The Beginning of African American Culture

By: Whitney Holmes

One of the best things about the African American race is the amount of culture there is within the black community. Food, clothing, language, and history are just a few things the black community has contributed to American society. However, the most significant thing African Americans have contributed to American society and the world would be music. Today, playing a little bit of R&B or hip hop at a cookout or party with lots of black people always brings a sense of community to the people. African American musicians have provided this feeling of unity to the rest of the country and world for centuries.

When Africans were first transported to the New World, they did not bring much, materialistically, on the long journey across the Atlantic. As much as history books and ancestors of Europeans tend to make it seem as if the African slaves were completely incompotent, folk music proves that they were the complete opposite. Before today’s beloved R&B, hip-hop, and rap culture there was secular folk music. Folk music served as a form of communication for the slaves and a form of entertainment for both slaves and slaveowners. Because slaves obviously could not bring over instruments or belongings from Africa, they created their own when they arrived to the New World. One of the most significant instruments created was the banjo. The banjo served as an instrument used by slaves aboard the ships that brought slaves over from Africa. The European crews would force the slaves to entertain them on the long journeys across the Atlantic. Many African slaves began to create their own versions of the banjo in the New World as well. Although instruments are always a nice addition to music, African slaves did not need them to create music. The call-response styled music incorporated a combination of body motions, sounds, and calling out in a melodic fashion. This type of communication was the beginning of a phenomenom in African American music and culture.

Acculturation is definitely the most important element of folk music. Many view acculturation as a negative thing considering the African slaves were forced to let go of many African traditions. Although, the loss of African traditions is a very sad thing, a lot resulted from the forced acculturation of these African slaves. Because slaves were brought to a new part of the world so abruptly, they were forced to adapt to their new living conditions. This adaptive process included learning new languages or finding a universal source of communication, embracing European culture, and simply surviving the harsh conditions in which they were forced in. Folk music served as all three of these. Protest and work songs became a way of communication between slaves that would protect them against their owners. During a typical work day, they would carry out their duties in a rhythmic manner that would not only help pass the day by quicker, but they would also allow everyone to stay on task. Protest songs were used to guide runaways to freedom in the North and make fun of slaveowners and their families without them catching on. Considering that Africa is made up of different countries, tribes, people, and most importantly languages, music became an universal type of communication for the slaves. La Calinda and Creole songs were a type of folk music that combined African and European culture. Because Louisiana and territory surrounding Louisiana was heavily populated with African slaves and owned by the French and Spanish, creole music became a unique type of folk music that is still very relevant today.

Folk music demonstrates just how brilliant African slaves were. It disproves the ongoing false history of slaves being ignorant and incompetent. Considering how superior black musicians reign today to almost all others in the world today, it is evident that African slaves sparked the significant role of music in the African American community.


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