Blues, jazz, rock ‘n’ roll, gospel, hip-hop, Reggie, and many more such African-American music genre are among the ones that we enjoy listening to. Be it Ella Fitzgerald, Duke Ellington, or Louis Armstrong, the world has witnessed
many brilliant African artists during the slave trade era and early 20th century.
The story goes back to the time when the Africans were forced to travel through the Atlantic Ocean to the lands of America and work as slaves, in abominable conditions. Surviving in the loathsome circumstances portrayed by cruel Americans, Africans still managed to change the course of music, literature, and culture in profound ways. The resistance and resilience showed by them in the face of oppression was the catalyst for an unprecedented amount of innovation in the art of music. The African-American music is manifestly a product of the creativity and pliability of the African slaves, as they were popularly called by the Americans back then.
Hardly can we imagine the circumstances they were living in, continuously struggling for survival. The prohibition from practicing traditional religions and customs resulted in the creation of new languages and dialects by the Africans in their land of oppression. These new creations served the purpose of both connecting with an element of culture and acting as a communicative device between their fellow mates. These elements from African culture were able to subversively survive through music, among other ways and many of the songs offered coded messages. Some, like
"Follow the Drinking Gourd", "Steal away", and "Wade in the Water" contained coded instructions for an escape to the North. Scholars believe that the song "Wade in the Water" was indeed an artistic device of communication between the slaves to transmit secret codes of running away from the trails and hiding in the water. We can only imagine their
plight of survival and the courage of finding innovative ways to express themselves.
However, the slaves were allowed to take Sundays as holidays and go out for prayers. That is when the early spiritual songs known as ‘spirituals’ originated in the form of adaptations from the spiritual hymns. These songs were a way of expression for the slaves to show their longing for bodily and spiritual freedom and for relief from the hardships of slavery they were facing. Many instruments used by the African American musicians have their antecedents in African musical instruments. One of the most widely used, the "Banja" or "Banshaw," now known as the Banjo, was one of the African instruments that continued to be built and played in America. Drums too played an important role in their music creations.
With these musical instruments and the newfound freedom from slavery, emerged new genres of music such as the
blues, which truly represent the transition from African slavery to the American citizenry. “It was a genre of people who struggled to define themselves within the aftermath of slavery, the industrial revolution, and the birth of a new form of slavery.” As claimed by Jim Crow. The latest derivative of the slaves' songs is what is popularly enjoyed today by the name of ‘Hip-hop’. In hip-hop’s initial years, the music was created as a reaction to disco. With the passing years, the musical frills of disco got stripped away and what remained were just the drums and an emcee talking over beats, a rap!
Music was a source of solace, a community-builder, and a voice for hope and faith during the plight of enslavement and afterward. It was an artistic weapon in the hands of the slaves to showcase that they were strong and invincible. Music still plays a significant role in our lives and the melodious voices of African slaves will forever be cherished by the generations to come. Their music is not only a source of recreation but also a flambeau to guide us in the darkest of days.