Columbia College Chicago

Definitions of Styles and Genres

The CBMR documents, collects, preserves, and disseminates information about black music and the black musical experience in all parts of the world. Click links below to discover brief definitions of some genres and styles studied at the Center.

Black Rock

Definition of Style

Blacks have composed and performed rock music since its emergence in the 1950s, but the term “black rock” came to be recognized around 1985. At that time, guitarist Vernon Reid and music journalist Greg Tate joined with a small group of black musicians and music industry professionals in New York City to found the Black Rock Coalition (BRC). Reid was a young but accomplished musician whose work with avant-garde jazz artists such as Ronald Shannon Jackson had drawn critical attention. More significantly, he had recently formed the ground-breaking rock band, Living Colour, an all-black heavy rock band that would eventually score a string of minor hits on rock radio. BRC co-founder Greg Tate was beginning to establish himself as a journalist through his writing on black music in the Village Voice and to build a reputation as one of the major theoretical voices of the burgeoning hip-hop movement. Reid and Tate rightly recognized that the structure of the American popular music industry limited the growth of many black artists. musical intentions, since throughout the era of rock ’n’ roll, the American music industry engaged in a kind of commercial segregation, placing black performers in tightly regulated categories designed to appeal to perceived demographics of the music audience, and it was rare to find a black musician given official sanction to perform the same with white rock.

The founders of the BRC hoped to draw attention to the wide range of non-traditional styles employed by contemporary black musicians. Well-known groups and musicians such as Chuck Berry, Bo Diddley, Jimi Hendrix, Sly Stone, Parliament-Funkadelic, and LaBelle all created works considered essential to the notion of black rock. But there were many others whose work fell outside the boundaries of the traditionally accepted roles of black musicians; for example, Canadian singer-songwriter Joan Armatrading built a strong international audience in the seventies and eighties for her highly personal folk-rock.

In 1989, Vernon Reid’s Living Colour proved to the industry that a black rock band could find a large audience. But perhaps the definitive musical statement of Black Rock was the groundbreaking 1982 record titled, appropriately enough, Blackrock, by guitarist James Blood Ulmer. With Blackrock, Ulmer created a set of tunes whose stylistic uniqueness, powerful musicianship, and frenetic sense of forward motion made it an immediate critical favorite and underground hit. The music on Blackrock cannot be classified as funk, rock, jazz, R&B, blues, pop, or even avant-garde, yet it contains elements of each of those styles. Ulmer forged a sound and an approach that tied together the wide-ranging universe of black music from straight jazz to the avant-garde and from blues to rock ’n’ roll. Thus, black rock imagines a future in which black composers, performers, and producers may be free of rigid stylistic boundaries.

Selected Discography

  • History of Our Future (RCD 10211/RACS)
  • Fishbone. Truth and Soul (Columbia CK-40891)
  • Living Colour. Vivid (Epic 44099)
  • Bad Brains. Bad Brains (Roir 8223)
Blues

Definition of Style

Blues is an African-American music that traverses a wide range of emotions and musical styles. “Feeling blue” is expressed in songs whose verses lament injustice or express longing for a better life and lost loves, jobs, and money. But blues is also a raucous dance music that celebrates pleasure and success. Central to the idea of blues performance is the concept that, by performing or listening to the blues, one is able to overcome sadness and lose the blues.

Among the formal, identifying musical traits of the blues are the familiar “blue notes,” a three-line AAB verse form, and a characteristic use of the familiar blues chord progression. Historically, the popularity of blues coincides with the rise of the commercial recording industry, the introduction of “race” records aimed at black record-buyers after 1920, and the emigration of black Americans from the rural South to the urban North. Many of the earliest black American recording stars were blues singers. The first blues songs to be recorded, often called “classic blues,” were jazz-influenced songs in a vaudeville style, sung by the great blueswomen: Gertrude “Ma” Rainey, Bessie Smith, and others. These singers were often accompanied by pianists, guitarists, or even small jazz combos.

The “country blues,” usually considered an earlier form of the genre, was actually recorded in the mid-1920s. There are several regional styles of country blues, including delta blues from the Mississippi Delta, Texas blues, and Piedmont blues from the Southeast. Country blues was usually recorded by a single male singer, self-accompanied on the guitar or piano, with perhaps an accompanying harmonica or simple percussion. Charley Patton, Blind Lemon Jefferson, Blind Boy Fuller, and Robert Johnson were country blues musicians.

Beginning in the 1930s, blues musicians fell under the influence of urban culture, including popular music and jazz. Combos incorporating piano, guitar, and percussion developed, although the country, “downhome” origins of the musicians were still evident in the music. Major musicians of the 1930s included Tampa Red, Big Bill Broonzy, Little Brother Mongomery, Leon Carr and Scrapper Blackwell, Lonnie Johnson, and Memphis Minnie.

After World War II, the use of electrified instruments became inevitable. During the 1940s, some blues bands even incorporated saxophones, although the preference was for amplified harmonicas, especially in Chicago, a predominant center of blues recording in the 1950s. Blues from this period is often called “urban blues,” “electric blues,” or simply “Chicago blues.” Important urban blues musicians included Muddy Waters, Little Walter, Elmore James, Howlin’ Wolf, T-Bone Walker, and B. B. King.

Blues remains with us in contemporary American culture, and as a traditional musical form it has been subjected to countless revivals and reinterpretations. Its current practitioners often integrate the sounds and instrumental pyrotechnics of rock music and the sheen of urban soul; but the twelve-bar form, variations on the blues chord progression, and emotive lyrical content remain relatively unchanged.

Musical Example

“My Home is in the Delta”, (McKinley Morganfield), Muddy Waters. Folk Singer (MCA/Chess CHD 12027)

Introductory Bibliography

  • Barlow, William. Looking Up at Down: The Emergence of Blues Culture. Philadelphia: Temple University Press, 1989. An excellent history covering both country blues and urban blues, including regional emphasis.
  • Keil, Charles. Urban Blues. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1991.
  • Komara, Edward M., ed. Encyclopedia of the Blues. New York: Routledge, 2006.
  • Santelli, Robert. The Big Book of Blues: A Biographical Encyclopedia. Rev. and updated ed. New York: Penguin Books, 2001. The most current of many biographical reference books. Look here for contemporary artists.
  • Titon, Jeff Todd. Early Downhome Blues. 2nd ed. Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 1994. A good basic historical and sociological study of the country blues that includes musical analysis.

Selected Discography

  • Blues Classics (MCA 11441) 3-CD box set
  • Blues Masters (Rhino) 15-CD series
  • Chess Blues (MCA 9340)
  • Johnson, Robert. The Complete Recordings (Columbia/Legacy 46222)
  • Muddy Waters. His Best, 1947–1955 (MCA 9370)
  • Howlin’ Wolf. His Best (MCA 9375)
  • Smith, Bessie. The Essential Bessie Smith (Columbia/Legacy 64922)
Bomba y Plena

Definition of Style

These two distinct styles developed side by side in the coastal lowlands of Puerto Rico, which was colonized by the Spanish beginning in the sixteenth century. Puerto Rico and the other Caribbean islands developed unique musical traditions that often combined Spanish language and song forms with African-derived instrumentation and rhythms. Bomba, more African-derived than plena, is frequently performed by groups of individuals and couples who sing call-and-response figures to the accompaniment of drums and percussion instruments. Plena, on the other hand, is a song form performed by accompanied singers and typically features satirical, narrative lyrics that describe an individual or an auspicious event.

