Monday, December 26, 2011
86. Akan Drum (US, AD 1700-1750)
This drum was constructed from wood of a tree in West Africa, as well as other little tightening-pieces from that part of the world; the skin stretched across it, however, is from mid-Atlantic America. Sir Hans Sloane, the founder of the British Museum, found it in Virginia in the 1720s, I think they said, and brought it back to London, where it has since had a place of honor in the museum. MacGregor has two special guests on this podcast, one a Londoner whose family origin was African-American, so like this drum they were enslaved in Africa, shipped to America, and eventually became British citizens; the other, a Princeton professor from West Africa, who points out that in thinking about this object you have a choice: you can a) get bogged down by the horror, the inhumanity, of the story, or b) find something a little more forward-looking about the peregrinations of this drum.
As such, it’s one of their most powerful podcasts. The drum was apparently used, during the dreaded ‘Middle Passage,” when they needed “to dance the slaves,” that is, to force them to come up on deck and jump around a little bit, for purposes of health and morale. Yet the dancing is a double-edged sword, because it turns into jazz, eventually: the great cry of humanity arising from this tremendous injustice and inhumanity. We’ve managed to stop that particular manifestation of inhumanity; and the nice thing is, we all have jazz and continue to enjoy this living tradition.