Black History Culture : BLUES ORIGINS ISLAMIC??? HMMMM...

Discussion in 'Black History - Culture - Panafricanism' started by Isaiah, Jan 15, 2006.

  1. Isaiah

    Isaiah Well-Known Member MEMBER

    Joined:
    Jun 8, 2004
    Messages:
    3,210
    Likes Received:
    62
    Ratings:
    +62


    Muslim roots of the blues
    The music of famous American blues singers reaches back through the South to the culture of West Africa
    Jonathan Curiel, Chronicle Staff Writer

    Sunday, August 15, 2004

    Sylviane Diouf knows her audience might be skeptical, so to demonstrate the connection between Islam and American blues music, she'll play two recordings: The Muslim call to prayer (the religious recitation that's heard from mosques around the world), and "Levee Camp Holler" an early type of blues song that first sprang up in the Mississippi Delta more than 100 years ago.

    "Levee Camp Holler" is no ordinary song. It's the product of ex-slaves who worked moving earth all day in post-Civil War America. The version that Diouf uses in presentations has lyrics that, like the call to prayer, speak about a glorious God. ("Well, Lord, I woke up this mornin', man, I feelin' bad . . . Well, I was thinkin' 'bout the good times, Lord, I once have had.") But it's the song's melody and note changes that closely parallel one of Islam's best-known refrains. As in the call to prayer, "Levee Camp Holler" emphasizes words that seem to quiver and shake in the reciter's vocal chords. Dramatic changes in musical scales punctuate both "Levee Camp Holler" and the call to prayer. A nasal intonation is evident in both.

    "I did a talk a few years ago at Harvard where I played those two things, and the room absolutely exploded in clapping, because (the connection) was obvious," says Diouf, an author and scholar who is also a researcher at New York's Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture. "People were saying, 'Wow. That's really audible. It's really there.' "

    It's really there because of all the Muslim slaves from West Africa who were taken by force to the United States for three centuries, from the 1600s to the mid-1800s. Upward of 30 percent of the African slaves in the United States were Muslim, and an untold number of them spoke and wrote Arabic, historians say now. Despite being pressured by slave owners to adopt Christianity and give up their old ways, many of these slaves continued to practice their religion and customs, or otherwise melded traditions from Africa into their new environment in the antebellum South. Forced to do menial, back-breaking work on plantations, for example, they still managed, throughout their days, to voice a belief in the God of the Quran. These slaves' practices eventually evolved -- decades and decades later, parallel with different singing traditions from Africa -- into the shouts and hollers that begat blues music, historians believe.

    Another way that Muslim slaves had an indirect influence on blues music: the instruments they played. Drumming (which was common among slaves from the Congo and other non-Muslim regions of Africa) was banned by white slave owners, who felt threatened by its ability to let slaves communicate with each other and by the way it inspired large gatherings of slaves. Stringed instruments (which were favored by slaves from Muslim regions of Africa, where there's a long tradition of musical storytelling) were generally allowed because slave owners considered them akin to European instruments like the violin. So slaves who managed to cobble together a banjo or other instrument (the American banjo originated with African slaves) could play more widely in public. This solo- oriented slave music featured elements of an Arabic-Islamic song style that had been imprinted by centuries of Islam's presence in West Africa, says Gerhard Kubik, an ethnomusicology professor at the University of Mainz in Germany who has written the most comprehensive book on Africa's connection to blues music ("Africa and the Blues").

    An influence on the blues

    Kubik believes that many of today's blues singers unconsciously echo these Arabic-Islamic patterns in their music. Using academic language to describe this habit, Kubik writes in "Africa and the Blues" that "the vocal style of many blues singers using melisma, wavy intonation, and so forth is a heritage of that large region of West Africa that had been in contact with the Arabic-Islamic world of the Maghreb since the seventh and eighth centuries." (Melisma is the use of many notes in one syllable; so, instead of a note that produces, say, a single sound of "ah," you'd get a note that produces something like, "ah-ahhhh-ahhh-ah-ah." Wavy intonation refers to a series of notes that veer from major to minor scale and back again, something that's very common in both blues music and in the Muslim call to prayer. The Maghreb is the Arab-Muslim region of North Africa.)

