I helped John Lambeth set up a web page for his University Scholars 201: Negritude class in Spring Term of 1996, and did a guest lecture on West African music. The following comments were posted to the class USENET group:
Newsgroups: wlu.negritude From: msingh@liberty.uc.wlu.edu (Manmeet Singh)
Subject: Guest Speaker: Hugh Blackmer

     This was one of the most interesting and educating lectures that 
I have been to at W&L. Honestly, I am not exaggerating. I say this for 
various reasons, let me point them out.
     First, Mr. Blackmer seemed quite knowledgeable on the subject. 
True, there was an occasion when posed a question he admitted that he 
wasn't sure of the answer, but then that question was obscure 
     Mr. Blackmer more than made up for this though in the genuine 
enthusiasm he showed, both for the subject matter and the lecture. It was 
evident that he had spent quite some time preparing for it. Amazingly, I 
was captivated by the lecture for the full two hours....an extremely rare 
occurence as some of my Professors will point out.
     I also think that we covered the right amount of material in the 
lecture. The information was neither overwhelming, nor was it sparse. 
     What did I learn from the lecture? Well apart from the facts and 
ideas that were presented I learned something else that I would like to 
share with the class.
     Although I have lived in India for only two years, I think I know 
a lot about contemporary life there and a bit of its history. This has 
primarily come to me via my experiences there when on vacation and from 
what my parents have told me of life there. My dad always reminisces 
about village life in Punjab (my home state), and he never fails to 
mention about the minstrels or "Banjaras" as they are known in Punjab. 
These musicians go around the coutryside and play in villages. They are 
paid, usually by the elders and their songs always contain a moral 
message (I have learned most of my moral values from these songs narrated 
to me by my parents when I was young). The whole village gathers to 
listen to them when they play. The similarities between Indian and 
African folk music doesn't end here. If you remember, we saw a clip of a 
group of musicians hired to play at somebody's house and their songs 
were in fact praises of their employer. We have the exact same tradition 
in Punjab, the musicians here are known as "Baajaigars."
     Lastly, I would like to mention that the in folk music from the 
southern half of India, one would find the same polyrhythmic 
characteristics and the same emphasis on rhythm as we saw in African music. 
They have the same, apparent, irregularity and disharmony.

From: mgiese@liberty.uc.wlu.edu (Molly K. Giese)
Subject: hugh

     I thought Hugh Blackmer was awesome!  That definately was a 
couple of hours well spent.  Not only did he know a lot about what he was 
talking about (he probably could have made the whole thing up and I would 
have believed him considering how much I knew about African music) but he 
made it very interesting-- and relevant-- for the layperson like myself.  
I want to point out a couple of the things I thought were most 
interesting: First the jamming in the post office.  If i studied music 
for years, I know I could never make anything sound as cool as those guys 
at work. Blackmer's comments on the jam-session reminded me of some ideas 
in the Senghor essays we read last week.  He said that music is not, as 
we narrow-minded Westerners think, just for the ears to listen to.  
Instead it is for the mind and the whole body.  Just as Africans are 
consummed in their perceptions of objects as Senghor described, they are 
also consummed by music.  This is indicated by the stunning dancing that 
we watched on the vcr.  THe man seemed also possessed by the power of 
the rhythms and they controlled his movement.  White people, still along 
the lines of Senghor, physically conceptualize and think about the 
music-- presumably that is why we can't really dance.
     However Blackmer strayed from Senghor at the outset.  He 
definitively discredited any accounts that this ability to "become" the 
music is attributed to any genetic or inherent quality.  Although it is 
hard to believe, the Africans we watched imperceptibly 
learned-- throughout their lives-- to appreciate and produce all of the 
complex rhythems that I can't even comprehend.
     The second thing that struck me is related to the poly-rhythms 
in that the substance of the music comes, not from the music itself, but 
from the space between the sounds.  Even more astonishing is that these 
gaps are what the good dancers dance to.  I am looking forward to 
listening to more of the tapes and cd's that are going around, especially 
now that I have more of a clue what to listen for.

