The Influence of Africa:
Syncopation, Call & Response, and Timbre
The music of Africa informed the music of Charleston in a very central way; it is impossible to quantify the
many influences, but it is possible to highlight three of the most recognizable and important contributions. Talk
of syncopation, call & response, and timbre can get complex and technical, but on a basic level, they are the
soul of this new African American music: they give the music "looseness" and excitement, relaxation and
|Listen to an un-syncopated example||The choosing of where to place melodic elements over the underlying beats is another striking difference between European and African music. In most European music, the music falls right on the beats: 1 2 3 4.|
|Listen to the same example, but syncopated|
|Syncopation is simply the shifting of accents to where they are not "supposed" to be (normally unaccented beats). It can be thought of as emphasizing the area in between the beats (emphasizing the &'s of beats). Playing off the beat, syncopating, is what gives the music the drive and excitement.|
Call and Response
example of call and response
Call and response in religous music
Call and response in a jazz big band
|The alternation between leader and chorus, often called call-and-response, is a defining characteristic of African music and became an important element of African American music.|
|Call and Response||Call and response is also crucial because it involves the audience; it transcends the seperation of audience and
performers so common in the west. The music is participatory in nature, it is not meant to be watched from afar.
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Timbre (sound quality)
|The traditional music from the Shona of Zimbabwe is known as mbira music. The metal-keyed instrument (sometimes Americanized to a 'thumb piano') is decorated with shells or bottle caps to give it a buzzing, noisy timbre.||African music values dense, noisy sound textures, also known as the timbre (pronounced tam-ber). Noisy timbres and complex, interweaving parts give the music a dense, rich quality.|
|This affinity for noisy timbres and dense sounds fit well
with the cheap brass instruments available in the late 19th and early 20th
century. Lieutenant James Europe's
"Marching Hell-Fighters" band exemplifies this sound.
Listen to the Marching Hellfighters