Musical Examples

“Tanta vanidad”, Guateque. Africa in America (Corason MTCD 115/7)

“Maquinolandera” (bomba), composed by Margarita Rivera. From the album Kalinda Kaliente by Ensemble Kalinda Chicago.

“Kara ka tis ki” (plena), composed by Efraín Ramón “Mon” Rivera. From the album Kalinda Kaliente by Ensemble Kalinda Chicago.

Introductory Bibliography

  • Vega-Drouet, Hector. Historical and Ethnological Survey on Probable African Origins of the Puerto Rican Bomba, Including a Description of Santiago Apostol. Ph.D. diss., Wesleyan University, 1979.
  • McCoy, James. The Bomba and Aguinaldo of Puerto Rico as They Have Evolved from Indigenous, African and European Cultures. Ph.D. diss., Florida State University, 1968.
  • Thompson, Donald, and Annie F. Thompson. Music and Dance in Puerto Rico from the Age of Columbus to Modern Times: An Annotated Bibliography. Metuchen, N.J. : Scarecrow, 1991. Covers classical, folk and popular music; excellent on early historical sources.

Selected Discography

  • Grupo Afro-Boricua. Bombazo (Blue Jackel BJAC #5027-2)
  • Cortijo, Rafael. Cortijo inmortal (Sony CD-80813)
  • Paracumbé. Puerto Rico también tiene… ¡tambó! (no label or number)
Calypso

Definition of Style

Calypso is a popular song form with a rich history on the Caribbean island of Trinidad. Distinguished by its lyrical content, which frequently focuses on social and political topics and satirical forms of protest, calypso is also a festival music that has roots in the kalinda, a colorful ceremonial duel between two opponents armed with heavy staffs. Calypso evolved partially from a tradition in which combatants are accompanied by an entourage that plays percussion instruments and sings.

Musical Examples

“Rum and Coca Cola”. Lord Invader. Calypso Calaloo: Early Carnival Music in Trinidad (Rounder CD 1105)

“Congo malata”, traditional. From the album Kalinda Kaliente by Ensemble Kalinda Chicago.

Introductory Bibliography

  • Hill, Donald R. Calypso Calaloo. Gainesville: University of Florida, 1993. In-depth history of the Trinidadian genre.
  • Quevedo, Raymond (Atilla the Hun). Atilla’s Kaiso: A Short History of Trinidad Calypso. St. Augustine, Trinidad and Tobago: University of the West Indies, 1983.
  • Warner, Keith Q. Kaiso!: The Trinidad Calypso. Washington, D.C.: Three Continents, 1985. “A study of the calypso as oral literature.”

Selected Discography

  • Calypso Calaloo (Rounder CD 1105)
  • Calypso Pioneers 1912–1937 (Rounder CD 1039)
  • Ensemble Kalinda. Kalinda Kaliente (Ocean OR 108)
  • Mighty Sparrow and Lord Kitchener. 16 Carnival Hits (Ice Records CD 9170)
  • Rough Guide to Calypso & Soca (World Music Network CD 1040)
  • Shango, Shouter and Obeah: Supernatural Calypso from Trinidad, 1934–1940 (Rounder CD)
Children's Game Songs

Definition of Style

Children’s game songs from the African-American tradition include rhymed and unrhymed chants and songs that typically include some type of movement or bodily kinesthetic accompaniment. The physical accompaniments may include (1) actions that physically depict a story or narrative, (2) improvised movements or motions, (3) simple hand clapping used to accompany the song by providing a steady beat, or (4) more complex patterns of hand clapping and other types of body movement or body percussion.

Introductory Bibliography

  • Jones, Bessie, and Bess Lomax Hawes. Step It Down: Games, Plays, Songs, and Stories from the Afro-American Heritage. New York: Harper & Row, 1972. A classic and unparalleled source of African-American folk song material, specifically focused on materials from the Georgia Sea Islands. An accompanying cassette tape, titled Step It Down: Games for Children by Bessie Jones has been produced by Rounder Records (Rounder C-8004).
Country Music

Definition of Style

Generally regarded exclusively as the music of white southerners (and often called “the white man’s blues”), country music has in fact been deeply influenced by African Americans, who have contributed and listened to country music from its origins to the present day.

Blacks and whites in America have exchanged musical ideas since the first Africans arrived in the seventeenth century, and this exchange occurred in both religious and secular music. Slaves brought many new elements to the music of the Protestant church, particularly through the camp meetings of the Second Awakening during the early nineteenth century. Outside the church, slaves were performing as fiddlers as early as the eighteenth century, and the banjo an adaptation of an instrument originating in Africa soon followed. Both the fiddle and the banjo, popularized particularly through the minstrel stage, soon became two of the principal instruments of the string band tradition (both black and white) that would form the foundation for commercial country music in the twentieth century. Though the recording companies in the 1920s segregated Southern rural music into “race” and “hillbilly” music, black and white Southern musicians drew from a common well of musical sources.

Many of country music’s most influential figures learned their skills from black musicians. Maybelle Carter, Bill Monroe, and Hank Williams have all cited black musicians as early musical influences and tutors. Jimmie Rodgers, known as “the father of country music,” was greatly influenced by the music of black railroad workers and black musicians with whom he played in medicine shows. And legend has it that Bob Wills, the most important bandleader in western swing (a country style that borrowed freely from jazz and blues), once rode over thirty miles on horseback to hear Bessie Smith perform.

This musical interchange has been mutual. Jimmie Rodgers was the boyhood idol of legendary bluesman Howlin’ Wolf, who claimed that Rodgers gave him his nickname and that Rodgers’ famous “blue yodel” influenced his signature howl. Ray Charles, whose early musical career included performing in a country band called the Florida Playboys, has stated that he never missed a Saturday night broadcast of the Grand Ole Opry while growing up.

Other African-American musicians who have made their mark as country musicians include the great harmonica player DeFord Bailey, who was the Grand Ole Opry’s first black star and one of its most popular performers during his time on the show from 1926 to 1941; Charley Pride, who has unquestionably been the most well-known black country singer (and one of the most successful country artists of any color) of all time; and musicians such as O.B. McClinton, Stoney Edwards, Ruby Falls, and Cleve Francis, who have enjoyed chart success. Many black artists have performed country songs throughout their careers most notably, Ray Charles (who has recorded several remarkable country albums), Fats Domino, the Supremes, and Al Green.

A revealing study was published in 1993 by the Simmons Research Bureau, which reported that between six and eight million African Americans, or 24 percent of America’s black adult radio audience, listened to country radio. This, perhaps more than any other fact, illustrates that country music is a part of African-American culture and that it can clearly be regarded as part of the black music tradition.

