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RAD Bonus Content, Blog 1: Nago rhythm via Augustin Frisner

Posted by Wolf Murphy on

RAD Bonus Content, Blog 1:
The Nago Rhythm
via Frisner Augustin 

Frisner Augustin (March 1, 1948–February 28, 2012) was a major figure in Haitian Vodou drumming, the only citizen of Haiti to win a National Heritage Fellowship from the National Endowment for the Arts in the United States.

As a young man he was a prodigy on the traditional Haitian Vodou drums in ritual. He took to the modern stage, exploring the conversation between his tradition and  jazz styles. (In Haiti this included Lina Mathon Blanchet, Jacky Duroseau, and Jazz des Jeunes; in the United States and Europe, Kip Hanrahan, Edy Brisseaux, and Andrew Cyrille.)

He founded his own ensemble, La Troupe Makandal, in 1981. He focused not only on making music, but also on educating popular misconceptions in the public mind regarding Haitian Vodou.

The following is the foundation notation for traditional Nago as he communicated it.

The Instruments

First, let's look at the instrumentation, with an explanation of the various sounds they create. The Asson (rattle) and Ogan (double bell) are first:

The core of the ensemble is the three drums, each played by a different drummer. The Boula is a small. high-pitched drum that plays a very repetitive and structurally vital part. In Nago drumming, which is a fiercely energetic and heated style of drumming, the strokes on the boula are made with a stick in each hand and all strokes are simultaneously doubled.

The Seconde is the middle drum and supports the improvisations and expressions of the large Maman drum. Both are played with a stick in just one hand.

The Maman is the large lead drum of the ensemble and is responsible for controlling the intensity or "heat" of the group (and the "heat" of the drumming is responsible for the success of the ritual and the well-being of the community).

The Groove

These are the basic parts for all drums that create the groove or Ostinato (the composite of repeated or looped musical rhythms or phrases that create the foundation for orchestrated Polyrhythmic music.).

A few observations that may help in understanding the orchestration. Note that

  1. The Asson and the Boula share identical cadence (the same notes in the cycle are voiced, though the sounds differ).
  2. Same thing for the Ogan and the Seconde.
  3. (To apply Western analysis for a quick moment) The Maman emphasizes the first and third downbeats—it is only these note spaces that receive the doubled tones or the slaps.

The Kase

The Kase is a call the Maman lead player utilizes to change the intensity of the performance. It is similar to the idea of echauffement in African rhythms.

The Ending

The second line of the Maman part here signals the ensemble ending.

If you are interested in Frisner Augustin and the Vodou drumming/Jazz crossover, you can subscribe to The Frisner Augustin Memorial Archive on YouTube. In particular I recommend the Congo Square, Where Jazz and Vodou Meet performance from February 10, 2000:

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