From: cbragg@liberty.uc.wlu.edu (Christine E. Bragg)
Subject: Hugh Blackmer

 Hugh Blackmer was without a doubt one of the most interesting speakers I 
have ever heard! I was interested throughout the entire 2 hours!!!!! That 
is a rarity! He was very entertaining and had a lot of information to share.
 I really liked the way he used handouts, audio recordings, video 
recordings, and had an instrument to pass around. He kept the interest up 
be always using something new. He was very energetic and just pulled you 
in.  The fact that he didn't use any notes proved that he knew his stuff. 
It was also quite obvious that he LOVES African music and is quite 
enthusiastic about his learnings. 
 The thing that I found the most interesting about all of the info that 
he passed on to us was the recording of the postal workers. That is so 
amazing. Can you imagine how much more fun work would be if you could 
work to a rhythm and sing? I wouldn't mind doing that at all! I love the 
way Africans incorporate song into everything they do. They are so joyous 
and seem like they are always celebrating life. Another thing that I 
found really interesting was that African music deals with rhythms and 
silence. I thought it was really cool how the Africans try to fill 
silences with sound, thus creating unique but coherent rhythms. 
 It was fun to learn about all the different instruments and hearing them 
being played, as well. It is so amazing how many of these instruments 
were the origin of European instruments we use today. The Africans have 
given our culture so much and we have given them no credit whatsoever. It 
was so much fun to hear the blues song sung by a man in a Mississippi 
prison back to back with the song sung by a man in Africa. They were so 
similar - it was amazing.
 I really enjoyed hearing Mr. Blackmer speak and would love to hear him 
speak again. He told us that he had at least 4 hours of stuff to speak 
about and I would be intrigued the entire time! 

From: cquinn@liberty.uc.wlu.edu (Catherine B. Quinn)
Subject: Hugh Blackmer

     Hugh Blackmer's lecture on West African music made our time on 
Monday the most enjoyable two hours I think I have ever spent in a 
classroom.  As many people have already noted, his knowledgeability and 
enthusiasm made the lecture both informative and engaging.  In addition, 
the information he presented was very enlightening - I'm sure it will 
help me to listen better and understand more of the music that is being 
passed around.  
     One thing I particularly enjoyed was how Mr. Blackmer showed the 
connections and relationships between different types of music.  It was 
interesting to see what influences on African music came from Islam, or 
from European and American music.  As a huge fan of the blues, I found it 
especially fascinating to hear about how the African music and American 
Blues cross-pollenated, sharing and trading instruments and musical 
styles.  What was even more interesting was to hear the comparison 
between coincidentally similar styles as we were shown in the alternation 
between American prison blues vocals and the songs of Africans working in 
the rice paddies.
     In addition to seeing the connections between different musical 
styles, I also liked learning about what instruments, styles, and 
techniques are authentically African.  I think that will especially help 
my listening to the various CD's and tapes.  Mr. Blackmer showed us some 
of these authentically African elements in several ways.  One that I 
liked best was the video segment about the jalis, and how different 
generations of jalis play their music and regard their role in history 
and society.  The video segments on dancing were great as well - I think 
it brought us closer to a fuller understanding of African music because 
when you study music you have to look at the reaction it inspires as well 
as the sounds that comprise it, and dancing is one of the most basic and 
natural responses to music.  The dancing we watched and also the 
wonderful post-office-stamp-jam also helped to show us more about the 
African philosophy of music - how one is supposed to approach music, the 
attitudes of the music itself, and how music is involved in everyday 
life.  Another good example of authentically African musical tradition 
and how it has evolved was the set of three examples of female praise 
singers.  I enjoyed hearing how different the vocal style was from 
Western vocal style, but I couldn't help noticing that one woman's voice 
sounded a lot like Tina Turner's.  That set of examples also demonstrated 
how production and marketing can change and "expand" a traditional sound.
     It was fun to hear some of the more modern styles as well, 
particularly the music by Prince Nico Mbarga.  In addition to hearing an 
evolution from older styles, I liked being able to listen to the lyrics & 
gain some insight into what modern West African musicians are singing 
about.  I would have never guessed that polygamy was such an important 
issue to the modern African lyricist!  
     Overall, this was a great lecture.  I felt like I learned a lot 
and that the time was well used.  It didn't move so fast that we couldn't 
take it all in, and yet it didn't drag on or ever get boring.  Plus, I 
think that a better understanding of the African approach to music will 
help us in comprehending African literature, and especially poetry, which 
is so closely tied to music.