Musical Example

Edwards, Stoney. “Hank and Lefty Raised my Country Soul” (Dallas Frazier, A.L. “Doodle” Owens).(Capitol 3671). Released 1973. From Where I Stand: The Black Experience in Country Music (3-CD set). Warner Brothers 9 46428-2.

Introductory Bibliography

  • Cantwell, Robert. Bluegrass Breakdown: The Making of the Old Southern Sound. New York: Da Capo Press, 1992. Critical examination of bluegrass music. Discusses the style’s connections with jazz. Explores the musical roots of bluegrass, including the minstrel tradition.
  • Foster, Pamela E. My Country, Too: The Other Black Music. Nashville, Tenn.: My Country, 2000. Explores the topic of blacks in country music. Provides biographical information on numerous black performers and other significant blacks in the country music industry. Includes an extensive discography of black country performances. (Currently out of print.)
  • Hoskyns, Barney. Say It One Time for the Brokenhearted: Country Soul in the American South. London: Bloomsbury, 1998. History of “country soul,” a style with its roots in gospel, R&B, and country music. Explores black and white musical interaction in the South and the cross-pollination between country music and soul music.
  • Malone, Bill C. Country Music, U.S.A. Austin: University of Texas Press, 1985. Universally regarded as the definitive history of country music.
  • Russell, Tony. Blacks, Whites, and Blues. New York: Stein and Day, 1970. Classic study of the musical interchange between the black and white folk traditions of the United States.

Selected Discography

  • Black Appalachia: String Bands, Songsters, and Hoedowns (Rounder 1823).
  • From Where I Stand: The Black Experience in Country Music (Warner Bros. 9 46248-2). 3-CD box set.
  • Rhythm, Country and Blues (MCA 10965).
  • Bailey, DeFord. The Legendary DeFord Bailey: Country Music’s First Black Star (Tennessee Folklore Society 122).
  • Charles, Ray. The Complete Country & Western Recordings, 1959–1986 (Rhino R2 75328). 4-CD box set.
  • Pride, Charley. The Essential Charley Pride (RCA 67428).
Gospel Music

Definition of Style

The term “gospel music” refers to African-American Protestant vocal music that celebrates Christian doctrine in emotive, often dramatic ways. Vocal soloists are the best-known exponents of gospel, but vocal and choral groups of widely varying sizes have also helped to define the style. In gospel, simple melodies are heavily ornamented by blue notes, glissandi, and a dramatic use of a wide vocal range; and the form conducts an ongoing dialogue of influence with blues, jazz, pop, rap, and folk styles. Major artists associated with gospel music include Mahalia Jackson, James Cleveland, and the Soul Stirrers. Thomas A. Dorsey is counted among the major twentieth-century composers in the form.

Musical Example

“My God is a Mighty Man”. (E. Ratliff, D.C. Smith, C.C. Givens, J.C. Walker), The Southern Sons. Deep South Gospel (Alligator ALCD 2802).

Introductory Bibliography

  • Boyer, Horace Clarence. How Sweet the Sound: The Golden Age of Gospel. Photography by Lloyd Yearwood. Washington, D.C.: Elliott and Clark, 1995. Capsule biographies and histories of performing groups by an insider who is also a major scholar of gospel music.
  • Broughton, Viv. Black Gospel: An Illustrated History of the Gospel Sound. Poole, England: Blandford Press, 1985. Good basic history, well-illustrated, with a British slant.
  • Darden, Bob. People Get Ready! A New History of Black Gospel Music. New York: Continuum, 2004. A recent comprehensive history.
  • Heilbut, Anthony. The Gospel Sound: Good News and Bad Times. Rev. ed. New York: Limelight Editions, 1985. Concentrates on pioneers and performers from the 1950s and 1960s.
  • McNeil, W. K., ed. Encyclopedia of American Gospel Music. New York: Routledge, 2005. Covers both white and black gospel music traditions.

Selected Discography

  • Testify! The Gospel Box (Rhino R2 75734) 3-CD box set
  • The Great Gospel Women (Shanachie 6005)
  • The Great Gospel Men (Shanachie 6004)
  • Jackson, Mahalia. Gospels, Spirituals & Hymns (Columbia/Legacy 47083)
Hip-Hop & Rap

Definition of Style

Hip hop is a catch-all term that refers more to a black cultural movement than to a specific musical style. Rap, a musical component of hip hop, made its mark on American popular culture with the groundbreaking single “Rapper’s Delight” by the Sugar Hill Gang. Released in 1980, “Rapper’s Delight” introduced a wide audience to a music that would eventually combine the motions of people on the dance floor and the politics of urban America. Through the 1980s and 1990s, rap absorbed many musical practices and experienced many changes.

Rap began as a “do it yourself” music intended to accompany large parties. Spinning records on a turntable or multiple turntables, the rap DJ of the early 1980s isolated specific parts of songs, creating long grooves from the instrumental sections of 12-inch disco singles. Over this background, a rapper or group of rappers would rhythmically speak about their own prowess as a rapper, a man, or a lover. Taking much of their style from Jamaican “toasting,” the early rappers were comparable to “masters of ceremonies” (MCs) rather than musicians or singers. The term “MC” is still used in reference to artists who prefer the party-oriented music of the 1980s over contemporary styles.

In 1982, Grandmaster Flash, a DJ who was instrumental in the development of rap in the 1970s, released a record titled “The Message.” This song transcended rap’s party roots, addressing poverty, drug addiction, urban decay, and their psychological effects on largely black inner-city populations. Later generations of rappers would use the form to write songs protesting police brutality, politics, and the troubled history of black America. This tendency resulted eventually in the idiom known as “gangsta rap,” an aggressive and outspoken music that became a political lightning rod in the late 1980s and early 1990s.

In the late 1980s, artists such as Terminator X (of Public Enemy) and Eric B. (of Eric B. and Rakim) began to use digital sampling technology along with their turntables and drum machines to create dense, multilayered works of sonic collage, an approach that has not only influenced popular music but has also found a voice in avant-garde and experimental music around the world.

Rap and the related contemporary musics influenced by these styles combine the global history of black musical culture with political and social concerns. Consequently, these styles have become fertile ground for critics and authors. The CBMR possesses numerous reference works, articles, and periodicals on rap, hip hop, and other contemporary black musics and encourages further inquiry into these still-evolving styles.

Introductory Bibliography

  • George, Nelson. Hip Hop America. New York: Viking, 1998. A fact-filled critique exhibiting the author’s usual insight.
  • McCoy, Judy. Rap Music in the 1980s: A Reference Guide. Metuchen, N.J.: Scarecrow Press, 1992. A bibliography of articles in magazines and trade publications, including reviews.
  • Rose, Tricia. Black Noise: Rap Music and Black Culture in Contemporary America. Hanover, N.H.: University Press of New England for Wesleyan University Press, 1994. A sociological and political interpretation based on the author’s doctoral dissertation.
  • Toop, David. Rap Attack 3: African Rap to Global Hip Hop. London: Serpent’s Tail, 2000. Excellent history.

