About We Be Spirits *

What is left of a people, after even their concept of existence is obliterated?

To date there have been no reparations made for the lives destroyed and/or affected as a result of the Atlantic Slave Trade yet, on the flip side, the world has been blessed with, amongst other wonders, a special music which is a direct result of it. I am no musicologist but my love for music, and the knowledge that it has saved me many times over – as is the same for many of you I’m sure, has led me here.

“It’s part of a much bigger story, one that started hundreds of years ago when the first Africans arrived on slave ships to the States.” Pops’ voice took on a strict tone. “One that started after everything had been stolen from them. Everything except their souls.” He raised a long finger. “A strong soul cannot be stolen.”

Extract from “I Thought it was Called Jazz”,  Emma Dowuona-Hammond.

Sub-Saharan African music: shared characteristics 

Music and dance in most of Africa are used in communal cultural expression as well as for communication (having grown up in London it was a revelation to hear the local djembe drummer announcing dinner time on a daily basis in the village of Jumapo – where my paternal roots lie – in the Eastern region of Ghana). When coming together in rituals that address social issues such as reaching maturity, as well as for festivals, funerals, religious ceremonies and work to name a few, people share rhythm, and in this way they share life.

There are many ethnic groups that combine to make up the Sub-Saharan African musical tradition – so often transmitted orally; the Bakongo, the Fon, the Mandé and the Yoruba are just a few examples of these. Within it, however, some distinct shared characteristics that are similarly present in music across The Americas; in the Cuban rumba, the Brazilian samba, the Uruguayan candombe, or in soca and calypso from Trinidad and Tobago, to name but a few. For now though I want to look at the music of North America. It is here that – through blues, ragtime, gospel, jazz, funk, RnB, rock ‘n’ roll, rap and house – Black American Music has changed the way the world hears music.

“I contend that the Negro is the creative voice of America, is creative America, and it was a happy day in America when the first unhappy slave was landed on its shores.”

Duke Ellington, 1941.


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