    Kubik summarizes his thesis this way: "Many traits that have been considered unusual, strange and difficult to interpret by earlier blues researchers can now be better understood as a thoroughly processed and transformed Arabic-Islamic stylistic component."

    The extent of this link between Islam and American blues music is still being debated. Some scholars continue to insist there is no connection, and many of today's best-known blues musicians would say their music has little to do with a religion whose most extreme clerics regularly deride the evils of Western pop music. Yet a growing body of evidence -- gathered by academics like Kubik, and by others like Cornelia Walker Bailey, a Georgia author whose great-great-great-great-grandfather was a Georgia slave who prayed toward Mecca -- suggest a deep relationship between slaves of Islamic descent and U. S. culture. To be sure, Muslim slaves from West Africa were just one factor in the formation of American blues music, but they were a factor, says Barry Danielian, a trumpeter who's performed with Paul Simon, Natalie Cole and Tower of Power.

    Call to prayer

    Danielian, who is Muslim, says non-Muslims find this connection hard to believe because they don't know enough about Arabic or Islamic music. The call to prayer and other Muslim recitations that were practiced by American slaves had a musicality to them, just as these recitations still do, even if they aren't thought of as music by Westerners, Danielian says.

    "I'm part of the Tijaniyya Sufi order, which is based in West and North Africa," says Danielian, who lives in Jersey City, N.J. "And I know that when we get together, especially when the cheikhs (leaders) come and everybody gets together and there are hundreds of people and we do the litanies, they're very musical. You hear what we as Americans would call soulfulness or blues. That's definitely in there."

    What Americans now think of as blues music developed in the 1890s and early 1900s, in Southern states like Louisiana, Mississippi and Alabama. Blues music was an outgrowth of all the different music that was then being performed in the South, from minstrels to street shows. Early blues performers didn't recognize the music's African or Muslim roots because, by then, the songs had more fully merged with white, European music and had lost their obvious connections to a continent that was 4,000 miles away. Also, by the turn of the 20th century, the progeny of America's Muslim slaves had generally converted to Christianity, either by force or circumstance. Among Southern blacks in that period, there were few exponents of Islam. But as more scholars like Diouf and Kubik research that period in history, they see plenty of signs that weren't obvious 100 years ago.

    Take the case of W.C. Handy, who earned the moniker "Father of the Blues" for the way he formalized the music over a 40-year career of writing songs and playing the cornet. In his autobiography, Handy (whose parents were slaves) writes about a life-changing moment that happened around 1903. Handy was sleeping at a train station in Tutwiler, Miss., when "a lean, loose-jointed Negro had commenced plucking a guitar beside me while I slept. His clothes were rags; his feet peeped out of his shoes. His face had on it some of the sadness of the ages. As he played, he pressed a knife on the strings of the guitar. ... The effect was unforgettable. His song, too, struck me instantly. . .. The singer repeated the line ("Goin' where the Southern cross' the Dog") three times, accompanying himself on the guitar with the weirdest music I had ever heard."

    Singing about everything

    The song was about a nearby train station where different trains intersected. As Handy noted in the autobiography (which was published in 1941), "Southern Negroes sang about everything. Trains. Steamboats, steam whistles, sledgehammers, fast women, mean bosses, stubborn mules -- all became subjects for their songs. They accompany themselves on anything from which they can extract a musical sound or rhythmical effect, anything from a harmonica to a washboard. In this way, and from these materials, they set the mood for what we now call the blues."

    While washboards, in fact, became popular among later blues musicians such as Robert Brown (known as "Washboard Sam"), the technique that Handy witnessed -- that of pressing a knife on guitar strings -- can be traced to Central and West Africa, where, as Kubik points out in "Africa and the Blues," people play one-string zithers that way. Handy assumed the technique (which is now called "slide guitar") was borrowed from Hawaiian guitar playing, but it's more likely that the itinerant guitar player that Handy met in Tutwiler was manifesting his African roots. Kubik has traveled to Africa many times for his research and has lived there.

    Bailey, who visited West Africa in 1989, says the African and Muslim roots of Southern U.S. traditions are often mistaken for something else.

