Music of the African diaspora

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Music of the African diaspora was mostly refined and developed during the period of slavery. Slaves did not have easy access to instruments, so vocal work took on new significance. Through chants and work songs people of African descent preserved elements of their African heritage while inventing new genres of music. The culmination of this great sublimation of musical energy into vocal work can be seen in genres as disparate as Gospel Music and Hip-Hop. The music of the African diaspora makes frequent use of ostinato, a motif or phrase which is persistently repeated at the same pitch. The repeating idea may be a rhythmic pattern, part of a tune, or a complete melody.[1] The banjo is a direct decedent of the Akonting created by the Jola people, found in Senegal, Gambia and Guinea-Bissau in West Africa. Hence, the melodic traditions of the African diaspora are probably most alive in Blues and Jazz.

Middle East[edit]


Cuba and Latin music in the Caribbean[edit]

The roots of most Cuban music forms lie in the cabildos, a form of social club among African slaves brought to the island. Traditional Afro-Cuban styles, include son, Batá and yuka and Rumba. The Cuban contradanza, which became also known as the Habanera, the first written music to be rhythmically based on an African rhythm pattern, gained international fame in the 19th century. The habanera "El Arreglito" composed by the Spanish musician Sebastian Yradier, was adapted to become one of the most famous arias in George Bizet's 1875 opera Carmen, "L'amour est un oiseau rebelle".

Dominican Republic[edit]

Bachata is a popular guitar music that originated in the Dominican Republic. Having strong African and Spanish influences, it is therefore also considered to be music of Latin America. The subjects of bachata are often romantic with tales of heartbreak and sadness. The original term used to name the genre was amargue ("bitterness", "bitter music", or "blues music"), until the more neutral term bachata became popular.

Haiti and Francophone music in the Caribbean[edit]

Haitian music is familiar to people in the English-speaking world as Méringue. It developed during the early decades of the 19th century. When jazz became popular worldwide, mini-jazz (mini-djaz in Haitian Creole) was created as Haiti's local variety. Kadans, Haitian Creole for cadence, followed the mini-jazz era. Kadans had an influence on the development of Zouk in the French-speaking Antilles of the Caribbean. Haiti's most well-known modern music genre is compas music. It was first popularized in the 1950s by Nemours Jean-Baptiste.

Zouk music[edit]

Zouk is a style of music originating in Guadeloupe and Martinique during the 1980s. It has many influences, from Haitian, calypso, beguine and compas. The conventional zouk sound has a slow tempo, and it is sung in Antillean Creole, although it also has varieties that have developed in francophone Africa. It is popular throughout the French-speaking world, including France and Quebec.

Former British West Indies and the Lesser Antilles[edit]


Early forms of Afro-Caribbean music in Jamaica was Junkanoo (a type of folk music now more closely associated with The Bahamas), the quadrille (a European dance) and work songs were the primary forms of Jamaican music at the beginning of the 20th century. These were synthesized into mento music, which spread across the island. In the 20th century, influences from the United States were fused to create the uniquely Jamaican forms dancehall and ska. Subsequent styles include reggae, rocksteady and raggamuffin. (Mical 1995)

Lesser Antilles[edit]

As is the case throughout the Caribbean, Lesser Antillean musical cultures are largely based on the music of African slaves brought by European traders and colonizers. The African musical elements are a hybrid of instruments and styles from numerous West African tribes, while the European slaveholders added their own musics into the mix, as did immigrants from India.

Trinidad & Tobago[edit]

In Trinidad and Tobago, whose calypso style is an especially potent part of the music of the other former British colonies, which also share traditions like the Big Drum dance. Trinidadian folk calypso is found throughout the area, as are African-Caribbean religious music styles like the Shango music of Trinidad.[2] Calypso's early rise was closely connected with the adoption of Carnival by Trinidadian slaves, including camboulay drumming and the music masquerade processions.[2] In the 1970s, a calypso variant called soca arose, characterized by a focus on dance rhythms rather than lyricism. Soca has since spread across the Caribbean and abroad.[2]

Steel drums are a distinctively Trinidadian ensemble that evolved from improvised percussion instruments used in Carnival processions. Steel bands were banned by the British colonial authorities. Nevertheless, steel drums spread across the Caribbean, and are now an entrenched part of the culture of Trinidad and Tobago.[2]

French Caribbean islands and others[edit]

The French islands of Martinique and Guadeloupe share the popular zouk style and have also had extensive musical contact with the music of Haiti, itself once a French colony though not part of the Lesser Antilles. The Dutch colonies of Curaçao, Bonaire and Aruba share the combined rhythm popular style. The islands also share a passion for kaseko, a genre of Surinamese music; Suriname and its neighbors Guyana and French Guiana share folk and popular styles that are connected enough to the Antilles and other Caribbean islands that both countries are studied in the broader context of Antillean or Caribbean music.

United States[edit]

When Africans came to the United States they brought their music with them. Over time, a new genre of music developed, called spirituals. Spirituals were the songs that the enslaved Africans sang. Most have religious texts, and they were sung by the enslaved Africans at many different times, including while working, in prayer meetings, and in black churches. They helped the enslaved Africans cope with slavery. They were composed by the community and the genre came out of the enslaved African experience.[3]

Spirituals developed because the enslaved Africans masters forced Christianity onto them. Through Christianity, the enslaved Africans learned many hymns. Eventually, the hymns and the text of the Bible combined with many elements of music that the enslaved Africans had brought with them from Africa, such as antiphony (the call-and-response pattern) and syncopation.[4] This eventually formed into the genre called Spirituals.

