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Friedson, Steven M - Dancing the disease; music and trance in Tumbuku healing – Part 03



Type of Spiritual Experience


A description of the experience

Steven M. Friedson – Dancing the disease; music and trance in Tumbuku healing

Although singing and clapping are important to musical experience, it is the drumming that is essential. This is not a matter of exoticizing the rhythmic aspect of African music - of inventing it', as Kofi Agawu has argued - but of paying attention to what the Tumbuka do about the matter.

Though many songs relate to specific spirits, the same kind of one-to-one relationship found in the drumming modes does not apply.

And the Tumbuka are very clear on this point: it is not the songs-that heat the vimbuza but the drumming. When nkharamu finally began to dance that night while eating the cactus, for example, Mseka signalled for the singing to stop so he could enter entirely into the drumming.

I have suggested elsewhere, and will not rehearse the whole argument here, that shifting metrical patterns in the drumming modes, combined with a refined sense of retrieval (what is usually referred to as repetition), are conducive to consciousness-transformations such as those found in Tumbuka medical praxis. These shifting patterns not only are found in the drumming, but also are realized in clapping and, importantly in the dance itself.

Nchimi wear metallic idiophiones around their waist and ankles when they dance, which contribute an essential element to the musical texture. In other words, the dancing body is as much a musical instrument as are the drums. Separate articulations between movement of the feet and shaking of the hips produce hemiola-type rhythmic relationships that interact with the shifting patterns of the drumming modes. In this context, music and dance are univocal.

The source of the experience

African tribal

Concepts, symbols and science items



Science Items

Activities and commonsteps



Listening to beating sounds


Music therapy