THE UNTOLD IMPACT OF THE AFRICAN CULTURE ON AMERICAN CULTURE
The majority of traditional West African communities, the continent’s largest source of enslaved Africans in the Americas, had bright, expressive cultures that were energetic and alive.
By the norms of most of Europe, the spoken languages were unusually vibrant. They were basic means of communication and proverb-filled sources of moral and ethical instruction. There was vigor and dynamic in everyday dialogue as well as in storytelling and oratory during religious ceremonies and other performance occasions. All facets of traditional African social life were infused with extraordinarily intricate indigenous music. They were employed to create and preserve the working rhythms. The moving rhythmic heart of ancient African social and cultural life, music was essential to every festival and life-cycle celebration. The practice of dancing to these beats was widespread. The excellent dancers’ sense of rhythm was put to the test by this type of dancing. Communities of dancers usually included all members of society, regardless of age, sex, or social standing, under the direction of acrobatic masters who were frequently priests disguised in masks and ornate costumes.
Dancers themselves became the embodiment of the rhythms and the spirits when combined with the spiritual forces that frequently accompanied or were invoked by the singing, drumming, and dancing. Music and the rhythms it produced were continuous, stimulating, and absorbing collaborators, whether in holy religious ritual or daily activities. And where there was music, dancing usually followed. Enslaved Africans were frequently made to dance on slave ships during the Middle Passage. Some of them were taken from the hold once a day and instructed to drum, sing, and dance. Slave captains thought that dancing raised the spirits of the prisoners and lessened their perception of anguish, sorrow, and longing. Additionally, dancing was viewed as a type of exercise that preserved and maintained the captives’ health throughout the arduous journey. The health and well of their prisoners was ultimately unimportant to the slave captains. Instead, they took all necessary precautions to safeguard their human cargo to make sure they would make a profit when the slaves were sold in America. Unbeknownst to the captains of the slave ships, the regimen of daily exercise and dancing probably served as one of the foundations for the survival of African-based expressive culture in the New World. For the Middle Passage dances and rhythms that survived created the foundation for New World African music and dance. In slave communities and civilizations, singing, drumming, and dancing reappeared in new, altered rhythms and musics. Beginning aboard slave ships, the Pan-African synthesis developed into even more significant syntheses in the Americas. The music and dances of these peoples would eventually come to predominate the musical and dancing customs of their community in areas where there were significant concentrations of enslaved Africans from a single ethnic or national group.
However, Africans from various ethnic and national groupings still contributed to the creation of the emerging new cultural form in such circumstances. More often than not, Africans of all nationalities and ethnic backgrounds developed new things using the material and cultural resources available to them in their new surroundings. They used song, dance, and rhythms they created to express and cope with the reality of the New World as the foundation for their religious and secular rites, festivals, and social gatherings. Neo-African faiths like Santara, Shango, Umbanda, and Vodou all draw their rhythms, music, and dances from the continent. The predominant styles of local dance and music in the United States are also descended from the country’s past of African-based slavery. This has happened despite the fact that many slave communities in the United States forbade drums, which form the rhythmic core of African music and dancing. Drums were outlawed in the United States because slave “masters” and overseers learned that they might be used as a covert form of communication. However, the sense of rhythm in Africa would endure. It also couldn’t be stopped. These neo-African customs are where the music and dance of carnival and adjunkaroo festivities originated. In fact, the majority of the traditional dances and musical styles practiced today in the South and the Caribbean have their roots in the musical traditions passed down from their enslaved African ancestors. The dominating styles of local dance and music in the United States are also a result of the country’s history as an African-based slave nation. This has happened in spite of the fact that many slave communities in the United States forbade drums, the instrument that provides the rhythmic framework for African music and dance. Drums were outlawed in the United States because slave “masters” and overseers learned that they might be used as a covert form of communication.
However, the sense of rhythm in Africa would endure. It also couldn’t be stopped. Enslaved Africans in the United States used hand clapping, “pattin’ juba,” and foot tapping in polyrhythmic cadences to mimic the intricate rhythms of African drumming in place of drums.
The fiddle, the banjo, bows, gourds, bells, and other hand or feet instruments—all New World African inventions by enslaved Africans—were played to accompany popular dances like jigs, shuffles, breakdowns, shale-downs, and backsteps, as well as the strut, the ring shout, and other religious expressions. Enslaved Africans were the preferred musicians for white and black celebrations and festivities throughout the time of slavery since both whites and blacks considered them to be the best musicians in their respective communities. Ironically, “musician” was by far the most often recorded profession of escaped slaves in New York throughout the colonial era. The spiritual and the blues are two native African-American musical genres that were developed during the time of slavery. Both African-American secular and religious songs can be traced back to the blues and spirituals, respectively. The African-American visual arts heritage was also founded during slavery by African craftsmen and visual artists. Furniture and other practical items were manufactured by slave artisans, some of which featured distinctive New World African visual arts expressions.
Stone sculptors and carvers have left behind surprisingly beautiful practical items and artwork. The nation’s first fashion designers were quiltmakers, stone milliners, and tailors who created beautiful products out of scraps of cloth. Other facets of American society bear the cultural imprint of enslaved Africans.
For instance, the linguistic patterns developed by enslaved Africans had a significant influence on Southern American speech patterns. Soul food and southern cooking are often used interchangeably. Both are slave-era African-American cuisines. The genres created by enslaved Africans during slavery are where sermons, oratory, and other types of oral writing in the African-American vernacular tongue, including modern rap, have their roots.