Folk & Traditional Music of the Western Continents

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sung in styles indistinguishable from those of the whites, but on most of them the Negroes imposed some stylistic traits from Africa. They presumably also continued to sing African songs and to compose new songs in the African styles, but this was problematic because the slaves did not have a common language and tribal groups were pur­posely broken up by the slave traders. The African elements that were retained were among those also found in similar form in Euro­pean folk or popular music, for according to the theory of syncre­tism stated by Waterman,1 cultural features that have something in common are likely to merge into a new though related form in an acculturational situation.
Just what are the African features that were carried into the New World? The emphasis on rhythm is an important one, and it is expressed in the frequent use of percussion instruments and in rhythmic accompaniment, as well as in the tendency to adhere strictly to meter and tempo (the "metronome sense" of West Africans), and, perhaps as a result, in the use of syncopation and of complicated rhythmic figures. A second one is the call-and-response pattern, an-tiphonally and responsorially performed. The love of instruments and instrumental music—though the instruments themselves are fre­quently quite different from those of Africa—among New World Negro groups may be a result of the wealth of instruments in Africa. The interest in improvisation is also perhaps one of the African features, as is the tendency to use a variety of tone colors in the vocal technique—especially harsh, throaty singing. Finally, polyphonic singing, though it is not particularly typical of either West African or New World Negro music, may, where it is found, perhaps be traced to African roots.
It is frequently difficult to decide whether a feature of New World Negro music is part of the African heritage. As we have pointed out, these features may have maintained themselves in a hostile cultural environment only because their counterparts in West­ern folk and popular music were somewhat similar. But it is interest­ing to find that, on the whole, those features of music which were most strongly developed in Africa have to some extent been retained in American Negro music; but those which were relatively unde-
1 Richard A. Waterman, "African Influence on American Negro Music," in Acculturation in the Americas, ed. Sol Tax (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1952), p. 212.

E-Book - An Annotated Compendium of Old Time American Songs by James Alverson III