Call and Response

Call And Response

There are two videos to choose from to learn about “Call and Response”.

The first one is better for younger kids, the second one will appeal to older kids. Feel free to watch one, or both!

You may see a number of other videos that are a deeper dive into things you might be interested in. Feel free to watch as many of those as you like. Then choose some activities and/or a project.

High school students or any student who wants to dig deeper, continue your study with the advanced learning project in the Projects section. Be sure to scroll to the bottom of the page to test your understanding by taking the quiz.

Take A Deeper Dive!

Call and Response in Gospel Music

Below is a call and response song by Miriam Makeba. You can learn more about her in the book section from the book Mama Africa, and the read aloud version of that book.

Activities

Jambo!

Call and Response music is used in the musical traditions of many cultures but it is believed to have originated on the African continent.

Listen to this call and response song in Kiswahili called ‘Hello’. Practice with the video and make a video of yourself singing it with a friend, sibling or grown up doing the call or response part with you. You could teach them what the Kiswahili words mean too!

This version is sung in tribute to the Black performer Ella Jenkins who features in the next activity. You can find more of Ella Jenkins’ songs here, and here is her version of Jambo!

Remember to include your video in your portfolio.

Have Fun!

Toom-Bah-Ee-Lero

In many African cultures, call and response music was/is a way of bringing a community together, through words and rhythm.

Toom-Bah-Ee-Lero was written by Ella Jenkins, the Black US folk singer who is celebrated in activity one. For over fifty years Ella Jenkins has been an influential children’s performer. You can hear her performing her song here.

Use the lyrics below and see if you can bring YOUR community together to learn this song. Maybe that’s your friends, grown-ups, siblings, community group or neighbourhood!

Leader: Toom bah Toom bah 

Group: Toom bah Toom bah 

Leader: Ee Toombah Toombah Toombah 

Group: Ee Toombah Toombah Toombah 

Leader: Toombah ee chee chee 

Group: Toombah ee chee chee 

Leader: Ee Toombah 

Group: Ee Toombah 

Leader: Ee Toombah ee lero Toombah

Group: Ee Toombah ee lero Toombah 

Leader: Toombah ee lero Toombah 

Group: Toombah ee lero Toombah  

Leader: Toombah ee chee chee 

Group: Toombah ee chee chee

Remember to record your performance and include it in your portfolio!

Projects

“O Zim Zim!” – Call and Response in African Music

One of the most beautiful things about enjoying music is that you don’t need to know the language or understand the exact words being spoken. It’s enough just to connect with the melody and rhythm with this fun, call and response African song.

For this project, see if you can find three other examples of call and response songs in African music.

Have a go at singing all the ones you find. See if you can guess what they might be about and write about how the songs make you feel. Are they happy and upbeat or sad and mournful? 

When you have spent time enjoying the music, research the origins of each song. What language are they sung in? See if you can find out what each song is about and what the lyrics mean.

List the songs you find, with a video link if applicable and any notes you make about what you discover about each song.

When you’re finished, don’t forget to upload the document to your portfolio.

Call and Response in Blues Music

Call and response is used in a lot of music genres, including gospel, jazz, rock and roll, rock and pop music. Yet, it originally began in African musical traditions. These were brought to the Americas by forcibly enslaved African people as a result of the transatlantic slave trade. 

Enslaved people often sang call and response songs as they worked. Over time, this form of music came to represent both release and resistance.

This type of music is a fundamental element of the type of music we now refer to as the “blues”. Read this article by BBC Bitesize to understand these influences as the foundation of blues music.

And just as the African call and response influences were the foundation of blues music, so blues (and thus the original African influences) heavily influenced later forms of music such as rock and roll and rock music for example. 

For this assignment, explore the genre of blues music. Look up and listen to the music of some of the blues musicians listed in the article. Then, identify three different blues songs that you like the most that use call and response.

List them, with a video link if applicable and when you’re finished, remember to upload the document to your portfolio.

Call and Response in Pop Music

Call and response is also found in the pop music of many Minority World countries. (The wealthier regions of the world such as the USA, Canada, Australia and Europe which make up a small percentage of the global population.) Examples of call and response don’t have to be vocalized, they can also use the voice being “answered” by an instrument. In these music videos, you’ll hear more examples of call and response methods in pop music.

Carly Rae Jepsen’s, Call Me Maybe finds the violins used as the response to her lyrics.

Edwyn Collins’, A Girl Like You, also makes use of instruments as the response to his lyrical calls.

And the song Come and Get Your Love by Redbone using both classic call and response vocals and various instruments.

Can you think of any more pop songs that use call and response in any form? What types of call and response do they use? List and link the music videos with a brief description of the call and response method used.

When you’re finished, upload the document to your portfolio.

Advanced Project

Watch these videos and read this article to understand more about what musical cultural appropriation is.

Appreciation Or Appropriation?

The musical style of call and response has often been culturally appropriated by white musicians, who have adopted parts of this musical style without showing due respect for its origins. 

Elvis Presley’s hit song Hound Dog was originally recorded by “Big Mamma” Thornton and featured a minute long call and response section. So why then, as this article asks “is [Elvis] seen as the father of rock ’n’ roll music when he didn’t invent it? Why did it take a good old white boy to popularise a genre which black Americans had been playing for years, and in the process become one of the richest people on Earth?”

There is a difference between appreciating another culture and appropriating it. This article explains the difference.

Research and find two songs that you think are examples of cultural appropriation and cultural appreciation. Write a brief paragraph or create a vlog on why you have come to this conclusion. You might want to consider who is singing the song, the historical and social context of the song and how the artist profited from the music they made.

When you have finished, remember to include your work in your portfolio.

Books

Click on a book to buy it from Amazon. Or, you can ask for them at your local library.

Read Aloud Books