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  • Oscar Brown, Jr.


Sanctifism is that complex rhythmic characteristic possessed by the great majority of Africa’s offspring all around the world. Typically it expresses itself through their music and dance and has developed several distinct Caribbean and Central American accents: In Brazil, it occurs as samba. It is rumba in Cuba, the tango in Argentina, and in Trinidad, Jamaica, Barbados, and the Virgin Islands it became calypso or reggae. In North America, Sanctifism extends in an entertaining continuum from spirituals, work songs, field hollers, and blues through ragtime, jazz, gospel, swing, and bebop to the latest hip hop beat. All of these internationally popular cultural creations originated with persons of African blood whose musical proclivities resulted in the familiar assertion that, “All Negroes can sing and dance.” While, like any stereotype, this may not universally be true, it is true enough to have made African-Americans (North South and Central) the well-spring of virtually all popular musical culture throughout the entire history of this hemisphere.

Europeans, by whom Africans were conquered and dominated during the last half a millennium, exhibit little or no Sanctifism and have, therefore, attempted to downplay and disparage its manifestations. Historically, it has tended to make many Europeans uncomfortable, when music is played with “syncopation”, one of Sanctfism's principal characteristics. Therefore, the Harvard University Dictionary of Music defines syncopation as: “a disturbance of the bars of music.....” It was perhaps this “disturbing” quality in African rhythmic expression even more than its message sending, that compelled slave owners generally to ban the playing of the drum, the most African of instruments, throughout the entire history of chattel slavery. The drum’s messages might well have been decoded eventually, but the overwhelming physical force of their vibrations could not be contained nor accommodated by the slaveholders. Since the abolition of its “peculiar institution” white supremacy has fought a running, cultural battle with every musical innovation by the descendants of Africans, held in captivity on this side of the Atlantic. But to no avail. Today, it seems safe to say, Sanctifism exerts the preeminent influence on popular musical expression throughout much of the world, and this influence is on the rise. Why? Because rhythm rules.

Human beings tend naturally to ascribe a rhythm to all redundant phenomena. Timing its recurrence, tells us something vital about an event, A rhythm is an organized movement of time. essential to such endeavors as cultivating plants, operating engines, and making music. Music can, in fact, be described as an organization of sounds and silences in relationship to time. So significant is it, that a “time signature” is placed in the upper left-hand corner of a page of notated music, ahead of any notes or bars, to indicate to the reader just when the notes are to be played. “Time” and “rhythm” are synonyms by which music is “measured”. Therefore, while time, in a cosmic sense, seems endless and immeasurable, it is in its earthly sense divisible by numerous means, including the tick of a clock, the change of seasons, and the beat of a drum.

As previously noted, music, particularly that of the drum, has traditionally been an essential component of African societies, among virtually all of the continent's black populations, and has always been put to a variety of practical uses as a part of their daily activities. Moreover, it is evident that the sound of the African drum was directed, not only at human listeners but often at some supra-human auditors, as well. There could be no earthly reason for so prolonged and profound a poly-rhythmic employment of the drum (and the dances done to it) unless the activity was directed at unseen psychic and spiritual forces from which there was received tangible, beneficial response. Consequently, there is a spiritual essence to Sanctifism that is functioning, above and beyond the mere mechanics of observable motion and audible sound, which clearly defines it as a cosmic force.

Physically, of course, the sound of the drum is carried on waves of energy impacting on the auditory nerves of all within earshot. The efficient transfer of energy in such waves is known in physics as “harmonic motion” because it “swings “ matter through space. The term “harmonic motion” is, in fact, a synonym for ”swing.” The study of micro-physics has revealed that all matter is made up of molecules in motion and that this motion is “harmonic" requiring all molecules of matter to continually attempt to "swing" themselves into a state of perfect alignment, called “a lattice point of equilibrium”. At this point of exact balance, the addition or subtraction of any single bit of energy is sufficient to disturb their perfection and compel the molecules to once again busy themselves into arriving at another “lattice point” alignment. It is the constant conflict between balance and imbalance, perfection and imperfection, that gives our material universe a yin yang character that can be called, the universal dynamic.

