The African diaspora — Indigenous music

I’m stuck in a van with music nerds for six weeks and I (I = Pinson and I) am trying explain to the common man the beauty and scope of African music and its descendants.

Ok, welcome to week two of my experiment. A quick summary of what’s going on: I’m stuck in a van with music nerds for six weeks and I (I = Pinson and I) am trying explain to the common man the beauty and scope of African music and its descendants. I’m still getting my water legs out here so bear with me. And without further ado…WEEK TWO!!!

If you refer to the charming article from last week you will know that week two = folk and indigenous music from our four places of interest: Africa, Brazil, Caribbean, and the American South. What we mean over here in the Great White Jenkins tour van when we say folk and indigenous music is the traditional music of the community, the music that has occurred naturally within these countries without such things as commercial interest getting their dirty, dirty little hands involved. Anyhow, as I said, we tackled four regions and at this point in the dialogue they should still be related very closely. Having been recently removed from their home countries, African slaves brought their native music to their new homes and began the story that we are trying to follow…


Drums. They are the answer to the question. Drums and rhythm and effing huge beats. As complex as any Western musical development, rhythm and, in turn, drumming, is the centerpiece of the African musical aesthetic. IT KINDA SOUNDS LIKE THIS!!!


Ok, Ok, so we got through that first one. The point is drums – just remember that. So the next step in this drumming thing is to realize that when they drum, they are using what we call a clave. A clave is a repeated rhythm, that’s it. Don’t be confused by these fancy words. Let’s try to use it in a sentence…





So, that’s a clave. It just so happens to be the clave that appears here in another fine example of African drumming…


ONE FINAL THING!!! The final piece to our entirely overly simplistic puzzle is what we call “call and response” singing. All this means is that one dude sings something and then a bunch of other folks answer. LISTEN!!!!….


Ok. so here are the things to remember – 1) sick beats always, 2) the use of a clave in one of the instruments making those sick beats, and 3) call and response singing.


Now, check out the similarities. We have a clave, a sick beat, and call and response singing, but this time its from the Martinique, an island in the eastern Caribbean sea.


Check it out again. a clave, a sick beat, and some call and response from Cuba.



Here we go again. Tight, tight beats, a clave, and some call and response. This time it come from a style of music in Brazil called Capoeira. Capoeira is a Brazilian blend of martial arts and dance created by African slaves and accompanied by Samba de Roda, a traditional Afro-Brazilian dance.


The South

An interesting bit about slave culture in the South is that slave owners made drums illegal. The thinking was that the slave population, who vastly outnumbered their white owners, used the drums to communicate, and as slave revolts were a constant fear of slave owners everywhere, drums became intensely monitored contraband. The result of course was a variant in the development of the aesthetic.

Here is an excerpt from the people of the Georgia Sea Islands, one of the oldest black communities in the Unites States. We continue to hear the same things – sick beats, the clave, and certainly call and response singing.


Another example, recorded in Mississippi sounds remarkably close to some African jams.


They eventually did get their hands on some drums (specifically bass and snares, the boom and bap and precursors to so many wonderful things to come) and horns as castoffs from the U.S. military who had overrun the South and Gulf region as a result of the Civil and Spanish-American wars. CHECK IT OUT…


All these concepts – big beats, claves, and call and response singing – appear mutated, molded, and disguised in so much of our music that we take them for granted. Keep your ears oiled, take a listen to your world, and see if you can’t find one or two.

Next we tackle another one of my fake genres: music with horns, a direct result of colonization. Among the many things that the West’s armies have left in their wake are a bountiful supply of musical instruments. Those horns have found their way into some very creative and fertile minds, and next week we will try to explore the outgrowth of this bittersweet melange.

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Matthew E. White

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