Selected Discography

  • The Best of Sugar Hill Records (Rhino 75472)
  • The Hip Hop Box (Hip-O Records 440 069 588-2)
  • Hip Hop Essentials (Tommy Boy TB 1634-2 - TB 1645-2)
  • Kurtis Blow Presents The History of Rap: Vol. 1: The Genesis (Rhino R2 72851)
  • Kurtis Blow Presents The History of Rap: Vol. 2. The Birth of Rap. (Rhino R2 72852)
  • Kurtis Blow Presents The History of Rap: Vol. 3: The Golden Age. (Rhino R2 72853)

Click here for an expanded list of rap and hip hop resources.

Jazz

Definition of Style

Jazz, wide-ranging in its embrace, can encompass genres that range from some ragtime to the pop-inflected radio hits of George Benson and the improvised atonal experiments of Cecil Taylor. As with all living art forms, the borders of jazz are continually blurred as successive generations of musicians adapt its conventions to contemporary artistic trends.

Most accounts place the origin of jazz in New Orleans between 1890 and 1900. There, in a bustling coastal city with international connections, African-, Caribbean-, and European-derived musics melded within the context of the bands or instrumental ensembles that accompanied funeral processions and other types of celebrations and observances. The result was a new music that became a target of early recording technology: the first jazz recording was made by a group of white musicians, the Original Dixieland Jazz Band, who recorded in New Orleans in 1917. A 1922 recording by New Orleans trombonist Kid Ory was the first jazz recording by a black musician. This early music recalled the two-beat rhythm of the marching band, which was gradually altered through the early 1920s into the four-beat rhythm we associate with jazz today.

From 1920 through the early 1930s, jazz continued to flourish in New Orleans, but other sounds also evolved, including the urbanized sound of Chicago jazz, New York stride piano, and New York and Kansas City swing. Also during the 1930s, a musical dialogue with Europe began to emerge, and many European musicians embraced jazz without reservation.

The 1940s were a revolutionary time for jazz. Despite the shadow of war and the lack of materials for records and instruments, swing bands continued to thrive, and musicians such as Dizzy Gillespie and Charlie “Bird” Parker developed a fast, challenging, and harmonically advanced style that came to be known as bebop, or simply bop. A typical bop ensemble consisted of a four- or five-piece group that played tunes consisting of a melody called the “head,” followed by ample room for soloing, and completed and closed by a return to the head.

Bop remains a staple of the jazz repertoire, but in the late 1950s it began to share the spotlight with other styles. Post-bop musicians, such as Hank Mobley and John Coltrane, worked at the same time as “free” jazz musicians, such as Cecil Taylor, Ornette Coleman, and Albert Ayler. Later in the 1960s, jazz adopted new elements, including electric instruments, long song forms, and a dialogue between jazz and pop music that continued through the 1970s in the style known as fusion.

Musical Example

New East St. Louis Toodle-oo (D. Ellington, B. Miley), Duke Ellington Orchestra. Reminiscing in Tempo (Columbia/Legacy CD 48654).

Introductory Bibliography

  • DeVeaux, Scott. The Birth of Bebop: A Social and Musical History. Berkeley: University of California Press, 1997. Picks up where Schuller (see below) leaves off.
  • Gioia, Ted. The History of Jazz. New York: Oxford University Press, 1997.
  • The New Grove Dictionary of Jazz. Edited by Barry Kernfeld. London: Macmillan, 1988. Reprint, New York: St. Martin’s Press, 1996. Definitions, discussion of genres, and biographical articles, with further bibliography and discography.
  • Schuller, Gunther. The History of Jazz. Volume 1, Early Jazz: Its Roots and Musical Development. New York: Oxford University, 1968. Volume 2, The Swing Era: The Development of Jazz 1930–1945. New York: Oxford University, 1989. Encyclopedic in coverage and content.

Selected Discography

  • Armstrong, Louis. The Complete Hot Five and Hot Seven Recordings (Sony 63527)
  • Coltrane, John. Giant Steps (Rhino 75203)
  • Davis, Miles. Kind of Blue (Columbia 40579)
  • Ellington, Duke. Best of the Duke Ellington Centennial Edition (RCA 63459)
  • Holiday, Billie. The Legacy (Sony 47724)
  • Parker, Charlie. Yardbird Suite: The Ultimate Collection (Rhino 72260)
  • Smithsonian Collection of Classic Jazz (Smithsonian R 033 P7-19477) 7-LP box set
Merengue

Definition of Style

Two closely related musical styles that evolved on the adjoining island nations of Haiti and the Dominican Republic, both merengue and méringue are dance song forms in 2/4 time featuring singers and a chordal base supplied by accordion or other instruments. Like most Afro-Caribbean styles, these two musics also utilize a variety of hand percussion, including scrapers and, for merengue, the small, double-headed hand drums called tamboras.

Musical Example

“Loreta”, composed by Diomedes Villadares. From Kalinda Kaliente by Ensemble Kalinda Chicago.

Introductory Bibliography

  • Austerlitz, Paul. Merengue: Dominican Music and Dominican Identity. Philadelphia: Temple University, 1997.
  • Averill, Gage. A Day for the Hunter, a Day for the Prey: Popular Music and Power in Haiti. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1997.
  • Pacini Hernández, Deborah. Bachata: A Social History of a Dominican Popular Music. Philadelphia, Pa.: Temple University, 1995.

Selected Discography

  • Essential Merengue: Stripping the Parrots (Corason CORA 122)
  • Guerra, Juan Luis, y 4:40. Grandes éxitos (BMG 3232)
  • Méringue (Corason COCD 107)
Musical Theater & Dance

Definition of Style

Musical theater and dance cover a wide area of artistic expression, including musical comedy, ensemble and solo dance works, vaudeville, and the big-budget Broadway musicals of the middle of the century. Twentieth-century musical theater and dance styles show the tremendous influence of black performers, composers, directors, and producers. In the late nineteenth-century, the cakewalk, a black American social dance, became the first nationwide dance craze adopted by both black and white audiences. In Dahomey, the 1903 musical by Bert Williams and George Walker, became the first major stage work created entirely by black writers, composers, and performers. Later in the century, black dancers founded companies such as the Negro Dance Group (1931), First American Negro Ballet (1937), and the Dance Theatre of Harlem (1969), while soloists such as Pearl Primus became superstars on Broadway. Other examples of musical theater from the middle of the century include Sissle and Blake’s Shuffle Among, which yielded hit songs such as “I’m Just Wild About Harrry” and “Love Will Find a Way,” and Fats Waller’s Hot Chocolates, an ambitious Broadway musical that spawned the songs, “Ain’t Misbehavin’” and “Black and Blue.”

Introductory Bibliography

  • Peterson, Bernard L. A Century of Musicals in Black and White: An Encyclopedia of Musical Stage Works By, About, or Involving African Americans. Westport, Conn.: Greenwood Press, 1993. Alphabetical and comprehensive listing of theatrical productions.
  • Riis, Thomas L. Just Before Jazz: Black Musical Theater in New York, 1890 to 1915. Washington, D.C.: Smithsonian Institution Press, 1989. A classic study of a major period in American theater.
  • Woll, Allen. Black Musical Theatre from Coontown to Dreamgirls. Baton Rouge: Louisiana State University Press, 1989.

