preserved and developed the heritage of their ancestors, the spirit of the Black Earth on the South American continent. Today kondomble is one of the major religions of Brazil, its followers belong to a variety of social classes (more than two million Brazilians profess this faith). There are also tens of thousands temples in the country dedicated to kondomble. The world-famous Brazilian carnival is never complete without the colorful deities and ceremonial dances of this religious movement.

Perhaps, many would be surprised to learn that the gaining worldwide popularity Afro-Brazilian martial art of Capoeira is also a kind of religious art, aimed at the achievement of inner freedom, and has common roots with the major religious cults of Afro-America – kondomble and umbanda. In capoeira, as in no other current of African yoga, special attention is paid to the achievement of the state of Axe – the deep state of connection with the Higher Power - through the simultaneous creation of rhythm (playing on musical instruments) and the movement in it. Capoeira – that's not just a dance-fight, not just a game, it is a charged with energy, pulsating live human circle, allowing to get to the level of understanding of the power of Axe.

Candomblé – an African-American religion, spread mainly in Brazil and the neighboring countries.

Umbanda – a religion, which originated in Brazil in the early 20th century, based on the mixture of the religions and rituals of the Catholic and Afro-Brazilian traditions. Umbanda is a monotheistic, syncretic religion based on the worship of the Angolan spirits, the idea of which appeared in the lands of Brazil during the colonial period, along with the enslaved black Africans. The Orisha deities (Orixás) from the pantheon of Yoruba have symbolic power over all the Angolan legions of spirits, and, one might say, in order that they “do not annoy” the Catholic Church, they were associated with certain Catholic saints, under whose “leadership” these spirits work.

Samba – one of the most popular musical styles of Brazil, which has African roots. The word “samba” has derived from the Angolan word “semba”, or “mesemba”, (sembamesemba), indicating a religious rhythm. Samba became an individual musical style in the early 20th century in Rio de Janeiro (at that time the capital of Brazil), due to the strong influence of the black immigrants from Bahia.

And, finally, the African-American yoga is famous with the rhythms of funk, blues and hip-hop. The basis for the development of all these musical styles has become the so-called Black Church – the centuries-old inspirer of the development of the black population in North America, the United States, the leader in the struggle of the African expatriates for their rights on a foreign continent. It was exactly in the depths of the Black Church, in the communities of the former African slaves were born such, at first glance, very different styles of music as the rhythmic funk and the religious Gospel music, the melodic, vocal-instrumental blues and the casual hip-hop. Today it is the fashionable current of the urban underground. And one of the world's recent dance styles that have emerged from the same cultural space of Afro-America - breakdance, in fact, historically first emerged as a dance of social protest, which due to its fast growing popularity, became one colorful presentation, mainly focused on the public .

The phenomenon of African culture is that it neither has what could be called the beginning of a culture, nor what could signify the end of it; until it has spirit, power and energy, it can have an infinite number of names, but will continue to return to the common rhythm – the rhythm of Axe.

Africa at the present day has conquered, or you could even say, “colonized” the whole world, having absorbed all the thinkable and unthinkable religions, similar to a land, which is thirsty for moisture. Through these religions it entered the house of almost every person on the planet. And even though many former and current Africans in the assessment of their own history and cultural religious heritage today come to the point of view, imposed by the colonialists, cannot weaken the power of the continent. Although, probably because the whole modern world listens and admires jazz and reggae, dances break-dance and samba, it is the reason why the world hit parades are enriched with French, German, Russian, and even Chinese rap.

 

10 june 2006

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