Sanctifism responds with a high degree of sophistication to this universal dynamic, providing its heirs with temporal capabilities not enjoyed by those lacking in such African endowment. Not only in music and dance are its advantages apparent, but in other activities as well, particularly certain athletic events. It is Sanctifism that accounts for the superior performance of Africa’s offspring in track, basketball, football, boxing, and other sports. Those games requiring agility, equilibrium, and exquisite timing, are generally performed best by Africa’s children, who naturally apply their temporal talents to them. We all know unfortunate black people who, because of the negative attitudes of some European people toward it, feel ashamed of their African heritage, and would even deny its existence, but the clear evidence utterly refutes them. There are and have been far too many black champions in too many athletic endeavors to deny the general superiority of performers of African descent.

No greater example of Sanctifism's exquisite rhythmic capability can be found than in the performance of “double dutch” in rope jumping. “Double Dutch” is a way of jumping rope wherein two strands of rope, approximately ten or twelve feet long, are rotated counterclockwise by two “turners”, while one or more ”jumpers” alternately jumps them both. This feat requires a response to duple rhythm which is enjoyed by children (particularly girls) in Aframerican communities everywhere but is rarely if ever to be observed elsewhere. The reason is simple: jumping “double dutch” demands timing that millions of blacks and very few others possess. Highly skilled “double dutch” jumping is perhaps the most sophisticated response to temporal stimulus that exists. Its study through computer modeling might isolate the mechanics of this activity, and enable us to discern why some can do it, while others try as they may, cannot Our "isolation" of this “double dutch trait" might then recommend its application to other endeavors, especially in the learning process. Already, the speedy “raps" of countless of today’s (mostly Aframeric) youth has given new meaning to “language skills”. The “rapper's” rhythmic rapid recitation of rhyme is a remarkable application of Sanctifism to verbiage. Apart from its negative “gangster” attributes, “rap” might well serve as a means of communicating school curriculum in a way that is more engaging and, therefore, more educational for this current generation of students.

The implication of such a study is profound. A conscious application and marketing of Sanctifism by its beneficiaries might well cure some of the economic, social, and political ills which currently bedevil Africa’s children everywhere. It is worthy of our most serious attention and study because it raises questions of utmost significance. For instance, it is apparent that waves of light in sunshine can so impact on the molecules of the human epidermis that a dramatic change we call “sunburn” ensues. Do intense, repeated waves of sound impact as dramatically on some unseen molecular structure so that through generation after generation of exposure to complex beats, Africans became as “drum burned” as they were “sunburned?” Did Africa’s drums thus install an African “clock” in the genes of her race that provides most of its members with a finer command of time than other races? Whether this temporal trait shows up as some form of “muscle memory,” or is a component of an African’s DNA, are further questions to be included in our “double dutch” investigation into the sources and resources of Sanctifism.

Because bigots have long made sociopathic uses of claims of racial superiority, it is with some apprehension that these assertions are made, yet, if what is apparent is real, then based on their performance, the children of Africa exhibit a clear physical superiority over others precisely because “they have rhythm.” To what use this superiority can be put, awaits its further examination. The direction of such examination would necessarily include the historic uses to which high temporal development has been put.

As a matter of pure conjecture, it might, for example, be discovered that a delicate appreciation of energetic vibrations enabled pyramid builders to move huge stones into place, The knowledge of how these vibrations operate might deliberately have been suppressed by Europeans because they lack the rhythm to relate to them. Might an appreciation of the secrets of such vibrations be reclaimed and applied today by those with the gift of Sanctifism?

Obviously, if the drum was employed for communication with spiritual forces; sending vibrations to “the gods” who responded in ways that strongly encouraged such supplications, then we have entered the realm of metaphysics. It suggests supra-natural intercourse between flesh and spirit which some might condemn as “superstitious,” however, our investigations ought not be avoided just because they may turn occult. On the contrary, if some such communication does account for the characteristic use of drums in Africa, those lines of communication still are open to persons with the talent to employ them, and so if dancing to poly-rhythms was historically of benefit to African people, a return to the practice could prove to be beneficial today. Of course, it would not be in the interest of “white supremacy” that these investigations are made, and so a racist resistance to them is to be expected, but any such opposition ought only encourage our endeavor. Sanctifism is our legacy. How now can it best be appreciated?

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