Selected Discography

  • The Early Minstrel Show (New World 80338)
  • Don’t Give the Name a Bad Place (New World 80265)
  • Europe, James Reese. Lieut. Jim Europe’s 369th U.S. Infantry “Hell Fighters” Band: The Complete Recordings (Memphis Archives MA 7020)
  • Sissle, Noble, and Eubie Blake. Sissle & Blake: Early Rare Recordings, Vol. 1 (Stash 129)
  • Williams, Bert. Bert Williams 1915–1921 (Document 5661)
Opera & Concert Music

Definition of Style

Black composers and musicians have impacted styles and genres normally associated with the music of Europe, such as opera and concert music, from the sixteenth-century to the present. This broad category includes symphonies, chamber works, operas, art songs, experimental and electronic works from the fringes of the avant-garde, and other forms of “classical” music. Among the few elements able to tie this large category together are the use of Western instruments and compositional forms and an emphasis on the creation of musical works, primarily for contemplative listening. Among the principal African-American composers who have worked, and still work, in this category are William Grant Still (1895?–1978), Ulysses Kay (1917?–1995), George Walker (born 1922), Hale Smith (born 1925), T. J. Anderson (born 1928), Olly Wilson (born 1937), and Anthony Davis (born 1951).

Musical Examples

Black Music: The Written Tradition, an album of performances by the Black Music Repertory Ensemble.

Introductory Bibliography

  • Handy, D. Antoinette. Black Conductors. Metuchen, N.J. : Scarecrow Press, 1995. Biographical articles.
  • Smith, Eric Ledell. Blacks in Opera: An Encyclopedia of People and Companies, 1873–1993. Jefferson, N.C.: McFarland & Co., 1995. Alphabetical listing of artists and companies, with bibliography.

A more extensive bibliography can be found in the library services section of this site.

Selected Discography

  • Barton, Rachel. Violin Concertos by Black Composers (Cedille CDR 90000 035)
  • The Black Composer Series (CBS P9 19424) 9-LP box set
  • Hinderas, Natalie. Piano Music by African-American Composers (Composers Recordings CD 629)
  • Kaleidoscope: Music by African-American Women (Leonarda LE 339)
  • Kronos Quartet. Pieces of Africa (Elektra/Nonesuch 9 79275-2)
  • Symphonic Brotherhood: The Music of African-American Composers (Troy 104)
Punta

Definition of Style

Contributed by Oliver N. Greene Jr.

Punta is the most celebrated of the indigenous secular dance-song genres of the Garinagu (commonly called the Garifuna), a people of Amerindian and African descent who live along the Caribbean coast of Belize, Guatemala, Honduras, and Nicaragua and as immigrants in urban centers in the United States. The Garinagu share a common language, system of customs and beliefs, post-mortem rituals, and repertoire of music and dance. Punta, a reenactment of the cock-and-hen mating dance, is characterized by a motionless upper torso and rapid movement of the buttocks and hips caused by continuously shuffling the feet. Social commentary songs performed responsorially to the sound of two drums, rattles, and occasionally conch shell trumpets and hollow turtle shells struck with mallets accompany dance movements. The most recognizable and identifying characteristics of punta are the duple-meter ostinato played on the segunda or bass drum (see Example below) and the shaking of the buttocks, a gesture found in West African cultures and in many African-derived cultures in the Caribbean and the Americas. A series of rhythmic motives characteristic of punta are improvised on the primero (the tenor or lead drum), the smaller of the two Garifuna drums. Although punta is an expression of sexual dialogue between men and women, song texts are almost exclusively composed by women, commenting on male infidelity and other unacceptable behavior as well as typical challenges that affect an individual or family.


Measures 1 and 2 of segunda part of excerpt two: “Malate isien”.

Today the word punta is also used as a diminutive for punta rock, the name of the popular contemporary adaptation of the traditional genre. Punta rock features a synthesis of electric instruments (drum machine, lead and bass guitars, and a keyboard), an acoustic drum set, and Garifuna drums and other indigenous instruments. Musically, the genre shows the influence of soca, salsa, reggae, rap, hip-hop, and other forms of Caribbean and urban-American popular music. A punta rock song may also be an adaptation of a paranda (a duple-meter dance-song for voice and guitar) or another genre of traditional Garifuna music. Punta rock bands are almost exclusively composed of men. Songs are usually faster than punta songs, and the dances are more provocative.

Although differences of opinion exist concerning the origin of punta rock, Belizeans identify Pen Cayetano, a self-taught artist and musician, as the creator of the genre. Cayetano created punta rock in the late 1970s and early 1980s in order to make traditional music more appealing to Garifuna youth. Aurelio Martinez, a popular Honduran artists, credits the group Góbana from Honduras with starting punta rock in the 1980s. Punta rock artists who migrated to New York, Los Angeles, and Chicago have made significant contributions in the areas of recording, production, promotions, and record distributions since the 1990s. Many of the popular punta rock musicians currently live in these cities.

Bibliography

  • Greene, Oliver N., Jr. 2004. Ethnicity, modernity, and retention in the Garifuna punta. Black Music Research Journal 22, no. 2: 189–216.
  • Rosenberg, Dan. 1998. Parrandalised. Folk Roots 20 nos. 2–3: 47–51.
  • Ryan, Jennifer. 1995. The Garifuna and Creole culture of Belize explosion of punta rock. In Popular music: style and identity, edited by Will Straw, Stacey Johnson, Rebecca Sullivan, Paul Friedlander, and Gary Kennedy, 243–248. Proceedings of the Seventh International Conference on Popular Music Studies. Montreal: International Association for the Study of Popular Music.
  • Whitmer, David. 2000. Garifuna beat: David Whitmer went to Honduras in search of drumming lessons, punta style. Folk Roots 21, no. 10: 33–35, 87.

Selected Discography

  • Aziatic. The Re birth. Sta-Tic Productions (1999).
  • Chatuye. Heartbeat in the music. Arhoolie 383 (1992).
  • Lita Ariran. Honduras: Songs of the Garifuna. JVC VICG-5337-2 (1993).
  • Martinez, Aurelio. Inocencia. Ranchez Brothers Entertainment RBO206.
  • Mohobob. Mohobob. Stonetree Records STR11.
  • Original Turtle Shell Band. >In the beginning…> Gema P2001.
  • Palacio, Andy. Til da mawnin! Stonetree Records GLP 29 (1996).
  • Paranda: Africa in Central America. Detour 3984-27303-2 (1999).
  • Punta Rebels. On fire. WaDaani Records WDR 2000.
  • Ramos, Chico. Thank I Neibu. Cedar Street Records CR 1026.
  • Rhodee [Rhodel Castillo]. In exile. V-Groove Music CD105.
  • Ugurau. Punta rock ambassadors. ISF Records 2007.

