Latin-American Influence

The British Empire, while establishing very exploitive trade routes, was central to the spread of music, resulting in modern western music as we know it. The most famous of which would be the African and Latin-American influences that were shipped to the British along with countless slaves.

In our colonisation of Africa and America we enforced our then heavily Christian culture on the natives, which they accepted eventually, and melded with their own musical traditions to bring gospel to the world, creating such slavery anthems as “Swing low sweet chariot.” Gospel turned into soul which later blurred the edges between folk and funk.

At the same time the romantic era was dying in Britain, and the new contemporary sound was coming out, mainly due to the wars popularising the big military instruments such as the trumpet and trombone. A Belgian instrument-maker, swept up in the war (conquered by the Germans, reconquered by the English over and over again), decided the military band needed a new sound. His inspiration came from single reed instruments such as clarinets and Mr Adolphe Sax thus created the new military band instrument which he most modestly named after himself- the Saxophone; it failed most spectacularly to catch on, as it was not nearly as piercing as the heavy brass and shrill woodwind of the military band, so was used Instead, by the military on down time in the light hearted swing bands popularised by Glenn Miller. Soon enough it became synonymous with smoky back alley jazz clubs, particularly adopted by the (then “negro,” )world of soul.

At this time the glorious leader banned a top C and above on the trumpet. Why? Because it was apparently a negro note. Never mind that the modern trumpet was created by Hitler’s beloved Germany, or that top C was well used within his favourite composer Wagner’s pieces; the Berlin Philharmonic Orchestra was not allowed to play anything in which a top C featured which did limit their repertoire for the duration of Hitler’s reign.

Percussion too was evolving from the military, up until the nineteenth century it was impossible for any one player to play multiple pieces of percussion, giving a rhythmically “flat,” tone to the music. It was only in 1865 that multiple percussion instruments were put together, and 1909 before the first pedal bass drum system was invented, paving the way for the modern drum kit. Brushes, introduced in 1912, completed the range of sounds giving the music of the time new life and aptly suiting the popular entertainment dance bands over the military. In 1917 a band known as The Original Dixieland Jazz Band created the first real jazz recordings, taking the new style of drum and adding pedal systems for the cymbals, they incorporated this new percussive technique with ragtime which had been popular for decades now, and spiced it all up with a few blue notes.

In the 1920s jazz and alcohol were banned in America, leading to the hidden Speakeasies that provided both to the citizens with more flexible moralities. Alcohol was banned because it was bad for the health and too enjoyable to be moral; jazz was banned because it was created by the African-Americans in segregated America and was too good for dancing to be respectable. However, by the early mid-30s jazz was socially acceptable everywhere, and evolved into the big band which spread rapidly across the whole of America, partially due to the new popularisation of the radio broadcast. Bebop, swing, all headed by the African-American rebellion towards their still obvious oppression, appeared, and as quickly were adopted by the white man. The white man might set the rules but the “negro,” decided what was cool.

A brief lean towards electronic drums threatened the career of the percussionist in the 80s, but the 90s and millennia saw many indie and pop drummers revert to the traditional four piece kit: Bass, snare, tom-tom and floor tom, but additional pieces are common.

It was around the millennia that purely electronic music spreader, traceable in its origins back to the Jamaican party scene in London, back in the eighties. This generally consisted of syncopated drum beats, typical of samba, salsa and other Latin American music, and bass lines, occasionally dipping into sub bass territories. The first Dubstep releases date back to 1998 but it was only in 2002 that the term “Dubstep,” was coined by labels such as Big Apple in relation to the distinct music clearly separate from Grime and 2-step. Dubstep began to evolve, but when does music ever actually evolve? If you pay close attention to the hype before a bass drop, you'll notice an increase in the rate of harmonic change: as utilised by Beethoven, Haydn, Vivaldi- and suddenly you're back to square one. Even pure percussive pieces, that are still composed in a modern, statement-y, we’re-different-and-cool way that percussionists in all their pretentious glory love, are reminiscent of what we reckon the first ever music must've sounded like. The current surge in acappella is no new thing, as the first music competition is a tie between percussion and voice, with simple woodwind appearing next.

Cultural influence within music is a huge area, and it can take us every and anywhere. I wonder where it will take us next, I just hope it will allow us a full range of possibilities, to top C and beyond.