by Robert Stevens, The Conversation US, 3/28/18
The enslaved Africans who first arrived in the British colony of Virginia in 1619 after being forcefully removed from their natural environments left much behind, but their rhythms associated with music-making journeyed with them across the Atlantic.
Many of those Africans came from cultures where the mother tongue was a tonal language. That is, ideas were conveyed as much by the inflection of a word as by the word itself. Melody, as we typically think of it, took a secondary role and rhythm assumed major importance.
For the enslaved Africans, music – rhythm in particular – helped forge a common musical consciousness. In the understanding that organized sound could be an effective tool for communication, they created a world of sound and rhythm to chant, sing and shout about their conditions. Music was not a singular act, but permeated every aspect of daily life.
In time, versions of these rhythms were attached to work songs, field hollers and street cries, many of which were accompanied by dance. The creators of these forms drew from an African cultural inventory that favored communal participation and call and response singing wherein a leader presented a musical call that was answered by a group response.
A cornfield holler.
As my research confirms, eventually, the melding of African rhythmic ideas with Western musical ideas laid the foundation for a genre of African-American music, in particular spirituals and, later, gospel songs.
Spirituals: A journey
John Gibb St. Clair Drake, the noted black anthropologist, points out that during the years of slavery, Christianity in the U.S. introduced many contradictions that were contrary to the religious beliefs of Africans. For most Africans the concepts of sin, guilt and the afterlife, were new.
In Africa, when one sinned, it was a mere annoyance. Often, an animal sacrifice would allow for the sin to be forgiven. In the New Testament, however, Jesus dismissed sacrifice for the absolution of sin. The Christian tenet of sin guided personal behavior. This was primarily the case in northern white churches in the U.S. where the belief was that all people should be treated equally. In the South many believed that slavery was justified in the Bible.
This doctrine of sin, which called for equality, became central to the preaching of the Baptist and Methodist churches.
In 1787, reacting to racial slights at St. George Methodist Episcopal Church in Philadelphia, two clergymen, Absalom Jones and Richard Allen, followed by a number of blacks left and formed the African Methodist Episcopal Church.
The new church provided an important home for the spiritual, a body of songs created over two centuries by enslaved Africans. Richard Allen published a hymnal in 1801 entitled “A Collection of Spirituals, Songs and Hymns,” some of which he wrote himself.
His spirituals were infused with an African approach to music-making, including communal participation and a rhythmic approach to music-making with Christian hymns and doctrines. Stories found in the Old Testament were a source for their lyrics. They focused on heaven as the ultimate escape.
Spread of spirituals
After emancipation in 1863, as African-Americans moved throughout the United States, they carried – and modified – their cultural habits and ideas of religion and songs with them to northern regions.
Later chroniclers of spirituals, like George White, a professor of music at Fisk University, began to codify and share them with audiences who, until then, knew very little about them. On Oct. 6, 1871, White and the Fisk Jubilee Singers launched a fundraising tour for the university that marked the formal emergence of the African-American spiritual into the broader American culture and not restricted to African-American churches.
Their songs became a form of cultural preservation that reflected the changes in the religious and performance practices that would appear in gospel songs in the 1930s. For example, White modified the way the music was performed, using harmonies he constructed, for example, to make sure it would be accepted by those from whom he expected to raise money, primarily from whites who attended their performances.
As with spirituals, the gospel singers’ intimate relationship with God’s living presence remained at the core as reflected in titles like “I Had a Talk with Jesus,” “He’s Holding My Hand” and “He Has Never Left Me Alone.”
Read and watch more at … https://theconversation.com/african-rhythms-ideas-of-sin-and-the-hammond-organ-a-brief-history-of-gospel-musics-evolution-90737