What Islam Gave the Blues
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What Islam Gave the Blues

Desert Dancer 30 Sep 19 - 10:03 AM
Jack Campin 30 Sep 19 - 11:05 AM
Desert Dancer 30 Sep 19 - 10:45 PM
Mrrzy 01 Oct 19 - 12:37 PM
GUEST,Starship 01 Oct 19 - 01:00 PM
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Subject: What Islam Gave the Blues
From: Desert Dancer
Date: 30 Sep 19 - 10:03 AM

What Islam Gave the Blues, by Sylviane A. Diouf, Brown University.

Sylviane A. Diouf is a social historian whose research interests include the trans-Atlantic and trans-Indian Ocean slave trades, West African Muslims, and resistance to slavery.

An excerpt:

"On American farms and plantations, Qur’anic recitations and Sufi chants, done solo or in small groups, would have sounded just like songs. And so too would the call to prayer, the adhan. The words of the adhan are the same everywhere, but each call has a distinctive sound, characteristic of each place. It will sound different in, say, Uzbekistan and Senegal. Perhaps the most striking holler in that regard came from Bama, the star singer of Parchman prison. Like the adhan, his “Levee Camp Holler,” recorded by Lomax as late as 1947—a sign of the genre’s longevity—could have floated from a minaret. It is almost an exact match to the call to prayer by a West African muezzin. It features the same ornamented notes, elongated syllables sung with wavy intonations, melismas, and pauses. When both pieces are juxtaposed, it is hard to distinguish when the call to prayer ends and the holler starts. It was most likely these audible expressions of Muslim faith, and not merely what the musicians brought over, that generated the distinctive African American music of the South.

The blues is generally understood as a secular music of loss: lost women, lost jobs, regrets, and defeat. But it has a more profound, spiritual side: defying despair. In the 1950s, Ralph Ellison, while writing about flamenco—another Islamic-influenced music—remarked that the “blues voice mocks the despair stated explicitly in the lyric, and it expresses the great human joke directed against the universe, that joke which is the secret of all folklore and myth: that though we be dismembered daily we shall always rise up again.” For theologian James Cone, the blues is “a secular spiritual." In this spirituality, perhaps one may find an echo of one of the blues’s roots in Islamic practices and music.

The blues is not African music; there is no traditional “African blues.” Nor is it “Islamic music.” The blues is an African American creation, born of American circumstances and various influences. What makes it unique is the prevalence of a number of Sahelian/Islamic stylistic elements that became dominant due in part to historical events particular to American slavery. One, the Stono uprising, was an attack on the system in the pursuit of freedom. Another, the uprooting of a million people, was engineered to feed the monstrously violent development of slavery in the Deep South. Still another was the virtual re-enslavement of the post-Emancipation period. To resist the onslaught of these cruel historical circumstances, African Americans used all the cultural tools that best allowed them to express their suffering and hope, to comfort themselves, and to help them cope. Among these were the soulful tunes of the hollers and the blues. Though largely unrecognized, they are some of the most enduring contributions of West African Muslims to American culture."

Seen via the Ajam Media Collective on Facebook.

~ Becky near Ashland

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Subject: RE: What Islam Gave the Blues
From: Jack Campin
Date: 30 Sep 19 - 11:05 AM

Sufi chants, perhaps not. Sufis tend to adopt local musical traditions rather than re-invent their own, and the dominant Sufi order in West Africa only got there after the Notth American slave trade stopped and was concentrated in areas away from the coast where the slave trade didn't have much impact.

Tijani order

For the rest - maybe.   It's standard for the call to prayer to use a different mode for each time of day, so whatever else might have survived of it, modal distinctions derived from a five-way classification ought to be present. Are they? I haven't heard enough field hollers to know.

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Subject: RE: What Islam Gave the Blues
From: Desert Dancer
Date: 30 Sep 19 - 10:45 PM

From the comments on the post on Facebook:

Stephen Winick: This isn't good analysis. She enumerates features that are characteristic of "reciting and singing in the Islamic world," but not distinctive to them; Irish Sean-Nos singing has all these same features, for example. Apart from that, she doesn't give any evidence that isn't purely subjective: "the holler sounds (to me) like the call to prayer." An ethnomusicologist trying to make this argument would analyze the two pieces musically to determine how alike they really are, not just claim you can barely tell them apart!

Even if they are quite alike, people point out (for example) the similarities between Gaelic and Chinese music without suggesting a direct historical link. So the similarity wouldn't be proof of a historical connection, but it would be a starting place.

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Subject: RE: What Islam Gave the Blues
From: Mrrzy
Date: 01 Oct 19 - 12:37 PM

Also the majority of West Africans brought over were animists rather than moslem, no? Even today Islam predominates in North and East Africa, not West. The decades I was in Ivory Coast there were about 1/3 each Christians, animists and moslems. Which last tended to be educated in the European style, and city folk. All villagers and upcountry folk we encountered were animists.

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Subject: RE: What Islam Gave the Blues
From: GUEST,Starship
Date: 01 Oct 19 - 01:00 PM

What needs to be established is the influence of Islam on the people who developed American blues. There's the rub. Islam was a fringe religion in North America, even in Black communities. Malcolm X popularized it (although Farrakhan has a different view). It's an interesting thesis, but it has a weakness in reasoning on that point.

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Mudcat time: 19 April 1:42 AM EDT

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