Sunday, October 30, 2011

Pattin Juba, Hambone, And The Bo Diddley Beat

Edited by Azizi Powell

[Revised April 1, 2015]

This post provides information about the history of and descriptions of pattin[g] juba, hambone, and the Bo Diddley beat. Videos of pattin Juba are also included in this post.

This post also includes text examples of the Hambone song. The Addendum to this post provides comments and an example of the retention of pattin juba in some historically Black fraternity and sorority stepping routines.

The content of this post is presented for folkloric, cultural, entertainment, and aesthetic purposes.

All copyrights remain with their owners.

Thanks to all those who are quoted in this post. Thanks also to all those who are featured in the video, and thanks to the publisher of that video on YouTube.

From Blues for New Orleans: Mardi Gras and America's Creole Soul, Roger D. Abrahams, 2010, p. 46
"The contribution of black dancers to New Orleans history centered on old Congo Square, located between what is now the New Orleans Municipal Auditorium and Rampart Street. There, in the nineteenth century, African dancing was visible to the public. Blacks danced in circles, miniature citadels of spirit and certainty. Kongo competed with other African people in the formation of local culture. Prominent among these were the Yoruba, Mande, and Fon. But the Bakongo were singularly influential in dance. Numerous dances named “Congo” were recorded in nineteenth-century Louisiana along with the Kongo derived bamboula..Whole systems of motions and gestures crossed the Atlantic and took root in the city and parishes. An immediate example is nzuba, a thigh slapping dance from kingdom of Kongo. The name derives from the Ki-Kongo verb “to slap” zuba. With a lightly creolized title “juba” or “patting juba” is spread up the river and diffused far and wide. Among the Black Hawk Spiritualist churches of African American New Orleans, it is one of the steps that come back from the past when people dance in the spirit."...

Notes regarding The Wikipedia page on the Juba Dance cites my now inactive [deleted] cultural website as a source for information about modern variations of the Juba dance. However, the sentence given on that Wikipedia page misinterpretes what I wrote on about pattin Juba. The sentence given on that Wikipedia page is "Modern variations on the dance include Bo Diddley's "Bo Diddley Beat" and the step-shows of African American and Latino Greek organizations.".[end of quote]

What I wrote was that "Hambone" is a song that was performed while pattin juba (doing body pats) and the song "Hambone" is the basis of what is now known as the "Bo Diddley Beat".

[Read that section below in this post.]

Furthermore, I wrote on that now retired page that step teams from historically Black Greek letter fraternities and sororities (and other step teams) sometimes include body patting in their stepping (steppin, step show) performances. Those body patting movements are modern examples of "pattin Juba". I think that it's important to differentiate between "pattin Juba" (body pattin) and "the Juba Dance".*

The other information about the Juba dance that is found on that Wikipedia page -for instance that its source is West Africa- is too vague for me.

*It's interesting to note that body patting isn't a feature of Juba dancing in Haiti as shown in this video of that dance filmed in 1936-1937

Haitian Djouba Dancing

Cunya jele muePublished on Nov 15, 2012

This clip is from a field recording done by the American ethnomusicologist Alan Lomax during his trip to Haiti in 1936-1937. This scene was filmed in Carrefour DuFort/Kalfou Difó, at a dance held by a Sosyete Djouba, which is an old traditional mutual aid and communal work society once prevalent in the Haitian countryside. This is an excellent example of djouba drumming and dancing -also known as danse Matinik. The tanbou djouba (or tanbou Matinik) was a barrel drum, headed with a goatskin, and played laid down on the floor in a "transverse-heeled style" by the tanbouyé. Two kata sticks provide the accompanying rhythm, and are played on the back of the tanbou by the katalyé. The dance is led by a Komandyé, who first demonstrates his dancing prowess by executing steps in front of the assembled dancers and audience. Then the dance is executed, which is a figure dance in the form of a square Contredanse, with the komandyé calling out the changes in figures for the couples. NOTE - the music playing here is NOT actually djouba. The original field recording did not have audio, and the music heard here is actually a Kongo rhythm played by the same drummers at the same event, and with the djouba instrumentation. The sosyete played both djouba and kongo as part of their traditional repertoire

AFRICAN ROOTS OF BODY PATTING - Traditional Jola dancing. Video 1. July 2006

Ulf Jägfors, Uploaded on Sep 29, 2006

This video shows traditional Jola body patting and dances by girls from Mlomp, Casamance region, Southern Senegal. It was recorded at The Akonting Center for Senegambian folkmusic, Mandinari, Gambia July 2006


Video #1: Derique McGhee @ Lincoln Center 8-12-10

Derique McGhee @ Lincoln Center 8-12-10

Uploaded by newsriffs on Aug 13, 2010

"The International Body Music Festival, offered this performance of traditional African American Hambone. When the man takes your drums away, this is the alternative."

Example #2: Traditional Hambone

Uploaded by atn151 on Aug 28, 2008

Dry Branch Fire Squad founding member Ron Thomason performs traditional Hambone at the Gettysburg Bluegrass festival, 2008.

hambone - Steve McCraven

mycompasstv, Uploaded on Oct 26, 2011

Great hambone technique from Archie Shepp's drummer Steve McCraven.

Recorded in Tunisia at the Tabarka International Jazz Festival.

video: Stephen Smith

Here's a description of how to perform hambone patting from the 1972 book Step It Down, edited by Bessie Jones and Bess Lomax Hawes:
"Hambone may be performed alone or with a group all jiving together. While the rhyme is being said, the players slap their thighs lightly on the off-beat, After each line of the poem, they "pat"...

