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  • Arts & Culture
  • Issue 49

Beauty in the Beat

How rhythm shapes our lives.
Words by John Ovans. Photograph by Chiron Duong.

How rhythm shapes our lives.
Words by John Ovans. Photograph by Chiron Duong.

Rhythm has great significance in music and poetry beyond simply propelling the track or verse forward. And its role varies around the world: Unlike in Western music, for example, where the melody takes precedence, West African songs are generally polyrhythmic, meaning that they layer two or more conflicting rhythms to represent the fabric of life and the dialogue of human relationships.

Our actual dialogue—language—is also governed by rhythm; everything from syllable stress to pauses and pitch help to get across what we are trying to communicate to the listener. Barack Obama, for instance, regularly employs a dramatic pause to add weight and gravitas to poignant moments in his speeches, and studies have shown that a reassuring, meditative rhythm has been proven to help to reduce anxiety: Those working with nonverbal children have found that they are more likely to speak


This story is from Kinfolk Issue Forty-Nine

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