Folk Music in The United States


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Immigrants from Europe and Africa                                         55

special techniques which mark these songs as Negro property. It is not the nature of the songs themselves, but the way in which they are performed, which makes them a distinctive Negro contribution.

American Negro folk music, then, tends to consist of the super-imposition of some performance traits originating in Africa upon inusic which is originally European in style. Those traits which are especially African, which have been developed to a high level in their original home, are carried over into American Negro music. The other traits, those whose development was neglected in Africa, tend to disappear and give way to their European counterparts. Negro spirituals, for example, are often sung poly-phonically, more often than are hymns of the white people. To be sure, the kind of polyphony used is not African, but the very preference for it in itself indicates the presence of an African tradition. Many spirituals are performed in a call-and-response or "responsorial" manner. The freedom of the individual to deviate from the pattern as it is sung by the rest, and to introduce his own version, is probably an African sinrvival, for improvising is a highly developed art in Africa. Syncopation and other features which create rhythmic interest, the use of percussive clapping and stamping, the use of dancing as a part of a Christian ceremony (in the ring-shouts, for example), can all probably be traced to the African musical traditions which the Negroes have carried with them, and whose stronger elements have survived in America in spite of the century-long acculturation of the Negroes to Western civilization.

We find these elements also in the non-religious Negro songs: ballads, blues, work songs, children's songs. Even in those children's ditties and counting-out rhymes which are not actually sung, but recited with established rhythm and intonation, we encounter some of these surviving characteristics.

The words of Negro folk songs are interesting because they often mirror the thinking of the people and their place in American culture. Thus the so-called "field blues" as well as the blues sung by city Negroes reflect dissatisfaction with their lot. Many of the work songs are songs of protest, as are some of the ballads


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