History of Music: Slavery and American Pop Music

Did you know that most of the music that we enjoy today has its roots in Africa?When the slaves were brought over from Africa, they also brought the music that they would play and enjoy. The banjo, guitar, bongos, and many other instruments that are used today, were invented in Africa, and brought to North America through the slave trade.
There were two key factors that contributed to the retention of African music during the years of slavery, the culture and music of the slave masters and the cultures of the slaves themselves. The Spanish, Portuguese and French settlers that settled in New Orleans and South America were more tolerant of the African music and cultures and in New Orleans, the slaves and the free Africans could congregate on Sundays for church services and they would drum, sing, and dance. This continued until the late 19th century.

The slaves were very creative within their captivity and would create their own languages and even though many families and those of similar cultures were separated, this could not change the fact that music and dancing played a major part in African culture and the slaves would adapt to their situations and create field songs to sing whilst working the fields. They would also build their instruments to play at night. The body would also often be turned into a drum. They’d clap their hands, slap their legs and stomachs, this was called Patting Juba, and it would serve as an inspiration to R&B and Rock rhythms many years later.

The two most common instruments for slaves to play were the banjo and the fiddle. The European violin was like many of the stringed African instruments and slaves that knew how to play the fiddle would be highly respected by slaves and non-slaves alike.
There were slaves who would play music professionally, they were called Musicianers. They would often receive special privileges that other slaves couldn’t and buy their freedom occasionally. But they would more often than not remain an important and valuable property of their masters. They could also play in European style marching bands and those styles of music would go on to be an important part of African slave cultures. It would also feed into the unique marching band style of New Orleans in the latter half of the 19th century.

At the end of the Civil war, despite their severe poverty, former slaves could now make their own professional decisions, travel and start their own businesses. This change in freedom would contribute many changes to popular music in the US and Canada. Due to the changes new genres of music were born, the blues and Jazz!

That’s it for this week, if you enjoyed the article feel free to share and comment! You can find us on Patreon and YouTube as well!

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