Polyrhythmic dance compositions from West Africa typically feature an ostinato bell pattern known as a time line. Timbrally distinct, asymmetrical in structure, and aurally prominent, time lines have drawn comment from scholars as keys to understanding African rhythm. This article focuses on the best known and most widely distributed of these, the so-called standard pattern, a seven-stroke figure spanning twelve eighth notes and disposed durationally as <2212221>. Observations about structure (including its internal dynamic, metrical potential, and rotational properties) are juxtaposed with a putative African-cultural understanding (inferred from the firm place of dance in the culture, patterns of verbal discourse, and a broad set of social values) in order to further illuminate the nature of African rhythm, foster dialogue between structural and cultural perspectives, and thereby contribute implicitly to the methodology of cross-cultural analysis.

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