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Certain rhythmic characteristics link African music with “Black” music of other
world cultures. Both metronism67 (the presence of a strict metronomic pulse) and the
importance of percussion are aspects of music that have been retained in the sacred
and secular styles of “Black” music outside the African continent. Africanisms came
to North America principally via West African sources (more specifically, from the
Slave Coast in the vicinity of the Guinea Coast area). With the cessation of slavery,
“Black” Americans maintained some of the African musical traditions through activities such as the drumming and dancing in Congo Square, the popularity of street
parades, and the tradition of music at funerals.68
African rhythmic characteristics have been retained in certain African-American
music. The unique rhythmic elements contained in “jazz,” operating within various
tonal and formal structures, represent one of the music’s main characteristics. In
addition to the use of polyrhythms, hemiola, the shifting of accents, the application
of syncopated patterns, and other devices, the interesting placement of accentuated
notes and their relation to the basic pulse provides a source for additional rhythmic
color and contrast. “Jazz” interpretation allows the performer the freedom to play
consistently behind, ahead, on top of, or right on the underlying beat. These and
other “jazz” concepts evolved from an early phase where the emphasis was on collective improvisation, where all instruments tended to play rhythmically. Polyrhythmic
innovators, such as Elvin Jones, Max Roach, and Art Blakey, later developed revolutionary styles of “jazz” drumming that conveyed a sense of collective percussion
improvisation on a single set of trap drums.
Classes of African Musicians
African musicians might be arbitrarily divided into three main categories: the nonprofessionals, the semiprofessionals, and the professionals. These musicians serve
numerous functions for a variety of occasions in traditional African society.
Since all members of the community participate in music making, all Africans are
musicians in the broadest sense. Music other than that of professional musicians, teachers, etc., is learned primarily through social experience and communal participation.
Many semiprofessional musicians earn a living through a portion of the year and
rely on other occupations for the remainder of the year. Bambara farmers in Burkina
Faso (Upper Volta) perform at festivals, during the dry seasons, at which villagers pay
the musicians for their efforts. The Senufo orchestras are composed of ten musicians
who are also blacksmiths. Many harp and lute players in other areas of Africa are also
soothsayers or healers.
Numerous other African musicians earn their living solely through their musical
offerings. Trained instrumentalists, master instrument builders, tuning specialists and
48 • Bigotry and the Afrocentric “Jazz” Evolution