English Language and Comprehension
20 November 1999
Blues Music and its influence on integration
From years 1505 to 1870, the world underwent the largest forced migration in history: West Africa was soon to be convulsed by the arrival of Europeans and become the advent of the transatlantic slave trade. Ships from Europe, bound for America, appeared on the horizon, and their captains and sailors-carrying muskets, swords, and shackles-landed on the coast, walked up the beach in their strange clothes, looked around, and demanded slaves. A horrific chapter in history had begun, and neither Africa nor America would be the same again. (Awmiller 14) Approximately ten million Africans were brought across the seas to the Americas to be manipulated into slavery (14). It became apparent that these African men, women and children were meant to generate money. They were meant to work harsh labor, yet they were no longer meant to have a voice. A few Americans took the time to appreciate the hard work performed by the slaves; however, appreciation is a short step in the long road to equality. It was not until the late 19th century that America began to repair the damages done by this immoral trading of human beings. Once the slaves were "freed" after the Emancipation Proclamation in 1863, it did not do much to end the oppression and prejudice against their race. Their freedom did not give them a heart; it did not prove they had soul. This is where their music becomes significant, and this is Blues music (How the Blues Overview). Throughout their music, it took much less time for the black race to prove that they were not unlike the rest of humanity; in fact, they did have a voice, and a haunting one. Once Blues music was not only recognized, but also comprehended, admired and imitated, it opened the gates of immigration, and the nation to this day has matured in its ability to see gray.
Included in the mass of faceless slaves, the boats entrapped and migrated a large number of griots. A griot was an African version of the European wandering minstrel. They spent their lives traveling from village to village, playing the role of a musician, storyteller and wise man. They typically carried an instrument similar to a guitar or banjo (Awmiller 13). However, due to their rapid change in environment, they could no longer sing the songs that they used to sing in their old villages; they invented new songs. The griots invented new songs that addressed their new and terrifying circumstances: Songs about being chained on the ships below deck like animals, about those who did not survive the brutal crossing to New World, and about the homes they would never see again. And once in America, there were other hardships to sing about: the ignominy of the auction block, the separation of family members, the remorseless treatment at the hands of landowners. (15) Even though their masters, and most slave owners at the time, continued a wave of new laws and restrictions to suppress the threatening culture of Africa, these griots and these slaves used their new style of music to cry out against these blatant wrongdoings to their race. They needed an escape to retain the essentials of their culture, of their motherland of which they undoubtedly could not suppress the memories of values and of experiences known previously to them. By the end of the Civil War, these slaves had blended African and European influences to recreate their own culture. This neo-African culture included African-American styles of dance and storytelling, work and spirituality, conversation and community. "By sifting among the many elements of this vibrant, life-sustaining world, we can trace the specific musical roots of what would be known, by the end of the century, as the blues'"(15).
Blues music originated in the cotton fields of the southern United States where the majority of the slave hands were put to work. "The...