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Africa and the Blues

Publication Year: 1999

In 1969 Gerhard Kubik chanced to encounter a Mozambican labor migrant, a miner in Transvaal, South Africa, tapping a cipendani, a mouth-resonated musical bow. A comparable instrument was seen in the hands of a white Appalachian musician who claimed it as part of his own cultural heritage. Through connections like these Kubik realized that the link between these two far-flung musicians is African-American music, the sound that became the blues. Such discoveries reveal a narrative of music evolution for Kubik, a cultural anthropologist and ethnomusicologist. Traveling in Africa, Brazil, Venezuela, and the United States, he spent forty years in the field gathering the material for Africa and the Blues. In this book, Kubik relentlessly traces the remote genealogies of African cultural music through eighteen African nations, especially in the Western and Central Sudanic Belt. Included is a comprehensive map of this cradle of the blues, along with 31 photographs gathered in his fieldwork. The author also adds clear musical notations and descriptions of both African and African American traditions and practices and calls into question the many assumptions about which elements of the blues were "European" in origin and about which came from Africa. Unique to this book is Kubik's insight into the ways present-day African musicians have adopted and enlivened the blues with their own traditions. With scholarly care but with an ease for the general reader, Kubik proposes an entirely new theory on blue notes and their origins. Tracing what musical traits came from Africa and what mutations and mergers occurred in the Americas, he shows that the African American tradition we call the blues is truly a musical phenomenon belonging to the African cultural world. Gerhard Kubik is a professor in the department of ethnology and African studies at the University of Mainz, Germany. Since 1983 he has been affiliated with the Center for Social Research of Malawi, Zomba. He is a permanent member of the Center for Black Music Research in Chicago and an Honorary Fellow of the Royal Anthropological Institute of Great Britain and Ireland, London.

Published by: University Press of Mississippi

Title Page, Copyright

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pp. v-vi

List of Examples

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pp. vii

List of Figures

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pp. ix-x

List of Photographs

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pp. xi-xii

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pp. xiii-xviii

As I am writing about the blues after a thirty-seven-year interval—the last time I had specifically touched the subject was in 1961—this book is unfolding before my eyes as if I were in a state of trance. Obviously, I haven't been sitting in idleness during the last three decades. Besides covering much of sub-Saharan Africa in field research and writing, I have also written much about the extensions ...

Part I. Out of Africa

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pp. 1-2

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pp. 3-4

Within these areas of inquiry, the third has been the best covered. Besides written sources, pictorial documents, and oral tradition, commercial recordings have been our most important twentieth-century source for the history of the blues. These are augmented by the immense field recording work done by researchers since the 1930s. ...

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1. Sources, Adaptation, and Innovation

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pp. 5-20

Anyone studying the history of the early rural blues and its proclaimed "roots" will be aware of the complexity of such an undertaking. To recall a few basic data of the general history of the United States might therefore help us to avoid the most serious errors, such as suggesting a direct, unilinear descent of the blues from any specific eighteenth- to nineteenth-century ethnic African musical ...

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2. The Rise of a Sung Literary Genre

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pp. 21-50

Many proposals have been put forward as to the possible "African roots" of the music called blues. The blues as oral literature—though studied in great detail by various authors (cf Dauer 1964-65, 1979, 1983a and b; Oliver 1990; Evans 1978b, 1982; Ferris 1973; etc.) for their social and historical commentary, their literary value, and their compositional structures—have remained somewhat ...

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3. A Strange Absence

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pp. 51-62

For those of us with training in the percussive rhythms of Guinea Coast music (cf. Richard A. Waterman 1952, discussion in Merriam 1953), much of our Guinea Coast experience is inapplicable to the blues. This is so not just because of the absence of drums and complex polyrhythms in early blues; there is, in addition, the very specific absence of asymmetric time-line patterns in virtually all ...

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4. The West Central Sudanic Belt

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pp. 63-70

The explanation for the absence of time-line patterns in the blues, and from the North American scenario in general—with the exception of their shadowy appearance in Louisiana early in the twentieth century, and in more recent times, for example in Bo Diddley's music (cf Kubik 1993: 443—44; see also his recent biography based on interviews, White 1995)—must therefore be something ...

