The astonishing music legacy of the African Slaves

Ring Shout

We know the contribution of enslaved Africans to world music, but do we realise how deeply the African continent has affected what we listen to every day. When you switch on your radio almost everything you hear can be traced back to the slaves and Africa, even the wind instruments of Celtic music have their origins in North Africa.

The most influential of these beginnings was African Ring Music and the arrival of the African Drum in 1500 via slaves to South America.

There is a seemingly endless list of music genres that were perpetuated from these two facts from early Gospel and Traditional Blues to Rock ‘n’ Roll, Pop, Reggae, Sea Shanties and Rap.

In South America the enslaved Africans gave us

The Rumba, Conga, Bossa Nova, Samba, Merengue, Son, Contradanza (Cuban Habanera African rhythms) Bachata, Tango, Creole, Zouk (Haiti) etc.

This extraordinary history happened because one of the few things the slaves were allowed to do was play their drums, they introduced African beats and rhythms to the Latin culture.

In North America the enslaved Africans gave us

Gospel, Blues, Jazz, Old Timey (and yes Country & Western), Big Band Music, Rhythm & Blues, Rock ‘n’ Roll, Soul, Funk, Rap, Hip-Hop etc. etc..

These influences went far and wide to every radio, record player, tape machine, internet and download worldwide. In effect it created the USA’s only original folk music and genuine unique identity.

In the Caribbean the enslaved Africans gave us

Shango, Calypso, Camboulay, Rock Steady (Big Band Sound), Mento, Ska, Reggae etc..

The impact of Reggae in particular shows a country punching above its musical weight, Jamaica has a population of just under 3 million, but their music lit up the whole world and became universally the most popular genre.


Along with the great drum and rythm traditions of Africa, they gave us the Banjo, a staple of American Bluegrass music and contemporary USA and European folk music.

The Djembe, Marimbula (Mbira), Conga & Bongo drums, Claves, Tambora, Xylophone etc. They knew how to make do and mend musically – the Steel Drums (Caribbean),  the Tea Chest & Washtub bass, Washboard percussion, Kazoo, Jugs & Jars, these were the staple of Jug Bands and Skiffle Bands paving the way for R’n’B and Rock and Roll.

Let’s not forget the instrument they enslaved Africans stole – the Harmonica produced by Hohner as a classical instrument, it was easy to carry and I bet the Germans never thought of bending the notes.