Cracking the Rhythm Codes in the Music of the Lumko District

  • Dave Dargie


The rhythm systems in traditional Xhosa music have long baffled musicologists. When the author began to work with African church music at Lumko Institute in the late 1970s he undertook to study the music of the local people, who are Thembu Xhosa. With the help of Andrew Tracey he set out to try to ‘crack’ the rhythmic codes in their music. In order to be able to feel the rhythm he learned to perform some of the music, with its complex rhythms. This led him to the conclusion that the multiple rhythm systems used simultaneously were linked by ‘springing-points’, which gave the clue to how the different systems could operate at the same time. For his doctoral thesis (and later his book) on Xhosa music he developed a pulse notation system for transcribing the songs. However, he later became convinced that he had not yet got to the basics of the ‘springing-points’. New ideas are here discussed which the author believes complete the rhythmic picture. The article is dedicated to Andrew Tracey, whom the author acknowledges as his mentor in this work. The article is illustrated with transcriptions using pulse notation, with guides to readers to give access to recordings and videos of the songs.


Journal Identifiers

eISSN: 0258-509X