On African music and transculturation

African music forms and rhythms that emerged in the Americas constituted a beat that has “always threaded back to Africa.”

In the words of the Caribbean poet, Edward Kamau Brathwaite, the middle passage created “bridges of sound” that carried memories of Africa to the Americas, music that echoed down the generations from “Harlem” to “Havana.”

Individual islands in the Caribbean and the mainland diasporic slave communities in the Americas shared the basic rhythms (and some instruments) derived from Africa. But these were fused with the instruments and rhythms of the cultures with which African slaves interacted, a process that the Cuban ethnomusicologist Frederick Ortiz termed “transculturation.”

Trinidadian calypso and parang, and the samba and son rhythms in Cuba (son was a modified, more refined version of rumba which became popular in the second half of the nine- teenth century) combined the structure and elements of Spanish canción (song) and Spanish guitar with African rhythm and percussion instruments.

Son, samba, rumba, and other Latin and African-Caribbean dances influenced salsa. In the Southern U.S., the European fife and drum convey some of the rural music that has the most authentic African rhythms.

The fife and drum are also the basis of Jonkanoo music in Jamaica (Jonkanoo is a Jamaican Christmas tradition, incorporating African traditions going back to the days of slavery).
This incorporation of European instruments and music forms demonstrates how Africans in the diaspora subverted the dominant culture and asserted positive African identities. Slaves played for their master and learnt European instruments and rhythms but these became syncretized into popular folk music (defined as played with acoustic
instruments). Jamaican mento draws on the fife and drum of Jonkanoo, Pocomania (an African-Christian revivalist cult) and church music, the European quadrille, and slave work songs passed through the generations.

Musical forms in different parts of the diaspora have also retained purer African elements where percussion instruments and call-and-response vocals predominate. Examples here include rumba in Cuba, Rastafarian Nyabhingi in Jamaica, and the Kongo and Yoruba music found in African-derived religious sects such as Kumina in Jamaica,
Shango in Trinidad, Haitian Voodoo, and Cuban Santeria. Such music was performed “beyond the ken” of whites during slavery and continues to be associated with peasant or urban working-class cultures.


Barbara Bush (2006) African Echoes, Modern Fusions: Caribbean Music,
Identity and Resistance in the African Diaspora, Music Reference Services Quarterly.

Image source:  Nyabinghi Drum Circle with Wolf

On rude reggae

However, rude reggae did not start with the slackness of DJs in the 1980s and later. As Stanley-Niaah notes, Jamaica has a long tradition of rude lyrics dating back to mento, perhaps the first distinctively Jamaican musical genre, in the 1950s. Stanley-Niaah specifically mentions Lloydie and the Lowbites album, Censored, and some tracks by Prince Buster.

The Lloydie and the Lowbites album—the pseudonymous Lloydie was actually the rock steady artist, Lloyd Charmers—was released in 1972 and represents something of a high point in the tradition perhaps influenced by rude reggae’s popularity in Britain among skinheads. Kevin O’Brien Chang and Wayne Chen write that:

Jamaica has a long and honoured tradition of .. . suggestive, sexually-oriented music. Mento, even more than its Trinidadian cousin calypso, was always noted for its earthy themes. Songs such as ‘Mary Ann’ .. . and ‘Big Bamboo’ .. . are still staples on the tourist circuit.

They go on to discuss the importance of rudeness in ska and mention Prince Buster’s 1969 release, ‘Wreck A Pum Pum’ (‘pum pum’ can be translated by the vernacular ‘pussy’) which Buster sang over a version of the Christmas carol, ‘Little Drummer Boy’. A year earlier, Buster had released a ska version of the mento track, ‘Rough Rider’. The album which included it, as well as ‘Wine & Grind’, She Was a Rough Rider, was released in Britain in 1969.

From: Judge Dread, Ska, Rock Steady and Rudeness, found in:

Jon Stratton (2014) Judge Dread: Music Hall Traditionalist or Postcolonial
, Contemporary British History.

Image source: Prince Buster’s All Stars / The Rude Girls ‎– Wreck A Pum Pum / Wreck A Buddy

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