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Ms. Pennell Eleventh Grade American Literature Brookwood High School African American and Afro Cuban...

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Ms. Pennell Eleventh Grade American Literature Brookwood High School African American and Afro Cuban Spirituals

Ms. PennellEleventh Grade American Literature

Brookwood High School

African American and Afro Cuban Spirituals

SpiritualsSpirituals are folk songs that originated

among the enslaved and the oppressed African Americans. They are one of the earliest and one of the most widely known forms of American folk song to have survived to the twenty-first century.

Spirituals took the forms of ballads, shouts, and jubilees to reflect different moods and circumstances prevalent in the lives of the slaves.

SpiritualsContaining both social and religious

content, spirituals helped to shape the conscious identity of an enslaved people.

They also helped slaves persevere under the physical and psychological pressures of their daily lives.

The songs contained the singers’ pain, their yearning for freedom, and their rage against slavery.

SpiritualsThese singers and these songs brought to life

the emotional impact of slavery.Slavery divided our nation for decades and was

instrumental in bringing about the Civil War.Frederick Douglass, a slave who became one of

the most important writers of his time, said of the spirituals:

“Every tone was a testimony against slavery and a testimony to God for deliverance from chains.”

SpiritualsWhile playing an important role in

bringing to light the evils of slavery, the spirituals also served the role of replacing lost African religious traditions.

This allowed the slaves to maintain a connection to their musical heritage.

The History of the Negro SpiritualBefore 1865Almost all the first Africans who arrived in the

New World were slaves. They came from several regions of the African West Coast.

Their ways of living were described by slaves themselves in the slave narratives. We read an excerpt from Olaudah Equiano’s slave narrative early last semester.

In Equiano’s narrative, we were introduced to some of the horrors African Americans faced while being stolen from Africa, surviving the passage from Africa to the Americas, and sold into slavery.

Negro Spirituals and the Lives of the SlavesAll slaves were allowed to worship

Christianity on the condition that there was a white person present presiding over the ceremonies.

All religious practices from Africa were banned and made illegal.

Slavery was an important issue facing Churches, as slaves were allowed to meet for Christian services. Some Christian ministers, such as J.D. Long, wrote against slavery.

History of the SpiritualsRural slaves used to stay after the regular worship

services, in churches or in plantation “praise houses”, for singing and dancing. But, slaveholders did not allow dancing and the playing of drums, as was their usual custom in Africa. They also had meetings at secret places (“camp meetings”, “bush meetings”), because they needed to meet one another and share their joys, pains and hopes.

In rural meetings, thousands slaves would gather and listen to itinerant preachers, and sing spirituals, for hours. In the late 1700s, they sang the precursors of spirituals, which were called “corn ditties”.

History of the SpiritualsSo, in rural areas, spirituals were sung, mainly

outside of churches. In cities, in about 1850, the Protestant City-Revival Movement created a new song genre, which was popular; for revival meetings organized by this movement, temporary tents were erected in stadiums, where the attendants could sing.

At church, hymns and psalms were sung during services. Some of them were transformed into songs of a typical African American form: the spiritual. Many of the hymns or lyrics used in the songs were written by the famous Dr. Isaac Watts.

Historical Accounts of Slaves at WorshipBy the law of the state, no colored persons are

permitted to assemble for worship, unless a white person be present and preside....at this time, two whites and two blacks were in the pulpit. One of the blacks......gave out Dr. Watt's beautiful Psalm, "show pity, Lord; oh Lord, forgive," etc. They all rose immediately.

They have no books, for they could not read; but it was printed on their memory, and they sang it off with freedom and feeling. There is a much melody in their voices; and when they enjoy a hymn, there is a raised expression of the face, and an undulating motion of the body, keeping time with the music, which is very touching......"

Secret ChurchesThis rich oral tradition of religious songs had its

earliest beginnings in the early church, camp meetings, and the invisible churches. The following is a detailed report written by a member of a deputation from the congregational Union of England and Wales:The building, called a church, is without the town,

and placed in a hollow, so as to be out of sight ... It is a poor log house, built by the hands of Negroes, and so placed as to show that they must worship by stealth. It is, perhaps 20 by 25; with boarding and rails breast-high, run around three sides, so as to form galleries. To this is added a lean-to, to take the overplus ... The place was quite full, the women and men were arranged on opposite sides.

