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The Legacy of American Jazz

            The diaspora of Africans into the Americas brought strong cultural roots that have survived more than six hundred years. The correlation between popular music in the United States and traditional African music is evident even today. Specifically, the influence stems from traditional Sub-Saharan music. The identifiable characteristics shared by the two types of music are polyrhythm, wide variety of tone colors, call and response, and African-derived scales and singing styles. These four characteristics bled into the Americas, and in the U.S, resulted in a chain of unique music genres including blues, jazz, ragtime, bebop, and rock.
             This evolution of American music is rooted in the application of African esthetic, notably the use of polyrhythms, an expanded range of tone colors, call and response, and African-derived scales and singing styles. First, Polyrhythms are multiple interlocking rhythmic patterns. For example, this would include the use a series four beat measures overlapped by a series of three beat measures. Also, these polyrhythmic patterns are arranged in cyclical patterns, referred to as time cycles. The patterns of beats do not have a definite beginning or end, and as the cycle repeats, the rhythms contain complex changes that vary widely. Usually, there is one instrument within a group that plays an unchanging pattern in order to set the framework upon which the other instrumentalists build their rhythms. Also, the instruments that are used often include elements that do not feature a definite pitch. This creates a wide variety of tone colors. The African esthetic prefers those buzzy, clanky, covered tones, which European music tends to reject. For example, the traditional African instrument, the Sanza (or Mbira), uses both metal prongs to create different pitches as they are plucked, but it also has pieces of shell tied to it that slap against the wood, creating a unique sound for each instrument.

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