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The Origins and Affect of Physique Percussion


Crash. Bump. Thump. Thwack. Whack. Knock. These are just a few of the various synonyms of the phrase “percussion.” All of them are applicable after we take a look at the methods world cultures use the physique as an instrument.

On a latest tv quiz present, contestants had been challenged to call physique components that could possibly be used as a drum. Nobody made a mistake as a result of practically each a part of the physique can develop into a sound maker. Clapping, stomping and placing physique components from head to ft in rhythmic or repetitive methods is a timeless technique of human interchange, whether or not for pleasure, protest, leisure, ritual, therapeutic or survival. Hand- and body-clapping kids’s video games accompanied by sung or spoken rhymes are frequent all over the world. To advertise therapeutic and as an antidote to nervousness, ache and stress, the modern alternative-medicine observe EFT (Emotional Freedom Method) includes light, repetitive tapping on particular head and physique stress factors. Enslaved Africans used physique percussion as furtive communication—terrified of its messaging potential, plantation house owners prohibited the usage of drums, and to sabotage this taboo, the Black physique turned the drum.

a group of dancers stepping on stage
The Howard College Step Crew at 2021 homecoming. Photograph by Justin Knight, Courtesy Howard College.

The Energy of Percussion

The juba dance, delivered to the Americas in Center Passage—the grueling sea journey of Africans captured from their homelands to stay enslaved on overseas territories—was carried out throughout plantation gatherings. On this dance of prowess, one particular person entered a circle of movers to exhibit their extraordinary variations on jig, hop and bounce steps and was joined by a second dancer because the outer circle alternated rotating and remaining stationary. Pattin’ juba, the juba dance accompanied by clapping palms, chest and thighs, and the juba track—composed of quick, rhymed verses that appeared like nonsense however carried double meanings—had been ingenious later changes made to accompany the dance and ship messages when drums had been banned. Pattin’ juba additional morphed into the hambone, a variation that facilities on physique percussion and is carried out standing in place or seated, whereas retaining the unique rhythm of the dance. A number of verses, sung and clapped or patted rhythmically, might start with:

“Hambone, hambone, the place you been?
Around the world and again once more.
What you gonna do while you get again?
Take somewhat stroll on the railroad observe.”

male wearing tan baseball cap and black tshirt sitting on steps
Rennie Harris discovered physique percussion as a baby in North Philadelphia. Photograph by Brian Mengini, Courtesy RHPM.

A five-beat interlude of rhythmic slaps on physique components together with the chest, hips, thighs and calves intersects every singsong stanza, and a number of different improvised refrains may be added. For Rennie Harris, legendary hip-hop live performance dance choreographer and inventive director of Rennie Harris Puremovement and RHAW (Rennie Harris Awe-Inspiring Works), hambone was second-nature: “I don’t keep in mind precisely once I discovered or who taught me. In truth, I don’t even keep in mind seeing it or being launched to it—I simply keep in mind doing­ it,” he says. “I used to be 7 or 8 years outdated; this was on Grasp Avenue in North Philadelphia. We used to take a seat on the stoops and problem one another, doing the hambone, seeing who may do it the quickest, cleanest. It was a summer time pastime. We sang the track, as effectively. Being older, I’d run into individuals who nonetheless do it, so it’s sort of fascinating and funky. We’d add components of it to bop steps. I didn’t study the historical past of it, pattin’ juba, till later in life.”

What Harris describes is how cultural traditions are preserved and transmitted—youthful generations watch, imitate, observe and improvise to make them their very own. Harris’ gorgeous model is a singular rendering, infused with the velocity, ardour, urgency and aggressive energy of Black male company two centuries later. We additionally see the hambone legacy in stepping performances by Black fraternities,­ sororities and step groups, and as a diversion added to quite a lot of social occasions starting from white Appalachian hootenannies to Black jazz or blues live shows, full with variations on the phrases and impro­visational hand-jive kinds. It has develop into an American custom.

Spreading the Rhythm

The fundamental hambone beat obtained a second life on the planet of in style music. The Fifties R&B legend Bo Diddley made the five-accent hambone rhythm well-known because the Bo Diddley Beat, a recurrent riff that has been appropriated by many white rock musicians.

two males dancing and playing the bass
Leonardo Sandoval and Gregory Richardson of Music From The Sole. Photograph by Christopher Jones, Courtesy Sandoval.

