BY JANELLE CLARK
In most African and African American communities, there are many kinds of celebrations. Celebrations of life, death, significant milestones, and more. With each event, you can find music, like a birthday song, a song of comfort in the passing of a friend, or a song to celebrate new life in the community. The purpose of music is how Africans and African Americans shared messages and told stories. Marvin Gaye wrote a song against hatred and war, Stevie Wonder wrote a song to honor the birthday of Martin Luther King Jr., and Childish Gambino wrote a song to expose the life and ignored dark side of America. African and African American history consists of artists; storytellers who gave to their communities and added their art to the culture. All of these songs are passed on or created through African and African American culture to continue the importance that music holds in the community.
African and African American music has a specific energy and gusto about them that is different from more European-style music. When one song is sung by a person of European descent and an African-American you can clearly tell the difference in the way the song is delivered. In each song or performance that is done by an African American artist, they put their heart and talent into the work. The importance of sharing one’s gift is a vital ideal throughout the African and African American communities. Freedom of expression perfectly captures this idea, allowing members of the community to share their talents and make whoever observes their work feel the passion and genius that cultivated the project.
The desired timbre of African and African American music differs greatly from that of European traditional music because of the intention. In European style music, they play music to perfect or to play music as an act, whereas with African and African American style music, they play music to make a feeling, an experience, and to share a good time. For example with an upcoming artist, Moses Sumney, uses a soulful technique with his spiritualist indie rock style in comparison to another indie rock artist Kings of Leon. The two sounds are starkly different, not just because of the differing techniques of each artist, but because of the reason the music was made. In Moses Sumney’s Cut Me, he expresses and sustains in certain parts of the song to imitate or even replicate the soul of gospel music as well as using multiple trackings of his own voice to simulate a choir. In Kings of Leon’s Use Somebody, the effects of the voice and the technique on the guitar are practiced, they’re an act being done to execute an effect. Traditional European style music is sound-focused, while African and African American style music is feeling and story-focused.
Call and response and syncopation are two of the most commonly used structures in African-American music. The structures demonstrate different aspects of African-American culture that have been adopted and become a tradition throughout African-American history. Call and response can be found in rap music and in gospel music, as gospel music inspired the poetics and early call and response nature of hip hop/rap music. For example Thick Of It, by Mary J. Blige, uses call and response in the chorus and it allows the listener to pretend they are singing with the artist or that they are the singer themselves. The call and response structure allows the listener to be a part of the storytelling process and the experience that the song gives them. In Kirk Franklin’s It Could’ve Been Me, the drummer emphasizes the singers’ adlibs and enhances the impact of their singing in the song. Each addition and change to call and response or syncopation assists each other to create new sounds and beautiful music.