Evolution of African American Music
Music and literature have always helped shape civilization. People have always written and sang about the times. Socio-political conditions have always had strong effects on people. This is especially so with African Americans. African Americans have been through some rough times, dating back to when they were torn from their homeland of Africa to become slaves, all the way up until the present where African Americans are still somewhat oppressed in some areas.
However, many African Americans found music and literature as an escape.These medias allowed them to express themselves and say what was in their hearts In minds without the fear of being blasted for It. While of course throughout history there have been some things that are controversial, music and literature have become the ultimate forms of expression. An original form of black music and literature truly began to arise when the blacks were oppressed into slavery. Many of them were uneducated, illiterate and weren’t allowed to communicate with others. However, they did have a great sense of oral tradition.African Americans found the oral tradition to be very functional, because It as the only way for them to communicate with each other.
Means of communication included works songs, courting songs, folk tales, and riddles. These methods date back to Western African tribes, who spoke different languages and were not always able to verbally communicate, but one tribe would pick-up the music of another and adapt it to make it their own. This was the music that became the foundation of American music. We would never have any drums had it not been for the Africans. While many slaves were considered uneducated, they made up for It by being Innovative.Eventually, the drums were taken away from the slaves because owners finally caught on to the communication patterns that the slaves used the drums for. However, that did not stop them.
It was around this time when the work song truly began to arise as the dominant form of African American music. The purpose of work songs was to both communicate with each other and to pass time. Work songs were often antiphonal (call and response), where one person would begin a song and another person would respond to it. However, these calls and responses were actually hidden messages for the slaves to share with each other.During this time, many -Africans were polytheistic. Singing songs were sometimes life-saving to them, because it was a way to get through the day. They believed that eventually salvation would come as long as they remained hopeful and believed.
Eventually, they were right. Another type of song that was very functional during this period was the signal song. Signal songs were songs that sent coded messages to other slaves. Signal songs often used biblical references, because in the Bible there are similar stories of oppression. In these songs there were certain code words. The words “Promise Land” referred to the North.Babylon” referred to the South.
Any reference too chariot or wheels meant it was time to move, and the word “home” came to mean underground Railroad. One of the best examples of a signal song Is Paul Robertson’s “Go Down salvation. This song was important, because Robertson compared Moses leading the Hebrews to salvation to the blacks one day being led towards salvation. W. E. B. Dubious was an African American scholar who has done many great things for the black community.
Dubious made a claim about sorrow songs saying that it is the only authentic American music. An important note to that statement is thatDubious meant that it is the only authentic American type of music, not African American, because these people were no longer African Americans but in fact born and raised in America. All other types of music during that time were imported. African Americans were as American as their music. However, while work songs were not the most popular type of music, the songs themselves were preserved because of their major contributions to culture. The Fist Jubilee Singers helped keep these songs alive. The Fist Jubilee Singers were a group of traveling musicians from Fist University that traveled to raise money for their school.
These college students were a major factor in the spread of these songs, because they spread the music to a wider audience and showed that the music did in fact have artistic merit. Work songs were truly the first original type of American music and made a major impact on the African American community. They were functional, they were helpful and they were beautiful. After African Americans were finally free from slavery their music evolved. Many former slaves and first generation born African Americans began to change the way African Americans saw music.Sorrow songs, courting songs and folk songs were now he dominant type of music. These songs documented early slave music from the 19th century.
They were played with crude musical instruments, including the xylophone, drums, banjo and most importantly the human voice. The purpose of these songs was to both preserve and document the history and culture. Many first generation slaves merged these African songs with Christian hymns. As previously mentioned, the slaves aligned themselves with biblical figures and that had a major effect on their music. The blues arose shortly after.The blues were mainly created by former slave during the reconstruction period. Instruments included the banjo, harmonica and again most importantly, the human voice.
The blues began in the southern states but quickly expanded. During the time period when the blues were created, African Americans were newly freedmen. The Freedman’s Bureau was created to help the freed slaves. However, sharecropping quickly became a type of neo-slavery, because sharecroppers were always in debt to their owner. Now, they were in debt, but had no place to go and nobody to give them food or shelter.Former slaves were promised 40 acres of land and a mule to work with, but few actually received this. There were many different types of blues singers.
One type of blues singer was the primitive blues singers. Primitive blues singers were men who sang for themselves and usually performed using a guitar or harmonica. Their goal was self- expression. Their lyrics were very private and very personal, but the audience was able to take their own message from it. They had limited musical accompaniment. They tried to become financially independent, because doing so would make them much better off.Then there were the classic blues singers.
