Similarities Between West African Music & American Music

Popular musical styles of the United States -- including jazz, swing, ragtime, rhythm and blues, funk and soul -- owe much of their inspiration to the African diaspora, which introduced traditional west African music to the Americas, mainly through folk songs and spirituals. Some of these influences can be heard in elements of these musical genre's characteristic styles: syncopation and polyrhythms, call and response, and percussive beats.

In its relentlessly complex drumming, chanting, and bell-ringing, West African (particularly Yoruban) music makes frequent use of syncopation (stressing the unaccented beat in a measure) and polyrhythms (simultaneous, cross-cutting rhythms.) One American musical style which has been on the receiving end of this influence is ragtime, as in the classic Scott Joplin composition "Maple Leaf Rag."

The technique of call and response, in which musicians engage in a back and forth "dialogue" of musical phrases, is common among West African countries such as Ghana. In American music, this technique is heard in such genres as blues and funk. It can be heard in the works of musicians such as Sam Cooke, Otis Redding and James Brown.

West African music is perhaps best known for its many varieties of percussive instruments, including membrane drums, bells, gongs and the thumb piano ("mbira"), which are used to establish its characteristic cross-cutting rhythmic structures. American music has been influenced by this in the form of jazz and blues drum solos, reggae marimbas and the percussive piano techniques of early rock 'n roll pioneers such as Little Richard and Jerry Lee Lewis.

Approved by Jesse Anderson