Characteristics of SpiritualsThe rich drumming traditions of the African slaves

were viewed with suspicion and banned by slave owners who feared that they would be used as a form of communication between the slaves.

In the Caribbean, in countries like Cuba and Haiti, drumming and ring shouts were permitted. The drums were used as prayers to evoke African deities such as Chango, Elegua, Yemaya, and others.

Bembés and Other Cultural CrossingsWhat were known as ring shouts in the

colonies or the United States were known as Bembés in the Caribbean.

Santeria, a fusion of Catholicism and the Yoruba religion from what we know now as Nigeria, was developed by the slaves in Cuba and other nations in the Caribbean and Latin America.

The slaves used images from the Catholic church to associate certain saints with specific African gods.

Bembé: The Rhythm of The Saints A bembé is a party for the orishas. During a bembé the orishas are praised,

saluted and entreated to join the party through mounting one of the priests(esses) in attendance. This is done through a confluence of the song, rhythm, and movement, all calling to the orisha in such a way that the orishas will recognize themselves in the lyrics, rhythms and dances as they have been performed for them for perhaps thousands of years.

The rhythms play an important part of the equation and the drummers practice assiduously for years to be able to play the intricate rhythms correctly. This is important since the drums are actually speaking to the orishas as the Yoruba language is a tonal one and the drums are tuned in such a way as to play the tones of Yoruba speech. For this reason some rhythms are never played unless it is in religious context as it would offend the orishas. These rhythms are actually prayers to the deities with each orisha having its own rhythms associated with him or her.

Bembé: The Rhythm of The SaintsDance also becomes prayer in the religious context

of a bembé. The movements of the dances are the same motions associated with the orishas for thousands of years. As with the rhythms played on the drums, each orisha has its own dances with Yemayá's dance emulating the motion of the waves, Ogún's chopping with his machete, Oshún's portraying her primping in front of her hand held mirror, etc. Therefore, these movements become more danced prayers than what the Western European would refer to as dance.

Everything present at a bembé whether it is song, dance, rhythm or colors used, becomes part of an intricate fabric of prayer saluting, praising and calling to the orishas and asking them to be present.

The Birth of a New Religious Practice

An example of the slaves in the Caribbean embedding African gods under the safety of the images of Catholic saints can be seen with Saint Lazarus and Elegua, the Yoruba god of the crossroads.

Yemaya: Virgen de Regla

Another popular example of the Yoruba religious presence in the Caribbean is with the goddess Yemaya.

Mother of life and all orishas, she is the owner of the waters and represents the sea (in the coast, because in the depths of Olokun reigns). Her punishments are hard and her anger terrible, although she acts with justice. She symbolizes perfection, hard work, subordinate occupations, service, health, efficiency and tame animals.

YemayaShe is a major orisha.

She was Babalú Ayé, Agayú, Orula and Oggúns wife. She likes hunting and to handle the machete. She is untamable and clever. Seven is her number and her day is Saturday. Her colors are blue and white.

YemayaFor that reason her

elegant dress is intense blue, the same as the beads of her necklace which alternated with transparent ones. The animals sacrificed to her are the ram, the rooster, the pigeons, the guineo (a type of fruit), the turtle, the duck, the hen, the parrot, the goose, the quail.

Yemayá is friend of good company and splendor. Although she is a virtuous and wise mother, she is also cheerful. Protects against afflictions related to the person’s stomach or those that imply damage or death through the fresh water or the sea, rains or humidity.

Do Not Make Yemaya Angry …The Yemayá foods are the Ochinchin

(stew shrimps, capers, boiled eggs, beet and tomato), ekó ( corn tamal that remains the whole day into water, then it is milled in a morta.

It is cooked in a pan with no fat or salt while beating it, is given a pyramid form and then wrapped up in fresh banana leaves) , olelé (soak some caritas beans into water, remove their the skin by scratching it, then make a pasta and add some salt, cut some garlic and onions and also add pieces of ginger to the dough. Fry in hot fat with a little bag of annatto).