    Churches face east

    Bailey lives on Georgia's Sapelo Island, where a small community of blacks can trace their ancestry to Bilali Mohammed, a Muslim slave who was born and raised in what is now the country of Guinea. Visitors to Sapelo Island are always struck by the fact that churches there face east. In fact, as a child, Bailey learned to say her prayers facing east -- the same direction that her great-great-great-great-grandfather faced when he prayed toward Mecca.

    Bilali was an educated man. He spoke and wrote Arabic, carried a Quran and a prayer rug, and wore a fez that likely signified his religious devotion. (Bilali had been trained in Africa to be a Muslim leader; on Sapelo Island, he was appointed by his slave master to be an overseer of other slaves). Although Bilali's descendents adopted Christianity, they incorporated Muslim traditions that are still evident today.

    The name Bailey, in fact, is a reworking of the name Bilali, which became a popular Muslim name in Africa because one of Islam's first converts -- and the religion's first muezzin -- was a former Abyssinian slave named Bilal. (Muezzins are those who recite the call to prayer from the minarets of mosques. ) One historian believes that abolitionist Frederick Douglass, who changed his name from Frederick Bailey, may have had Muslim roots.

    "History changes things," says Bailey, 59, who chronicled the history of Sapelo Island in her memoir, "God, Dr. Buzzard, and the Bolito Man." "Things become something different from what they started out as."

    A good example is the song "Little Sally Walker." It's been recorded by many blues artists, but it's also been recorded as "Little Sally Saucer" (the lyrics describe a girl "sittin' in a saucer"). Frankie Quimby, a relative of Bailey's who also traces her roots to Bilali Mohammed, says the song originated during slavery on the Georgia coast, written by songwriting slaves who took the last name (Walker) of their slave owners.

    "I've seen (people) take the song and use different words," says Quimby, who sings slave songs with her husband in a group called the Georgia Sea Island Singers, which recently performed for President Bush and his Cabinet. "We're educating people about this."

    Guitar derived from Arab oud

    Because there is little documentation about these slave-time origins, it's easy to argue about what can be unequivocally linked to Africa and Islam. Islam and Arab culture have certainly been influences on other music around the world, including flamenco, which is rooted in seven centuries of Muslim rule in Spain.

    The modern guitar is a direct descendant of the oud, an Arabic lute that was introduced to Europe during Spain's Muslim reign. In fact, there's a connection between Renaissance music and Arab-Islamic culture, a connection that academics have studied with more precision than the connection between black Muslim slaves in America and this country's blues music.

    So far, knowledge of Islam's association with blues music seems limited to a select group of academics and musicians. Books like Kubik's "Africa and the Blues" (published in 1999 by the University Press of Mississippi) and Diouf's "Servants of Allah: African Muslims Enslaved in the Americas" (published in 1998 by New York University Press) are more geared toward university audiences. Kubik's book, for example, is weighed down with chapters of dense writing and obscure references.

    In terms of popular culture, it's hard to find a single work -- whether it's a novel, movie, song or other art form -- that covers the topic of Islam, music and African slaves. "Daughters of the Dust," Julie Dash's 1991 film about life on the Sea Islands of Georgia, features a Muslim man who portrays Bilali Mohammed, but a scene that shows him in prayer lasts just a few moments, and the movie received limited release.

    "Roots," Alex Haley's novel that was made into a historic TV series in the 1970s, featured a main character (Kunte Kinte) who is Muslim, although novelist James Michener and others doubted the authenticity of Haley's work.

    As more people become aware of the connection between Islam and the blues, there will be an inevitable shift in perception of how the Muslim religion has spread across continents and influenced other cultures. The difference between Spain, which once was conquered by Muslims, and the United States is that African slaves were brought to this country in chains, against their will, to do hard labor. The slave trade led to a diaspora unlike any other in human history, with at least 10 million Africans bought and sold into bondage in the Americas. Those slaves' pain is evident in American blues music -- a music that's often about cruel treatment, sad times and a yearning to break free. Blues music is a unique American art form that went around the world and, in turn, influenced history. Without the blues, there wouldn't be jazz, wouldn't be the bluesy music of the Rolling Stones and the Beatles.

