Wayo: Trance Percussion Masters of South Sudan

Trance Percussion Masters of South Sudan is a valuable ethno musicological document and the spirited and highly skilled playing and performing allows a glimpse into an otherwise rarely seen world.


Trance Percussion Masters of South Sudan

Label: Riverboat
US Release Date: 2013-10-15
UK Release Date: 2013-10-14

Say the word “trance” and people may think you’re referring to a style of music popular in dance clubs, represented by hypnotic, repetitious rhythms and with roots in electronica and disco. The word and the idea go back much farther than contemporary club culture, though. Trance is actually an ancient practice.

Simply defined, a trance is when a person enters into an altered state of consciousness and is not aware of what is happening around them. The person may have full motor control, but does not respond to external stimuli. It can be a calm state between sleeping and waking, or an intense state of ecstasy. Music, and particularly repeating rhythms, can induce a trance through what is called entrainment – when the body’s natural rhythms (heartbeat, breathing, and most importantly brainwave activity) sync up with the external auditory stimulus (the sound, in other words).

Music intended to induce a trance-like state through rituals and celebrations is but one part of the rich and varied musical history of the African country of Sudan. South Sudan is a new country, splitting from Sudan in 2011 after decades of civil wars. With its mix of African and Arab cultures, and over 300 ethnic groups spread across the varied landscape, musical expression takes many forms. Afrobeat, reggae, hip-hop, rock and folk are all popular music forms in the capital Jubal and around the country. Traditional as well as more regional music is common as well, produced by the many cultural and ethnic groups.

The music on Trance Percussion Masters of South Sudan is performed by the Zande, a group of people living predominantly in Central Africa. In the past, most Zande were animists, believing that there is no separation between the physical and spiritual worlds, and that spirits live in natural objects, plants and animals. The predominant religion practiced by the Zande now is Christianity, with some holdover traditional animistic beliefs. Music is an important part of Zande culture and goes hand in hand with religious ceremonies, as well as everyday life. The “Wayo” of this collection is not a soloist or band, but the community itself.

Now some qualifiers. Trance Percussion Masters of South Sudan comes across much like a sampler collection, as five of the 11 songs clock in at under two minutes. One of them doesn’t even feature any percussion, as it’s acapella. Also, if you’re expecting slow, repetitive beats, meditative and “trance-like” music (at least as the West commonly views trance), prepare to be surprised. The music here is high energy and celebratory – it sounds more like a street party than a ritual or ceremony. It’s also rare that you get to just focus on the percussion, as each track prominently features vocals.

All that said, the playing throughout is brilliant. Many textured polyrhythms are performed on three-person xylophones, log drums, bells, and an assortment of other percussion instruments. The rhythms repeat themselves in spirals and criss-crossing patterns. It’s communal music, with instruments being passed from person to person during performance. The hollowed out log drums are especially soulful, their resonance connecting with something deep and primal.

“Koya Mo Were Baramu (Now You Are Like a European)” (the title referring to the return of displaced Zande from other countries, after civil war) is a good representative track. A cadre of xylophone and log drum players immediately launches into a complex interlocking pattern while a lead female voice sings over the top. A steady rhythm of shaken tambourine-like bells joins in. Occasional answering female and male voices enter the mix. In the last section of the song the lead woman’s voice is replaced by a male singer while the rhythms continue uninterrupted until the song dissolves in laughter at the end.

From track to track there’s a bit of sameness, due to the music being removed from its context. The listener isn’t there in the moment, seeing and experiencing the music being made, being part of the whole environment. This is an important ingredient in listening to this type of music, but of course, hard to duplicate from a mere recording. In the end, Trance Percussion Masters of South Sudan is a valuable ethno musicological document and the spirited and highly skilled playing and performing allows a glimpse into an otherwise rarely seen world.


In Americana music the present is female. Two-thirds of our year-end list is comprised of albums by women. Here, then, are the women (and a few men) who represented the best in Americana in 2017.

If a single moment best illustrates the current divide between Americana music and mainstream country music, it was Sturgill Simpson busking in the street outside the CMA Awards in Nashville. While Simpson played his guitar and sang in a sort of renegade-outsider protest, Garth Brooks was onstage lip-syncindg his way to Entertainer of the Year. Americana music is, of course, a sprawling range of roots genres that incorporates traditional aspects of country, blues, soul, bluegrass, etc., but often represents an amalgamation or reconstitution of those styles. But one common aspect of the music that Simpson appeared to be championing during his bit of street theater is the independence, artistic purity, and authenticity at the heart of Americana music. Clearly, that spirit is alive and well in the hundreds of releases each year that could be filed under Americana's vast umbrella.

Keep reading... Show less

From genre-busting electronic music to new highs in the ever-evolving R&B scene, from hip-hop and Americana to rock and pop, 2017's music scenes bestowed an embarrassment of riches upon us.

60. White Hills - Stop Mute Defeat (Thrill Jockey)

White Hills epic '80s callback Stop Mute Defeat is a determined march against encroaching imperial darkness; their eyes boring into the shadows for danger but they're aware that blinding lights can kill and distort truth. From "Overlord's" dark stomp casting nets for totalitarian warnings to "Attack Mode", which roars in with the tribal certainty that we can survive the madness if we keep our wits, the record is a true and timely win for Dave W. and Ego Sensation. Martin Bisi and the poster band's mysterious but relevant cool make a great team and deliver one of their least psych yet most mind destroying records to date. Much like the first time you heard Joy Division or early Pigface, for example, you'll experience being startled at first before becoming addicted to the band's unique microcosm of dystopia that is simultaneously corrupting and seducing your ears. - Morgan Y. Evans

Keep reading... Show less

This week on our games podcast, Nick and Eric talk about the joy and frustration of killing Nazis in Wolfenstein: The New Order.

This week, Nick and Eric talk about the joy and frustration of killing Nazis in Wolfenstein: The New Order.

Keep reading... Show less

Which is the draw, the art or the artist? Critic Rachel Corbett examines the intertwined lives of two artists of two different generations and nationalities who worked in two starkly different media.

Artist biographies written for a popular audience necessarily involve compromise. On the one hand, we are only interested in the lives of artists because we are intrigued, engaged, and moved by their work. The confrontation with a work of art is an uncanny experience. We are drawn to, enraptured and entranced by, absorbed in the contemplation of an object. Even the performative arts (music, theater, dance) have an objective quality to them. In watching a play, we are not simply watching people do things; we are attending to the play as a thing that is more than the collection of actions performed. The play seems to have an existence beyond the human endeavor that instantiates it. It is simultaneously more and less than human: more because it's superordinate to human action and less because it's a mere object, lacking the evident subjectivity we prize in the human being.

Keep reading... Show less

Gabin's Maigret lets everyone else emote, sometimes hysterically, until he vents his own anger in the final revelations.

France's most celebrated home-grown detective character is Georges Simenon's Inspector Jules Maigret, an aging Paris homicide detective who, phlegmatically and unflappably, tracks down murderers to their lairs at the center of the human heart. He's invariably icon-ified as a shadowy figure smoking an eternal pipe, less fancy than Sherlock Holmes' curvy calabash but getting the job done in its laconic, unpretentious, middle-class manner.

Keep reading... Show less
Pop Ten
Mixed Media
PM Picks

© 1999-2017 All rights reserved.
Popmatters is wholly independently owned and operated.