Music in Global America


Header video: New York Panorama 2017 - Despers USA Steel Orchestra [Marc Thorman]


The popular musics of America and Latin America have deep roots in musical, religious, and dance traditions of sub-Saharan Africa. Africans who were brought to the Americas sustained musical practices despite oppression and acculturation, by transforming their traditions into unique forms of expression. By the early twentieth century the African diaspora in the Western hemisphere had hybridized elements from African and European forms, instruments, and styles to create new genres essential to Latin and American musical identities.

This section focuses on four African musical traditions and practices that are the roots of the musical cultures of the African diaspora, and reviews their influence on American popular music.   



More info HERE - Map with click-on guides to each country

The first map below shows the modern nations of Africa, whose borders were arbitrarily drawn by European colonialists in the 19th and 20th centuries, and were retained by African leaders after independence. 



The continent of Africa is divided into five major regions as shown in the map on the left, below: North, West, East, Central, and Southern. Everywhere below North Africa is known as sub-Saharan Africa. An important factor in the music cultures of sub-Saharan Africa is the divide between the semi-desert/savanna Sahel -- shown in orange of the right-hand map -- and the forest regions of Central Africa -- shown in green on the left-hand map. Since most African slaves were brought to the New World from these two areas, the divide between them determined the direction music took in different parts of the Americas.  



The maps below show distribution of religions in Africa, by percentages, as of 1998, and give an indication of the spread of Arabic and European cultural influences.  

The map on the left shows a decline in traditional African religions. A century ago, nearly all of the area below North Africa would be red. However, the figure does show that traditional religions are still largely active today. 

The map in the center shows percentages of Muslims in Africa. Arabs gained control of Alexandria in 742 and in less than forty years had every center on the North African coast under military control. Islam spread quickly throughout North Africa and then -- through conquest, trading networks, and preaching -- to all of Northwest Africa. The farther south Islam extended, the more it became syncretized (blended) with local traditional religious traditions. Arabic music influences North Africa to a greater degree than sub-Saharan Africa.   

By the 6th century Christianity had become firmly established across North Africa, but was soon eradicated in the Maghreb by the Arab conquests and religious conversions. Christianity again entered the picture on a massive scale in the 19th century when European powers extensively colonized, then partitioned, sub-Saharan Africa. Christian missionaries and, especially, African evangelists became powerful forces behind sub-Saharan Africans' adoption of Christianity. European music entered into Africa through the music of the Church, through educational institutions established by the colonialists, and by access to European musical instruments and practices.

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