Remembering Bamboula

Thursday, July 16, 2015

Dr. Bob’s article about the bamboula drum, rhythm, and dance was published in the July, 2015 issue of the Percussive Notes.  Percussive Notes is the official journal of the Percussive Arts Society, whose mission is to inspire, educate, and support percussionists throughout the world.

The bamboula is central to the story of African slaves and their descendants who gathered in a place called Congo Square during the 18th century and early 19th century to drum, dance, and sing their traditional music on Sunday afternoons.  The 3+3+2 “bamboula rhythm,” equated with the New Orleans beat and second line beat entered New Orleans “with enslaved Africans who had been brought to Louisiana directly from Africa and from the Caribbean—primarily Haiti and Cuba.” As with many rhythms of African origin, bamboula refers to the rhythm, the particular drum on which it is played, and its associated dance.  Historical sources corroborate that the bamboula dancers most often established circle formations, the bamboula was a couple’s dance, and bamboula originated in the Congo.

Today, plaques and sculptures designate Congo Square a significant historical site.  Before these physical markers were placed, the bamboula rhythm and dance had left an enduring stamp on New Orleans.  The 3+3+2 bamboula pattern persists in Mardi Gras Indian music and second line brass band styles.  Today, numerous festivals and rituals celebrate the enduring spirit of the African slaves and their descendants, who, for more than one hundred years, gathered to remember Mother Africa through music and dance. 

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