By Chelsea Coccia
CCC Journalism Program
BLACKWOOD – Rhythm sounded its way to Camden County College’s Blackwood campus on April 28 for the sixth and final installment of the lecture series America’s Music: A Film History of Our Popular Music from Blues to Bluegrass to Broadway. This session focused on mambo and hip hop.
Created by Tribeca Film Institute, the final lecture took audience members from Ghana, on Africa’s west coast, over to the Caribbean, linking it to New York and the hip hop beats of today.
Professor Robert Smith led the lecture. His usual lecturing partner, Michael Billingsley, was absent, fulfilling prior obligations.
To start, Smith introduced common instruments used in the music of Ghana. He then demonstrated to the audience the rhythm that instrument would most commonly perform. “Rhythm is the movement of sound through time,” Smith explained. One audience member offered, “It’s the heartbeat of the song.”
Smith went on to explain to the audience the history of Ghana, how the slaves brought their music, as well as their traditions, from Africa’s west coast. He clarified that drum, in Ghana, was not only an instrument but an event and a celebration, called Drum Gahu, in which those who participated would look back on all that was lost through modernization.
As a slide show rolled through pictures of traditional instruments with accompanying sheet music, Smith demonstrated their beats as well – and even had the audience helping. They clapped through five beats common to traditional Ghanaian instruments. From the Axaste, a shaking device, to the Gankogui, a time-keeping element, the audience was engaged in it all. Smith explained that most often, writing music came after the music was already made, so it was OK not to be able to read music.
Following the melody demonstration, Smith showed long excerpts from two films. The first, “Latin Music USA,” explained the origins of mambo as a late 1930s solution to liven up Cuban dancing. The second, “Mambo to Hip Hop,” discussed the culture of the Bronx in the 1970s and ’80s, and how hip hop was a ‘social event that turned into a musical form.’
At the end of the lecture, Smith opened up the floor for discussion between himself and the audience.
Smith said that he hoped audience members took away from the presentation a deeper understanding of complex music and that they came away from it more open minded.