Filmography

  • Gimme punta-rock… Belizean music. Directed by Peter Coonradt and Suzanne Coonradt. 60 min. Documentary. Redlands, Calif.: Coonradt Productions, 1994.
  • The Garifuna journey. Directed by Kathy L. Berger and Andrea E. Leland. 46 min. Documentary. Hohokus, N.J.: New Day Films, 1998.
Ragtime

Definition of Style

Pioneered by Scott Joplin (1868–1917) and his contemporaries, ragtime was established in popular culture in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, becoming wildly popular in the United States through distribution on piano rolls for playback on the player pianos that were then a fixture in many American parlors. Ragtime shares certain melodic, rhythmic, and thematic characteristics with early jazz, but its melodies and structures are far more syncopated and complex. The major ragtime composers challenged themselves, their fellow musicians, and their listeners, and they took their art very seriously. Joplin was among the first individuals to publicly recognize the intellectual depth and cultural significance of black American music.

Musical Example

“Frog Legs Rag” (James Sylvester Scott, 1906).

Introductory Bibliography

  • Berlin, Edward A. Ragtime: A Musical and Cultural History. Berkeley: University of California Press, 1980. Good basic history.
  • Hasse, John, ed. Ragtime: Its History, Composers, and Music. New York: Schirmer Books, 1985. Articles by specialists.|

Selected Discography

  • Johnson, James P. Harlem Stride Piano (Hot ’n’ Sweet 151032)
  • Joplin, Scott. Piano Rags by Scott Joplin (Nonesuch 71248)
  • Paragon Ragtine Orchestra. On the Boardwalk (Newport Classics 60039)
  • Robinson, Reginald R. Sounds in Silhouette (Delmark DE-670)
  • Rose, Wally. Ragtime Classics (Good Time Jazz GTJCD-10034-2)
Reggae

Definition of Style

Familiar around the globe primarily because of the hypnotic music of Bob Marley and Peter Tosh, reggae is a Jamaican popular music that developed in the late 1960s in the wake of its predecessors: ska, mento, and rock steady. Picking up broadcasts of Fats Domino and others emanating from coastal cities such as New Orleans, musicians in Jamaica combined the rhythm and blues they heard on the airwaves with Caribbean rhythms, creating the distinctive accent pattern of ska. Reflecting the uptempo nature of the classic R&B artists, ska was a high-energy dance music, but it gave way in the mid-1960s to a slower, more deliberate form known as rock steady. Reggae, as we know it today, emerged when these musicians fell under the influence of the longer songs and open-ended instrumental improvisation.

Musical Example

“Rivers of Babylon” (L.Kong), Melodians. Tougher than Tough: The Story of Jamaican Music (Mango 162-539 935-2 518 399-2).

Introductory Bibliography

  • Barrow, Steve, and Peter Dalton. The Rough Guide to Reggae: The Definitive Guide to Jamaican Music from Ska through Roots to Bashment. 3rd ed. London: Rough Guides, 2004. Description plus annotated discography of Jamaican music from the 1960s to the beginning of the 21st century.
  • Davis, Stephen, and Peter Simon. Reggae Bloodlines. [Garden City, N.Y.]: Anchor, 1977. An overview of Jamaican popular music until the 1970s.
  • Mulvaney, Rebekah Michele. Rastafari and Reggae: A Dictionary and Sourcebook. Westport, Conn.: Greenwood Press, 1990. Dictionary of terms and list of resources.
  • Potash, Chris, ed. Reggae, Rasta, Revolution: Jamaican Music from Ska to Dub. New York: Schirmer, 1997.

Selected Discography

  • Lee, Perry “Scratch”. Arkology (Polygram 524379) 3-CD box set
  • Marley, Bob. Legend (Tuff Gong 846210)
  • Skatalites. Ska Foundation (Heartbeat HB 88)
  • Studio One Dancehall Selection (Heartbeat HB 220)
  • Tougher than Tough: The Story of Jamaican Music (Mango 162-539 935-2) 4-CD box set
  • What a Bam Bam! Dancehall Queens (Shanachie 45028)
Rhythm & Blues

Definition of Style

While the term remains in use as a category designation by some radio programmers and record retailers, the epoch of rhythm and blues (or R&B) truly spans the late 1940s to the early 1960s. As the term suggests, R&B was a combination of the swinging rhythm of jazz and other “race” music with the lyrical content, sonic gestures, and format of the blues. Its early days were dominated by high-energy bandleader-musicians such as Louis Jordan and Johnny Otis, but R&B at its height was largely a vocal form. The vocal-oriented exponents of R&B include the doo-wop groups of the 1950s, such as the Moonglows and the Penguins, and solo vocal artists such as Ruth Brown and Jackie Wilson. Perhaps equally important, the unexpected melding of R&B with country and western (or “hillbilly”) music in the mid-1950s gave birth to rock and roll. Later still, in the mid-1960s, R&B would become soul music, as illustrated by the long, varied careers of artists such as James Brown.

Musical Example

“Caldonia” (F. Moore), Louis Jordan & His Tympany [sic] Five. Let the Good Times Roll: The Anthology, 1938–1953 (MCA Decca MCAD2-11907).

Introductory Bibliography

  • Barlow, William, and Cheryl Finley. From Swing to Soul: An Illustrated History of African American Popular Music from 1930 to 1960. Washington, D.C.: Elliott and Clark, 1994. An illustrated overview that also covers blues and jazz.
  • George, Nelson. The Death of Rhythm and Blues. New York: Pantheon Books, 1988. Fact-filled account of the heyday of black control of black popular music and its subsequent decline.
  • Larkin, Colin, ed. The Virgin Encyclopedia of R&B and Soul. London : Virgin Books in association with Muze U.K. Ltd., 1998. The emphasis is on “classic” R&B, although contemporary artists are also covered.

Selected Discography

  • Atlantic Rhythm & Blues; 1947–1974 (WEA 81293) 8-CD box set
  • Brown, James. 20 All-Time Greatest Hits! (Polygram 511326)
  • Charles, Ray. The Very Best of Ray Charles (Rhino 79822)
  • Franklin, Aretha. The Very Best of Aretha Franklin, Vol. 1 (Rhino 71598)
  • Hitsville USA: The Motown Singles Collection 1959–1971 (Motown 6312) 4-CD box set|
  • Jordan, Louis. The Best of Louis Jordan (MCA 4079)
  • Parliament. Give up the Funk: Best of Parliament (Mercury 526995)
  • The R&B Box: 30 Years of Rhythm and Blues (Rhino 71806) 6-CD box set
  • The Stax Story (Stax 4429)
Salsa

Definition of Style

Like rhythm and blues, salsa is a somewhat generic term describing a wide range of Latino dance music. Coined in the mid-1960s to describe the music emerging in the Latin clubs of New York, San Juan, and Los Angeles, salsa refers to high-energy dance music built around the clave, a familiar rhythmic figure in duple time that forms the core of modern and contemporary Latin music.

Introductory Bibliography

  • Boggs, Vernon. Salsiology. New York: Excelsior, 1992. A history of the explosion of salsa in New York.
  • Figueroa, Rafael. Salsa and Related Genres. Westport, Conn.: Greenwood Press, 1992. A bibliographical guide arranged by topics.
  • Gerard, Charley, with Marty Sheller. Salsa: The Rhythm of Latin Music. Crown Point, Ind.: White Cliffs, 1989. Analysis of the musical patterns of salsa and other genres.

