Folk: The Beginning of African-American Music

The Origin and Influences of Folk Music

Folk music is one of the first forms of music of early black people in America. Before black people came across the Middle Passage due to the Transatlantic Slave Trade, there were in West Africa with their own cultures and traditions. Music and dance were huge aspects of their culture. Once slavery occurred and the came to the New World, some of their traditions carried with them. Perhaps the biggest tradition that came with them was music.

Folk music was primarily influenced by the enslavement, oppression, and persecution of black people. This music provided out an outlet and a small escape from the realities of the horrors that slaves experienced, which included, but certainly not limited to abuse, torture, rape, body mutilation, and forced labor. Folk created a sense of community and a way for blacks to express their feelings and emotions about the unbearable experience of slavery that was occurring. It was perhaps the only thing that slaves could do freely- with was sing and be open about their pain.

 

The Elements of Folk

There are a multitude of elements that create the genre of folk, such as instruments, rhythm, beat, singing, and the experiences of black people and slavery. Some of the most popular instruments of folk are the banjo, the djembe, and patting juba. A huge way black people used folk to get through their labor-filled lives was through work songs. Work songs was a way for slaves to unite and stay motivated when doing grueling tasks such as working on the plantation or on the railroads. Work songs allowed black people to express their thoughts and feelings through songs and to keep hope when their lives seemed so low and unworthy. I think work songs were one of the many ways that helped keep slaves going, mentally and psychologically strong, and sane.

Another element of folk music was syncopation and polyrhythm.
African and African-American is very distinguishable and unique because it has rhythmic complexity. These means that it does not follow the traditional, European style version of one, two, three, etc. counts. Instead, there are counts and beats in between. Black musicians were able to manipulate and change original white folk songs and make them into folk songs that resonated more with black culture. Black people were able to use their own values and innovations to invent their own style and sound of folk music and other music genres. Other elements of folk music included call-and-response, negro spirituals, and dance.

 

What were the social implications of folk?

Folk music created a sense of community, pride, and hope for African-Americans. It allowed black people to have creative expression in music and art and to be themselves. They were allowed to have something that was their own and resonated with their culture, heritage, and experiences instead of being forced to conform and adhere to the standards set by white society. This is why some white slaveholders and slave masters were threatened by folk music. In response, the slave masters took folk instruments away such as the banjo. This is also why slaves and free black people were so guarded and watched by whites- because it was a form of unity for blacks, a form of resistance, and a slap against what European, Western-styled music is supposed to look and sound like. These are all reasons that explain why the social implications of folk music are so powerful- it brought black people together and created a new aspect of western, American culture.

Folk Music Commodification

The primary performers and composers of folk music were slaves and freed African-Americans. Most of them were not paid and just sang freely from their hearts. However, there were some white people who were able to take the lyrics of the folk songs that they heard and write the songs on paper. Later, they would compose books that contained these folk songs and were able to sell them and make profit. Of course, black people were not in on this and given credit, so they made no money. This is partially how folk music became white-washed and well known into mainstream American music, but many people are unaware of the true origins of folk music.

Folk's Influence on Other Music Genres

Folk music has influenced a variety of different music genres from gospel music to blues, soul, rhythm and blues (R&B), rock n roll, pop, hip hop, and rap. Many of the speech patterns and beat patterns, such as call and response, timbre, and polyrhythms can be heard in all of these different genres. Just like a lot of folk songs tell a story and are used to relate and connect to audiences and listeners, genres such as gospel, R&B, and rap also tell stories if one listens to carefully to the lyrics. All of these different music genres has created a strong and rich culture of black music that has brought African-Americans together.

Summary & My Personal Opinion

Folk music is an early African-American music genre that originated in the United States by slaves but is influenced from West African cultures before the Transatlantic Slave Trade. Folk consists a variety of different elements primarily being the banjo, the djembe, patting juba, call-and-response, negro spirituals, and work songs. It has been profited by many whites with no credit given back to the black people themselves. However, folk music has influenced many of the genres that mainstream American culture loves that has boosted the music industry, such as gospel, R&B, hip hop, and rap.

I personally really respect the history behind folk music. I think many history textbooks and the media purposely leaves out the full context and history that black people have contributed to the music history and American society and culture in general. I think folk music and its influence continues to enrich the black community and unite African-American music and culture through more modern and mainstream music genres. This genre includes R&B, pop, hip hop, neo soul, and rap. Many of the speech patterns, rhythms, beats, and lyrics can be heard in a variety of songs by music stars such as Michael Jackson, Janet Jackson, Beyoncé, and many others.