from the zhaoist manfesto:
“Those piles of ruins which you see in that narrow valley watered by the Nile, are the remains of opulent cities, the pride of the ancient kingdom of Ethiopia. There a people, now forgotten, discovered while others were yet barbarians, the elements of the arts and sciences.” – Count Volney
Humans have surely forgotten much more than we know today, with the ravage of time, after countless wars, destructions of entire cultures, libraries burnt down. By the same token, ancient musical traditions contain forms which are more advanced, more inventive, more structurally challenging, more revolutionary in every sense of the word, than any “futuristic” electronic dance music today. And in terms of the expansion of minds or shaking of booties, the bits and pieces passed down to us, remnants of sound traditions reaching back to ancient times, often embody methods far superior to what you might find in today’s dance clubs. One man sitting on the island of Madagascar, singing over an insistent rhythmic melody plucked out of a one string instrument contains more ingenuity, more innovation, more raw power, more soul, more fire, than anything produced in the last 30 years.
All rhythm certainly comes from Africa, as the drum itself was invented somewhere around Kenya tens of thousands of years ago. But African music is much more than drumming, for example the various Kora traditions weaving complex melodic structures that would make Bach dizzy. To be more precise, in much of African music one finds an un-differentiated oneness of rhythm and melody, never divorced from each other by over analytical minds. Examples of this can be found in Soukous guitar playing, the various Mbira (thumb piano) musics scattered through out the continent, and the “Shangaan Electro” phenomena which is all the hype right now, itself only the latest expression of age old tradition.
What we have seen in the last few centuries is a return to rhythm, after being largely divided from it for many centuries under the European Classical establishment, which reduced its importance and saw it as “primitive” and “plebean”, emblematic of music of savages and the underclass. But in the melting pot of the Americas, a traumatic confrontation between European and African traditions became probably the most important source of innovation in the past mellenium, forming the seeds of the myriad kinds of musical styles we know today.
The only way to move things forward is to look back upon the treasures of our collective past. It is indeed this re-entry of indigenous musical heritage, fused with urban bass culture, this combination of ancestral musical ideas and modern sound, which is now giving rise to irresistible next level dance music on every continent. Crucial new scenes thrive and vital new styles are born in almost every corner of the world, challenging and displacing the centralized hegemonic culture manufacturing machine which attempts to fill the world with its vacuous regurgitation. But despite the spread of information technologies, there is a pointed lack of communication between musical communities of the world today, and many scenes remain relatively isolated and insular, inaccessible to their potential global audience who hunger after new sounds. For instance Kwaito, the South African House/Hiphop hybrid style based on traditional Zulu music, flourished for 2 decades within the townships while being virtually unknown outside, and only recently began to make waves in the world at large.