Think about how African cultural elements were stripped from African slaves and their descendents by white plantation owners in this country. In most of the country, slaves from Africa were barred from speaking their own languages, practicing traditional songs/dances, recreating traditional African instruments/drums, or practicing African religions. Even though African slaves and their descendents resisted this oppression through revolts and other means of resistance, how might have Black American music developed differently if African slaves here had been able to practice more of the various music traditions, dances, and religions from Africa, and to recreate traditional African instruments? Specifically, how might Black American music of worship and the blues be different?
Of course, this does not mean that racism and oppression would not have existed! However, imagining a different possible scenario helps us compare Black American music to other places in the Caribbean or Latin America where slaves and free persons of African descent were–for a number of reasons–more easily able to maintain traditional African religious beliefs, music, and instruments.
Another thing to think about:
A notable exception in the US was the culture of New Orleans, which was part of the French colony of Louisiana early on (i.e. until 1803, when it was acquired by the US). In New Orleans, there was a much stronger African cultural presence in terms of music/dance/religion (specifically those of Bantu and Dahomeyan provenance) because the Catholic French had been less stringent–as compared to Protestant Anglo-Americans–in barring African music/dances/religion. As a southern port city, New Orleans also had close ties to Mexico and the Caribbean (especially Cuba and Haiti) in terms of its people and musical cultures. In light of New Orleans’s unique history, its culture was in some ways more similar to the Caribbean, so it’s not surprising that jazz developed there!
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