    Bending of notes

    In his book "Black Music of Two Worlds," author John Storm Roberts says he can hear patterns of Islamic African music in the songs of Billie Holiday. Roberts refers to the "bending of notes" that is evident in Holiday's sad, soulful ballads as well as the call to prayer. This same note-bending can be heard in the music of B.B. King and John Lee Hooker. Blues music, with its thriving tempos and many lyrical references to relationships, has often been described as "the devil's music" by those on the outside looking in. Even many devout Muslims think of blues music as decadent and indicative of permissive Western morals.

    People like Diouf, Kubik and Moustafa Bayoumi, an associate professor of English at Brooklyn College, City University of New York, who has researched Islam's connection to American music, are trying to correct the public record. Bayoumi wrote a paper two years ago that examined African Muslim history in the United States in which he argues that John Coltrane's best-known album, "A Love Supreme," features Coltrane saying, "Allah Supreme" in addition to the many refrains of "A Love Supreme."

    "It's about uncovering a hidden past," says Bayoumi, asked about the spate of new scholarship on the subject of Islam and African Americans. "You can hear (influences of Islam) in even the earliest days of American blues music. What you've gotten lately is an ethnomusicology that's trying to reconstruct that. These are deliberate attempts to rebuild a bridge, as it were."



    http://www.sfgate.com/cgi-bin/article.cgi?f=/c/a/2004/08/15/INGMC85SSK1.DTL

    PEACE!
    ISAIAH
     
  2. jamesfrmphilly

    jamesfrmphilly going above and beyond PREMIUM MEMBER

    Country:
    United States
    Joined:
    Jun 18, 2004
    Messages:
    31,994
    Likes Received:
    11,478
    Gender:
    Male
    Occupation:
    retired computer geek
    Location:
    north philly ghetto
    Ratings:
    +13,732
    i don't think so.
    i think black Africans have a deep enough culture of our own and do not need the Arabs culture.
    besides where do you think the Arabs got it from? us.
     
  3. Sekhemu

    Sekhemu Well-Known Member MEMBER

    Joined:
    Jul 9, 2003
    Messages:
    6,489
    Likes Received:
    1,061
    Gender:
    Male
    Occupation:
    priest
    Location:
    new jersey
    Ratings:
    +1,064

    Hmmmm? is right!
     
  4. Omowale Jabali

    Omowale Jabali The Cosmic Journeyman PREMIUM MEMBER

    Country:
    United States
    Joined:
    Sep 29, 2005
    Messages:
    21,179
    Likes Received:
    9,463
    Gender:
    Male
    Occupation:
    Creative Industrialist
    Location:
    Temple of Kali, Yubaland
    Ratings:
    +9,585
    This is an interesting article. I wonder how many folks here listen to any music from MALI.

    For some reason, many of US still seem to equate Muslim with "Arab" but the Kingdoms of Mali and Songhai were Black African, as were Hausa, Oyo and Yoruba...

    Youssou N'Dour, Salif Keita, Ali Farka Toure...Fela Kuti...Manu Dibango...listen to any of these Brothers, along with Angelique Kidjo and it's obvious there has to be a link somewhere...also...I can only speculate but with all the claims about indigenous Black folks in america before Columbus related to the Mande....the roots of the "Blues" were here as well...
     
  5. Isaiah

    Isaiah Well-Known Member MEMBER

    Joined:
    Jun 8, 2004
    Messages:
    3,210
    Likes Received:
    62
    Ratings:
    +62
    Hey, O, there's a lotta reasons why the dissonance on a claim like this kicks in... It isn't just about Islam, it is about the real lack of good solid research to prove a claim like this, for one... You can't string together a bunch of anecdotal or personal facts, and expect thinking people to just agree with you... African people have moire stringed instruments than any ethnic groups in the world - more stringed instruments than drums!!!(smile!) Yet these folks started talking about the Arabic origins of guitars as a proof of their point that BLUES is of Arabic origin...

    The fact it, we also came from many different cultures, and the anthropologists are concluding that we are Central African-based culture... People just have to do more research to prove these points, because our total history is, and will be for some time, a work in progress... Besides that, I wanna know why Africans in diaspora have such a more profound similarity in their music, than Arabs and Continentals... Salsa sound more like Sou than Soukous(smile!)


    Peace!
    Isaiah
     
  6. Isaiah

    Isaiah Well-Known Member MEMBER

    Joined:
    Jun 8, 2004
    Messages:
    3,210
    Likes Received:
    62
    Ratings:
    +62
    Brother, I thought you said we didn't come from Da KONGO, yo!(smile!)

