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Africanisms refers to characteristics of African culture that can be traced through societal practices and institutions of the African diaspora.[1] Throughout history, the dispersed descendants of African people have retained many forms of their ancestral African culture. Also, common throughout history is the misunderstanding of these remittances[2] and their meanings.


Africanisms are incorporated in American English. No African artefacts survived slavery to become part of African American culture. Although physical artifacts could not be kept by slaves because of their enslaved status, “Subtler linguistic and communicative artefacts were sustained and embellished by the Africans’ creativity.”[3]

The language spoken by African Americans is greatly influenced by the phonological and syntactic structures of African languages. African American language were not initially studied, because scholars thought Africans had no culture. “Recent linguistic studies define a language variously referred to as Black English, African American English, or, more appropriately, Ebonics.”[4] Some West African languages do not explicitly distinguish past and present. Instead, context allows statements to be interpreted as past or present. The early language associated with cowboy culture came from Africa. The word "buckaroo" is an Efik or Ibibio word from Mbakara. African words that became part of the American language include banana, jazz, boogie and zombie.


Secular Music[edit]

Africanism entered African-American secular music in the 19th century and continued to influence music thereafter. Music derived from African roots and traditions set the foundation for much of what became known as American music. The blues is a secular genre that came straight from west Africa to the United States via the slave trade. The music featured polyrhythms, call and response figures, loose blues forms, a blues scale, and vocalizations that are different from western music.

African music became the foundation for jazz. In New Orleans, a city filled with predominantly French slave owners, Creoles were given more rights due to their lighter skin complexion. Creoles were the offspring of French slave owners and their slaves. They were given the opportunity to be classically-trained as musicians, where they learned western music theory. In the late 19th century, with the adoption of Jim Crow laws, all freed slaves were considered legally equal regardless of their complexion. This led to the fusion of western art music and black art music. This innovation led to all African-American secular music that followed, which includes blues, jazz, rhythm and blues, rock & roll, soul music, jazz-rock fusion, disco, funk, hip-hop and others. The underlying elements of these genres can all be traced back to the musical elements derived from West Africa during the formation of the blues genre.

Sacred Music[edit]

Sacred music was passed down as a result of Reconstruction. During Reconstruction, slaves sang “negro spirituals” such as "Go Down Moses"as a way to ease their pain and give praise to their Lord. Sacred music is music with religious themes. This music remains prevalent and relevant through gospel music and church hymns. According to the Pew Research Center, almost 80% of African Americans self-identify as Christian. Negro spirituals during slavery brought together a community, and praising the Lord through song later performed that function. Negro spirituals were a way that American slaves expressed themselves and conveyed support and hope to other slaves. This music remains the foundation of the African American experience. Additionally, it influenced other races and cultures. “... African Americans recognized the richness of these religious folk songs and were quick to bring them to European art music practices such as those found in unaccompanied choral motets and vocal art songs.”[5]


Another influential aspect of African- American culture is food. Food has impacted American cuisine. During the African slave trade were many foods accompanied them, including okra, rice and collard greens,. Okra, is a green vegetable originally from Ethiopia. It appears in a variety of soups, stews and rice dishes. Recipes also arrived in the new world. Slaves were given foods that they used to cook and create dishes. These dishes became known as soul food with origins in former slave states. Many of these recipes continue to be popular and became one of the most well-known aspects of African- American culture.


In Africa, tribes danced to the beat of drums. These tribes would match the drum beat to their body movement to dance. This practice crossed the ocean with the enslaved. One dance that was adopted into the broader American culture is the Charleston. The Charleston was adapted from the ancient African dance called Ashanti. Ashanti and the Charleston have common movements. Similar dances were performed across the American South during slavery. ”The Charleston is a dance that was performed by the descendants of African slaves in the American south. Like its sister vernacular form, jazz, from which it takes its rhythmic propulsion, it is a blend of African and European sources, and it has had a broad influence on American life and art. The name derives from the fact that the dance was supposedly seen performed by black dockworkers in Charleston, South Carolina. It is probable that they came from one of the black communities on an island off the coast.”[6] In 1923 the Charleston was made popular by African-American James P. Johnson.


Traditional African religions are not similar to later practice. These traditional religions are not supported by doctrine and are practised through living experiences, rituals and ceremonies. These non-doctrinal traditions made enabled cultural diffusion through trade routes that impacted Africa. Islam and Christianity became significant influences on African religion. Like traditional African religions, they are monotheistic and look to spiritual leaders as a guide through their teachings. These beliefs spread throughout Africa and later developed in the Americas. Christianity was adopted by slaves and used as a coping mechanism at the beginning of the 18th century. Later on, religions were combined and adopted other practices. Sects such as Baptists, Methodists, and Pentecostalists supported education, spirituality, and political views. Christianity offered a way for African-Americans to interpret their oppression and maintain hope.


  1. ^ "Africanism". Merriam-Webster. Encyclopædia Britannica Company. Retrieved June 30, 2015.
  2. ^ "USA/Africa Dialogue, No 447: Africanisms in the Americas". Retrieved 2017-01-30.
  3. ^ Holloway 65
  4. ^ Holloway 68
  5. ^ Sharp, 95
  6. ^ Lille 1

[1] [2] [3] [4] [5] [6] [7] [8] [9] [10] [11] [12] [13] [14] [15] [16]

Additional Resources[edit]



  1. ^ Asante, Molefi Kete. “Three: African Elements in African American English .” Africanisms in American Culture , edited by Joseph E. Holloway, Second ed., Indiana University Press , 2005, pp. 65–81.
  2. ^ Gridley, Mark C. Jazz Styles. 11th ed., Pearson, 2014.
  3. ^ Sharp, Timothy W. “Hallelujah! Spirituals: America's Original Contribution to World Sacred Music.” The Choral Journal, vol. 43, no. 8, 2003, pp. 95–99. JSTOR, JSTOR,
  4. ^ doucetteb Follow. “Africanisms.” LinkedIn SlideShare, 18 May 2011,
  5. ^ "Africanisms.". “Africanisms.” The Columbia Encyclopedia, 6th Ed,, 2018,
  6. ^ Africanism". Merriam-Webster. Encyclopædia Britannica Company. Retrieved December 5, 2018.
  7. ^ Lewis, Steven. “Roots of African American Music.” Museum Conservation Institute Stain Removal, Smithsonian Institution,
  8. ^ Masci, David. “5 Facts about Blacks and Religion in America.” Pew Research Center, Pew Research Center, 7 Feb. 2018,
  9. ^ “Music Term: Sacred Music.” Cantata - Definition (Artopium's Music Dictionary),
  10. ^ Terrell, Dontaira. “The Untold Impact of African Culture on American Culture.” Atlanta Black Star, Atlanta Black Star, 3 June 2015,
  11. ^ “United States African Americans.” Food in Every Country,
  12. ^ Hayford, Vanessa, and Vanessa. “The Humble History of Soul Food.” BLACK FOODIE,
  13. ^ doucetteb Follow. “Africanisms.” LinkedIn SlideShare, 18 May 2011,
  14. ^ “15 Facts on African Religions.” OUPblog, 1 Oct. 2014,
  15. ^ Weisenfeld, Judith. “Religion in African American History.” Oxford Research Encyclopedias, 8 June 2017,
  16. ^ Sahoboss. “African Traditional Religion.” South African History Online, 3 May 2018,
  17. ^ Spencer, Jon M. The Rhythms of Black Folk: Race, Religion, and Pan-Africanism. Trenton, N.J: Africa World Press, 1995. Print.
  18. ^ Mbiti, John Samuel. Introduction to African Religion. Heinemann, 1989.