During the transatlantic slave trade, many slaves from West Africa were stripped of their freedom and dehumanized. Though they were not able to to bring their native instruments along with them, they stayed true to their themselves and transferred their culture. It began in the Caribbean island plantations where African slaves made the banjo of gourd, animal skin, a wooden neck, and animal skin. This instrument was then transported to the southern United States. African American slaves would play the banjo while creating different timbre’s through the performance style of working songs, secular music, and much more. The Europeans were completely unaware of what the banjo was, but suddenly became amused by it when slaves were expected to play for white dances and other events for entertainment.
The rise of the fiddle through slaves
A lot of individuals have developed the idea the African American slaves were introduced to the fiddle by Europeans, however, several slaves transported in the transatlantic slave trade were from areas in which fiddling was well-known. Many are uninformed of the importance of fiddling in parts of West Africa. The fiddle is significant to various musical traditions in the culture of some tribes in West Africa. If slaves in the United States were gifted with the ability to fiddle, the were highly prized. Europeans valued it so much that they used it to primarily increase the economic productivity of slaves and for their own entertainment purposes such as dances. White people would create posters around the city that would streets the importance of finding a runaway slave who could play the fiddle.
Cultural Appropriation of Minstrel Shows
Initiated in the 1830’s, minstrel shows served for white actors to imitate stereotypes and prejudices of African American culture through their speech, singing, and dancing. This achieved the “blackface” by using paste out of burnt cork or through black grease paint. Minstrel band shows brought many African-derived instruments into mainstream such as the fiddle and banjo.
White people adopted the fiddle and banjo, but they did NOT invent it. They only learned to play these instruments so that they could rise economically, as this has been their motive behind really everything they have “created”. They had to steal from the African culture and whitewash the true history behind these instruments because they were afraid of the oppressed rising over them, the oppressors. Jim Crow was also born in the midst of the minstrel show. It developed from the name of a minstrel routine called “Jump Jim Crow” created by Thomas Dartmouth Rice. The characters in the show were depicted as “lazy and buffoonish”.
It all comes together: Country music
Now you are informed of the main two instruments that were created by Africans to later establish what is now known as country music. When you listen to country music, you can hear the blackness embraced in it from the timbre, instruments, and language. Not to degrade white country artists, but there would be no Garth Brooks, Reba McEntire, Dolly Parton, or Billy Ray Cyrus, without the beautiful creativity and imagination of Black people.
Watch famous Black Country artists here!
- Glanton, Dahleen. “THE ROOTS OF COUNTRY MUSIC.” Chicagotribune.com, 29 Aug. 2018, www.chicagotribune.com/news/ct-xpm-1998-09-16-9809190003-story.html’.
- Ken Burns: Country Music. “African American Roots and Influences in Country Music: Country Music.” PBS LearningMedia, Ken Burns: Country Music, 3 July 2020, www.pbslearningmedia.org/resource/african-american-roots-influences-video-gallery/ken-burns-country-music/support-materials/.
- Djedje, Jacqueline Cogdell. “The (Mis)Representation of African American Music: The Role of the Fiddle.” Cambridge Core, Cambridge University Press, 12 Feb. 2016, www.cambridge.org/core/journals/journal-of-the-society-for-american-music/article/misrepresentation-of-african-american-music-the-role-of-the-fiddle/63166A546740B55B8D3E845ACEB33C7C/core-reader.
- Staff, Consordini. “What Exactly Is a Banjo? History, Parts and Much More.” Consordini.com, 27 Dec. 2019, consordini.com/what-exactly-is-a-banjo/.