Classic blues singers were vaudeville and minstrel shows. They were paid for their singing and often had very professional careers. They often had musical accompaniment and led to the development of race records. The blues had many central themes that reflected the struggles that the African American people had been through. These included lost love, poverty, infidelity, traveling, migration and significant historical events. While the blues were originally from the South, they did spread to many regions of the United States.Each one of these regions developed their own style of blues.
These styles included the Mississippi blues, Delta blues, West Coast blues, Memphis blues, Texas lees and Chicago blues, Just to name a few. The blues truly opened up the window of opportunity for the new wave of freedmen. Music was at its crossroads and the blues took it somewhere that it had never been before. Both men and women were now given the opportunity to use music to provide for themselves and make a living, which is an opportunity that African Americans had never had before. The blues also led to the development of many other types of music.The blues are more than prominent in several of the texts gone over in class. “Sonny’s Blues” is perhaps the best personification of the blues.
In the story, Sonny is an aspiring musician who lives with his brother and has very little. Sonny goes out to jazz clubs and listens to music and is inspired. His brother does not understand and eventually Sonny starts partaking in some less than favorable behavior and becomes addicted to heroin. When Sonny’s brother finally has to step in to save Sonny he goes with Sonny to listen to blues music and his whole thought process is changed.He realized that blues was a medium for people to express their grief and sorrows without the fear of being Judged, because it was all part of the music. After finally understanding what Sonny’s music was all about, his brother embraced it and he and Sonny were able to better their own lives because of Sonny’s musical career, that brought them to the greener grass on the other side of Central Park where they were able to establish a better life for themselves. This is what the blues was all about.
Those who had little and had been through rough times worked to reach a better life.Many of those who put in the work made it, but still never forgot about the hard times that they had been through and they put that message in their music. Similar themes are also dominant in Zorn Neal Harpoon’s novel Their Eyes Were Watching God. This novel is about a black female named Jeanie. Throughout the novel, Jeanie is met with infidelity, racism and sexual politics. Jeanie was a classical blues singer, who was bold, independent and traveled around telling her story. Through her travels, Jeanie creates an identity for herself and overcomes the obstacles she has faced.
Again, this is what the blues was about.Jeanie went through many rough times, but in the end she came out on top, but never forgot about those rough times. Jazz was the genre of music most influenced by the blues. Jazz is a form of music that is very improvisational, in that no two performances are ever the same. Jazz is repetitive, unpredictable, and often featured personal narratives of tales from the musician’s life. Jazz music has a very basic melody, but each musician brings their own interpretation to that melody. One musician may take the melody and play it fast and upbeat, while another plays it slow and deep.
That is the beauty of Jazz, because while Jazz musicians play as an ensemble, they also simultaneously perform The blues were the foundation of Jazz music. Jazz music is made up of rag time piano music, military marching bands and of course the blues itself. Jazz music began to develop in the sass. Like the blues, Jazz also has many different styles. While it originated in New Orleans, traveling musicians spread it to pretty much everywhere, including Chicago, Kansas City, New York, and even overseas to England and France. The sass are considered the Jazz Age.The sass and sass are considered the Bebop Age.
From the sass to the sass Latin Jazz became very popular and from the sass to sass Cool Jazz reigned supreme. Other styles of Jazz include Dixieland, Freestyle, Acid and Swing Style, which featured musicians playing in synch with one unified melody and tune. Blues being the foundation of Jazz music is clear in Toni Morrison novel Jazz. In this novel, there is lost love between the main characters Violet and Joe, infidelity when Joe cheats on Violet with a much younger woman name Dorsa and many of the other aforementioned themes.This novel was significant because it was experimental. It was a non-linear comment on history. The characters in the novel are unpredictable, which makes the narrator unreliable.
This worked, because it was just like Jazz music: unpredictable. Jazz is unique in that it can be played in so many different ways. Due to the fact that Jazz is so improvisational, basically anything goes. There is a combination of ensemble and solo acts. Brass band instruments are a huge part of Jazz, but that doesn’t lessen the usage of guitars, piano or drums.Even different styles of singing are incorporated into Jazz. Of course there is lyrical Jazz, where the singer tells a story within the music, but then there is also scat singing which is Just a singer make sounds that go with the melody.
As all of these different factors show, Jazz is unique because the possibilities are endless. During the sass, a new music form began to gain some popularity in America. This music was reggae music. Reggae music was always very popular in Jamaica, because that it where it originated.However, it grew more and more popular as its most famous musician, Bob Marble, grew more and more popular. Many American musicians did covers of Bob Marbles songs, such as Eric Clayton whose cover of “l Shot the Sheriff’ is a very famous song. The incorporation of reggae lyrics into American music caused the style to gain global significance.