Selected Discography

  • Colón, Willie. The Good—The Bad—The Ugly (Fania 484)
  • Blades, Rubén. Buscando América (Elektra 60352)
  • Fania 1964–1994: 30 Great Years (Fania JM 702 and 703) Two double-CD sets
  • Salsa clásica (Music Club 50118)
Samba

Definition of Style

Few places can boast of a “national” music, but Brazil includes its popular musics among the country’s most valuable resources. Samba can be seen as a musical way of life, and its major artists are revered in their home country with an informed passion. Its rhythm and feel permeate much of Brazil’s popular music of the last century, and innumerable variations appear throughout the country.

The word samba, of probable African origin, began to be used in Brazil in the early nineteenth century to designate popular dances. The rhythm is duple and seemingly derived from the earlier slave batuques, often with the underlying lundu pulse:

Like many other dances of the Americas, samba often includes a soloist dancer or dancers, with a circle of singers surrounding them who will clap and sing repeated refrains.

At the beginning of the twentieth century, the samba-song was developed, with verses inserted between the repeated refrains of the samba dance but maintaining the original, syncopated lundu feel. Its infectious rhythms quickly found audiences in America and Europe. In the mid 1930s, for example, singer Carmen Miranda invited samba guitarist Garito (Anibal Augusto Sardinha) to join her American nightclub act; son Garito was playing to sold-out crowds of his own.

In the 1950s, a new fusion of jazz and samba called bossa nova (new thing) spawned huge hits for American and Brazilian artists, such as Antonio Carlos Jobim’s “Desafinado” and Stan Getz’s “Girl from Ipanema,” the latter being one of the most popular songs of all time.

In the latter half of the 1960s, samba took on a new significance as groups such as Os Mutantes (The Mutants), the revolutionary singer Tom Zé, and João Gilberto began to blend it with experimental rock; in the late 1980s groups such as Chico Science’s Nação Zumbi blended samba percussion with hip hop and created mangue beat. Like rhythm and blues, blues, and jazz in the United States, samba and its derivatives continue to be the basic source material for popular music in Brazil.

Introductory Bibliography

  • Browning, Barbara. Samba: Resistance in Motion. Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1995.
  • Guillermoprieto, Alma. Samba. New York: Knopf, 1990.
  • Krich, John. Why Is This Country Dancing?: One-man Samba to the Beat of Brazil. New York: Simon and Schuster, 1993.
  • Mariani, Myriam Evelyse. A Portrayal of the Brazilian Samba Dance with the Use of Labanalysis as a Tool for Movement Analysis. Ph.D. diss., University of Wisconsin—Madison, 1987.
  • McGowan, Chris. The Brazilian Sound: Samba, Bossa Nova, and the Popular Music of Brazil. New ed. New Orleans: Temple University Press, 1998.
  • Pinto, Tiago de Oliveira. Samba und sambistas in Brasilien. Wilhelmshaven: F. Noetzel, 1992.

Selected Discography

  • Brazil-Roots-Samba. (Rounder CD 5045)
  • Carnaval: Sua Historia, Sua Gloria. (Revivendo) 16-CD series
  • Oito Batutas. Oiti Batutas. (Revivendo RVCD-064)
  • Orquestra Brasilia. O maior legado escrito de Pixinguinha. (Kuarup KCD-035)
Secular and Sacred Folk Music

Definition of Style

Folk music is characterized by its integration into daily life or its function as a means of passing time while engaged in activities such as work or travel. Work songs, children’s game songs, chain gang chants, songs of political protest, or religious music performed outside the context of the church can all be found in this wide-ranging area. Folk music is transmitted largely via oral traditions, and its practitioners rarely notate or document their compositions. The history of black music is filled with influential folk forms, such as the “field hollers” that are credited as being a source of the call-and-response devices that appear in blues, jazz, and other forms and styles of black music in the United States and the Caribbean.

General stylistic elements of folk vocal performance include call-and-response, full-throated tone quality, and gapped scales, flatted notes, and microtonal melodic progressions. Observers writing in the 1800s often mentioned their inability to describe performance practice adequately or to represent what was actually sung in standard Western notation. Because recording technology was not yet invented, we can only assume that earlier folk performances were not too different from recordings made after 1900.

Spirituals originated in the first half of the 1800s, when widespread efforts to convert slaves to Christianity occurred during the Second Great Awakening. The words to spirituals emphasize Biblical imagery, particularly Old Testament stories of liberation from bondage and New Testament stories from the life of Jesus and the apocalyptic visions of the Book of Revelation. Musical performance practice remained essentially African. The most common musical format was call-and-response, with a song leader singing improvised verses while a group provided short repetitive and often rhythmic responses. The songs themselves could be slow and mournful or in a more rhythmic and up-tempo style also associated with the ring shout, a holy dance.

Northerners became aware of the “slave songs” during the Civil War, and the first attempt to collect and publish them came as early as 1867 with Slave Songs of the United States, compiled and edited by William Francis Allen, Charles Pickard Ware, and Lucy McKim Garrison. Many other collections were published from the late 1800s through the 1930s. After 1900, spirituals were also important in the more popularized recorded repertoire of jubilee gospel quartets.

Spirituals might have remained in local congregations to be replaced gradually with newer musical styles if it had not been for the Jubilee Singers of Fisk University. During a tour to raise money for their struggling school in 1871, they discovered that their performances of spirituals especially delighted their audiences. Spirituals entered the concert repertoire. A number of important composers, notably Harry T. Burleigh, R. Nathaniel Dett, William Levi Dawson, Margaret Bonds, Hall Johnson, and more recently Moses Hogan, have made arrangements of traditional spirituals that are sung in churches and concert halls.

Introductory Bibliography

  • Allen, William Francis, Charles Pickard Ware, and Lucy McKim Garrison. Slave Songs of the United States. New York: A. Simpson, 1867. Reprint, Bedford, Mass.: Applewood Books, 1995.
  • Cleveland Public Library. Index to Negro Spirituals. CBMR Monograph, no. 3. Chicago: Center for Black Music Research, 1991.
  • Epstein, Dena J. Sinful Tunes and Spirituals: Black Folk Music to the Civil War. Urbana: University of Illinois Press, 1977. Classic scholarly study of slave music.
  • Hogan, Moses, ed. The Oxford Book of Spirituals. New York: Oxford University Press, 2002.
  • James, Willis Laurence. Stars in de Elements: A Study of Negro Folk Music. Edited by Jon Michael Spencer. Black Sacred Music: A Journal of Theomusicology, vol. 9. Raleigh, N.C.: Duke University Press, 1995. Insightful folkloric approach.
  • Lovell, John, Jr. Black Song: The Forge and the Flame. New York: Macmillan, 1972.

