Call and Response
A Staple of Black Praise and Worship
Call and Response is a succession of two distinct phrases usually written in different parts of the music, where the second phrase is heard as a direct commentary on or in response to the first. It works similarly to conversation. These phrases can be either vocal, instrumental, or both. Call and response can be a question and an answer but can also be a statement followed with a response to that statement. In this blog, I will discuss how call and response has influenced praise and worship in the black church. First I will talk about the origin of call and response, then call and response in African American music, next, call and response in the black church and finally, the connection between our African roots and the modern day church.
THE ORIGIN OF CALL AND RESPONSE
Call and response originated in Sub-Saharan African cultures. This musical form was used to express democratic participation in religious rituals, civic gatherings, funerals, and weddings. The tradition of call and response was carried to America by the African slaves and was used in songs all over plantations in the south.
CALL AND RESPONSE IN AFRICAN AMERICAN MUSIC
THE BLACK CHURCH
Call and response has been transmitted over the centuries in various forms of cultural expression including public gatherings, sporting events, children’s rhymes and of course the church. It can be heard in genres such as soul, gospel, blues, rhythm and blues, rock and roll, funk, and hip hop.
The function of call-and-response in the black church is to establish and maintain spiritual harmony, to maintain a sense of group solidarity, and cultural values. In praise and worship, call and response occurs between the lead singer and the praise team or the congregation. Entire phrases or verses are sung or spoken by the leader and are repeated by the praise team and/or congregation. A popular gospel singer who uses this technique in most of their songs is Kirk Franklin.
CONNECTING OUR AFRICAN ROOTS TO OUR MODERN DAY CHURCH
One of the amazing elements of call and response is that it can be a powerful unifying tool. Those who respond learn to listen carefully to the leader, and through this they gain a sense of belonging by repeating the call. In Africa, this technique was used to connect our ancestors and today we use it to connect to each other in the church. It provides a sense of comfort, and a sense of being at home. Just like the Africans used call and response at their gatherings to bring each other closer together, we do the same today in the black church.
The tradition of call and response fosters dialogue, and its legacy continues on today, as it is an important component of oral traditions. In the African American community, call and response represents the resilience, strength and most importantly freedom of our African ancestors.