Folk – The Voice of Resilience & Resistance


Origin :

The roots of African American Music cannot be separated from the Transatlantic Slave Trade as it is due to this forced transportation of millions of African people across the Atlantic that we have what we call hip-hop, today. The cultures from which the African people were torn and the horrific conditions into which they were thrown are major factors, that have contributed to the sound of African American music. Many of the instruments, such as the banjo and drums, that have historically been used in African American music have their most basic roots in African instruments. In addition, many features and traditions common to African American music, such as the call and response song approach have their roots in African musical tradition.

Elements of Folk Music :

African slaves are noted in history for their use of the fiddle instrument. The fiddle was used to create music ensembles. The ensembles were sometimes performed for the purpose of entertainment amongst Africans and White Americans. Though most White Americans enjoyed the music of the fiddlers and used the activity as a source of entertainment for their guests, some White Americans characterized the playing of the fiddle as evil or sinful and an act of resistance.

Children Game songs is another activity that both African children and adults liked to play. African children often observed the adults singing and dancing the games and often mimicked the patterns and movements of the adults. When African American musicians played for recreational dances amongst their own people, the music selections often included play-party songs. Many of these songs were noted to be similar to the songs of white pioneers, however they had their own African approaches to the rhythm and traditional performance practices. The Africans approach to music and and its performance influenced the uniqueness of African American folk music that is played today. 

Important Performers :

Singing in Africa often was accompanied by group work. This practice was transferred to America by slaves and was what helped them complete their work in synchronized coordination. Whenever slaves worked in groups, singing would help coordinate their movements, lift their spirits, enable slower workers to keep up with the pace and it also stalled fatigue. Singing could accompany many different tasks, such as, hoeing, planting, harvesting, picking cotton, laying railroad tracks, and cutting wood. The leaders were those who were identified to have strong voices, commanding personalities and a strong sense of rhythm. 

Social Implications :

It is noted as African tradition for lyrics to songs to be improvised and it was not difficult for this tradition to be adapted to the American scene. Most comments on the conditions of slavery were sung and intertwined into religious songs. It is noted in many history books that Harriet Tubman is said to have communicated her intentions to leave the plantation by singing a song of farewell as she walked about the land of her plantation. Other individuals would sing about their work, use singing to describe their hope of a better future or express sentiments of unhappiness and suffering. It was not long after their arrival in the new world that some states began to prohibit and ban slaves from dancing and singing – sometimes only allowing performances to be held on Sunday or certain holidays. This began after suspicion of singing being used as a method of resistance grew amongst slave owners. 

Commodification & Influence on Future Generes :

Music is a solace and has always been a medium for community-building. Music has been a voice for people during enslavement and after in the days of reconstruction and Jim Crow. Although many folk performers are not as well known and their counterparts who came along later in history, there were some African American musicians and singers during the reconstruction era that had moderate prominence. One group in particular, made up of African American university students, led by their music instructor received notoriety as the Fisk Jubilee. They sang African American folk music and religious music to white audiences to raise money for their college campus.

The rhythmic style of folk and its many elements are the basis for the music that we see in African American culture today. African American culture today contains a variation of the dances, rhythmic styles and beats that were brought to America by slaves during the transatlantic slave trade. Thus, folk is the basis from which we can derive the development of our African American music culture.

Conclusory Opinion :

Studying the origins of folk music has opened my eyes to the massive influence that music will always and forever have on all people. Music is used as a means of expression for self and for others. It is our responsibility to value music in the same way that our ancestors did, in an effort to honor them and honor who we are as African American people.

Mya Edwards

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