In America, music was first introduced during the time of slavery. The slaved Africans from different ethnicities would compose their festivals, gospel, secular rhythms, and dances to assist them in dealing with their harsh realities. During this era, African Americans became famous and well-known for their songs and dances, making them the best dancers and artists at the time. This made it easy to influence and shape American music from its grassroots as it influences every single genre that the Americans have. A more American sound was created by adopting the genres and sound. Some genres influenced by African American music include Hip-Hop, Jazz, Rap, Ragtime, the Blues, Gospel, and Country music. The essay will discuss some of the ways that slave music influenced American music. The essay will discuss the subsequent evolution and development of the slave songs that led to the emergence of American music, such as Hip-Hop, Blues, and folk songs.
Figure 1: Enslaved people dancing to their composed songs
It is imperative to acknowledge that slavery songs were community-based. The songs were sung in the expression of the people’s histories, knowledge, and culture. The music during slavery, according to Graziano (278) slave music was done to show a group’s general feelings towards society. The piece showed a heavy connection between the people and what they were subjected to do. Also, as the music composers, black African’s music evolved depending on the event ad the dynamic they were changing from time to time. The adoption of African slavery music into American music varies depending on the customs and themes applied. Some of the themes applied when making the music include empowerment, human rights, perseverance, and the hardships that came with slavery.
The composition of the slave spirituals and work calls. During the slave trade, African Americans worked under stringent orders, demands, and supervision. To ensure that they didn’t feel overburdened, the people composed music on the need to feel unified and encourage one another to persevere through the significant struggles. Thus, the African Americans came up with folk songs that played a crucial role during their working hours in the field. According to (Graziano,2004), the composition of the songs was meant to pass communication and news to one another during the harsh slavery environment. Modern American songs have borrowed heavily from the significant and common aspects in the slavey folk songs. The songs have adopted the melody, the interjections, and the call-response structure that the traditional slavery melodies have adopted. Modern spiritual songs have also been influenced to contain some melodies and aim at fighting for the rights of the people, preaching about perseverance, and enabling human empowerment among the people.
The end of slavery marked a new beginning to making the modern blues. After the Emancipation Proclamation Law, federal laws were changed, resulting in the freeing of most slaves. This marked a journey for African Americans to move to cities such as Chicago and Detroit. The end of slavery was not marked with freedom but with racial discrimination and violation of human rights. Thus, most of the slavery songs that were composed were under the themes of fighting for human rights, faith, endurance, and overcoming. The fact that most African Americans were now working for the railways marked a new beginning to giving some sense of freedom. During this time, African Americans began to make songs tied to the ages and were newly given freedom. This marked the start of the making of blues, also adopted as modern blues. The fact that African Americans could now move freely made interaction with other singers possible, which made the folk blues. According to (Graziono,2004). The interaction and adoption made possible the making of the greatest hits in Blues that are made in the twentieth century that advocate for more freedom and human rights.
Figure 2: Mapping slave songs
The hip-hop songs were borrowed from the antique African drums that were made during slavery. The origin of hip-hop songs is from the African Americans who were slaved. During slavery, the people would adopt rhythms and diverse musical themes that were much dependent on their instruments. The antique drums set the rhythm for the people while the rapping would provide a peaceful and engaging moment for the enslaved people to bring out their rooted emotions which were more of dissolution. According to Floyd (116), during the slavery era, the genre of hip folk songs was made for celebrations and for the people to bring out their frustrations. During the 1980s, hip folk songs saw some changes, brought along by changes in the song themes, which now include governance, poverty, racism, and violence. The changes in the themes led to the formation of modern hip-hop songs by the Americans. With time, the themes of hip-hop songs have changed to the artists singing and rapping more on love, work, and relationships in the twentieth century.
Rock and roll music was founded during the transatlantic slave trade. The music themes and lyrics were born out of the heavy hardships that the people faced. The people would use the music to try and escape the harsh reality that the Whites created. The music was rich in the melody lines, the stringed instruments used, and the complicated rhythm they adopted. As the years passed and the enslaved people would see a narrow escape to freedom, Rock and Roll’s music was bridged with the adoption of the R& B, which was made out of spiritual songs and stories to give the people more hope of freedom (Floyd 120). This form of music borrowed the elements used for Rock and Roll, which marked the start and emergence of new music that brought out African Americans to the ling light. With time, the songs adopted the element of promoting interracial relationships, which led to massive singing and adoption in the modern world. This has been adopted for years to compose modern music.
