African Roots

From Africa tribes to African-American Slaves
A variety of tribes, languages and traditions were part of the birth of the blues.  When the 18th and 19th century West African slaves were kidnapped or traded to the United States they brought with them the musical sounds of their culture.  As documented throughout American history, some slaves originated from the coastal areas of Africa (i.e. Senegambia) as well as other areas such as Nigeria, Cameroon and Angola.  Using sites of political unrest for cover as prime centers for slave trading, slave traders continued to operate their services after the 1807 law that abolished slave trading in Great Britain and the United States.
In West Africa, tools for daily life were made from surrounding natural resources. Musical instruments were also made from easily accessible natural resources (i.e. wood etc.).  For example, the African tribes of Senegambia were found to have made many stringed instruments from gourds that did not require much wood due to their largely un-forested landscape. Tribes that used wooden instruments (i.e. large drums) tended to be from areas with plentiful forests such as found in southern Africa.
drumMusic was an important part of daily activities in African tribal life.  Many tribes used music as their communication tool, i.e. “talking drums” or for their language medium (i.e. the Yoruba and Akan tribes).  Using instruments as a communication tool (i.e. high pitched flutes, large drums, etc) permitted messages to be heard over long distances.  These messages could warn the tribe of forthcoming dangers.
There were many vocal influences on areas within West Africa, including the quarter tones of the Middle East.  Some African tribes used complex vocal singing (i.e. exuberant shouts and intervallic vocal leaps) as traced back to the Bantu tribe.  Other tribes used moans, cries, and bending of vocal inflections to communicate. For example, the Akan tribe’s pitch-based language used the lowering of pitch to express emotional importance. With the oral tradition of song, these vocal traits were passed down from generation to generation.
Within their own social caste systems, tribes had specific musical positions for each tribal member.  Funerals, harvest and other communal village activities were musical times for everyone in the tribe. Focused on communication and not performance, these inclusive, participatory activities were passed down by oral tradition.