Wednesday, December 18, 2019

The Influences of Colonial Europeans on the Music of the Black African Slaves of the Americas

The discovery of the Americas by Columbus in 1492 initiated a whole wave of European immigration towards the west. Nations such as England, France, Spain and Portugal set out across the Atlantic to explore, conquer and colonise huge territories of what are now known as the Northern and Southern American continents. So as to maintain the smooth running of these colonies, these nations brought with them black African slaves. It is of interest to examine how, under different influences and oppressions, the descendants of these slaves have developed to form significantly different cultures.
Today, a very noticeable contrast can be seen between the populations of Central and South America when compared to the black societies of North America. This contrast is particularly distinct in regards to music. It seems apparent that there is far more reminisce and reference to traditional African cultures in the music of Latin America then the Jazz of the North. Is this so? If it is then what number of things could have contributed to it? Could it be due to different oppressing regimes, perhaps dictated by religious differences? Maybe the cultural differences of the colonialists. Possibly even the indigenous natives made a difference. Most likely these things would be true due to a whole combination of contributing elements.
The Spanish were the first to leave for the New World. Within a couple years of Columbus' arrival in the Caribbean they had started to work their way south and inland down the Isthmus. The Portuguese, French and British soon followed. The British and French where most active in what is now known as the USA and Canada as well as the Caribbean islands. The Portuguese settled in what is now known as Brazil and the Spanish conquered territory from today's Mexico all the way down to Chile and Argentina. As well as these large nations there were also various smaller settlements such as the Dutch and Russians. By the 19th century these nations had between them, shipped over 11 to 12 million Black African Slaves.
It would not be possible in this study to attempt to include every relevant culture. In South America alone there are 13 countries each with diverse music traditions and all relevant to a study of Black African Cultural development. Therefore the Caribbean Islands will largely be excluded. Also there will not be time to give a detailed analysis of the many diverse African cultures from which the slaves came before colonialism, although a general understanding of African culture and music is acknowledged in the writing of this essay. Finally due to its particularly rich music and strong African influences, the areas of Spanish and Brazilian colonisation in Latin America will be examined as the primary comparative against the Jazz music of North America. In order to understand what it is that has made these two cultures so different it is necessary to closely examine both in their modern context as well as their history along with considerations towards the cultures that oppressed them.
Although Jazz has vast and varied origins, many of its influences can be found in the 'deep southern' states of North America such as the cotton fields of Mississippi Delta. The main oppressors here were the protestant British who lay down their regime in cold unforgiving rigidity. In an attempt to control black slaves and manipulate them as a work force, they found it necessary to hammer out all expression of African culture. If two slaves were found to speak the same native language they would be separated. Possibly most significantly, the slaves were forbidden their drums, a resource which is of great importance to African traditions. "Drumming, in particular is a highly sophisticated activity in Africa" and is used to accompany many day-to-day events, from religious ritual and worship to marriage ceremonies, celebration and even communication. In what ways the deprivation of their percussion (as well as all other African instruments) affected them is difficult to say but it is evident that African percussion can no longer be found in the music of these people.
However, despite their oppressors, black Africans have often found ways to express and maintain their traditions. For instance the colonial authorities seemed unable to (or chose not to) prevent the singing of work songs. Such forms as call and response can often be seen in Jazz music today. Black slaves were forced to convert to the Christian religion. They were required to go to church and sing hymns although again here we can see an example of them maintaining their own culture by adopting the western hymns and personalising them to create the style now known as gospel music. This is very similar to the vocal styles found in Africa.
Having been deprived of their traditional instruments, around the 1880's/90's, black Africans were permitted to play in marching bands (such as the music of John Phillip Sousa) and funeral marches in New Orleans. This put at their disposal, brass instruments (although not saxophones until later) and percussion that finally gave them a means to a musical outlet. The large 'marching' drum was set on the floor and later developed in to the early American 'trap-kit'.
