Folk Music

Juba Dance — Image by © Bettmann/CORBIS

Secular Folk Music originated well before the early seventeenth century.  Music was a part of the everyday life of the people of Africa. It was less of a performance and more of a group activity where everyone was able to participate. Music styles and characteristics recognized in folk music such as call and response and poly-rhythms contributed to a sound that resonated with African Culture. Instruments like the banjo and the drums gave rhythmic support to dancing. Along with these instruments, hand clapping was another activity that accompanied the folk music. “Patting Juba” was an extension of simple hand clapping, described as striking the hands on the knees, and then clapping one’s hands. As slaves arrived in the Americas they were stripped of everything, and essentially left culturally naked.  Secular Folk music served to establish African American music as a part of an African cultural continuum.


Important folk performers include Gertrude Morgan and Lead Belly. Myths regarding Secular Folk Music circulated throughout the New World. Folk music among Africans was typically ignored, as it was believed that all secular music and dancing was sinful. The commodification of folk music was a result of European acculturation. Despite all of the African history associated with folk music, when we think of folk music now, one may assume a white man playing the banjo. From children’s game songs, work songs, Creole songs, and protest songs, it is important that we are recognizing folk music as a staple in African culture and music.

– By: Erin Alford and Deja Cabiness


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