Music is a universal language, and when it comes to the global music scene, there is hardly any genre like Blues that has succeeded in touching the lives of people. Unlike other music styles, the roots of Blues lie more than a hundred years back and the journey can be traced from Deep South to West Africa.
Over time, Blues has been influenced by so many factors and the style has evolved significantly over time. When you ask what kind of music is Blues, we will have to go back in time and find out what influenced this music genre, what its unique features area, and what its present state is. So, let’s have a look.
Features of Blues
Blues is a genre of music that originally consisted of spiritual songs, field hollers, chants, shouts, work songs, and narrative ballads with simple rhymes. It is often characterized by a call and response pattern with progressive chords scale. The third, fifth and seventh notes often have a flat pitch with repetitive grooves. The musical form of Blues is identified by its bass lines, instrumentation and lyrics. It is often characterized by its verses that consist of one line repeated 4 times in AAB pattern. The line is used over the first bars four times, then repeated over other four, and finally a long concluding line in the last bar. Apart from that, 8 bar and 16 bar patterns are also considered Blues. The call and response pattern used in Blues is a common characteristic of African-American and African music. The last chord is often the dominant one that marks the beginning of the upcoming progression.
Origins and Influences of Blues
It was the American- African community and the black cultural melting pot of American South from where the music originated around the 1890s. The early Blues music used to be a mixture of traditional songs, Afro-American spirituals, music of church, songs of the slaves, folk ballads, shouts and chants, rhyming narrative ballads, modern dance music and European hymns that made it unique.
The slavery tradition used to be common during that time, and the music soon became an instrument of power for the black slaves during the back-breaking toils in the plantation fields or other places. The people had developed a call and response way of singing, and overtime the Blues emerged as one of the most appreciated styles all over the world.
Some people have claimed that Blues music indicates melancholy, grief and loss, however, it’s not completely true and there are adequate reasons to back the statement. The beginning of the music genre was happy, and perhaps the name is derived from blue indigo that used to be a common tradition at that time in West Africa.
While some lyrics focus on personal grief, frustration, love and loss, there are plenty of songs that deal with joy, celebration, life and triumph. Music was an integral part of people and they used to play the guitars after returning from work and used to get drunk and sing about their lives. The region of Mississippi Delta had played a major role in the emergence of Blues, and one can see that plenty of Blues legends were born in Mississippi. The black slaves were not free to live their lives freely, and they had limited options other than working for the masters in the fields. The early Blues lyrics written by Afro-Americans mostly dealt with soulful and melancholy lyrics to form the rhythmic, emotive and powerful music that reflected their lives, poverty, crimes, labor, addiction, victory, love or loss in a distinct style.
Blues in its Modern Form
The early years of Blues music have produced some of the most talented Blues musicians of all time, like Blind Lemon Jefferson, Blind Willie Johnson, Robert Johnson, Lightning Hopkins, Blind Blake, Muddy waters, Pink Anderson, Sonny Boy Williamson II, Arthur William “big boy” Crudup and many more. However, it took a few decades to spread the Blues across the urban areas. Over time, the music genre adapted different styles like Dallas Blues, Chicago Blues, Texas Blues, West Coast Blues, traditional country Blues, jump Blues, Rhythm and Blues and other jazz-Blues hybrids. The electrification of Blues helped it to spread across the country, and the era of modern Blueshave produced some of the most famous Blues artists of all times like Buddy Guy, B.B. King, Jimi Hendrix, Keith Richards, Eric Clapton, Joe Bonamassa and many more.
The Blues that we hear today, can be described as modern Blues, and the style is still popular among different cultures in the era of techno or modern electronic music.