The African Americans used musical instruments such as the Banjos to make music. With drums burning in many plantations, African Americans used various materials to develop musical instruments. Using the banjo led to the cultivation of various music styles adopted by the Africans. Some styles invented include gospel, blues, and country music. Through the use of makeshift instruments, many musical ensembles that were invented are used to date. Music defined the life and purpose of the slaves. This continued up to the end of the slave trade, and the people had to move with their newfound freedom. This brought along the African Americans to teach the people how to make music using various instruments, leading to the birth of modern music. Modern music emphasized the rhythms and use of the polyrhythms that enslaved people commonly used.
The emergence of ragtime. The music in the slave times would be improvised using a method known as ragging a tune. During this time, the people would make use of any tune to make and improvise the slave songs while they maintained the harmonic structure. Some of the musicians that define the ragtime include the Maple Leaf Rag (1899), Scott Joplin’s (1868), and the Elite Syncopation of 1902 (Graziano 270). Through the ragtime contests, the people would go over to have a standard composition defining music during the slavery period. The music would then grow to structure and incorporate three cords: the I, IV, and V. The songs were heavily rooted in those sung on the plantations. With years and improvisation, the Blues were composed out of ragtime songs with small simplicity and transformation to perfect the emotions and the coherent sound of the songs. The songs were heavily accepted by the youths, setting the pace for the start of country music.
Jazz music is modern adoption of the original art form used during slavery. Jazz music is a culmination of rhythms, cords, and elements of slave songs. The key to modern jazz and gospel music was transforming the harmonies and the harmonic structure of the various slavery songs to have more roaring twenties songs. The music came into existence before the microphone as it would be played using the horns and the banjos (Bryc et al. (46). This was after the whites banned the drums as they gained knowledge of the use of the drums by the slaves to send messages to other people. The music was adopted into modern music with the microphone, which changed jazz music’s face. The music now included guitar playing and the use of vocalists whom modern musicians have used to make up choirs for jazz. Such musicians of the twentieth century include Bing Crosby and Al Jolson, who have, with time, become some of the best jazz musicians in the United States of America. Jazz music has grown to include swing jazz which has a homophonic sing and polyphonic lines.
Musical genres such negro spirituals, sacred music, work songs, and satirical songs have grown out of slavery and have evolved with time. During slavery, music was readily made depending on the people’s activity. When working, there were work songs made by groups of laborers to give the people hope of freedom to come. The songs would also entice the people to work as they bring out their frustrations with the songs (Bryc et al. 40). The songs would also be used to communicate with other laborers and ensure that they were in contact. After slavery, there was more adoption to continue making the songs with more focus of giving the people hope to work and also sing of other aspects such as love and relationships. Slavery music set the pace for modern artists to compose songs in various genres. In the twentieth century, there are numerous categories of songs, including love, work, relationships, and ceremonial songs.
Spirituals during slavery gave birth to Gospel music. As many enslaved people turned to Christians, they were forced to adapt to singing the spirituals as hymns. The spirituals are what evolved to make up gospel music. With the end of slavery, the people were forced to adopt and form a new form of music that they could depend on to express themselves and their disappointments. The free society found themselves adopting more to the music, which, with years, led to the eventual adoption of the Gospel music in the country.
From the analysis, it is apparent that slavery is a pivotal aspect of modern music. The slavery themes and genres connect the past and the present, influencing the nature of the songs that American artists now do. Throughout the essay, there is a provision and analysis of how African American music has been adopted into modern music. The central character in this essay is the events that dictate the themes during slavery. Some of the apparent themes covered were more of oppression. The fact that African Americans were forcefully evicted and subjected to heavy work with less pay gave them a chance to thrive in music. The aspect of racial discrimination also brings out a theme that was well used for the making of the old slavery songs, which would later be adopted to be modern. Just as folk songs, work songs, and praise songs were used to instill hope and freedom and express the predicaments that the people faced, the modern music adopted from the slavery songs also highlights the new factors such as love, work, and relationships.
Bryc, K., Durand, E.Y., Macpherson, J. M., Reich, D., & Mountain, J.L. The Genetic Ancestry of African Americans, Latinos and European Americans across the United States. The American Journal of Human Genetics, 98(1), 2015, pp. 37–53.
Floyd, Samuel A. “Black Music and Writing Black music History; American Music and Narrative Strategies.” Black Music Research Journal, Vol, 28, no.1,2008, pp. 111–121.
Graziano, J. The Use of Dialect in African-American Spirituals. Popular songs and Folk songs. Black Music Research Journal, (24(2), 2004, pp. 261–286: doi: 10.2307/4145494.