What is the role of music?

Music plays such an important part in the African American community. Music is a form of self-expression that allows us as a culture to be free. We are able to express and talk about our feelings, experiences, and just build a sense of community.

In this video, you can see how the artist, Erykah Badu, involves the crowd and gets them to participate with her. She talks to them and shares her message that most can relate to and/or experiencing.

How is music created, performed, and experienced?


If we are talking about music in the past, a lot of the time music was created by the community together. When we think about spirituals and how they were created, it was a collective effort. The songs may have started with one person, but then included the people around them. Even individual artists include other artists in their songs and call them features.


Music majority of the time is performed in a way that is enjoyable for the audience and the artist. Much of the time when an artist is performing the audience will join in on the singing. The artist may also even use a technique called call-and-response that gets the audience to interact with the performer. It gives a sense of family and breaks the barrier of artist to the audience.


I feel as though the way we experience music alone vs. together is more of the reason that music has been such a freedom of expression for the African and African American communities. When we are alone listening to our music it leaves us with our thoughts, allowing us to dig deeper into the meaning of these songs about our lives. When we are together, once again it creates a sense of community and family. Music, especially African and African American music, brings people together in experience, sound, and mind.

African & African American VS. European-derived

These two songs are different versions of the same song. One, on the left, being written and sung by Big Mama Thornton in 1952. The second, on the right, being covered and performed by Elvis Presley in 1956. Like many other songs that have been covered, you can hear the difference in atmosphere with each song. Big Mama Thornton releases a very soulful and soft timbre in the original Hound Dog, while her voice also gives it a brassy tone. On the other hand, Elvis Presley turns the soulful blues song into a louder, less soulful, rock and roll version. This often happens with songs from different origins; the songs are changed and altered from their roots, giving them a different tone.

Musical Structures

Call-and-response is one of the biggest musical structures in African and African American music. Like I mentioned many times before, music creates a community and a sense of family. Call-and-response only makes that community stronger because it gets the crowd to interact and participate with the music. Plus, not only is it easy to follow, but it’s fun.

Shout songs are also a very popular method. Shout songs do the same thing as call-and-response except I feel as though they involve the crowd even more. Now not only is the crowd helping the artist, but also being part of the song and shows the enjoyment in doing so.

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