Music in the folk genre originated from the struggles of oppressed African Americans, most specifically in slavery. In order to preserve a sense of culture and sense of community in such dire times, slaves would create ways of communication through folk music, for example, during field time, they would implement a Call and Response song structure. Masters were often unable to comprehend this type of communication between slaves, so information was able to spread between the masses. Folk allowed slaves to work while also uplifting one another, relating to one another’s feelings, and celebrating/creating tradition and african culture. Slaves in fact created the first prototypes of the characteristics at the heart of folk music, for example a banjo-like instrument with materials around the plantation and “patting juba”, a dance method where one uses their body as means of percussion during songs and dance (this is practiced in churches as well, including present day). Masters tried their hardest to suppress slaves, but through folk they prospered.
Important performers of folk music include Simeon Gilliat (afro-american fiddler), Harry Belafonte, Richie Havens, Babatunde Olatunji, and Toumani Diabaté. These artists not only performed folk, but also were activists for africans and african americans. Folk music has influenced almost all genres of music, from blues to gospel to hip-hop. For example, Common raps of African Americans oppression, as well did N.W.A. These artists have very different styles of rapping, but both pull from the true feelings of marginalization, suppression, and oppression rooted in folk music. The inspiration stems from the marginalized people coming together and creating music for one another. Folk music did not only influence other genres, but also movements such as the civil rights movement. In conclusion, folk music is critical to African American artists advancement and progression in music.
Examples of folk music are linked below: