Blues Talk forum: > Blues Talk 5: WC Handy & "Birth" of the Blues
Blues Talk 5: WC Handy & "Birth" of the Blues
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mojojojo
123 posts
Jan 17, 2013
5:58 AM
Some further analysis could be made regarding the influence of the Athan or Muslim Call to Prayer, which is made 5 times a day from mosques, on the singing style heard in field hollers and early blues singers typical of Robert Johnson in the Cross Roads song.

First, most people are not aware that there is a "call and response" between the caller and the members of the congregation living near the local mosque. They are encouraged to respond to each of the phrases of the call by repeating them during the pause between phrases, except for the repeated phrase "Come to the Prayer", after which a different phrase is said.

There is a similarity between how the call is generally made around the world and the field hollers and droning "early" blues vocal style. One video claims this Call uses a five-note scale

(YouTube search "Athan Pentatonic Scale" for a rather melodious example of this, very clear if trying to hear notes. For an example closer to the pitch of field hollers, try "Adhan madinah", you can hear some responses too.)

I don't know if that's correct, as I don't know how to analyze it that far. However, it would be interesting to see what notes are there (probably have to research a lot of versions of it). Who knows, it might be the same five notes shared by all traditional "ethnic" singing around the world (as mentioned in Episode One of How Music Works on BBC, namely the 5 black keys). It might even be close to a blues pentatonic. Or it might even be more than five notes. It seems feasible enough to work out sitting at a piano.

I also need help in trying to make sense of the arrangement of the phrases of the call. The "standard" 15-phrase version goes like this (p is a pause for response):

AA (p, hearer repeats)
AA (p)
B1 (p)
B1 (p)
B2 (p)
B2 (p)
C1 (p, different response)
C1 (p, different response)
C2 (p)
C2 (p)
AA (p)
D (repeat)

The second pairs of B and C differ slightly in wording. There are two other versions of the call in the literature, but this is the common one in use.

Overall, the second AA, B1s, B2s, C1s, and C2s all sound like the second "A" in an AAB lyric, and the final AAD sounds like the resolution of an AAB. Really a lot of call and response going on inside the phrases, and between the caller and the called.

PS: these lectures are a "blues moment" in their own right.

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I suck at harmonica!

Jakarta River Blues Band

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Last Edited by on Jan 17, 2013 6:21 AM
jayrob
4 posts
Jan 21, 2013
8:05 AM
Mojojojo: I listened on YouTube to some examples of the "Athan Pentatonic Scale" and, as you say, they are very melodious, very beautiful. However, I'm not sure I understand the connection you make between the Athan and the blues hollers. Are you saying that some of the Africans enslaved and sent to America were Muslims or that they lived in or near Muslim communities in Africa? If so it would be interesting to read more about this influence; do you have any resources?
mojojojo
126 posts
Jan 21, 2013
11:12 PM
here's a link to an article which goes into it.

http://www.sfgate.com/opinion/article/Muslim-roots-of-the-blues-The-music-of-famous-2701489.php

seems to be available around the net in different forms. Levee Camp Holler is also findable.
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I suck at harmonica!

Jakarta River Blues Band

JRB's facebook news and vidz
jayrob
5 posts
Jan 22, 2013
7:02 PM
Thanks very much mojojojo. Looking forward to reading more on this and I appreciate the introduction of this little known influence in the blues.

Last Edited by on Jan 23, 2013 9:43 PM
TetonJohn
74 posts
Jan 24, 2013
8:04 AM
Just watched #5.
I thought it was interesting that one of the key "birth" moments (mythically speaking) had white audience enthusiasm as a key component. (I'm referring to Handy's gig where the rootsy trio was so well recieved and Handy was "enlightened.")
jayrob
6 posts
Jan 24, 2013
10:42 PM
That point also made an impression on me as well. As Adam stated, up until that point, Handy wanted to be known as the African American John Phillips Sousa. But he sure "saw the beauty of primitive music" after all of those silver coins were tossed up to the trio! Fascinating - although he was not impressed with the "native" dance music at first, he had an eye (and an ear) for the new and different in popular music. This is great stuff - thanks Adam!

Last Edited by on Jan 24, 2013 10:45 PM
JInx
399 posts
Jan 25, 2013
11:51 AM
What was that new (for me) word? it goes with this picture.



I'm in, excellent stuff there Dr Kudzu. Good heavy blues. Thank you! You are very generous.






























































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Sun, sun, sun
Burn, burn, burn
Soon, soon, soon
Moon, moon, moon

Last Edited by on Jan 25, 2013 11:57 AM


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