Monday, January 9, 2012

Bamboula Dance and Music - Then & Now

Edited by Azizi Powell

This is Part I of a four part series of posts on the African roots, and the music & dance traditions of the Bamboula in the Caribbean, and in the United States.

Part I of this series provides a general overview of the Bamboula dance, and features several videos of dance traditions from a few African ethnic groups in West Africa, the region from which most Black people who were enslaved in the Caribbean and the Americas came.

Part II of this series focuses on descriptions of the Bamboula dance in the Caribbean, and features several videos of the Bomba, which is considered to be similar to the Bamboula. Click for Part 2 of this series.

Part III of this series focuses on the Bamboula in the United States, features a 19th century sound file entitled "Bamboula", features selected videos of contemporary gatherings in Congo Square in New Orleans, Louisiana. Click for Part 3 of this series.

Part IV focuses on showcasing selected videos of music that was inspired by the Bamboula and/or Congo Square.
Click for Part 4 of this series.

These posts are presented for historical, folkloric, educational, and aesthetic purposes.

Part I

"A bamboula is a kind of drum made from a section of giant bamboo with skin stretched over the ends. It is also a secular dance accompanied by the drums. Both were brought to the Americas (notably New Orleans and the Virgin Islands) by African slaves."

In her now classic book Black Dance from 1619 to Today Lynne Fauley Emery writes this about the bamboula:
"One of the drums used to accompany the Chica [dance] was known as the baboula. The dance called the Bamboula undoubtedly derived its name from this drum. This dance is discussed by a few authors, but a careful examination of the descriptions leads to the conclusion that the Bamboula is in fact another name for the Chica.

In his 1823 book J. Stewart wrote of a dance performed by a man and woman inside a ring. "When two dancers have fatigued themselves", he said, "another couple enter the ring." (Princeton Book Company, second edition, p. 26)"

Lynne Fauley Emery reports that in 1774 Edward Long wrote this about the Chica or the Calenda, a similar dance done by Black Jamaicans:
"The female dancer is all languishing, and easy in her motions; the man, all action, fire, and gesture; his whole person is variously turned and writhed every moment, and his limbs agitated with such lively exertions, as serve to display before his partner the vigour and elasticity of his muscles (op.cit, p. 25)."

In 2008 a blogger using the screen name "knight" wrote on Yahoo's Answer page for the UK & Ireland asking "Which part of africa do most jamaicans descend from?". Here's an excerpt of the comment written by dadude70 which knight ranked as the best answer:
"The majority of the slave trade was conducted along the West african coast in what is the coastal areas of the modern african countries of Senegal, Gambia, Guinea, Ivory Coast, Cameroun, Nigeria, Benin, Sierre Leone, Togo, Ghana, Congo and Angola.

Some of the biggest linguistic groups within these areas are the Yoruba, Ibo, Ijaw in Modern Nigeria the Ga, Fa, Twi of Togo and Ghana as well others. These will be the main constituents of the country of Jamaica."
If (or because) the Bamboula very likely originated in West Africa and/or Central Africa, it seems to me that some hints about the Bamboula might be gleaned by researching the traditional music and dances that are still performed among those populations from those African regions. The videos that follow provide a hint of that study.

Videos in this series of posts are numbered in consecutive order throughout the entire series. No order of preference is given to these selected videos. The selection and presentation of these videos aren't meant to infer that I think that any of those dances are necessarily a precusor to the Bamboula or any other 18th or 19th century Caribbean or American dance.

Video #1: Atilogu / Atilogwu Dancers (Nigeria)

uploaded by zookat; July 04, 2008

Atilogu/Atilogwu Dancers as filmed by famous Cream drummer Ginger Baker & crew at Ikoyi, Lagos-Nigeria, 1971

The Atilogu dance is perhaps the most intense African cultural dance form performed as a group.

Video #2: Vulolo (Ghana)

Uploaded by zotorglo on Mar 9, 2009

Sample clip from an upcoming DVD featuring the dance-drumming of the Dunenyo Haborbor of Three Town, Denu. For more details see our website:

Video #3: Benin-Alekpehanhou- nou wa boyi mè [Benin]

Uploaded by EHUZU1 on Mar 23, 2008

Zinli traditional music from benin

Video #4 (Senegal)

Uploaded by diattacounda on Nov 15, 2007

Fête célébrant la fin des luttes. Sport national du Sénégal qui rayonne jusqu'en Guinée Bissau et au délà dans toute l'Afrique de l'Ouest.
Here's some information in English about this video. (I'm combining two comments from the same writer):
"i will try and explain a few things. i am from Casamance and some of my roots are related the Cabrousse people. Cabrousse is one component of the wider Diola nation which is made up of over 60 sub groups.

The Diola have a number of celebrations which all involve singing, dancing, bombolong and drums playing (bombolong being a tree trunk with an internal excavation that emits particular sounds). in this video, you have a mix of drum and bombolong. This here is celebration of the harvest."
-jongandal; 2010
Could the "bombolong" drum be the father (or mother) of the "baboula" drum that Lynne Fauley Emery wrote about? Could the Bomba dance be a folk etymology form of the Senegalese word bombolong? Inquiring minds want to know but we might have to settle for speculation.

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