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Saturday, June 22, 2019

Roots of Africanized Christianity Spiritual Songs

Roots of Africanized Christianity Spiritual Songs

Roots of Africanized Christianity Spiritual Songs

African infused musical way of worship has modern-day and historical meanings to gospel music.

African infused musical way of worship has modern-day and historical meanings to gospel music.

In Africa, music has been used for thousands of years to treat illnesses and restore harmony and had been central to African people's lives. Music making and performance permeated important life events and daily activities. However, the white slave owners of North America were scared by and detested the slave population African infused way of worship because they considered it to be idolatrous and wild. As a result, the gatherings were often banned and had to be conducted in secret.

The African population in Africa and the American colonies had initially been introduced to Christianity in the sixtieth century during the appropriation of African people on the African continent and during the Transatlantic Slave trade. The black enslaved population was at first forced fed Biblical stories containing parallels to their own lives and slowly created spirituals that retold narratives about Biblical figures.

As Africanized Christianity took hold of the black enslaved population, spirituals served as a way to express sorrows and hopes. As Frederick Douglass, a nineteenth-century abolitionist author and former slave wrote in his book My Bondage and My Freedom of singing spirituals during his years in bondage: "A keen observer might have detected in our repeated singing of 'O Canaan, sweet Canaan, I am bound for the land of Canaan,' something more than a hope of reaching heaven. We meant to reach the North, and the North was our Canaan."
Drums are a central part of African and African-American church services
Drums are a central part of African and African-American church services

Africanized Christianity in the informal gatherings of African slaves in praise houses and outdoor meetings called brush arbor meetings, bush meetings, or camp meetings. At the meetings, participants would sing, chant, dance and sometimes enter rapturous trances. Spirituals also stem from the ring shout, a shuffling circular dance to chanting.

In the 1870s, the creation of the Jubilee Singers, a chorus consisting of former slaves from Fisk University in Nashville, Tennessee, sparked an international interest in the musical form. While some African Americans at the time associated with the spiritual tradition with slavery and were not enthusiastic about continuing it, the Fisk University singers performances persuaded many that it should be continued.

Ensembles around the country started to emulate the Jubilee singers, giving birth to a concert hall tradition of performing this music that has remained strong to this day. While spirituals continue to have a presence in the concert hall, the centrality of the form to African American Churches has waned in the twentieth century with the rise in popularity of Gospel music.

The Gospel tradition has preserved some of the lyrics of many spirituals, but the musical forms have changed dramatically as harmonies are added and the tunes arranged to suit new performance styles. In spite of these changes, forms of the traditional spiritual continue to survive in some of the conservative congregations of the South that are either more isolated from modern influences, or that simply choose to preserve the older songs.

Spirituals have played a significant role as vehicles for protests at intermittent points during the twentieth and early twenty-first centuries. During the Civil Rights Movement of the 1950s and 1960s, spirituals, as well as Gospel songs, supported the efforts of civil rights activists. Many of the freedom songs of the period, such as Oh, Freedom! and Eyes on the Prize were adapted from old spirituals.  The civil rights movement's central song, We Shall Overcome, merged the gospel hymn I'll Overcome Someday with the spiritual I'll Be all right.

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