Reggae music was all about peace and harmony. Its goal was to get across a message to stand up for one’s self and always do the right thing while still doing so in a peaceful way. Reggae music is still popular today, but for other reasons.Many reggae musicians’ images have been diluted for marketing tactics and have been made into figureheads for pot smokers. However, reggae artists smoked pot for religious reasons rather than recreational usage. Their message was about peace, not drugs, and it is a shame that so many people today don’t see that message. Reggae was also a major influence on he next style of music that came about, hip hop.
Jazz and reggae were followed by a very new style of music called hip hop. Hip hop originated during the sass is New York City, specifically in the Bronx.While hip hop is a type of musical expression it also contains an artistic subculture that originated in African American and Hispanic communities during this time period. Hip hop music consists of spoken poetry. This Also, hip hop music was different because most of the time the person speaking spoke over recorded mixes of instruments, usually from electronic drums and other electronic instruments. While hip hop started out as a small subculture in New York City, it quickly expanded and is now considered to be a worldwide subculture that consists of rapping, Digging, hip hop dancing (break dancing) and graffiti.These four things comprise the Four Pillars of Hip Hop.
Hip hop has become such an important type of music because it was nothing like anything that came before it. Hip hops roots are a mixture of reggae, funk and disco. Hip hop really created a musical divide between the west and the rest of the world. Hip hop was more American than anything else, because when the songs were reinstated into other languages they Just didn’t sound right, because it was impossible to maintain the same rhythm. Hip hop was important to society because it helped reduce inner-city gang violence.Rather than have a physical confrontation, gangs would instead have hip hop battles, whether in the form of rap, dance or graffiti. However, that quickly changed.
In the early sass, hip hop became related to crime. Rappers themselves were putting strong emphasis on topics such as violence, drugs, weapons and other non-favorable topics. If somebody tagged over somebody else’s graffiti, a fight was sure to ensue. If somebody stole somebody rap or dance moves, they were going to pay for it. What started as a new form of music for people to express themselves ended up becoming a blood bath in some cases.East coast versus west coast battles ensued, that ultimately ended with the deaths of two of the greatest rappers ever, Biggie Smalls and Tuba Shaker. The association that hip hop music had with drugs and violence still somewhat exists today but to a much lesser extent.
Some critics argue that hip hop has lost its roots, as now many rappers simply rap about popular topics such as girls, money and drugs. When hip hop first arose, rappers spoke about what they felt and used rap as a form of self-expression. They rapped about what was in their hearts. Hip hop also gave many aspiring musicians a shot to make it big.Anybody could be a rapper as long as they had heart. All it took was self-expression. It wasn’t as important to have a good voice or instrumental talent because people were listening more to the lyrics than they were to the music.
Many rappers did whatever it took to make it big. Just as Jay-Z describes in his book Decoded, he sold crack and cocaine in the ass to support himself, because it was hat he had to do. Now, he is the second highest grossing rapper in the world. This is an example of how committed hip hop musicians became to their work, because they truly believed in it.Many rappers came from families that had nothing, which is why they tried so hard to make it big. Jay-G’s Decoded is a memoir of the struggles that Jay-Z has gone through to get where he is today. The book discusses musical anthropology and musical criticism.
Jay-Z argues that rap is a legitimate art form, which to him it truly is. However, many may argue and say that rap is Just a bunch of lures and curse words thrown together. In some cases they are right, because rap has evolved into bubble gum rap that talks about what the average rap fan wants to here.However, those that truly appreciate music can understand where Jay-Z is coming from, because good rap music always gets a message or a lesson across, famous musicians are of African American descent. Louis Armstrong is known as one of the founding fathers of Jazz. Ray Charles is known as “The Genius”; a blind man who still was an amazing singer, songwriter and pianist. John Coloration was an influential saxophonist with a sound like no other.
Ella Fitzgerald is known as “The First Lady of Song” and really opened the door for other female musicians to follow in her footsteps.Dizzy Gillespie was also one of the founding fathers of Jazz and the inventor of bebop. Scott Joplin was known as the “King of Ragtime” for his classic rags on the piano, and of course B. B. King was known as “The King of Blues”. Ma Rained was known as the first great blues singer, and recorded over 100 recordings under the Paramount label. Bessie Smith was the “Empress of the Blues”.
Jimmy Hendrix is considered the greatest guitar player ever. All of these people together have had such an effect on the world with their music, because music can truly change the world.Their music helped shape society into what it is today. Their struggles to the top and the messages that their music portrays is what made them great and is why we remember them in the ways that we do. Music is something that will only continue to evolve as time goes on. Nobody can predict what will be popular next and that is what makes music great. The unpredictability factor makes music exciting, because it is rare for a completely new style of music to arise, but rather a former Tyler of music will evolve into something new and spectacular.