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In Afro-American Folksongs, published in 1913, ,Henry E. Krehbiel describes an African instrument called a zanze as follows:

"The zanze is a small sound-box...hollowed out in the form of a round gourd to the upper side of which, over a bridge, are tightly affixed a series of wooden or metal tongues of different lengths. The tongues are snapped with the thumbs...and give out a most agreeable sound. I find out no records in the accounts of travellers as to any systematic tuning of the instrument, but a specimen from Zululand in my possession is accurately tuned to the notes of the pentatonic scale.with the addition of two erratic tones side-by-side in the middle of the instrument..." [Afro-American Folksongs, p. 68]

Krehbiel continues at another opening:

"I have mentioned a Zulu zanze which is in my possession--. It has pentatonic tuning down to two middle tongues, which emit strangely aberrant tones. The key is D-flat. The tongues on one side emit the descending order, D-flat, E-flat and B-flat; on the other B-flat, F, D-flat and A-flat....Between the right and left rows of tongues lie the two which give out the strange, wild notes A and B." [Afro-American Folksongs, p. 74]

The instrument Krehbiel describes sounds like a thumb piano in today's terms. Other than saying the instrument came from Zululand, he provides no other idea of its origin. Assuming the instrument is authentic, the question came to me as to whether the tuning he describes, especially the aberrant notes, belong to a natural scale. Krehbiel assumes that the tuning is diatonic. I'm not sure that is a good assumption for a genuine folk instrument. For one thing, the pentatonic tuning could as well result from the gaps in a natural scale.

Assuming Krehbiel's description of the pitches is accurate, I transposed them down a half step to C and fitted them to what appears to be an approximation of a natural scale. Does anyone in OMN have a take on this?

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Aindrias Hirt said:
'Looks spot on. I'll have to read the reference. I will also have to reinterpret the "ordinary" modes since the non-natural scale notes probably fall on unstressed beats. This is problematic since Afro-rhythms can be quite complex. Stress often falls on upbeats. So what is disregarded/marginalized might shift. With indigenous (IE?) European music transcribers only made mistakes on the upbeats/unstressed beats. With African music transcriptions, the mistakes may have been made on the downbeats with the upbeats (which may have been stressed) being accurate. So you need to know the rhythm first, and then diminish the importance of pitch on unstressed beats which are different than where stress occurs in indigenous European music. In short, what is stress and I stress and how did that inform (subconsciously) the musical transcription?

If you could supply a link to the work you cite, I can ponder the classification system and see any systematic error. Personally, I've turned my back on academia for awhile and don't have much time to read and think. So it may be a while until I can think on this. Still, if you can give me an online link to this, I'll glance at it and my subconscious will sort it out. It takes a while, much to my PhD advisers found to their chagrin...


Here's a link where you can download a copy of Krehbiel: https://archive.org/details/afrofolk00kreh

The table in question is on page 43. He says that his compilation included 527 songs. Now, the first four lines of the table add up to 527, so they must be the full complement. I think Krehbiel's "ordinary major" and "ordinary minor' mean pieces with heptatonic scales with and tonics you would expect. His "mixed and vague" mean pieces in which the tonic could be, for instance, C (major) or A (minor). Apparently everything else was [major?] pentatonic. The last six lines of the table, as I understand them, elaborate on the "ordinary" major and minor pieces.

I've been thinking more about Krehbiel's zanze (zanze or zanza is its correct name, by the way). It seems likely that its tuning was common. The two "aberrant" tones A and B assigned to the middle tines were there for a reason. My question is whether they were used melodically or as harmony. The B (flat 7th in D-flat) I would say was used melodically. The A (flat sixth) I'm not so sure.

Thanks for taking any time on my question. I've been turning this over in my head (not just Krehbiel, but the whole subject of African retentions in slave songs) for several years--like a 5,000-piece puzzle that I keep coming back to. Your article on the European folk scale struck me as one of the missing pieces.



Aindrias Hirt said:
Should be "what is stress and unstress"


(Hopefully) I have attached an article by John Garst on the origin of African-American spirituals, which I think rings true. It will be helpful if you get around to thinking further about Krehbiel's ideas.


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