Brought to the United States as early as 1619, African slaves were from a variety of tribes mainly in West Africa. They spoke different languages; some were from rival tribes or isolated communities with little connection to anyone until the slave traders arrived.
Slaves brought with them work songs, religious music and dance, and a wide variety of instruments, including kalimba, xylophone, flutes and rattles. The call-and-response vocal style they used, in which a singer and the audience trade lines back-and-forth, lent itself well to the New England hymn tradition. Another characteristic of African music, rather than beginning and ending a tune or phrase on a pure note as in Western music, African singers would slide onto or below the note.
The most distinctive component of African music is the focus on the rhythm. In this respect, African folk styles are far more complex than anything developed anywhere else in the world. It’s usually polyrhythmic, made by a wide variety of percussion instruments both pitched and unpitched, using numerous kinds of natural materials.
Many slave owners encouraged their slaves to sing as they worked, believing that it improved morale and make the slaves work harder. Masters generally required that all tunes remain cheerful and pleasant in tone to ensure that this occurred. Since the workers had no instruments in the fields, clapping and foot stomping became an integral part of slave music.
The banjo and various kinds of drums were the most important instruments, but African slaves also used varieties of panpipes, notched gourds played with a scraper, and rattles. They soon mastered European instruments like the clarinet, oboe, French horn and, most importantly, the violin. Often, prominent gentlemen had slaves act as musicians and entertainers.
Source: Music History of The United States During The Colonial Era-African Americans
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