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The following tape recorded program is a presentation of the National Association of educational broadcasters the Negro spiritual. This is the first in a series of programs conducted by Ralph Kohn folk singer and musicologist and produced in the studios of KPFA Berkeley California. Now here is Mr. Khan in analyzing the development of the Negro spiritual. We must first look towards African musical sources because it was African patterns that gave us the tradition from which came the texture of the Negro spiritual and we immediately run into difficulty because the generic concept African is as vague as the generic concept European. There is no more African music and there is European music. There were many people from the Watusi seven feet
tall landlords and lords of all they surveyed and pygmies humble workers in the swampy areas. There were people with a moral culture whose religion was Mohammedan and who wrote and read Arabic and peoples with other symbology and other deities like the rain god chango. There were many cities very often in conflict with each other. There were highways complex political systems ditch diggers poets sculptors and Warriors a second trap to be avoided. Is the assumption that we are about to launch a study of primitive musical sources. The values of each musical culture can only be judged in their own terms. Each people
has its own value some of some of the values of the African peoples of the times put some of the values of our modern industrial culture to shame. But to proceed with an analysis or rather an outline of African musical texture the peoples of Africa did have in common a musical basis of rhythm. This is of course also true in flamenco. The music of the Near East and in Hindu Music not only was there one rhythm but these the rhythmic sophistication of the African peoples led them to use more than one rhythm to use counter rhythms so that at the same time you might be hearing. And you might also be hearing this one.
These rhythms were further dramatized by being in different voices. Perhaps the drums of the same depth would play would play one rhythm while a two counter rhythms might be on different voices you can imagine what would happen if I used and beat a metal thing against the glass. So this is the first root of African music which which came to be an important part of the texture of the new spiritual rhythm and contra. Not only were counter rhythms used but also of the
peoples of Africa learned to a tremendous extent the art of syncopation. That's a fancy word for going just off the beat in order to dramatize the beat. For instance if I were if I were going to sing and down by the riverside I might do this in a river. I sang I sang on the beat. One two three four. Now if I were to syncopate against that I would be doing this. The beat and then the beat very closely. It's possible sometimes to syncopate three or four times examples of marvelous syncopation in the African culture is
also there. The use of drums not only to get read thems but also to get voices. The virtuoso on the drum could get a larger range of emotion from this instrument. He could he could get tones. Many techniques were used for tones you would lift the drum off the ground. The tone would go from. And it would go slightly up. Different parts of the hand of the power of the different tones and emotions were brought out through the drums. Musical cultures.
The five tone scale. I have an idea that you think that I'm talking about a very outlandish music that you have never heard before and that the
five to one scale must be a very foreign sound to you. Let's listen to it. Sure. Oh.
Oh I thought like come on home go. Home. We still don't know why the folk music of so many peoples
is built upon the five tone scale and the most idiomatic music of the Fens the old Irish and Scotch songs the popular music of China Japan and frequently it of course equally occurs in the music of North American unions. Here we find it in a lullaby in a field called an Alabama mom. No one is going to bet I am LOL I am going to go go go thing become a pro. Go there and you move through here with their government pro government pro free fair hearing from you from.
There. The peoples of Africa also brought something else to the new world a very
important musical tool and that was the leader chorus response form. For instance an African song very beautiful one goes like this. It is crying describing. So you know when young the child of the water walk a by moonlight. So how are you going younger. And we would find the parallel form in an American spiritual the river of Jordan is deep and wide. One more river to cross. I don't know how to get to the other side. One more river to cross. The peoples of Africa brought to the new world also a very close feeling for harmony in European music. Harmony was created by the def. of voices over a very clear and definite tones that could be written down and that could be fitted
to the piano forte if one saying who was one better is saying right right on the button. The peoples of Africa on the other hand shared with the peoples of the near east of India and the gypsies of Spain an entirely different concept of good singing in their way of good singing. And no it was dramatized by singing around it seemed slightly over it and coming back to it singing slightly under it sliding beyond it and then coming back to it. I'm going to.
Cut. It. With. A at. It was these these people who were who through the Slave Coast on the west of Africa were brought to this country and to the other countries of the Americas under conditions that are indescribable even to our generation used to the horrors of Bergen-Belsen about them.
Punishments like hanging from hooks roast roasting alive breaking of the way of existence in the slave ships by which all need sometimes 20 out of 100 slaves would survive plagues that would hit the entire slave population on a ship so that it as well as very often ironically enough their masters would become blind. Eat eat eat eat eat eat eat.
And when the slaves came to this country their cultures were broken up. Nations villages families language groups. These slaves found some found themselves in the position of having no language through which they could communicate with each other and therefore had to learn the languages of their masters in the United States.
In most cases this meant English. The exception of course and a very important exception was New Orleans life for Negroes in Louisiana for instance and a French and Spanish rule was one of concentrated and consistent misery and pain. And the only escape wasn't death on the plantations they were worked in chains guarded by armed overseers and the whip was applied freely and often in New Orleans they were worked from dawn to dusk and then were locked in heavily guarded quarters for the night. Very important they were forbidden by law to assemble for any purpose whatsoever and were severely punished sometimes by death. Much of this treatment was based upon constant fear of an uprising. These first generations of slaves were of necessity sullen brooding and of course filled with a hatred for their captors. They were not considered human by their masters. For instance soon after the founding of New Orleans a slave camp was established in the nearby Swan's where Negroes were broken. They were worked
and beaten until those who survived were considered tame enough to be sold in the slave markets. This was even carried so far as the selecting of fine male specimens who were used to starve them bred with children and females so that they might produce children who would bring high prices. Ah. Yes.
Yes. All right. I'm sure. My. Close. And in this situation a situation without hope except through the
medium of death stripped of their birthright under under conditions where there were no meeting of any sort was possible. That would not be punished by severe physical punishment or death. The slaves heard a new sound from the poor white people around them. A sound which was to provide the second root of what became the Negro spiritual. Union. Will
a was. A was. Me and was a I
was a an A I was a was yeah it was the week yeah yeah yeah the their way was a little close.
You've been listening to the first in a series of programs and titled The Negro spiritual. These programs are recorded by Rolf Kahn folk singer a musicologist and recorded in the studios of KPFA Berkeley California. This is the N E E B network.
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Negro spiritual
African musical heritage
Producing Organization
pacifica radio
KPFA (Radio station : Berkeley, Calif.)
Contributing Organization
University of Maryland (College Park, Maryland)
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Episode Description
This lecture focuses on African musical heritage and the slave trade.
Series Description
Talks by Rolf Cahn, folksinger and musicologist, with music from records, including replays from old collections.
Broadcast Date
Race and Ethnicity
Music--African influences.
Media type
Producing Organization: pacifica radio
Producing Organization: KPFA (Radio station : Berkeley, Calif.)
Speaker: Cahn, Rolf
AAPB Contributor Holdings
University of Maryland
Identifier: 55-31-1 (National Association of Educational Broadcasters)
Format: 1/4 inch audio tape
Duration: 00:29:10
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Chicago: “Negro spiritual; African musical heritage,” 1955-08-21, University of Maryland, American Archive of Public Broadcasting (GBH and the Library of Congress), Boston, MA and Washington, DC, accessed February 29, 2024,
MLA: “Negro spiritual; African musical heritage.” 1955-08-21. University of Maryland, American Archive of Public Broadcasting (GBH and the Library of Congress), Boston, MA and Washington, DC. Web. February 29, 2024. <>.
APA: Negro spiritual; African musical heritage. Boston, MA: University of Maryland, American Archive of Public Broadcasting (GBH and the Library of Congress), Boston, MA and Washington, DC. Retrieved from