All these elements combined to give the black musician of 1915 a formidable array of skills and influences to put to his disposal. As the black population gathered in large metropolitan areas (i.e. New Orleans, New York, Chicago etc...), the melting pot was ripe for the creative explosion that formed the basis of early jazz. It may seem to the casual observer that obvious African features are uncommon among much of the Latin American populations. However this should not lead to the assumption that there was not a significant genetic contribution. "In some parts of Latin America, Africans outnumbered Europeans by a margin of 15 to 1".
In the early stages of colonial Latin America, the black slaves were not always used solely for manual labour. There are even some accounts of some slaves actually fighting alongside the conquerors and even having been rewarded for their bravery as mentioned by Daren J. Davis, author of 'Slavery and beyond'. In allowing slaves this status it could be argued that the Spanish regarded them with more respect than perhaps did the English. Attempts were made to enslave the indigenous populations of Latin America although many were killed in battle and epidemic diseases wiped out many more. Those still alive were often too weak for efficient labour. This resulted in the further increase in black slaves shipped from trading posts along the west coasts of Africa. This could explain a less significant influence of indigenous music in the Latin American music of today.
It is important, in understanding the development of Latin America, to know that an extensive amount of interbreeding took place between the black slaves, the native populations and even the white Spanish (Portuguese in Brazil). Although the latter would more likely have been due to rape. Due to the established class system it would not be considered acceptable for a white person to lower himself to partake in relations with a darker skinned race. Nonetheless this still resulted in offspring which contributed towards a new race often known as Afro-Creoles. A fusion in races meant a further fusion in culture and music. Also considering that the level of social class was determined by the darkness of the skin, it could be deduced that new offspring with lighter complexions would be able to obtain higher status in society enabling them to have greater cultural input.
In both North and South America African slaves were forced to acknowledge the oppressing religion. In the North; British Protestant Christianity and in the south Spanish Catholicism. How this might have changed the ways the slaves were treated is hard to say. It would be assumed that the Protestants might have had a more liberal frame of mind than the Roman Catholics. However research has suggested that the Spanish were more open minded and the British more controlling. Perhaps then, the colonialists political point of view wasn't so much derived from their religion but more their culture and heritage. It may be the case that the Spanish were a lot more understanding of African ways of life due to their close proximity to Africa. Also it must be noted that in previous centuries, the Arabic empire had occupied Spain. Much evidence of this can still be seen today such as the Alhambra in Granada.
In terms of the African reaction to western religion they were generally known in the south, to simply associate their own deities with Christian saints. This is another great example of Black slaves maintaining their culture despite all odds. "Afro-Creoles religions constitute powerful sources of inner strength enabling them to reaffirm their African identity" The combining of African and Western religion fused to form a new religion in Latin America often known as 'Voodoo'. Study shows that despite the names of Western Saints "Catholicism has very little to do with Voodoo", implying that essentially Voodoo is derived solely from African concepts and that music is a key part of African religious ceremony. The maintenance of the African's religious expression would mean the further maintenance of their music. Today we can see many obvious African influences in the drums and percussion Latin American. Despite a significant amount of development and evolution of both the drums and rhythms, many of the fundamentals remain. This would suggest that Latin American slaves were allowed to keep their drums. Peter Manuel, author of 'Popular Music of the Non-Western World', suggests that due to the innate African influences of Latin American music, the musical practices of these black slaves must have been "tolerated by colonial authorities". This may well have been because the authorities enjoyed to hear their music but certainly because they found it to increase the work efficiency of the slaves. "In this respect they differed from their Northern European neighbours in the USA who lacked the Mediterranean peoples cosmopolitan balance and required an ideology of virulent racism to legitimise expression of blacks in an otherwise democratic state"
In conclusion, we can clearly see a difference between African influences in music in North and South America. In the old Spanish colonies, African influences are far more prominent, due, as has been discussed, to the open-minded nature of the Spanish colonialists. In the north the African slaves where more oppressed and therefore they expressed their cultural influences elsewhere, leading to new genres in Jazz. It is interesting to note that Latin and North American music fused together in the 50's and 60's to create genres such as Salsa and 'Cu-bop' (Cuban bebop), this could be seen as a reuniting of African cultures.

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