Africa in America: Old Ways, New Means
Andrew Killick [+]
University of Sheffield
We now build on our knowledge of West African musical practices by examining how they were maintained and developed in America, initially by African Americans but increasingly by Americans in general. We see how the “polyrhythms” of West African drumming, in their interaction with a European rhythmic framework, produced not just the backbeat but the pervasive “syncopation” that has been so prevalent in most American and American-influenced popular music of the last hundred years. We also see how other features of “participatory” African music (the slaves’ “old ways” of making music), including open-ended cyclical forms, call-and-response interactions, dense textures, and rough-edged timbres, have remained an aesthetic preference in the African American tradition and an influence on other styles (“new means”). Meanwhile, the griot tradition of solo singing accompanied by a stringed instrument is considered as a possible source of blues music and its many offshoots. With successive styles being pioneered by African Americans and then adopted by European Americans, the history of American popular music can be seen as a progressive “Africanization,” while even in the folk and classical realms, American music can be differentiated from European music primarily by its African American elements.