African Culture on Modern Music

Music that is considered “true” African music by many indigenous peoples to Africa. Black African music is generally to be found in the West, Central and sub-Saharan regions of Africa although evidence of its influence can be found all over Africa including more remote areas of the continent like Mozambique and Madagascar. Black African music has evolved in a very different manner than that of its Northern cousins, being more influenced by Gospel music and early Dutch inhabitants who having brought slaves with them to Africa, also brought their more Westernized ideas and ideals of music with them as well. Consequently, the music is very different from that of Northern Africa and leans towards more complex rhythmic types of compositions utilizing cross and poly rhythms.

The term cross rhythm was coined by a man named Arthur Morris Jones, a missionary and musicologist working in Zambia during the 20th century. Jones was known for his work involving the complexities of Black African Music in particular, the music of the Ewe tribe found in Western Africa. Cross rhythms, according to Jones, are rhythms in which the established pattern of accents is conflicted with by a novel rhythm not having the same meter as the original rhythm. In other words, their starting points and down beats cross or rather they do not coincide. This is an example of what is know as poly rhythm which is the process of having two or more rhythms played simultaneously not sharing the same meter. Here is a link to a site that will give you a little more insight into this phenomenon: http://bouncemetronome.com/Polyrhythm_Metronomes/index.htm

The idea of crossing rhythmic patterns was considered central and unique to sub Saharan music separating it from music to be found in the north of the continent and from most Western music as well. Western rhythms traditionally emphasized the primary beat but Cross Rhythms tended to emphasize the secondary beat. Jones’ work on this topic helped to distinguish sub Saharan music from other African music, and from Western music although there are specific examples in the annals of classical music that defy this notion (see Beethoven’s 3rd Symphony).

Historians have documented the tragic mass destruction of many of the treasured cultural practices of African peoples during the 19th century, pieces of music as well as instruments sadly bearing inclusion into this travesty. Subsequently, older fragile representatives of instruments as well as accurate depictions of instruments indigenous to the region are sometimes vague, according to some. And although instruments used in South, West and Central African cultures are similar to those in the Northern regions in some respects, many of them tend to be directed towards percussion and those creating rich tapestries of rhythmic music. Black African instruments are categorized based on the regions they are predominantly played in:

Obviously we set out upon this journey to the dark continent and back again to examine the relationship between the origins of music and the implements necessary to create it, and the modern forms more familiar to most of us. Our first thoughts naturally flow towards Jazz and Blues which have clearly evolved from African music and have found their ways into our cultures as well as our hearts. But what about other forms of music that have traveled a more convoluted path to reach the modern era? Let’s take a look at some interesting variations on the musical theme that some people may not have perceived to be of African origin.

Many people confuse these two different forms although there are distinct differences between them. Rapping literally means “to converse” and predates the phenomenon known as hip hopping by centuries. Consequently, rapping has been used as a chanting or speaking art form (as a rhyming lyrical form accompanying Reggae music as well) with or without an accompaniment and can be very powerful as a tool of self-expression. Depending on how you define it, Rap may very well date back to early African tribes and their practice of chanting in rhythmic fashion to induce trance states.

Hip Hop was born out of New York subculture during the 1970’s and was born of four basic elements: Mcing (Emcee-ing), Djing, Breaking, and Graffitti Writing. Mcing can be compared with Rapping and many consider the two terms to be synonymous. Hip Hop was basically discovered by DJ’s who exchanged portions or “samples” of rhythmic beats and “looped” them to create compositions. Rapping over the top of the rhythms soon followed along with “breaking” or colorful and highly energetic dance accompaniment. Consequently, Hip Hop is the culmination of a number of art forms from Rapping, to the subtle yet brilliant synthesis of rhythms and poly rhythms, to dance and written art forms.

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