The Origins of African American Music

For centuries, music has brought African American communities together. The origins of African American music can be traced all the way back to slavery. Music was used as an outlet to express emotions like pain, happiness, sadness, anger, depression, anxiety, and etc. This brought communities together because the music allowed people to relate to each other. Another example of how music has brought communities together is through rituals, religious reasons, funerals, and even weddings. Different forms of sounds, such as clapping, stomping, screaming, singing, and instruments are used to create and perform music. That, I believe, is why it brings communities together since it can take a group of people to make a particular sound. Additionally, music is so creative that it can be made with one’s own created words. Slaves, for example, would make music with hidden meanings by combining English with self-created phrases unknown to other cultures. Furthermore, African American music differed from European music because of the use of instruments. Europeans viewed the music as eccentric because of the use of stomping and screaming to portray instruments. Finally, Call and Response and Repetitive Tone are the two most frequent musical structures in African American music. These techniques were utilized in rituals and are still used in music today, such as rap, to engage the community.

“Wade in the Water” is a famous negro spiritual. It is a powerful song that expresses the pain and faith African Americans had to endure.

“I be So Glad… When the Sun Goes Down” is a negro spiritual also known as a work song. This song includes call and response technique and instruments like the tambourine.

“Hold On” is a negro spiritual that focuses on having faith and holding on to faith. I chose this specific video because I want to show how negro spirituals are still sung today.



djembe or jembe is a rope-tuned skin-covered goblet drum played with bare hands, originally from West Africa.


The bones, also known as rhythm bones, are animal bone-based folk instruments. They are played on pieces of wood or similar material and replace drum sticks.


The African thumb piano, also known as the kalimba, is a unique percussion instrument made up of a soundbox or soundboard and a number of thin metal blades (keys).

Banjar/ Banjo

The banjo is a stringed instrument composed of wood, twine, and animal hide that is comparable to a guitar. Slave masters would ask slaves to play songs for them with this instrument.

Pattin Juba /Hambone

The Hambone is the act of drumming using one’s own body.  It is an African-American dance form in which the arms, legs, and chest are stomped, slapped, and patted. 

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