Monthly Archives: September 2021

The African roots of blues music (the blues scale)

The Banjo Lesson by Henry Ossawa Tanner (1893)

I’ve played drums in an all-nonwhite rock band called Sunata for seven years (2013-2020, before the pandemic) and djembe for about five years. Music, especially Black and African-American music, runs in my family and culture. My uncle, a freelance musician who toured throughout the 1970s, told me to study blues and jazz music because, as he put it, blues and jazz are the mother and the father, while R&B and rock-and-roll are the son and the daughter. Without blues and jazz music, American popular music wouldn’t exist. Blues and jazz come from the same parent — Africa.

For this blog post, I will be focusing on the African retention in blues music, specific scales and notes. By looking at the scales and notes, it’s obvious, African-American blues music is African in origin and those scales and notes were retained despite the violence of slavery. Blues is considered an “American” genre of music but it’s still a historical and cultural continuation of African folk music adapted to a new environment. Therefore, African-American blues is both a foundation of American popular music and, stylistically, part of the larger African cultural family because it is fundamentally an African style of music.

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