As we have mentioned many times in R1 Vibes, music is a flashback to historical events.
Today, which is the United Nations International Day of Remembrance for the Victims of Slavery and the Transatlantic Slave Trade, we want to see how music was influenced by humanity’s darkest moment.
When we talk about the transatlantic slave trade, we are talking about the horror of slavery and the oppression of people.
African Americans felt (feel) all this oppression in their skin, but they also left behind a huge cultural heritage.
A legacy that changed the course of music, highlighting great artists and increasable songs.
Rock was largely formed by the by-products of this resistance such as: blues, jazz, rock ‘n’ roll, gospel, and many more.
Although the consequences of slavery still haunt much of our world, they have bequeathed to us countless cultural gifts.
Let’s look at a small sample of these wonderful gifts…
Song of the Free
“Song of the Free” is a song written in 1860.
It refers to a man escaping from slavery in Tennessee and heading to Canada via the Underground Railroad.
It essentially explicitly states the lack of freedom experienced by African Americans and their subordination to whites who control them.
At the same time, it underscores the dangers they were prepared to face in order to escape enslavement, including death.
The melody of the song “steps” in the composition of “Oh! Susanna” by Stephen Foster, which was first published in 1848.
It is worth noting that in 1867, William Francis Allen, Charles Pickard Ware and Lucy McKim-Garrison wrote the “Slave Songs of the United States“.
It is the first collection of African American music ever published and consists of 137 songs.
Lift Ev’ry Voice and Sing
“Lift Ev’ry Voice and Sing” was originally written as a poem by educator James Weldon Johnson, with accompanying music composed by his brother, John Rosamond Johnson.
The lyrics were recited by 500 students on February 12, 1900, in Jacksonville, Florida to celebrate President Abraham Lincoln’s birthday.
During the composition, Johnson tried to write lyrics that spoke of the traumatic but triumphant lives of his ancestors.
At the same time, “Lift Ev’ry Voice and Sing” became known as “Black National Anthem” and continues to be heard at important events and functions to this day.
Wade in the Water
“Wade in the Water” was first officially published in 1901, although it dates back many years.
Scholars believe that this song was used to transmit secret codes to fugitives.
It’s a song that has greatly influenced the history of music in general.
The performances many with more well-known ones of Eva Cassidy, Billy Preston and of course Nina Simone.
More recent is that of The Big Push in a more blues Rock tune.
Follow the Drinkin ‘Gourd
“Following the Drinking Gourd” is an African American folk song first released in 1928.
While the song may refer to some lost piece of history, the origin and context remain a mystery.
It is believed that Harriet Tubman used songs like this to guide slaves running on the Underground Railroad.
The performances are many and varied. Among them the “Song of the Underground Railroad” by John Coltrane which is based on the melody of the song.
“Strange Fruit” is a song made famous by Billie Holiday.
Its lyrics were written in 1937 by Abel Meeropol, a Jewish high school teacher and civil rights activist from the Bronx.
Meeropol was inspired by the lyrics when he saw a photograph of two slaves bent under the pressure of their bonds.
The mysterious, sad lyrics are a painful description of the horrible pain experienced by black communities in the South.
When Billie Holiday heard the lyrics, she wanted to interpret it as they were reminded of her father who died when doctors refused him hospitalization because he was black.
Swing Low, Sweet Chariot
“Swing Low, Sweet Chariot” is a song we do not know who wrote it and when.
What we do know is that it is dedicated to Harriet Tubman, who guided blacks to freedom through the Underground Railroad.
Scholars say its lyrics were a form of coded communication so that they could escape slavery.
The melody was the signal that it was time to escape.
The song, which is still commonly performed in churches, was heard at Tubman’s funeral in 1913.
Despite these wonderful gifts they left us, it is well known that history tends to repeat itself with exactly the same patterns.
Slavery has not been eliminated, on the contrary, there are new forms of it in a world that although it is “modern” still has deep flaws.
Music may still resist any form of slavery, but ignorance and indifference have more power …
We must not forget that slavery was widespread in all the ancient civilizations of the world, including:
Chinese, Japanese, Polynesian, Indian, but also many peoples of Europe.
Unfortunately, οur bad past is still here and it is repeated!