Playing among the notes

Listening to a very old tape of the program Afro-Pop with George Collinet, I heard his interview with a Congolese key boardist who had invited an elderly balafon player to his home where his Fender Rhodes electric piano sat. Eventually, the old musician touched the piano and began playing a familiar piece which the interviewee played for us. He noted how his people did not like chords. Why? This is fascinating: because each note must be separate so it can fit into the rhythmic pattern. If chords are used, they crowd out other contributions and African music is above all social, everyone adds something in and room must be available.
I can sense intuitively what he is saying and it was a revelation to hear that. But I don’t know how that would be expressed in terms of musical theory.

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