Many other African-American music genres, such as gospel and jazz, developed from this genre.

Protest Music of the African Diaspora[edit]


As the music of the African Diaspora progresses, more recent and popular songs have demonstrated an act of protest in their lyrics and significant elements that are featured in the music of the African Diaspora. An example of a song would be, "Formation" by the African American singer, Beyonce Knowles; released in 2016. This popular musical composition mentioned racial injustice events that triggered the Black Lives Matter Movement (e.g. police brutality/violence) but, also included Beyonce embracing her distinct African heritage. [5]


In his book, The Black Atlantic, Sociologist Paul Gilroy starts a discussion of authenticity in the Black trans-Atlantic arena of diasporic music production by presenting how black music has become a truly global phenomenon leading to a dilution of black music into an ever-increasing number of genres and styles across the world.[6] This dilution has created tension around what music can be considered authentically Black.

In understanding how authenticity is conceived, Gilroy discusses how authenticity functions as an aspect of Black music that comes from perceived proximity to the origin of said music. On page 96 of his book The Black Atlantic he was quoted saying:

“folk, or local expressions of Back culture have been identified as authentic and positively evaluated for that reason, while subsequent hemispheric or global manifestations of the same cultural forms have been dismissed as inauthentic and therefore lacking in cultural or aesthetic value precisely because of their distance (supposed or actual) from a readily identifiable point of origin.”[7]

However, Gilroy proceeds to counter this perception by saying, “In all these cases it is not enough for critics to point out that representing authenticity involves artifice. This may be true, but it is not helpful when trying to evaluate or compare cultural forms let alone in trying to make sense of their mutation.”[8] By making the word artifice synonymous with the representation of authenticity in this context, Gilroy is acknowledging the lack of definitive ability to denote authenticity.[9] Gilroy then goes a step further to express how sticking to conversations of what is authentic hurts our ability to better understand the “mutation” of Black music as it engages and it changed by the Black Diaspora.[10]

In understanding the motivations behind pronouncing authenticity, Gilroy identifies the financial and market-based benefits to this pronouncement by saying, “the discourse of authenticity has been a notable presence in the mass marketing of successive Black folks cultural forms to white audiences,” demonstrating the reason for desiring being denoted as authentic.[11] However, he also acknowledges that even seemingly authentic art forms like hip-hop, an American art form, are diasporic in nature incorporating global influences into their origin questioning how definitive apparent authenticity can be.[12] Gilroy describes Hip-Hop as having “formal borrowings from the linguistic innovations of Jamaica's distinct modes of 'kinetic orality,' " this flips his earlier description of authenticity on its head by presenting a seemingly culturally regional and authentic Black art form as a truly global manifestation, depicting how ambiguous authenticity can be.[13] As such, Gilroy effectively deconstructs the concept of authenticity.

See also[edit]


  1. ^ The Ostinato Idea in Black Improvised Music: A Preliminary Investigation Wendell Logan The Black Perspective in o93-215 doi:10.2307/1215022
  2. ^ a b c d Manuel, Caribbean Currents, pgs. 183 - 211
  3. ^ Curtis, Marvin V. (August 1996). "The Lyric of the African-American Spiritual: The Meaning behind the Words". Choral Journal. 37 (1): 15.
  4. ^ Carson, Clayborne; Lapsansky-Werner, Emma J.; Nash, Gary B. (2011). The Struggle for Freedom: A History of African Americans, Combined Volume, Second Edition. Boston: Prentice Hall. p. 22. ISBN 978-0-205-83240-8.
  5. ^ Wang, Yanan (2016-02-09). "The Black Lives Matter protest that you missed from Beyoncé's halftime show dancers". Washington Post. ISSN 0190-8286. Retrieved 2017-12-06.
  6. ^ 1956-, Gilroy, Paul,. The black Atlantic : modernity and double consciousness. Cambridge, Massachusetts. ISBN 0674076052. OCLC 28112279.
  7. ^ 1956-, Gilroy, Paul,. The black Atlantic : modernity and double consciousness. Cambridge, Massachusetts. p. 96. ISBN 0674076052. OCLC 28112279.
  8. ^ 1956-, Gilroy, Paul,. The black Atlantic : modernity and double consciousness. Cambridge, Massachusetts. ISBN 0674076052. OCLC 28112279.
  9. ^ 1956-, Gilroy, Paul,. The black Atlantic : modernity and double consciousness. Cambridge, Massachusetts. p. 99. ISBN 0674076052. OCLC 28112279.
  10. ^ 1956-, Gilroy, Paul,. The black Atlantic : modernity and double consciousness. Cambridge, Massachusetts. ISBN 0674076052. OCLC 28112279.
  11. ^ 1956-, Gilroy, Paul,. The black Atlantic : modernity and double consciousness. Cambridge, Massachusetts. p. 99. ISBN 0674076052. OCLC 28112279.
  12. ^ 1956-, Gilroy, Paul,. The black Atlantic : modernity and double consciousness. Cambridge, Massachusetts. ISBN 0674076052. OCLC 28112279.
  13. ^ 1956-, Gilroy, Paul,. The black Atlantic : modernity and double consciousness. Cambridge, Massachusetts. p. 85. ISBN 0674076052. OCLC 28112279.