Faucet dance, one other fashion of physique percussion, has impacted virtually each tradition. Utilizing toes, heels and the complete foot in rhythmic style goes past anybody period or continent and contains traditions as various as African American buck dancing, Irish step dancing, English clogging and South Indian bharatanatyam. Past these conventional examples, the advanced, polyrhythmic fusion of faucet, mixed with hambone-inspired physique percussion, has proliferated with present-day artists throughout continents. The South African gumboot dance was reworked right into a efficiency mode from its goldmine workforce origins, the place it was created by Black miners as a sly substitute for dialog, for the reason that white mine house owners exacted harsh punishments for verbal communication among the many staff. Different spinoffs embrace ensembles like Colombia’s Tekeyé; The Percussion Present, from Egypt; and the U.S.-based Music From The Sole, which attracts on Afro-Brazilian influences. These artists remodel a mixture of faucet and hambone to a wonderful, millennial sensibility by the lens of hip hop and jazz.

The artwork of flamenco features a particular sort of tapping—zapateado—in addition to body-percussion components that resonate with hambone. “Flamenco was being born within the mid-Nineteenth century. Definitely, by the 1902 arrival of the cakewalk in Spain, Black dance cultural motifs had been transmitted, and flamenco artists expressly emulated Black American dance,” says Dr. Okay. Meira Goldberg, creator of Sonidos Negros: On the Blackness of Flamenco. “New varieties that had been created in specific response to competitors from Black artists in Spain emphasised percussive footwork, and over the previous 30 or so years flamenco footwork methods are more and more influenced by faucet and hip hop. It’s truthful to say that different modes of physique percussion (hambone, or making percussion by snapping fingers, clapping palms or hitting palms on varied components of the physique blended with footwork) are additionally more and more emphasised. Flamenco is all the time prepared to soak up new performative concepts, and these concepts are reinterpreted and reinvented: In Spanish, the saying is ‘Llevarlo a tu terreno,’ or ‘Make it your individual.’ ”

Modern flamenco dancers, just like the intriguing El Yiyo, have developed a mode that, like Harris’, is as speedy because the web, as intense as a lightning bolt, and lives within the current whereas standing proudly on the shoulders of custom. Goldberg provides that within the country-bumpkin dance inside the Seventeenth-century Spanish custom of villano, the dancer “not solely stomps and jumps but additionally slaps the only real of his sneakers together with his hand.” Examples of this fashion, usually related to Roma stereotypes, embrace the Moiseyev Ballet Firm’s Dance of the Bessarabian Gypsies. Along with their attribute squat-kicks—kazatskys—the male dancers leap excessive whereas clapping palms, placing thighs and heels, and thumping their chests. As within the Spanish bumpkin dance, physique percussion within the villano is related to the stereotypical “wild abandon” of an outsider tradition—specifically, within the flamenco context, the Roma.

Indonesia has its share of corporeal clapping traditions as effectively. The Saman (“dance of a thousand palms”) of the Gayo ethnic group of Aceh, Sumatra, is understood throughout the island and carried out by giant teams to rejoice particular events. Dancers sit on the bottom with their legs crossed or folded beneath them, torsos upright. Although there are additionally mixed-gender performances at this time, ensembles had historically been separated by gender: Girls do light tapping or patting on chest and thighs accompanied by hand-clapping, singing and rhythmically transferring the torso and head, whereas the boys transfer vigorously and their faucets develop into slaps. The Saman efficiency peaks because the dancers speed up to the quickest potential tempo whereas sustaining readability of sound and cleanness of actions.

group of steppers performing with a live band
Rennie Harris Puremovement in LIFTED. Photograph by Nikki Lee, Courtesy RHPM.

Embracing the Legacy

Exploring physique percussion reinforces the understanding that every part we people create has roots in one thing that went earlier than. Even probably the most chic improvements have a precedent. As Harris declared years in the past, hip hop is “the modern type of African dance.” Equally, Goldberg’s analysis delves into the manifold, usually invisibilized, roots of what’s now flamenco. The hid riches of “the earlier than time” have develop into obtainable on a worldwide foundation, due to social media, YouTube, streaming platforms and worldwide touring by artists of each origin.

Apparently, hip-hop actions and music act as a unifying issue crossing cultural, class, racial and financial divides, transgressing variations, blurring boundaries and permitting a present technology of artists to journey past the assumed limitations of their genres, to strive new issues and expertise different realms. From hearts pumping, lungs respiration and blood pulsing to pounding ft and slapping palms, our bodies are efficient beatboxes and rhythm makers. Regardless of all odds—and past our wildest expectations—we nonetheless have our beatbox our bodies, and we will boldly declare, “In our bodies we belief.”

step dancers wearing all black performing on stage
The Howard College Step Crew. Photograph by Justin Knight, Courtesy Howard College.

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