Taj Mahal said he wrote this song while he was sitting in his friend Marie’s kitchen. “I used to just sit and play—just doodle around and play on the guitar while Marie would cook and talk. It started raining and I was sitting with the window right behind me. I’m picking and playing and I said, ‘Listen to that rain.’ The rain was going blonk, blonk, blonk, blonk, and I started playing bonga, bonga, bonga. Light rain, light rain, doda, doda, baby falling down. It was a really nice day, everything together and the new music was right there.”
The blues is a form of American music with its origins in African-American spirituals, work songs, chants, and praise songs. This style of music incorporates blue notes—flatted notes in place of an expected major interval, and a repetitive pattern that is generally in a 12-bar structure.
The blues style is the foundation of almost every major 20th century American music form, including jazz, rhythm and blues, rock, and hip-hop.
Taj Mahal was born Henry St. Claire Frederick in Harlem, New York, in 1942. His father was a jazz pianist, composer and arranger of Caribbean descent, and his mother was a schoolteacher and gospel singer from South Carolina. The Frederick household was filled with music from around the world, and his family frequently hosted musicians from the Caribbean, Africa, and the U.S. Young Henry learned to play many instruments and to appreciate a wide range of musical styles. He took his stage name Taj Mahal when he was a student at the University of Amherst.
Taj Mahal is a multiple Grammy Award-winning blues musician who has performed since the 1950s. He has had major influence on the blues by infusing it with non-traditional forms and world music. He continues to tour and perform. Read more about his music and career at the Taj Mahal website.
1. Discuss timbre and how Taj Mahal varies the timbre of his voice to make the audience laugh. Have students explore varying the timbre of their voices as they sing familiar songs to have a specific impact on the audience.
2. Read Taj Mahal’s comments about how he wrote this song. Does anyone in their home play music around the house or write music? Where do songwriters get their ideas? Have students choose an idea from something around them and write simple songs.