African and African American Music

By: Jala Stubbs

Music is the most universal language there is. For Africans and African Americans, it has been a way of gatekeeping culture and preserving history. It has also been a way of story telling and creating and installing a sense of community. Music has distinct sounds depending on the creator and the origin of creation. The most popular songs are often relatable and reflect a person’s most inner thoughts and feelings.  Music has been an outlet for Africans and African Americans to release their innermost thoughts and feelings, and share them to remind everyone that they aren’t alone. Music in Africa is often created using complex, rhythmic melodies. Similarly, African American music incorporate rhythmic, dynamic sounds and beats in order to execute the sound they want to create. African music has had a major role on African American music. From the instruments to the styles, Africa has had a lasting impact on how music is created and performed to this day. The innovative and creative artists created styles of music and staple instruments that have been reimagined in the years that would follow. Africa is the home of black music and  has paved the way for artist to continue the legacy. African and African American music alike are the most dynamic, rhythmic forms of music. They reflect the past, present, and future by fostering an environment of  community and fellowship. For example, Call and Response, originally a West African tradition, is a popular form of music. Most often found in Gospel, wherein the performer recites a line and the congregation responds. A popular example might be, “God is good all the time,” and the audience would respond, “And all the time God is good”. This popular form of engagement is used in performances to connect the singer to the audience, hence the fellowship created through music. Another form of African music most often found in Gospel are Negro Spirituals. Negro Spirituals were a form of communication by slaves that helped to encourage and empower others through song.This style of music is found in Gospel due to the common references to God and a life of peace after death. These songs find beauty in the struggle, which also speaks to the resilience of African descendants. Timbre is the quality given to a sound based off of the tone.  Timbre distinguishes between sounds such as vocals and instruments. While African music focuses more on the polyrhythmic, complex sounds derived from different instruments and singers, European music focuses more on classical technicalities. An easy visual might be to imagine the rhythm of the drums versus the practiced melody of the piano. The two videos attached are examples of how African music and African American music have intertwined and reflect one another.