Music from Africa to America

by Darlene Nawuridam

The role of music in African Communities.

The role of music in African American Communities.

Music is used in all major events in Africa, including royal functions, religious and life cycle rituals, community festivals, and occupational, recreational, and leisure activities. Music in some African cultures is also used to ward off evil spirits, tell stories, and teach life lessons. 

The role music played in African American communities, however, was a bit different. Slaves at the time used to sing in the fields to pass the time. Music was also present in holiday celebrations, occupational activities, healing, religious rituals, and funerals. Music in African American communities was also linked to political activism, especially in movements for equality. 

An example of Africans celebrating the life of someone with music, and dance.
An example of Slaves sining to pass the time. 

How Music Is Created In Africa.

How Music is Created in African American Communities.

In Africa, music consists of singing, dancing, clapping hands, stomping feet, and shaking rattles. Instruments like drums, lutes, and xylophones are also used to accompany singing and dancing.

African Americans, however, mixed standard English with other improvised words that included the use of metaphors, double entendre, and jargon to express themselves and their feelings in songs freely. Slaves sang with no instruments because slaveholders were scared that slaves would use the instruments to revolt or plan escapes to freedom. They, in turn, clapped and stomped their feet while singing. Additionally, ritual events also revolved around music. 

Below is an example of slaves clapping and singing. 
Above are examples of some African instruments.

The Timbre of African and African American Music.

The timbre of African and African American music varies. These include groans and shouts, grunts, screams, handclaps and foot stomps, and the combination of banjo, guitar, jug, harmonica, trumpets, piano, kazoo, etc. African Americans also used the use of a slide or bottleneck to alter the timbre. Europeans, however, did not like the sound and depicted it as “wild,” “peculiar,” “strange,” and as “noise” because it was a completely different sound to their flat timbre.

The Two Most Common Musical Structures In African and African-American Music.

The two most common musical structures in African American music are the Call and Response and Repetitive chorus. These two musical structures are an interactive and communal approach to making music because it gets everyone involved in making the music and allows the soloist to improvise.

Above are different examples of Call and Responses.

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