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Captive Passage: The Transatlantic Slave Trade and the Making of the Americas

Work Songs

Captive Passage
has been made
possible in part by:
National Endowment for the Humanities
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Legacy: Building New NationsCreating Institutions and Community
Africa's GiftsThe Black ChurchEducationFoodMusicA Lasting Legacy


African music from the time of the diaspora was characterized by complex rhythms, simple scales, and a call-and-response format. These rhythms, melodies, and patterns traveled across the Atlantic in the memories of enslaved Africans and were recreated on foreign shores. As slaves adapted to their new surroundings and the foreign cultures around them, so did their music. The complex rhythms of the Africans melded with complex melodies of Europeans, while the flatted notes of the African scales lent a melancholy feel to songs. White spiritual music mixed with the call-and-response of African songs to create the rousing gospel music during the 19th century in America. This borrowing and melding would become a pattern repeated again and again over the next hundred and fifty years. Modern forms of jazz, blues, r&b, rock, hip-hop, and rap are a result of this process.

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Work Songs