It is not possible for cultures to develop in a vacuum. Each culture is actually an amalgamation of the many cultures that have come before them. Sometimes the roots of certain traits are easily identified; other times the culture has to be stripped down to find them. Regardless, all cultures develop from something else. This can be especially true in the case of music. Many of the dominate traits found in North American and Latin American music can actually be traced back many generations to the African slaves brought to those countries. Bruno Nettl and Gerard Behague discussed the significant influence of African music in their essay “Afro-American Folk Music in North and Latin America.” They said, “One of the truly important developments in the history of word music was initiated by the forced migration of great numbers of Africans, as slaves, to various parts of the Americas” (229). Many people believe that North American music displays the most African traits outside of Africa; however, it is in Latin America that the cultural impact of Africa is most prevalent and well defined.
When Africans were brought to North and Latin America in the 18th and 19th centuries, they brought their music with them. At that time, slave owners and colonial authorities were largely against allowing slaves to partake in song and dance. Many considered it “heathen” music that was akin to religious blasphemy. Their efforts, however, did not dissuade Africans from protecting their music and clinging to their heritage. For the most part, their heritage was all the slaves had to hold onto. Their existence was often as unbearable as their future was bleak. Song and dance was their only way to express themselves and hold on to some semblance of cultural dignity.
As said, it is often assumed that North American music possesses the most African traits. To say that the African influence on Latin America music is deeper and more pronounced does not mean that it is absent in North America. In fact, many of the musical styles and genres across the United States are rooted in African music. One of contemporary American music’s biggest stylistic influences is in regards to rhythm. Many of the rhythm instruments used in jazz, blues, and even rock have origins in African music. The tribal drum is a vital piece of African musical expression. The drum most culturally distinct to Africa is the jembe, which is the goblet shaped drum used by the Maninke people of western Africa since around 1300 (Afrodrumming). The jembe is used to celebrate everything from births and weddings to prosperous crops and other good fortunes.
When African slaves were brought to North America, the jembe and other rhythmic instruments came with them. Gradually, as African and American cultures began to meld together, rhythmic instruments crossed cultural lines. African instruments began to appear in many different genres of music, where they can still be found today. Music that relies on a strong rhythm...