From: edetter@liberty.uc.wlu.edu (Elizabeth E. Detter)
Subject: hugh blackmer

     I really enjoyed the lecture on monday about African music.  I 
liked Baaba Maal and Angelique Kidjou  when I listened to them, but I'm 
sure that as the term goes on I will develop a better appreciation for 
African music.  At this point, I'm a novice, without a lot of grounds for 
comparison.  The lecture with Hugh Blackmer provided a lively way of 
learning more about African music.  
     Mr. Blackmer is obviously enthusiastic about the subject.  It's 
amazing that we have such an expert on African music right here at W&L.  
I would be interested to know how he began to develop his knowledge of 
African music.  Is availability widespread?  I'm sure that most of those 
tapes that we heard, especially those by ethnomusicologists, are not 
easily obtainable.  I really liked the songs by Prince Nico Mbarga, and 
may ask Wayne to order them for me if possible.
     I must say that Monday's class was one of the most enjoyable 
classes I've had in a while.  The most interesting thing to me about our 
Negritude class is that I have so little background in this subject 
matter, and so everything we learn is new.  I probably never would have 
had exposure to the sounds of an African post office, or the dance of 
Africans otherwise, unless I happened to catch a National Geographic 
special.  During the fall, I learned a bit about African culture in 
Latin America, focused on the slave trade, and colonies of escaped 
slaves.  I can better understand the role of music in those societies 
now.  I am just amazed by the differences in culture between Africa 
and Europe.  I'm a bit envious of the life in Africa, because it seems 
much less stressful than the life we've created for ourselves in the 
western hemisphere.  Music and self-expression are great stress 
relievers, and it's too bad that we aren't more accepting of music in 
everyday life.

From: smccrone@liberty.uc.wlu.edu (Sara A. McCrone)
Sender: news@logic.uc.wlu.edu

     I really enjoyed Hugh Blackmer's presentation in Friday's class.  
One of the main reasons I joined the University Scholars program was to 
be challenged and presented with sources other than textbooks, especially 
guest speakers.  Mr. Blackmer's knowledge of West African music was both 
incredible and inspiring; I know that after I listened to him, I wanted 
to go home and listen to some tapes with a more appreciative ear.  I was 
particularly fascinated by the polyrhythmic nature of African music.  I 
knew it sounded different, but I couldn't figure out why.  I also didn't 
know how one would dance to it.  My favorite part of Mr. Blackmer's 
presentation was the video of the dancers from Coastal Ghana doing the 
kpanlogo.  If we thought stepping would be hard, I would love to see us 
try this!  I also enjoyed the postmaster example.  At first I thought it 
was a professional, rehearsed piece.  I still cannot believe it was an 
impromptu performance in a local post office.  It was also interesting to 
learn how even a simple instrument such as the ektar can produce a 
variety of sounds.  I also was fascinated by the drum which imitated the 
tonal Yoruba language.  It cleared up a mystery for me.  In _Things Fall 
Apart_, Achebe often described how the inhabitants of one village would 
know about something that happened far away because they could hear the 
talking drums.  It didn't seem like Morse code or some similar idea, so I 
wondered how they could tell what the drums were saying.  I feel I know 
much more about African music than at the beginning of the term.  Mr. 
Blackmer obviously knows his material well:  he presented a broad 
sampling of music and ideas without making the information seem 
overwhelming, and his visual aids were helpful.  Most important, though, 
he was enthusiastic and entertaining.  I enjoyed the entire two hours and 
would be interested in asking him back to present more music selections.

From: tjoy@liberty.uc.wlu.edu (Teresa K. Joy)
Subject: hugh blackmer

mr. blackmer's class on african music was the most enjoyable two hours i 
have ever spent in a classroom, for lots of various reasons.  mr blackmer 
was obviously VERY knowledgeable about african music, and you couldn't 
miss the enthusiam he had for the subject.  his love of the music and his 
obvious interest made it all the more fun for those listening to him.  i 
found his explanation of some of the background of the music and the 
surrounding cultural influences fascinating.  his handouts were also a 
great way to provide some information he didn't have time to discuss to 
us as well as give everyone a visual link to his presentation.

the music itself was just cool... there's no other word for it.  i must 
admit, it was completely different from anything i've ever heard in my 
life.  i can't imagine how it's done, it sounds so complicated and 
comnplex!  my favorite piece was the postal workers little song.  it 
showed better than anything else, i think, the central role music and 
rhythm plays in the african's life;  anyone who can make music while hand 
cnaceling stamps (definitely one of the monotonous jobs ever) is a 
genius, as far as i am concerned.  i was just relly impressed by both the 
quality of mr blackmer's presentation, his love of the music, and the 
music itself!