    But, seriously, I think that a case can be made that we were influenced by a lot of world musics, but as we have such a very strong identity of our own in the many musics we make, it is safe to say that we've been our own agents in what we CHOSE to allow as an influence...

    What these folks who suddenly wanna jump on our bandwagon fail to understand is that their use of the word "origin" over say, "influence", is critical... If the music ORIGINATED with said folks, how come they don't play the same way without much trying or effort??? How come what we do is so NEW to them we've gotta teach 'em how to do it???? Also, how come they spent so long REJECTING "their" music if they knew something the rest of us didn't??? They must answer these questions to the world's satisfaction before their claims can be taken seriously...

    Finally, yes, Bilal was the first Muezzin(not one of the first), but this does not mean he had this Arabic influence... It could well be that Bilal influenced Islamic vocals coming from a civilization that was much, much older than Arabic civilization... Why, then, is there no research into where ETHIOPIA fits into the scheme of their influence on Arabic Civilization??? Could this be a case of more of the same old, "Africans had no culture before their contact with other folks" madness???(smile!)


    Peace!
    Isaiah
     
  7. Sun Ship

    Sun Ship Well-Known Member MEMBER

    Joined:
    Aug 31, 2003
    Messages:
    1,630
    Likes Received:
    38
    Ratings:
    +39
    We are the salt of the earth and the soul of this earth's music

    I appreciate the article …I have a copy of John Storm Roberts’ “Black Music of Two Worlds," this book has been around for a while, I obtained it many years ago…I’ve also listen to many recordings of African American works songs, music from Mali, Black African Muslims of Algeria and Morocco singing and many other West African musicians. Like most of you’ll I’ve listen to “real” down home Delta Blues and Old Negro Spirituals in church…I’ve heard these similarities myself…but I also have the same problems articulated so far about what’s being surmised in this article.

    Now I’m also aware of a few other books making these connections between African Americans and African Islamic culture via the Middle Passage, but I think all of this is the same old BS at the end of the day. Trying to give someone else our story!

    In many racist Islamic cultures Blacks were many times subjugated to musicians, dancers and were also responsible for many other cultural and artistic duties. Let’s read what was said in the writings of Al-Jahiz (776-868 CE), a great Black Iraqi Islamic scholar, about a Black people called the Zanj,

    “These people have a natural talent for dancing to the rhythm of the tambourine, without needing to learn it. There are no better singers anywhere in the world, no people more polished and eloquent, and no people less given to insulting language.”

    This shows that from Bilal to the Zanj of Iraq, Africans and African-Asiatic Black people were the soul to Islamic music. The white Arab was a barbarian before he met the great African-Asiatic Himyaritic speaking cultures of Southern Arabia and East Africa. This is a story as old as the Aryan invasions of ancient Black India; again Black people were never recognized as originating or contributing anything.

    White folks always say how we were always such natural singers and dancers, until it inconveniently challenges white cultural supremacy.

    The same thing that’s being done in the article presented in this thread is the same thing that was attempted by some of the early books trying to explain Jazz. I remember one book denoting something like “Jazz was a mixture of, Irish jigs, Polish polkas, German marches and black influences” This is not only done with our music, but our food, our dance and our other cultural influences.

    It’s sad but, “We gave music and religion its soul all over the world from the beginning of time, but are never recognized for our obvious contributions.

    Peace
     
  8. Isaiah

    Isaiah Well-Known Member MEMBER

    Joined:
    Jun 8, 2004
    Messages:
    3,210
    Likes Received:
    62
    Ratings:
    +62
    Brother SunShip, excellent contribution to this thread... I, too, read John Storm Roberts books, as well, and he was the firts, I believe, to author this connection between the Blues and Arab music... When I first read the article's inferences to Me'lisma being some Arab creation, and contribution to African American music, I knew that was a reference to Robert's works... I was as annoyed by that construction then, as I am now...