Selected Discography

  • Afro-American Spirituals, Work Songs, and Ballads (Rounder 1510).
  • Anthology of American Folk Music (Smithsonian SFW 40090) 6-CD box set
  • Been in the Storm So Long (Smithsonian/Folkways 40031).
  • Lead Belly Legacy Series (3 CDs) (Smithsonian/Folkways 40044, 40045, 40105)
  • Southern Journey (Rounder 1701-13) 13-CD series
  • Texas Worried Blues: Complete Recorded Works 1927–1929 (Yazoo 1080)
Son

Definition of Style

Like much of Cuban culture, son is a product of the interaction of African-derived music and the music of the descendants of the Spanish colonists. Son was originally a rural musical form that developed as an accompaniment to dancing, but it has become a dominant popular music in the urban setting of twentieth-century Cuba. As it became popular with urban audiences in the early twentieth-century, son was adapted to modern instrumentation and larger bands. Typical son instrumentation could include the tres (a type of guitar with three sets of closely spaced strings), standard guitars and various hand drums and percussion instruments. American jazz instrumentation also influenced son, and many sons also include parts for brass instruments.

Musical Example

“Echale salsita” (I. Piñeiro), Septeto Nacional. El son es lo más sublime (A.S.P.I.C. X 55513).

Introductory Bibliography

  • Manuel, Peter, ed. Essays on Cuban Music: North American and Cuban Perspectives. Lanham, Md.: University Press of America, 1991. Concentrates on folk and popular music, with some political analysis.
  • Moore, Robin. Nationalizing Blackness: Afrocubanismo and Artistic Revolution, 1920–1940. Pittsburgh: University of Pittsburgh, 1997.

Selected Discography

  • Cuba: El son es lo más sublime (A.S.P.I.C. X 55513)
  • Cuban Counterpoint: History of the Son Montuno (Rounder CD 1078)
  • Septetos Cubanos: Sones de Cuba (Corason MTCD 113/4)
Traditional & Contemporary African Music

Definition of Style

Traditional African music is as historically ancient, rich, and diverse as the continent itself. Traditional African music is passed down orally (or aurally) and is not written, and it also relies heavily on percussion instruments of every variety, including xylophones, drums, and tone-producing instruments such as the mbira or “thumb piano.” Traditional African music is generally performed with functional intent in celebrations, festivals, and storytelling.

Contemporary African music is also highly diverse, but it shares many characteristics of Western popular music in the mid-twentieth-century. Beginning with the advent of recording technology and the development of the recording industry, contemporary African music has been heavily influenced by R&B, American soul music, Jamaican reggae, and other musical forms from the Americas. Today, the African music scene is as rich and active as that of any other continent on the globe, and numerous popular styles exist, including, for example, high life, Nigerian juju, and West African makossa. Moreover, a thriving hip hop scene exists in every sub-Saharan African country from Sierra Leone to Madagascar.

The CBMR’s concerns in the area of African music focus on the sub-Saharan areas of the African continent, while the music of North Africa falls under the influence of Arabic cultures and is considered a distinct field of inquiry.

Musical Example

“Chaminuka” (D. Maraire), Dumisani Maraire. Chaminuka: Music of Zimbabwe (Music of the World, CDC-208)

Introductory Bibliography

  • The Garland Encyclopedia of World Music. Volume 1: Africa. Edited by Ruth Stone. New York: Garland Publishing, 1998.
  • Graham, Ronnie. Stern’s Guide to Contemporary African Music. London: Zwan, 1988. Reprint, The Da Capo Guide to Contemporary African Music. New York: Da Capo Press, 1988. Arranged by region and country. Intended as a discography, but includes biographical and musical information as well. Covers both traditional and popular recordings.
  • Graham, Ronnie. The World of African Music. Stern’s Guide to Contemporary African Music, vol. 2. Chicago: Research Associates, 1992. Not a revision: supplements and updates volume 1.

Selected Discography

  • African Moves, Vols. 1–3 (Stern’s Africa 1015, 1029 and 1050) 3 CDs
  • Ali Farka Touré. Ali Farka Touré (Mango 539826)
  • Franco & Rochereau. Omona Wapi (Shanachie 43024)
  • The Indestructible Beat of Soweto (Shanachie 43033)
  • Kuti, Fela. The Best Best of Fela Kuti (Universal/MCA 5431972)
  • Ladysmith Black Mambazo. The Best of Ladysmith Black Mambazo (Shanachie 43098)
  • Mapfumo, Thomas. The Chimurenga Singles, 1976–80 (Shanachie 43006)
  • N’Dour, Youssou. Immigrés (Earthworks 91020)
  • Olatunji, Babatunde. Drums of Passion (Columbia 8210)
Zydeco

Definition of Style

Zydeco is a modern derivation of various traditional folk musics of the Creoles of southwestern Louisiana, an area also called Acadia after the name given to it in the late 1600s by French-speaking immigrants forced from Nova Scotia by British colonization. Creole language and culture result from the mixture of the culture of a centuries-old French presence in southwestern Louisiana, Spanish culture from the Caribbean, and the language and the lingering traditions handed down from generations of African slaves who were shipped into New Orleans from Africa and from staging ports in the Caribbean.

Zydeco is part of the rich musical environment in southwestern Louisiana, especially the area surrounding Lafayette and the swampy farmland surrounding New Orleans. According to a much-debated etymological theory, the term “zydeco” derives from the French word for beans, les haricots.

It is built upon a substructure of indigenous folk musics melded with modern rhythm and blues. The most direct stylistic predecessors of zydeco were the story songs of styles such as juré, which were similar in content to early blues; but unlike its current status as a happy music for dance parties, early zydeco often lamented poverty and lost love. The musical forms of the polka two-steps and simple dance tunes brought to Louisiana by the French provided a structural basis for the new music.

Zydeco instrumentation was established by the instruments common in the French traditions—violin and guitar—with the addition of the accordion, which was introduced to the region in the late 1800s. Zydeco percussion is generally provided by a metal washboard, which is hung on the front of the musician’s body and played with finger-mounted plectra. The prominence of percussion and heavy syncopation in zydeco differentiates it from other musics of the region.

Commercially available recordings of Cajun and Creole music from Southern Louisiana began to appear in the late 1920s, but “Bon Ton Roula,” recorded by Clarence Garlow in 1949, is considered the first zydeco release. These early recordings were directed at a regional audience and marketplace, with lyrics and titles in the Creole dialect. Zydeco gradually absorbed the English language as the music became more popular, its market more international, and its audiences increasingly cross-regional.

Introductory Bibliography

  • Gould, Philip. Cajun Music and Zydeco. Baton Rouge: Louisiana State University Press, 1992.
  • Nyhan, Patricia. Let the Good Times Roll!: A Guide to Cajun and Zydeco Music. Portland, Me.: Upbeat Books, 1997.
  • Olivier, Rick. Zydeco! Jackson: University Press of Mississippi, 1999.
  • Sacré, Robert. Musiques cajun, creole et zydeco. 1st ed. Paris: Presses Universitaires de France, 1995.
  • Spitzer, Nicholas R. Zydeco and Mardi Gras: Creole Identity and Performance Genres in Rrural French Louisiana. Ph.D. thesis, University of Texas at Austin, 1990.
  • Tisserand, Michael. The Kingdom of zydeco. 1st ed. New York: Arcade, 1998.

Selected Discography

  • Buckwheat Zydeco. The Buckwheat Zydeco Story: A 20 Year Party (Tomorrow 70002)
  • Chenier, Clifton. Zydeco Dynamite: The Clifton Chenier Anthology (Rhino 71194)
  • Music from the Zydeco Kingdom (Rounder 11579)
×