From: mgolubie@liberty.uc.wlu.edu (Maciej B. Golubiewski)
Subject: Hugh Blackmer

     I think it was a very good class.  I wouldn't call a it a lecture 
but a truly learning experience.  Hugh Blackmer has a gift of conveying 
his thoughts that is very captivating and simply interesting, sometimes 
even funny.
     The part of the presentation that I liked the most was when Mr 
Blackmer was talking about West African instruments.  I have never 
realized that tuning of the balofon (I don't know if I spelled it right) 
was totally different from instruments such as xylophone.  Sure, I would 
not imagine that Africans somehow invented exactly the same harmony as 
Europeans. Nevertheless,the fact that even their single tones fall in 
between European half-tones and that there is no possibility of creating the 
same chords and melodic configurations as on the piano due to that fact is 
most astonishing. 
     Hmm, another interesting fact was to discover that behind 
very complicated sounds and melodies there was often a single and simple 
instrument often consisting of one string (like the archetype of the 
banjo, for example).
     I also liked the short movies showing people actually playing the 
instruments and dancing to them.  Also learning about the philosophy and 
often differing traditions of playing the same instrument (balofon) was 
definitely interesting.
     All this mixed with Hugh Blackmer's anecdotes about his friends 
from Nigeria made it an excellent experience.

From: cyoung@liberty.uc.wlu.edu (Cindy J. Young)
Subject: Guest Speaker: Hugh Blackmer

We don't incorporate music into our lives nearly so much as do Africans.  
That seemed to me to be one of the main points of Mr. Blackmer's lecture 
last Friday, and yet I think it's maybe a bit too general.  What I mean is, 
Mr. Blackmer seems to have incorporated music, particularly and all the more 
impressively, the music of a very foreign culture, into his own life.  
And I don't think it's exaggerating to say that he has managed to 
incorporate it into ours a little as well.

This write-up follows many others, but I have the advantage of seeing the 
reactions of everyone who has posted so far to Mr. Blackmer's talk, and 
so I know my appreciation for his lecture is hardly alone!  I'm not sure 
what I most clearly take away from his lecture, whether it is some of 
the historical oversights he offered us regarding African music, or a 
memory of the sound of the drum that we each got to grapple and tap on, 
or the sight of the old griot squinting into the sky and explaining the 
hundreds of years of culture that the griots have sustained through their 
art, or the sight of the young man and woman dancing with each other 
without choreography, and yet perfect nonetheless!  Or of course the 
sound of the postal workers improvising at the University of Ghana, and 
creating a rhythm which sounded less like an improvisation than like a 
precisely-timed performance.

Probably, though, I will remember some of each of these sights and sounds 
- our (or at least my) first introductions to the very different and very 
interesting world of African music.  Something else I know I will 
remember is the very enthusiasm of Mr. Blackmer's that so struck nearly 
everyone whose posting I have now read.  Sometimes I nearly forgot to 
look at the screen or listen to the tape, I was so cheered watching his 
toes a-tappin'.  Involuntarily of course.

Besides the scheme of the lecture and the audio-visual aids he had 
planned I myself was also interested in the anecdotes of his own 
(African) friends with which he occasionally indulged us.  It made the 
whole lecture seem so much more real to me, that these are of course 
actual people and not just musical beings we are nodding at in our 
studies and marking in our notes.  The idea of two men not being able to 
forbid their bodies to dance any longer is so perfect to me!

I for one do think we ought not entirely dismiss whites as entirely 
lacking in the ability to respond to music, however, and not just for the 
sake of assuming the role of devil's advocate, if I've followed class 
discussions rightly.  I am very devoted to ballet, you see, and aside 
from pointing my finger at the many talents who now dance across the 
stage, I think it only fair to point to the most brilliant dancers of the 
ballet - and modern dance - in order to defend the point that there may 
in fact exist some whites for whom music is an involuntary and an 
incidentally graceful form of expression and even life.  Dance for Martha 
Graham was the pulse of her blood.  I don't mean to stretch my point, but 
only to suggest that we not distinguish the Africans as so entirely 
different from ourselves.