Folk: A Unique Language in Music

What do you think about when you think of Folk Music? Do you think of a man white playing the banjo in the country? Well, it’s actually the complete opposite of that. Folk Music was created by African Americans during enslavement to express themselves freely as they were already stripped of their culture and language. Folk Music was all that they had left to communicate in a unique way. Djembe is a popular instrument used in Folk Music, which is also shown in the video to the right. 

History of Folk Music

Folk Music was used as a language African Americans used to communicate with each other, especially on the fields while they were working. They often used a call-and-response on the field to spread messages to one another. Folk Music was also used to express perseverance, sorrow, or joy when slaves were freed and how they were able to overcome certain obstacles. Even though Folk Music was something that was a language between the African Americans, whites often made a mockery of their music by putting on a performance for an audience using over exaggerated, silly facial expressions and movements using blackface. 

Rhiannon Giddens: A Voice in Folk Music

Rhiannon Giddens is a well-known Folk artist born in Greensboro, North Carolina. Her very first instrument was a banjo, which she uses often in her songs. As a child, she was aware of her roots being in a predominantly black community. Her latest hit, “Don’t Call Me Names,” is made to defend herself against men who feel they have authority over her and women which also connects with enslaved African Americans protesting their feelings into Folk songs. 

Folk Instruments Rhiannon Giddens Uses




Final Thoughts...

Often, people perceive folk music as a form of music created by the white man. We see silly cartoons with a white man in ragged clothes in the country playing the banjo, and all of the sudden we believe that’s where the banjo came from. However, having the proper education about where Folk Music comes from and how it is used as a language for African Americans, we have a new perception about this genre of music. Rhiannon Giddens is one of the artists that changed that perception. Her music is filled with different rhythms and tones where she concentrates on slow music with the banjo being the most prominent instrument in her songs. She tells a story with her music in which she addresses her audience her story. 

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