The "patting" may be done on one side of the body only, using the right hand and thigh, or on both sides at the same time in parallel motion. The triplet phrase is done as follows:

1.Slap the side of the thigh with the palm of the hand in an upward brushing motion.
2. Continuing the upward brushing; strike the side or the chest with the palm of the hand.
3. Strike the thigh downward with the back if the hand.

Do this series twice, then slap your thigh three times. The entire pattern is repeated after each line of the rhyme."

The rock & roll singer/musician Bo Diddley used this beat so much in his records that it became known as the "Bo Diddley" beat. Click to read more about Blues and R&B singer, musician, song writer Bo Diddley. Here's an excerpt from that Wikipedia page:
"He [Bo Diddley] recorded for Chicago's Chess Records subsidiary label Checker. Bo Diddley is best known for the "Bo Diddley beat", a rhumba-based beat (see clave) also influenced by what is known as "hambone", a style used by street performers who play out the beat by slapping and patting their arms, legs, chest, and cheeks while chanting rhymes.

In its simplest form, the Bo Diddley beat can be counted out as a two-bar phrase:

One and two and three and four and one and two and three and four" etc."
Bo Diddley used the "Hambone" beat in so many of his songs that the beat was referred to as the "Bo Diddley Beat". Here's a video of one of his hit songs "Bo Diddley":


SURFSTYLEY4, Uploaded on Mar 20, 2011
Here are the lyrics to that song:

Bo Diddley
(Ellas McDaniel) 1955

Bo Diddley bought his babe a diamond ring,
If that diamond ring don't shine,
He gonna take it to a private eye,
If that private eye can't see
He'd better not take the ring from me.

Bo Diddley caught a nanny goat,
To make his pretty baby a Sunday coat,
Bo Diddley caught a bear cat,
To make his pretty baby a Sunday hat.

Mojo come to my house, ya black cat bone,
Take my baby away from home,
Ugly ole mojo, where ya bin,
Up your house, and gone again.

Bo Diddley, Bo Diddley have you heard?
My pretty baby said she wasn't for it.

Ellas McDaniel is Bo Diddley's real name.

(Like other folk songs, there are multiple versions of the song "Hambone". Here are two of those versions. These versions aren't presented in any particular order. Notice the similarities between example #2 and Bo Diddley's song.)

HAMBONE (Example #1)
Hambone Hambone pat him on the shoulder
If you get a pretty girl, I'll show you how to hold her.

Hambone, Hambone, where have you been?
All 'round the world and back again.
Hambone, Hambone, what did you do?
I got a train and I fairly flew.

Hambone, Hambone where did you go?
I hopped up to Miss Lucy's door.
I asked Miss Lucy would she marry me.
(in falsetto) "Well I don't care if Papa don't care!"
First come in was Mister Snake,
He crawled all over that wedding cake.
Next walked in was Mister Tick,
He ate so much it made him sick.
Next walked in was Mister Coon,
We asked him to sing us a wedding tune,
Now Ham-....
Now Ham....
-Bessie Jones and Bess Lomax Hawes, "Step It Down, Games, Plays, Songs & Stories From The Afro-American Heritage (Athens, Ga; University of Georgia Press, 1972, pps 34-36)
Notice the similarities between this song and the song "Frog Went A Courtin."

HAMBONE (Example #2)
Hambone! Hambone!

Hambone, hambone
Where you been?
Round the world and I'm going again
What you gonna do when you come back?
Take a little walk by the railroad track

Hambone, hambone
Have you heard?
Papa's gonna buy me a mocking bird
And if that mocking bird don't sing
Papa's gonna buy me a diamond ring
And if that diamond ring don't shine
Papa's gonna take it to the five and dime

Hambone, hambone
Where you been?
Round the world and I'm going again
I just skinned an alley cat
To make my wife a Sunday hat
Took the hide right off a goat
To make my wife a Sunday coat

Hambone, hambone
Where's your wife
Out to the kitchen, cooking beans and rice

Hambone, hambone
Trying to eat
Ketchup on his elbow, pickle on his feet
Bread in the basket
Chicken in the stew
Supper on the fire for me and you

Look at him holler, look at him moan
That hambone just can't hambone

Hambone Lyrics
Lyrics © Universal Music Publishing Group, Sony/ATV Music Publishing LLC

Notice the similarities between this song and the song "Hush Little Baby Don't You Cry".

"Steppin" is an African American movement art. When other American groups (including Latino/a groups) perform steppin, they are basing their performance on a tradition that originated with African Americans. That said, steppin could also be influenced by various African dance traditions, particularly the traditions of South African gum boot dancing.

Here's one example of a steppin routine that includes body patting that is performed by a historical Black Greek lettered fraternity:

Alpha Phi Alpha Steps

Willy R·Uploaded on Nov 2, 2006

DI Step Show

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  1. Love it! Thanks for the great compilation of videos.

  2. You're welcome, Anonymous.

    I'm glad you found them interesting!

  3. I know a Hambone LOC from Cali, his dad named him, He exists, he good peoples too. He got his hustle but, he's still gansta. ugh yeah well hello what would you expect that from that.

    1. Thanks for your comment, Anonymous.

      I'm not sure what LOC means in your comment. Does it mean "Latino Of Color"? And is "Hambone" your friend's nickname or is it his birth name?