The West African turn in Rush and Gavin Degraw

West African Turn Featured

In my real life as a music teacher, I do a lot of transcriptions of tunes. Imagine my surprise when the songs I was learning for my current crop of students turned out to make extensive use of a really common bell pattern in West African music, subject of much discussion and debate among those concerned with such matters. Here it is in one of its many representations.

And here’s a performance that uses it
Shockingly, Rush’s Subdivisions and Gavin Degraw’s Not Over You heavily feature variations of this idea. Not Over You has a version of it in 4/4.

Naturally, it sounds a bit different, but this kind of cross-cultural exchange Is risky business. Unlike the Ewe music, the bell pattern here is pretty much the only rhythm being played. Also they changed it a little bit. In this case, since Degraw has a 16 beat cycle instead of a 12 beat one, he has to add a bit at the end to make it work out.

Rush, on the other hand, gives us the pattern with a 14 beat cycle. The trick with this is that, even though they play it in an odd time signature, the effect is to even out the pattern and get rid of the asymmetry.

Their version is like this

What are we to make of this co-incidence in musical design? Do these examples reveal some deep sympathy between the music in questions, Or is this a better example of the universal strength of this rhythm, noted for its unique mathematical qualities. The most shocking thing about this comparison might be how little these musics seem to have in common, despite relying on very similar music.

Leave a Reply