Be Careful … Her Dishes Are Complicated!When its very hot, pour it on the

dough of beans that had been previously beaten. Stuff this pasta into papers molds) She also has okra with rolls made of plantain or roots, black beans cooked with no broth or corn, roasted maize meal with syrup, burnt coconut, four whole fishermen in a white plate with blue line, syrup, palm tree nut and husk, cress, lettuce, endive, beet and chayote.

If you make a mistake …When she is angry she

must have cress, lettuce, chayote and purslane, to refresh her otá.

Her favorite fruit is the water melon, although she favors pineapples, papayas, grapes, water pears, apples, bananas and oranges.

Other Aspects of African Culture Banned During SlaveryAfter regular a worship service, congregations

used to stay for a “ring shout”. Ring shouts are derived from primitive African dance. So, educated ministers and members placed a ban on it.

The men and women would arrange themselves in a ring. The music would start, perhaps with a Spiritual, and the ring would begin to move, at first slowly, then with quickening pace. The same musical phrase was repeated over and over for hours. This produced an ecstatic state. Women screamed and fell. Men, exhausted, dropped out of the ring

Characteristics of SpiritualsSinging, particularly the singing of spirituals,

was tolerated and even considered a good thing. Firstly, it added rhythm to the slaves’ work which improved productivity.

Secondly, the owners who considered themselves ‘good Christians’ were glad to hear pious music being sung in their plantations.

Covert Meanings Embedded in LyricsHowever, many of the spirituals were used to

pass on coded messages. Words such as ‘chariot’ and ‘train’ referred to a train of people who would hide slaves as they made their way to freedom. The ‘river Jordan’ often referred to the Ohio river. ‘Canaan’ meant Canada and ‘Follow the drinking gourd’ meant follow the star formation (shaped like a hollowed-out gourd) that included the North star.

Covert Meanings Embedded in the Lyrics of the SpiritualsMany spirituals had a double meaning. Most

included references to people, places, or even events in the Bible.

They frequently referred to Moses, who in the Old Testament led the Jews out of slavery in Egypt. Slaves identified with the Israelites, who had once been the slaves of the Egyptians. Singing about the Israelites was a safe way to voice their own yearning for liberty.

Harriet Tubman’s code name was also Moses.

Covert Meanings Embedded in the Lyrics of the SpiritualsFor example, in spirituals such as “Swing Low,

Sweet Chariot” and “Go Down, Moses” slaves expressed their hope that they would one day escape to their own personal “promised land.”

References to figures and events in the Bible thus became a kind of code for the slaves’ own experience. One work song did more than just express discontent; it gave directions for escape.

In “Follow the Drinking Gourd,” fugitive slaves were advised to follow the Big Dipper north to freedom.

Covert Meanings Embedded in Lyrics

The spiritual ‘Steal Away’ includes the line ‘My Lord, He calls me, He calls me by the thunder’. The word ‘thunder’ indicated the time or place when a slave needed to make his or her escape (the word thunder would be replaced with other more precise times or places).

Characteristics of the Music and Lyrics of Spirituals

Spirituals combined African characteristics such as the pentatonic scale, the call and response format, syncopation, a cappella singing, and characteristic long and irregular melodic phrases with the structural and harmonic conventions of European Christian hymns.

In this respect, spirituals can be viewed as a form of nineteenth century fusion music.

Call and Response FormatThe refrain was often the most important part of a

spiritual. A refrain is a word, phrase, line, or group of lines repeated at regular intervals throughout the work. Refrains serve several key functions:They emphasize the most important ideas.They help establish the rhythm of the song.

Spirituals were not meant to be sung alone. Instead, the refrain facilitated a call-and-response format in which a leader sang the verses and the rest of the group acted like a chorus and sang the refrain.

Call and Response Format Cont’dEach song produced a different mood or feeling within the group:Some songs focused more on the pain or rage caused by the conditions of slavery

Other songs looked hopefully toward the future.

Pentatonic ScaleA pentatonic scale is

an octave that contains five notes.

This type of scale is found all over the world in all different types of music.

African American spirituals, jazz, Celtic music, Greek folk music, and African folk music all typically contain pentatonic scales.