African blues

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For other uses, see African blues (disambiguation).

African blues is a genre of popular music, primarily from West Africa. The term may also reference a putative journey undertaken by traditional African music from its homeland to the United States and back.[1] Some[which?] scholars and ethnomusicologists have speculated that the origins of the blues can be traced to the musical traditions of Africa, as retained by African-Americans during and after slavery.[2] Even though the blues is a key component of American popular music, its rural, African-American origins are largely undocumented, and its stylistic links with African instrumental traditions are somewhat tenuous.[3] One musical influence that can be traced back to African sources is that of the plantation work songs with their call-and-response format, and more especially the relatively free-form field hollers of the later share croppers, which seem to have been directly responsible for the characteristic vocal style of the blues.[3]

Albums such as African Blues by Ali Farka Toure have a noticeable African and American Blues influence.[clarify] The death of Malian guitar legend Ali Farka Touré has inspired a new round of speculation about the roots of the blues in Africa. Touré famously argued that the beloved American genre was "nothing but African," a bold assertion. The question has received extensive scholarly attention in Gerhard Kubik's book Africa and the Blues, and in Paul Oliver's Savannah Syncopators: African Retentions in the Blues.[2]

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  1. ^ Meyerson-Knox, Saul (2007). "African Blues": the Sound and History of a Transatlantic Discourse (BA). University of Cincinnati. Retrieved 3 October 2015. 
  2. ^ a b Komara, Edward; Washburn, Robert (2005). "Africa". In Komara, Edward. Encyclopedia of the Blues. Psychology Press. pp. 10–13. ISBN 978-0-415-92699-7. 
  3. ^ a b Oliver, Paul. "Blues". Grove Music Online. Oxford Music Online. Retrieved 3 October 2015. From obscure and largely undocumented rural American origins, it became the most extensively recorded of all traditional music types... Since the early 1960s blues has been the most important single influence on the development of Western popular music... In its early years the blues was wholly African American... Influential in its development were the collective unaccompanied work-songs of the plantation culture, which followed a responsorial 'leader-and-chorus' form that can be traced not only to pre-Civil War origins but to African sources. Responsorial work-songs diminished when the plantations were broken up, but persisted in the southern penitentiary farms until the 1950s. After the Reconstruction era, black workers either engaged in seasonal collective labour in the South or tended smallholdings leased to them under the system of debt-serfdom known as sharecropping. Work-songs therefore increasingly took the form of solo calls or 'hollers', comparatively free in form but close to blues in feeling. The vocal style of the blues probably derived from the holler... Blues instrumental style shows tenuous links with African music. Drumming was forbidden on slave plantations, but the playing of string instruments was often permitted and even encouraged, so the musicians among slaves from the savanna regions, with their strong traditions of string playing, predominated. The jelli, or griots – professional musicians who also acted as their tribe’s historians and social commentators – performed roles not unlike those of the later blues singers, while the banjo is thought to be a direct descendant of their banza or xalam. (subscription required)

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