The Evolution of African Music to African American Music

by Mariah Wolfe


Slavey was a difficult time for many of our ancestors. They were literally taken from their homes.  When touching down to the new land of America, they had nothing but their cultures and language. They had no choice but continue with traditions they were raised in. During the trying time, many African slaves used music as a form of peace but they is not all traditional African music is used for. During this time, traditional African music is often used in different African cultures to ward off evil spirits and to pay respects to good spirits, the dead and ancestors. This tradition has been passed down from generation to generation. The majority of the continent’s traditional music is passed down verbally (or aurally) rather than written down. In Africa, music has a vital role in religion, as it is used in rituals and religious celebrations to pass down stories to future generations.


Traditional Instruments 

Djembe drums may be nearly 800 years old, but they are still one of Africa’s most essential instruments. Despite the fact that many people find them at stores or drumming circles, they continue to play an important role in the continent’s traditions. Another instrument that is important to the expansion of African music to America is the Kora. The Kora is a stringed instrument used  in West Africa. the Kora combines features of the lute and the harp. Many of these instrument that were brought from Africa are still used today. Such as the banjo and many of the brass instruments.  

The Similarities of African and African American Music

The quality of sound that distinguishes different voices or instruments is referred to as timbre. Sound quality is frequently cited as one of the most important aspects of African and African American music, and it has been critiqued by cultural outsiders. People who have visited the continent frequently characterize the noises they hear as loud or rough. The unusual timbres of African music instruments are given human-like aspects, with artists having the power to make them "talk." Mutes, bottlenecks, Leslie speakers, fuzz boxes, and synthesizers are instruments thats are often used by African American musicians in order to create a more unique sound.

Call and Response

The musical genre of call-and-response was developed in Sub-Saharan African societies to highlight democratic participation in public events such as religious rites, civic gatherings, funerals, and weddings.


Syncopation is a constant in the music of the African diaspora. Blues is a common genre that relies on syncopation as a key contributor to what makes blues the blues.  Syncopation occurs when weak beats are accented. Stronger beats (less syncopated) are larger in the diagram, while weaker beats (more syncopated) are smaller.


Polyrhythms are an important component of African music (sometimes called cross rhythms). Polyrhythms are two or more rhythms played at the same pace at the same time. Percussion instruments are frequently used in African music.

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