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5. Blues Recordings Compared with Material from the Central Sudanic Savannah

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pp. 71-81

Big Joe Williams was born in Mississippi in 1903. His recording "Stack o'Dollars" from 1935 can be compared with traditions of the western and central Sudan, especially in three areas: in vocal style by the abundant use of melismatic passages, the pentatonic basis of the pitch-lines, and his voice quality; in the instrumental realm by the use of a combination of stringed instruments including ...

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6. Some Characteristics of the Blues

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pp. 82-95

Rural blues in the Deep South is not a completely homogeneous tradition. Enough time has elapsed since pre-blues traditions crystallized into something toward the end of the nineteenth century that could be called "blues" to allow for early processes of divergence analogous to how a language splits into dialects, and subsequent processes of convergence, i.e., mutual influences and borrowings ...

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7. Why Did a West Central Sudanic Style Cluster Prevail in the Blues?

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pp. 96-104

Africans deported to the United States left their home countries through many ports along the west African coast. But just as the Portuguese slave trade (especially from Angola, Nigeria, Dahomey, Guinea-Bissau, Gabon, and Mozambique) was mainly directed to Brazil, so was the British and French slave trade directed to North America and the Caribbean islands. The influx of slaves from ...

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8. Heterophonic Versus Homophonic Multi-part Schemes

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pp. 105-117

No serious student of African-American music will subscribe today to all-encompassing formulations such as that "harmony" in jazz and other African- American music is "European" in origin, while "rhythm" is "African" (i.e., a sort of pan-African hodgepodge). One still occasionally encounters the opinion, inherited from early twentieth-century writings, that "all African music w ...

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9. The Blues Tonal System

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pp. 118-145

Carl Gregor Herzog zu Mecklenburg and Waldemar Scheck (1963: 9) give an overview of the numerous theories by means of which Western musicians and musicologists from the 1920s to the 1960s tried to come to grips with a phenomenon in the blues that seemed to run contrary to all established harmonic rules of Western music: the "blue notes/' By this term normally two tones are understood ...

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10. The "Flatted Fifth"

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pp. 146-152

There are many unusual scalar patterns in the blues, and some could perpetuate tonal concepts found in regions of Africa outside the west central Sudanic belt. One of the issues to be accounted for in any study of the origin of the blue notes is the so-called "flatted fifth" (cf. Schuller 1968:51-52). It was only recognized as a blue note in the 1940s, but there is no doubt that it existed in some of the ...

Part II. Return to Africa

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pp. 153-154

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pp. 155-160

The most trenchant external influences on African music in the twentieth century were not European, as might have been expected in the face of colonial structures; instead they were African-American. These have included nearly every aspect of the New World music from the Caribbean and from South and North America. In the 1930s it was rhumba and some jazz-derived forms of ...

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11. The 12-Bar Blues Form in South African kwela and Its Reinterpretation

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pp. 161-185

South Africa was not a slave-raiding area for the New World labor market, and South African musical traditions therefore did not influence New World music before mid-twentieth-century contacts and exchanges (e.g., Louis Armstrong's adaptation of August Musurugwa's "Skokiaan" theme; the recording of " Wimoweh" by the Weavers in 1951 [Decca 27928]; the emigration to the United ...

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12. Return to the Western Sudan

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pp. 186-196

Since the 1970s some of the more recent developments in African American music in North America and elsewhere have radiated back to the western Sudan. In 1981 I was startled, during a visit to the "Conservatoire National" in Dakar, Senegal, to find an ensemble consisting of a brass section (trumpet and trombone), saxophone, piano, electric bass guitar, and jazz drums, playing in a style ...

Summary and Conclusions

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pp. 197-204


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pp. 205-224


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pp. 225-232

General Index

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pp. 233-240

E-ISBN-13: 9781604737288
E-ISBN-10: 160473728X
Print-ISBN-13: 9781578061464
Print-ISBN-10: 1578061466

Page Count: 260
Publication Year: 1999

Research Areas


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