In what American pop music genres do you find musical traits such as interlocking of rhythms, call-and-response and buzzy timbres?In Sub-Saharan Africa, certain musical traits reoccur throughout...



In what American pop music genres do you find musical traits such as interlocking of rhythms, call-and-response and buzzy timbres?

In Sub-Saharan Africa, certain musical traits reoccur throughout the continent: interlocking of rhythms, call-and-response and buzzy timbres. I am interested in examples of these traits in American pop music.

Oxford Grove Music Encyclopedia:

Asked on

1 Answer | Add Yours

kplhardison's profile pic

Posted on (Answer #1)

Let's start with brief definitions of these African music characteristics, or traits, then add any examples that are commonly known in American pop music (often described as music that is popular in any given period of the 20th and 21st centuries). Interlocking rhythms, also called "polyrhythms" (Oxford Grover Music Encyclopedia), occur when multiple players strike up independent rhythms that are different from the rhythms others are playing. In Western music, all players follow a unified rhythm; there may be variation in rhythm but it is syncopated; it is not divisive as African interlocking rhythms are.

It is significant that African interlocking rhythms are not cacophonic but rather when "played together, they form a complete melody phrase," as stated in Northern Illinois University's SEAsite. Since Western music is inherently "additive," with rhythm beats divided in equal sections, and African polyrhythmic music is inherently "divisive," with rhythmic beats divide unequally (Oxford Grove), there are no examples readily available of where interlocking polyrhythms may occur in American pop music. One might think of 1930s to 1950s jazz head arrangement sections, but the premise of head arrangements is that the underlying rhythm guides each performer, excluding interlocking polyrhythms.

Call-and-response is a trait defined as a vocal characteristic of African music in which a solo leader gives a "call," a line of lyrics or sounds, that is echoed back by a "responsorial group" (Oxford Grover). This style of vocalization appears in both American pop music and African-American religious music. Historically in African-American churches, call-and-response was a critical means of singing English Christian hymns. Very few if any of the congregation could read, so the solo leader, who may or may not read, would call out a line of a hymn, either having read it or having memorized it, and the congregation would respond.

There are still vestiges of call-and-response apparent in some African-American Apostolic congregations today. In pop music, Cab Calloway was famous in the Jazz and Big Band Swing era of the 1930s to 1950s for incorporating call-and-response into his jazz numbers. Cab would act as the solo call leader. He would call out scat syllables (improvised syllables that may reflect the phrasing and sound of an instrument). The syllables would be echoed by the response of the band members and at times by the audience.

Buzzy timbre is a highly valued part of African music aesthetics and may have originated as "attempts to emulate the standalone Mande rattles" (Cameron H. Rowland, Wesleyan University). It is achieved by attaching "buzzing or jingling devices" (Eric Charry, Rowland) to musical instruments. The instruments may originally have very clear timbres but the buzz is more desired. Often these devices are removable. In American pop music, mutes, used in brass sections of bands, are a much used device of buzzy timbre. According David Horn and co-authors, Miles Davis and, earlier, members of Duke Ellington's jazz band were especially adept at buzzy timbre with mutes. Guitar wah-wah pedals also create buzzy timbre on guitar strings as wah-wah pedals were designed to imitate a muted trumpet sound.

[David Horn, Dave Laing, Paul Oliver, Peter Wicke. Continuum Encyclopedia of Popular Music of the World Part I. p.462]

YouTube Vidoes with Illustrations
Calloway with Muppets: call-and-response:

Calloway Short: call-and-response:

Calloway and Nicholas Brotheres: call-and-response and buzzy timbre with mutes on trumpets:

Ellington: buzzy timbre, brass section mutes:


We’ve answered 287,618 questions. We can answer yours, too.

Ask a question