Once Upon a Rhythm


Once Upon a Rhythm there was a pulse in life. It was in the seasons, the spinning planets, the breath of life in the wild. What’s more, it was in the beat of our hearts. How did this become the pulse on drums, the clap of our hands, the chant of sounds? Thereafter, when did we begin to repeat, to notate, to orchestrate?

James Carter moves through history, across continents and through people to draw a timeline of music. Therefore we ‘strike on tools of bone’ while ‘notes would trail from flutes of bone’. Furthermore, we realise the part that communal songs play in the history of music and peoples, wherein they ‘by old were sung- and- heard and learnt by young‘. As peoples moved, there were ‘new instruments- new melodies, harmonies’ and rhythms.

What’s more instruments were formed that were played in a variety of ways. These led to playing groups, notation, and travelling minstrels and songs. Choirs and bands, orchestras, played a variety of music heard, performed, learned and developed from. It seems that there was ‘jazz to country, samba to swing/ many new styles, new songs to sing.;

The historical timeline, urgency and positivism of Once Upon a Rhythm catches readers. James Carter reminds us of the variety and wonder of music, its universality and role in our lives. What’s more his rhyme and poetic devices, particularly onomatopoeia, are sublime. His words are shown gloriously in illustrative text by Valerio Vidali, while the pictures are pop art bright, progressive and inspiring. Bookwagon loves this addition to James Carter’s Once Upon… series and recommends it highly.

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Once Upon a Rhythm

The Story of Music

James Carter, Valerio Vidali

(Little Tiger Press)

Once Upon a Rhythm there was a boom, beat from our walk, to the dance, to the drum! ‘It starts in your heart/ then it spreads to your feet’. What’s more that rhythm was with everything we knew, from the seasons, to the wild, to breath. It seems it ‘has to be heard’. Could this be the ‘rhythm of life’?:– Sammy Davis:- Rhythm of Life
Did this rhythm grow to become music from beats, stomps, claps or chants? Thereafter when did song begin? What’s more when was music played with instruments, developing from being ‘played by hand‘ to struck ‘on tools of stone’ with notes trailing?
Through brilliant pop-art style illustrations, with loud, pulsating illustrations from Valerio Vidali, we follow Once Upon a Rhythm. James Carter continues his poetic expansion of subject investigation with vibrancy and urgent onomatopoeia. It seems he is able to imbue the tone of a subject whether it be Once Upon an AtomOnce Upon a Raindrop or Once Upon a Star, so that we feel the setting and take meaning from this intuitively.
Thereafter, travelling through history, hearing the beat, realising the ‘communal songs’ and then the advent of orchestration and notation, we hear, see, feel and learn. We see how music travels and expands to ‘classical, folk and choral’ forms. What’s more we grasp its universality, community and then its continued growth into ‘rap to pop to rock ‘n’ roll/ Afrobeat to dub to soul‘. Like Quentin Blake’s All Join In, this title is a call for us to participate too, from sharing and hearing this superb poetry book, to enjoying music in all its forms.


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