Artist: Kyra D. GauntTitle: The Games Black Girls Play: Learning The Ropes From Double Dutch To Hip-Hop (Book)Rating: 4 StarsReviewed by: Nadiyah R. Bradshaw
“Oh, Mary Mack Mack Mack,
Aall dressed in black black black,
With silver buttons buttons buttons,
All down her back back back,
She asked her mother mother mother,
For fifty cents cents cents,
To see an elephant elephant elephant,
Jump over the fence fence fence,
He jumped so high high high,
He reached the sky sky sky,
And didn’t come back back back,
‘Til the fourth of July ‘ly ‘ly.”
We have all heard this hand-clapping rhyme at one point in our lives. Be it on the playground by the jungle gym or on the corner near the fire hydrant. Some of us might have even played along.
Nevertheless, this chant and a host of others are highlighted and dissected in Kyra Gaunt’s, The Games Black Girls Play: Learning The Ropes From Double Dutch To Hip-Hop. Ms. Gaunt, an Ethnomusicologist, (the scientific study of non-western music), at New York University, brings to light in a very informative and insightful manner, the art of chants, hand-clapping and jump rope rhymes.
According to Ms. Gaunt, the games played on the yard are bigger than just jive talk and slick hand moves, they come from the same people and culture that created jazz and Hip-Hop. Ms. Gaunt supports this notion with references from Toni Morrison, “Black Americans were sustained and healed and nurtured by translation of their experience into art, above all in music… It must look cool and easy. If it makes you sweat, you haven’t done the work. In other words, folks of the diaspora know how to take nothing and make IT into something with very little effort. Or, at least seem so. Having a respected literary great like Morrison to support her theories help give Gaunt’s work validity. Though her work is not a subject matter explored often, the facts used to base her theory are quite commonplace.
The adage that all things Black with a rhythmic pattern and distinct beat are directly related to Africa is not new. However, Gaunt delves further by evaluating the various musical scales and intonations used in certain chants and how certain regional dialects can effect and distort essentially the same rhyme. It makes one realize that little Black girls have affected Black music unbeknownst to them. This theory is supported by one chant that goes like this: “Rock, rock to the Planet Rock/ BAM! /Dont stop.” This chant is clearly evident in one of the earliest legendary Hip-Hop records “Planet Rock” by Afrika Bambaataa & The Soul Sonic Force. The chant pre-dates the actual song. This revelation is what bought the book full circle and this conclusion make the book a worthwhile read.
The true Hip-Hop scholar will get this and understand it and others will garner a few new facts to add to the dome. The book was longer than it needs to be and dragged out certain points but it’s definitely a valuable source to add to one’s collection, no matter what genre of music or literature you prefer.