Folk Song Of The American Negro - Online Book

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All tribes have constructed their music upon the verse and chorus plan. There is a verse sung by a leader, and the chorus follows. The leader is generally chosen for his voice and his superior knowl�edge of the songs. This peculiarity has remained fixed as the song of the African has come through the receding centuries. There are some songs in which the African heathen shows his kinship to other heathen, namely, in the almost uncanny chants generally wailed as accompaniments to the war dance. This chant still lives a life of strength and freshness in the Negro's musical world, bidding fair to reach a greener old age and finally to evolve into some form of music, rare in charm and beauty. In America we hear it and see it acted in the barn dance, on the stage, in the streets among the children; in fact, many an occasion is enlivened by this species of music, the interest in which is intensified by the rhythmical patting of hands and feet. This rhythm is most strikingly and accurately brought out in their work songs. For some reason or other, the African seems to work his best to a musical accompaniment, sung, whistled, or hummed. Especially is this true when the laborers are numerous and in "gangs". The men sing and their music seems ir�resistible; for their bodies sway, and their hammers rise and fall to the perfect time of their tune and the work goes on with happiness, interest, and power.
The most plausible reason for the African's working to tune seems to be, that above all modes of expression this swarthy man loves the musical mode, and his almost riotous emotions are forever clamoring for expression. This makes his life a life of song. And the song has upon him a somewhat intoxicating effect which gives strength and spirit to his being. This strength and this spirit thoroughly possess him, both soul and body, making his body tireless and his soul happy.
Among the Kroo tribes it is a custom to change farms frequently, because their god forbids their cultivating the same farm during suc�cessive years. Consequently every year new lands must be opened up, necessitating the felling of trees. Three or four surround a tree to cut it down. Gala leads a song but does no cutting. This Gala is the leader of all songs and shouts. In war time he stands in the midst of his warriors, hurls his spear into the air, catches it again and leads a shout, which is a vigorous kind of song, telling of the valor of their ancestors, and describing what they themselves are