The inviting looseness of African music

I’m starting a new book, Highway 61 Revisited, about the influence of jazz on American music. My musical interests have tended toward African music but I’ve always listened to jazz without understanding it very much. I did not understand what the delight was in the way jazz musicians dealt with a popular, even banal tune, the Tin Pan Alley sort of lounge act song.
Some time ago Afro-Pop, the several decades long-running radio show on the music of the African Diaspora, ran an interview with an African pop musician. He told of inviting a traditional Congolese musician to his place and telling him he could play around on his electronic keyboard, curious as to what he might produce.
The traditional musician transposed his African sounds to the keyboard. As the pop musician was listening, he got to wondering why Africans had never developed chords as Europeans had. The elements were all there but, as displayed by the traditional musician extracting great sounds from the keys, there were no chords. Then he realized; African music, despite solo playing on flutes and sanzas, is quintessentially a social music. People join in in a variety of ways: hand clapping, foot stomping, rattle shaking, dancing, singing, shouting, and so forth, so there has to be room in the music for each person to insert his own contribution. Chords are tight, leaving no room for such insertions. Both musical traditions, European and African, have developed to extremely high degrees and their interaction in the Americas of the slave trade gave birth to the world’s music.
That got me to thinking about what I’d read about jazz and how the musicians were forever “taking apart” the chord structure and that that was apparently what delighted the musicians and their fans. I had always focused on the rhythm, but the “melodic line” had frequently left me less than delighted. I guess I just never had an instinctive feel for the chords and therefore what the musicians were doing to them. Recently, I read Ruth Stone’s book on Kpelle music (Liberia) and how one of the highlights of a performance is taking a piece of music apart and then artfully putting it back together: exactly a jazz performance!
How did this fit into the enormous popularity of jazz and its offshoots in the modern world? What I see happening, even in the late 19th century with ragtime, is a looseness, occasioned by this open structure in African-derived music, that invites people in. We often see outsiders to Black music misinterpreting the rhythm as a single pounding “beat”, but aficionados know how to dance between the beats, as it’s often expressed, exactly what the pop musician saw and Ruth Stone explicated (in Dried Millet Breaking). An incredible example of these interlocking, interweaving rhythmic lines is heard in this Afro-Cuban homenaje:

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