A look back: Evolution of African American Music

A look back: Evolution of African American Music

By LaShea DeSelle

Staff Writer

Early African and Egyptian people used rock gongs (slabs of rock that are hit like a drum), according to quattr.us/African-history. By 3000 B.C., Africans people were using wood and leather drums with the ability to carry them from place to place, much more convenient than rock gongs.

By 550 A.D, a musician in Ethiopia, Yared worked out a way to write down music. By 700 A.D. African musicians in Southern Zambia invented mbira (vibrating iron keys that produce different tones when hit).

The 1300 A.D. musicians in West Africa, in the Mande Kingdom were playing xylophones according to Moroccan explorer Ibn Buttuta, although his remarks of West Africa were “This is a village with nothing good in it” when describing his own experience during his travels.

Music during the 1600s – 1700s drastically shifted with the colonization of North America known as the colonial era, thus large numbers of black men and women were converted from traditional African religions to Protestant Christian forming a new variety of music called gospel. Gospel or spiritual music were songs such as “Wade in the Water” by Ella Jenkins, this 26-part contained explicit instructions to fugitive slaves about how to avoid capture. After the American Civil War, during the 1800s, formerly enslaved African Americans created the genre of Blues while working on southern plantations. The Blues features specific chord progressions, a walking bass, syncopation and dissonant harmonies. The genre of Blues consists of many artists like Charles Patton nicknamed the “The Father of Delta Blues” and Ma Rainey in her famously known song and dance “Black Bottom.” 

As the new age of the 20th century began in 1900s so did a vast majority of music emerge almost every decade, early music during this time was Jazz. Jazz is characterized by complex chords, polyrhythms and improvisation; American pianist Duke Ellington as well as Louis Armstrong and Miles Davis. Popular music genre during 1950s was Soul music that derived from the blues, is closely related to Gospel and characterized by intensity of feeling and earthiness. Bands and artists such as the Supremes, the Temptations,  Marvin Gaye, Otis Redding, including of course the “Queen of Soul” Aretha Franklin and the “King of Soul” Sam Cooke. Soul music is characterized by intense vocals, call and response, an emphasis on the rhythm section and large horn section (trumpets, saxophones and trombones.  

1960s music was the ultimate decade of Disco, with big time artists like Diana Ross, the Gap Band, Isley Brothers, the Commodores, Earth Wind and Fire, and even James Brown with his twist of rock and roll.  Disco music is characterized by a heavy bass drum beat, distinctive guitar and strings, horns and introduced a recognizable repetitive hook.

1970s Funk was an instrumental and vocal genre of dance music that embraced many styles of jazz, rhythm and blues, gospel and rock traditions. Numerous funk acts during this time appeared on the broadcast show “Soul Train” that ran for 35 seasons until it ended in 2006. Bands & artists like Kool & Gang, Chaka Khan, B.T Express and Chocolate Milk influenced sounds of strong down beats followed` by a 16th note groove, seventh chord variants, and grooves driven a bass guitar.

The decade of 1980s African American artists developed hip-hop, this music commonly accompanies rapping (rhythmic and rhyming chant) that also incorporate synthesizers and drum machines, from artists NWA, Run DMC, Cypress Hill, LL Cool J, and Grand Master Flash and the Furious Five. Artists in the 80s also introduced a disco infused dance style known as breakdancing to house music, like Ultramagnetic MC’s, the Jungle Brothers, and Kid-N-Play.

1990s Rhythm & Blues (R&B) is a style of popular music developed in the 1940s from blues music, but using electrically amplified instruments. The R&B age had it’s own distinctive grooves, with repetition of rhythms, verses and notes. Some of the popular artists included Lauryn Hill, Wu Tang Clan, Destiny’s child, TLC, A Tribe Called Quest and big name artists Will Smith with his flavorsome hip hop and pop hit “Get Jiggy With It.” The 21st century merged 2000s hip hop and R&B style rap and crunk music, some well-known artists revived the music style of jazz during this decade were named Lil John and Yin Yang Twins, Kanye West, and Project Pat with songs “Take Da Charge,” “Stay Fly” and “Sippin on Some Syrup.” By the 2010s hip hop and rap elevated to an even new level when “Old Town Road” by Lil Nas X Became the longest reigning number one song in the history of the Hot 100. Other artists like Pharrell Williams, Kendrick Lamar, and Beyonce, Frank Ocean and John Legend who expanded pop music with a good rhythm, catchy melodies and were easy to remember and sing along to.

No matter which decade you choose, music in America has drastically shaped our views, ideals, and gained worldwide popularity because of the consist development of new styles and genres. Afro-American main stream music begam in the 1920s with a fanbase of new and old age individuals across the country. Specifically jazz music has been a reflection of American culture and is widely considered the original American art form.

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