The musical forms brought to the Americas by slaves from west Africa were generally functional: that is, they were used to aid in ritual, work, daily life, and war. Antiphonal singing also facilitated communication across distances.
As the Malinke people of West Africa say, “There is no movement without rhythm.” Notice that rhythm aids with the many functions of rural life.
You can hear the antiphonal quality in this work song of the Mbuti people (Congo).
A Hausa call-and-response:
In the 1964 film Zulu, about the 1879 battle of Rorke’s Drift in Zululand (present-day South Africa), the use of antiphonal music in war is highlighted. The Zulus use music to prepare for war, to intimidate the enemy, to wage war, and, in the end, in a moving scene, to salute the victors.
In Avengers Infinity War, T’challa leads the Dora Milaje in a call and response. Do you think the filmmakers did their research?
In the 1997 film Amistad, about the illegal capture of a group of Mende people from Sierra Leone, one of the group dies in prison. His comrades send up a call-and-response chant as a funeral ritual (T/W: death, dead man):
What do you think the purpose of call-and-response form is in religious music?
Call and response in the folk spiritual “Job, Job.”
Call and response in a work camp song.
Call and response in a prison work song.
David Guetta and Nicki Minaj sampled “Rosie” in their song “Hey Mama.”
The song was also recently adapted by three white folksingers, Sara Watkins, Sarah Jarosz, and Aoife O’Donovan, who perform together as I’m With Her, as “Be My Husband.” What do you think about this usage?
In August Wilson’s 1987 play The Piano Lesson, a character speaks of his stint in Parchman and sings a work song.
August Wilson was inspired to write his play, set in 1936, by this painting, “The Piano Lesson,” by Romare Bearden (1911-1988).
You can read the complete play here.