Impact of African music on America

Traditional African music may not be the most popular music in the world. However Africans and descendants of Africans have heavily influenced folk and contemporary music in America especially to levels where music of black origin is arguably the single strongest musical force in the history of music.

Traditional African music may not be the most popular music in the world. However Africans and descendants of Africans have heavily influenced folk and contemporary music in America especially to levels where music of black origin is arguably the single strongest musical force in the history of music.

It all begins with the emergence of mankind in Africa about 160,000 thousand years ago, after which at some point music, as a form must have developed sufficiently before the dispersal of man to the other continents, and so did the music.

So it goes that all music is sufficiently African, (I have always been perturbed by how the foot movements of Intore resemble those of classical ballet).

In more recent musical history, the role of colonialism in the spread of African music to the other continents left a more profound impact on the global music map.

In Latin America and the Caribbean, the rhythmic quality of African traditional music is prevalent. The samba, the salsa and the meringue are such Latin American dances that offer a canning resemblance to Africa.

We do not have to mention that jazz, the blues, soul, rhythm and blues, hip hop and rap obviously carry heavy African or African-American influences.

Ted Gioia of Washington post writes that “This ability of African performance arts to transform the European tradition of composition while assimilating some of its elements is perhaps the most striking and powerful evolutionary force in the history of modern music.

The genres of music that bear the marks of this influence are legion… gospel, spirituals, soul, rap, , Broadway musicals, , jazz, blues, R&B, rock, samba, reggae, salsa, cumbia, calypso, even some contemporary operatic and symphonic music.”

One such dance is the now famous calypso, which a few years ago was a thing of the past, for the old fellows whose heydays lay somewhere in the 1970’s, never mind that what now goes for the same name in Rwanda and Uganda is at best a cheap copycat of the real thing.

Calypso was born and bred in the tiny island Caribbean country of Trinidad and Tobago by African slaves who after being prohibited from speaking to each other, decided to do so via song.

Eventually calypso became the uniting factor for the slave’s origination from different African regions, and became a social and political media of communication.

Some of the most famous calypsonians are Harry Belafonte whose 1956 album Calypso was the first calypso album to sell more that one million copies.

Lord Kitchner, another calypso great, did a famous track, Dr. Kitch which is still very popular today in Rwanda, but he later gravitated towards soca music. Soca was a blend of calypso and Indian instruments and took over from calypso as a tool of social commentary.

Reggae, another of the Caribbean music, this time from Jamaica is not directly as a result of African slaves but is a more recent construction than calypso, which grew and blew up in the seventies and eighties, but is clearly influenced by African drums and percussion instruments.

The fact that reggae is closely linked to the Rastafarian movement which is afro-centric and owes allegiance to Haile Selassie, the former emperor of Ethiopia and their Jah, in addition to their doctrines of naturality and pride in the African heritage, reggae is too African for anyone not to see.

In the eighties and nineties, the runaway success of late Lucky Dube, a first generation South African (and a black African for that matter) has reinforced the ownership of this music genre in the continent of its roots.

The story of salsa music and salsa dance is a mish mash of Spanish and African music emerging from Puerto Rico and Cuba and is influenced by many other dances including the cha cha cha and Cuban rumba which was itself influenced African rhythms and later came back to Africa as the African rumba in the Congos, before it evolved to the likes of soukous or lingala.

According to a Florida State University lesson, African influence can be seen with the three types of drums used in salsa, which are the standard percussion section of a salsa band: congas, timbales, and bongos.

The congas (sometimes called “conga drums”) are known as tumbadoras in Cuba. Their origin is somewhere in West or Central Africa, and the term “conga,” of course, implies Congo or the former Zaire.

(Continues tomorrow)

 

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