    But, again, thanks for providing us with the quote from Al-Jahiz, as that was something I had never seen or heard... I'm going to go try to get ahold of that book... Like you, my spider senses tingle with the thought that this is more of the same warmed-over white supremacist cant that says Africans are incapable of doing anything without someone else nearby to assist them...Wha is particularly scary is Sylviane Diouf is a major player at the Schomburg Library these days... Her exact title I don't know, but she has been given great power over the resources of one of our great historical repositories...



    Peace!
    Isaiah
     
  9. Sun Ship

    Sun Ship Well-Known Member MEMBER

    Joined:
    Aug 31, 2003
    Messages:
    1,630
    Likes Received:
    38
    Ratings:
    +39
    Wow… I use to say for years, I thought there was and has been a quiet and covert coup d'etat going on in our arts, culture and even our general political aspiration. It’s not that these people are always traitors or unintelligent, but they theorize and interpret things without a lot of intrinsic understanding, which is just as important as the facts themselves; for it is the proper interpretation of evidence that determines how one will come to the truth of the matter (its like forensics archaeology). We almost need forensic ethnomusicologist.

    The truth is, “no matter how intellectual African music is, you cannot overly intellectualize it!”

    They have given the African Creolized cuisines of New Orleans to the Cajuns and the African-Argentinean Tango to the white Argentinean Spaniards. You see nothing but white-looking Cubans, Puerto Ricans and Dominicans doing the Rumba and playing the Plano, Bomba and Mambo on television…diasporic African rhythms, dance, food and music are not even associated to Africans anymore. People who are not even of African or diasporic African descent are playing Djembes, sacred Batas and Berimbaus. Being even taught and promoted by the African masters of these instruments and our music!

    And now some of these non-blacks view or pawn themselves off, as the newfound authorities, experts and masters of our legacy and ancestral heritage!!!

    Brother if we’re not careful, in another generation a Black Blues or Jazz musician will be as rare as a Black banjo player…lol (and as you know…the "banjo" an West African derived instrument was brought here by us during the Transatlantic slave trade).

    By the way (FYI), the only book that I know of that has translated and compiled Al-Jahiz works is “The Complete Works of Al-Jahiz”.

    A volume or chapter of his work titled “The Superiority in Glory of the Black Race over the White” is an eye-opener of how this Black man and the ancient world viewed our people, and how racist Arabs were since the beginning of Islam. One reviewer put it like this:

    “The Superiority in Glory of the Black Race over the White, which could not be refuted, caused a major uproar in the Arab community during those times and Al'Jahiz has since been academically diminished by Arabs for his scholarly ability. It is our assessment that more people of the world would greatly benefit from knowing about this great African Nationalist scholar.

    Up until his book, The Glory of the Black Race was released, Al'Jahiz was worldwide known as the LORD OF THE GOLDEN AGE OF ARAB LITERATURE (A.D. 778--868)”


    (Sun Ship's note: Remember these writings were long before the Hon. Elijah Muhammad…lol)

    Also I recommend a VHS documentary called “Land Where The Blues Began”, it has interesting and unique footage with comparative analyses of West African and diasporic African music of the South (works songs, field holler and blues). Its derived from ethnomusicologist Alan Lomax’s field work; though he took unfair advantage as far as royalties when it came to his later rewards for this research, still its sad to say, if it wasn’t for him a lot of this would have been lost to time and memory.

    Peace
     
  10. jamesfrmphilly

    jamesfrmphilly going above and beyond PREMIUM MEMBER

    Country:
    United States
    Joined:
    Jun 18, 2004
    Messages:
    31,994
    Likes Received:
    11,478
    Gender:
    Male
    Occupation:
    retired computer geek
    Location:
    north philly ghetto
    Ratings:
    +13,732
    i believe that blues and other Black music styles are based out of black African culture, not Islamic culture.
    we don't need no Arab to teach us how to sing the blues.
    we have a culture that predates Islam.
     
Loading...
Similar Threads - BLUES ORIGINS ISLAMIC
  1. UBNaturally
    Replies:
    23
    Views:
    1,004
  2. $$RICH$$
    Replies:
    20
    Views:
    959
  3. AACOOLDRE
    Replies:
    0
    Views:
    301
  4. CosmicMessenger
    Replies:
    0
    Views:
    270
  5. CosmicMessenger
    Replies:
    0
    Views:
    252

Users found this page by searching for:

  1. refutation muslim roots of blues