Jazz was born in America in the early 20th century, evolving out of a meeting of African and European music traditions. Once the style began to develop around the world, jazz found its way back to Africa, which spawned the internationally acclaimed likes of Hugh Masekela, Miriam Makeba and Abdullah Ibrahim.
In his brilliant 1968 analytical book on jazz, Early Jazz: Its Roots and Musical Development (Oxford University Press) author Gunther Schuller makes a very strong case for jazz’s African origins, writing that;
“the analytic study in this chapter [Chapter 1, pages 3-62] shows that every musical element – rhythm, harmony, melody, timbre, and the basic forms of jazz – is essentially African in background and derivation.”
Africa might seem too large, imposing and omnipresent a continent to be subject to something so ephemeral as a pop and jazz ''revival.'' But right now we seem to be in the midst of just such a revival, nonetheless. Everywhere, western musicians are turning to Africa, either for reaffirmation of a lost or dimly remembered ethnic heritage or for a more abstract kind of inspiration. To speak of Africa as if it offered a single, consistent musical style is, of course, a ludicrous oversimplification.
As John Storm Roberts points out in his informative book, ''Black Music of Two Worlds''; Africa offers an area four times the size of the United States, with some 2,000+ tribes speaking between 800 and 2,400 tongues, depending on whether some are counted as dialects or languages. However, Mr. Roberts does isolate some general characteristics of black African music - its functional use in society, its indivisibility in the African mind from dance and theater, the use of instruments to imitate the human voice, the primacy of rhythm and particularly the combination of several simultaneous cross-rhythms, and the call-and-response structure. In addition, there is North African music, closely related to - but distinct from other forms of Moslem music, which is closely related both to black African music and to the folk music of Southern Spain.
In America it has been blacks, naturally enough, who have pioneered the renewed interest in Africa. And of all-American cities, it has been Chicago, the home of so vital an eruption of black jazz progressiveness over the past 15-years, that has led the way - even if some of the key Chicago musicians have now moved to New York.
African evocations are hardly the sole preserve of jazz musicians. Some black pop musicians are turning to the Continent, as well, not least Stevie Wonder and Marvin Gaye. Mr. Gaye moved to London but also had a home in Senegal, and had stated that he hoped to spend time in Africa and to use more and more African influences to enliven Motown formulas.
Presently, we have experienced a superb achievement and an intimation of the growing influence Africa is having on Jazz musicians across the world.