Nowadays if someone is to debate whether Black Music, however they define it, is simply a copy or imitation of white music, it would be outrageously offensive and unacceptable. However, back in just the past few centuries, in the somewhat recent past, (white) scholars have differing views and have even attempted to conduct pseudo-“scientific” research to prove otherwise. For instance, George Pullen Jackson, in 1943, attempted to compare black folk songs and spirituals to many white folk songs and hymnals, trying to prove it using a flawed, and biased style of commentary.
Continuing my attempt to learn and search for the origins of “Black Music”, I looked into the archives from the African American Newspaper collections. What caught my attention was this article called “Plea for Negro Folklore” published in The Freeman in Indianapolis, Indiana, dated January 27, 1894.
Black cultural heritage and performance practices have been endangered and “whitewashed” since the early times. In an attempt to seek and preserve the roots of the black cultural heritage, both tangible and intangible, this piece of news article calls for action to connect with and rediscover authentic Black experience instead of passively accepting the predominantly whitewashed, assimilated cultural stereotypes.
The writer is concerned that an immeasurable amount of black cultural heritage such as folklores, songs and poems are in imminent danger of being lost as younger generations of black Americans are eager and swift to embrace and integrate themselves into the white dominated academia, society and culture.
“The common school system with its teachings of eradicating the old and planting the seeds of the new, and the transition period is likely to be a short one.”
(quote from the news article)
I then looked further for some African-American folklores and stumbled upon this audio visual narrative of The Myth of the Flying African on youtube. This story is also told by Virginia Hamilton in her narrative of African-American Folklores series- The People Could Fly.
“Kum kuba yali
Kum buba tambe
Kum konku yali
Kum konku tambe”
(In the legend, these words and many variations of such are believed and spoken by many enslaved for their freedom from bondage, according to Virginia Hamilton as well as many other sources)
The following is an audio recording of a tune in which the origins can be attributed to this folklore, sung by an African American female. Although this is only one among the many existing as well as lost folksongs and folklores of African American heritage, it speaks to the authenticity of Black Culture and Music.
Bibliography / Source:
Freeman (Indianapolis, Indiana) 6, no. 4, January 27, 1894: . Readex: African American Newspapers.https://infoweb.newsbank.com/apps/readex/doc?p=EANAAA&docref=image/v2%3A12B28495A8DAB1C8%40EANAAA-12C8A12E849E6750%402412856-12C8A12E9A8258B0%401.
George Pullen Jackson, White and Negro Spirituals (1943)
Henry Krehbiel, Afro-American Folksongs: A Study in Racial and National Music (1914).
AFRICAN-AMERICAN FOLKLORE SERIES | Episode III: The Myth of the Flying African. https://youtu.be/F1NjulB7v1Y?t=669