THE BUZZ AESTHETIC AND MANDE MUSIC: ACOUSTIC MASKS AND THE TECHNOLOGY OF ENCHANTMENT
AbstractThis article concerns the widespread preference for ‘buzzy’ timbres in African traditional musics; and, in particular, the ways in which this preference has been borne out in the Mande region of west Africa. The two main types of buzzing mechanisms in Mande music are metal buzzing rattles, which are attached to the neck or bridge of various string instruments, and mirlitons (vibrating membranes), which are placed over small holes on the resonating gourds of wooden xylophones. Over the last seventy to eighty years, an older and rougher ‘buzz aesthetic’ within Mande music has become increasingly endangered, with buzzing largely disappearing from instruments such as the kora and the ngoni in favour of a ‘cleaner’, more ‘Western’ aesthetic. Considered in a wider cultural context, I discuss the possible origins of the Mande buzz aesthetic and attempt to explore how the incorporation of buzzing sounds within Mande music might be connected to forms of ‘esoteric’, ‘supernatural’ and spiritual power.
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