What is African Folk Music?


 Music was a key element in all healing and religous ritualsFolk music originated in the 18th century, when the enslaved Africans were forced to come over to new land. It was a way to tell their story during that time. Because they were forced into a new area without any of their original instruments, they had to be creative.They made instruments such as the tambourine and djembe but they also used their bodies calling that syle “hand bones”. It was a compilation of songs and music made while on the slave ships as well as their time working as slaves. Folk music arises from the hymns and spirituals of the enslaved Africans in America, influenced by their struggles. Folk music communicates the faith and pain.

Primary Performancers of African Folk Music

Odetta Holmes 


Anointed as the queen of American folk music, Odetta Holmes, was an American singer, actress, guitarist, songwriter, and civil and human rights activist often referred to as The Voice of the Civil Rights Movement.

Elizabeth Cotten 


One of the most influential singer-songwriters in folk music, Elizabeth Cotten didn’t receive recognition until she was an old woman, after taking a housekeeping job in the home of the Seeger family. Her classic song “Freight Train” has been covered by generations, and her upside down signature guitar style has been attempted by all types of players

Types of Styles



A method of folk music where the lead calls out a line and the other singers respond by repeating the phrase

Patting Juba 


A style of dance often performed with African American folk music that included stomping and patting and slapping of the arms, chest, legs and helped to express the stories of the music

Work Songs 


Mainly sung during the work day that requires more than one person for each task. Work songs helped provide encouragement to works on keep rhythm 

Types of Instruments



A stringed instrument that came to America with the slaves. A similar version of this instrument in today’s society is the guiatar



A very popular West African instrument, the drum is a single piece of wood topped with animal skin as a drumhead



A West African percussion instrument consisting of beads woven around a net covering the gourd 



A small frame drum consisting of a wooden frame, metal jingles called “pills” topped with animal skin as the drumhead


I believe almost every aspect of folk music has been carried over by African Americans in today’s music. Starting from the purpose of folk music; folk music was originated by slaves in the transatlantic slave trade to come together and express their story. Music was a key element in all healing and religious rituals. Africans came here with nothing so music was the only thing that they could not only possess but pass down from generation to generation. This was also their way of the community from singing work songs during the day to patting juba at night gatherings. Bringing that into the 21st-century, artists use the same concept of telling their stories into their music and relate it to others. Another influential style of folk music that has been brought into today’s society is call and response. Call and Response is a style of folk music when a lead singer would start by calling out a line and the other singers would respond by repeating that line. We see that today in a variety of styles from hip hop to gospel. An instrument that has been brought to today’s music from folk music is the banjo. The banjo is a string instrument with a long membrane brought from Africa. We see a similar version of the banjo, the guitar used in styles such as country. Overall folk music has been the blueprint for music today and has allowed our people to come together as one.

What's your password?

Login to your account

This website uses cookies to ensure you get the best experience on our website.