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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 displayed many forms of cultural retention of their African ancestry. Also, common throughout history, is the misunderstanding of these remittances[2] and their meanings.


Africanisms are incorporated in American language today. There are no visible African artifacts in African American culture which led people to think that nothing African survived through American slavery. Although visible artifacts were not kept by slaves because of their slave holders “Subtler linguistic and communicative artifacts were sustained and embellished by the Africans’ creativity,” Holloway 65. Language spoken by African Americans is greatly influenced by the phonological and syntactic structures of their first languages.Language learned by African Americans and English spoken by an average French person derived from African languages. For a long time African American language was not studied and 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,” Holloway 68. In some West African languages there is no distinction between past and present. Depending on the context of the conversation statements can be interpreted as past or present. Early language that was associated with cowboy culture came from Africa. The work buckaroo is a Efik or Ibibio word from Mbakara. Some words that are apart of the American language now that came from Africa are banana, jazz, boogie and zombie.


Secular Music[edit]

Africanism,a feature of language or culture regarded as characteristically African, applies to African-American secular music from the 19th century through the present. Music derived from African roots and traditions are what set the foundation for almost the entirety of what has been known as American music. The blues is a secular genre that formed and came straight from west Africa to the United States via the West African slave trade. The music featured polyrhythms, call and response figures, loose blues forms, a blues scale, and a series of different vocalizations that are different from western art music. This eventually set the foundation for the music known as jazz as well. 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 musicians where they learned western theory practices. In the late 19th century, with the formation of Jim Crow laws, all freed slaves were considered equal regardless of their complexion. This led to the fusion between western art music and black art music. This innovation led to not only the foundation of jazz music but of all African-American secular music that followed, which includes: rhythm and blues, rock & roll, soul music, jazz-rock fusion, disco, funk and hip-hop. The underlying elements in the preceding genres can all be traced back to the musical elements that derived from west Africa during the formation of the blues genre.

Sacred Music[edit]

Sacred music was also passed down as a result of Reconstruction. During Reconstruction, slaves sang “negro spirituals” as a way to ease the pain and give praise to their Lord. Sacred music is essentially music with religious themes with a spiritual feel. This music is still prevalent and relevant in today’s society through gospel music and church hymns. According to the Pew Research Center, almost 80% of African Americans self-identify as Christian. The religious aspect during slavery through negro spirituals, brought together a community, and now, music praising the Lord, brings together a community. The negro spirituals were also a way that African Americans, who were slaves, expressed themselves and also, displayed support and hope to other slaves. This music has been the foundation of the African American experience for years. Additionally, this music has had its influence on other races and cultures too. Looking at what the music did, rather than, the music itself, is relevant to today’s society. “... 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.” (Sharp, 95) It is important to look at the history of Africanisms and how it affected and still affects the African American experience, as well as, the experiences of other races and cultures.


One of the most influential aspects of the African- American culture is food. Food is a major contribution that has impacted the way we view American cuisine. During the time of the New world, When slaves were being brought over from Africa also came many foods which include okra, rice, collard greens and others. Okra, which is a slimy green vegetable that originates in Ethiopia. It has been used in a variety of soups, stews, and rice dishes. It was brought over during the middle passage. Along with foods, recipes were also brought over to the new world. Slaves were given small rations of foods which is what they used to cook and create dishes with. These dishes are now more commonly known as Soul food which origins in southern states like Georgia, Mississippi, Alabama, and more. Many of these Soul food recipes are still used today and is one of the most well known aspects of African- American culture.


Dance is one of the most important parts of African and African-American culture. In Africa, tribes would heavily dance to drums. These tribes would try to match the beat of the drums to their body movement to dance in sync with the drums. This was also a common for African slaves in the United States. Many of our African-American culture comes from the American slaves. One dance that has been apart of American culture as a whole is the Charleston. The Charleston was molded from the ancient African dance called Ashanti. Ashanti and the charleston both have common movements. The dance evolved to what the Charleston is today, but before that, dances with much similarities were done all over the American South during the slave years. ”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 dock workers in Charleston, South Carolina.It is probable that they came from one of the black communities on an island off the coast.”(Lille 1) Not until 1923 was the charleston made popular by an African-American man named James P. Johnson.


Traditional African religions are not similar to the others that are practiced today. These traditional religions are not followed by doctrine and are practiced through living experiences, rituals, and ceremonies. These non-doctrine traditions made it easy for cultural diffusion through trade routes which impacted African religions. Islam and christianity became big influencers on African religion because of the similar values and ideologies it possessed. Just like traditional African religions, these religions are monotheistic and look to spiritual leaders as a guide through their teachings. These beliefs became easily spread throughout Africa and later developed in the Americas through slave trades. Christianity was used in the states amongst slaves and used during slavery as a coping mechanism in the beginning of the 18th century. Later on, different religions were combined and stemmed from other practices. Different churches were formed such as Baptist, Methodist, and Pentecostal churches and became a stepping stone to support education, spirituality, and political activist views on society. Along with this, it was a way for African-Americans to interpret meaning of the oppression that they experience and instill hope for the future.


  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.

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

Additional Resources[edit]

[17] [18]

  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.