Welcome to the first of three articles I will be writing as part of my return to the Brooklyn Music Lessons community. Since essentially all the music I play is stylistically linked to Africa and/or the African diaspora, I thought it would be interesting to focus on a couple areas of this vast body of music that are particularly fascinating to me. In the process, I’ll highlight some of the ways in which music from Africa (particularly West Africa) forms the foundation of some American musical styles with which you may be familiar.
First up is the music of New Orleans, specifically the unique brand of funk that originated in the Crescent City during the 1960s and had a heyday that continued well into the 1970s. With alternating eras of French and Spanish rule prior to being sold to the U.S. as part of the Louisiana Purchase, New Orleans has a uniquely diverse cultural heritage heavily influenced by slaves brought from West Africa, sometimes via the French and Spanish Caribbean. The most prominent musical inheritance from this history is second line, which is a genre of music associated with African-American street parades in New Orleans. Second line rhythms form the foundation of many popular genres, and funk is no exception.
One fundamental feature of second line music (and, as we will see, many other styles of African and diasporic styles) is the use of rhythmic frameworks usually referred to using the Spanish term clave (pronounced CLA-vay). The most common clave, which is known as a son clave among Cuban musicians, is shown below.