The udu at the end of Moving Away plays complicated rhythms. What are they and where do they come from?
Eugene Skeef plays the udu in a very personal style. He has developed a repertoire or personal catalogue of rhythms (and continues to do this) based on a variety of traditional and contemporary African rhythms.
The combination of rhythms he plays on Moving Away are variations of ‘kuku’ and ‘tiriba’, two of the most popular rhythms in the parts of West Africa where music for the kora is
found (e.g. Guinea, Mali, Senegal and the Ivory Coast). Both these rhythms are popular dance rhythms.
Kuku is in a straight 4/4 time signature – four regular beats in a bar …
… and tiriba is in 6/8 time – two groups each of three notes in a bar.
If you put these two time signatures – 4/4 and 6/8 – together, you can end up with confusion. Here are the kuku and tiriba rhythms played at the same time.
Throughout the song Eugene fuses these two rhythms' time signatures in such a way as not to disturb the overall groove, but instead to throw rhythmic ideas at the rest of the band. It is as the song gradually reaches a climax that he separates the two time cycles, and it’s then easier to hear them both at work.
This clip combines the kuku rhythm with the udu music from the end of Moving Away. If you listen particularly to the bass tones, you can hear the relationship between the two rhythms.
And in this clip, you can hear the tiriba rhythm with the Moving Away udu part. This time, listen to the higher, click tones to hear the relationship.
What Eugene’s doing is basically playing two rhythms with his two hands – the kuku’s in the left hand, playing mainly the bass notes, and the tiriba’s in the right hand, playing the higher notes. If you watch carefully, you can see him doing it …
This combination of two different rhythms playing at the same time is called ‘polyrhythm’ and polyrhythm is a vital component of African music. The important thing to remember is that the combined whole has to sound and feel right. The overall rhythm has to ‘sit’ well.