Throughout time, music has been one of the most creative way of human expression. The music have been a way to connect people in party and joy, but it has also been a way to express a political statement. Music has been used to create joy, to provocate and to make change. Here I will go through how music with Afro-American roots has been influencing almost all modern mainstream music.
It all began in the american south. For hundreds of years, black people were forced from Africa to work as slaves in the new colonies in North and South America. Even if the slaves were crippled by the chains of racism, torture and injustice, they invented their own ways and communities just to manage the struggles of the every day harsh life. The black slaves invented Blues – a mixture of African folk music, which would later develop a completely uniqe genre of music.
The blues was often slow and smooth and centered along a few basic chords. The music mostly contained guitar, bass, drum, saxophone trumpet, harmonica and a trumbone and it was always centered around the song and the lyrics in it. The blues developed a new scale, called the blues scale. In traditional western music, we use seven tones, both i major and minor. For example, A major contains an A, B C#, D, E, F# and a G#. A minor contains A, B, C, D, E, F and G. In China and traditional East Asian music, there are only five tones. They are called the pentatonic scale. A minor in pentatonic mode, for example, would be A C D E G. But when it comes to blues and jazz, it is completely different. It has six tones. If it’s in a minor, it contains A, C, D, D#, E, and G. The sixth tone, an D# is called a tritonus, or the “devils interlude.” That is because the tone sounds very scary while played together with the main tone. However, the blues and jazz, uses this tone frequently, to create a little mystic or crazy touch to it. Popular blues artists was BB King, John Lee Hooker, Gary Davis, and Eric Clapton.
When the slaves were free in the mid 19th century, the development of the blues continued to flow through America. But in the beginning of the 20’th century, the black people developed another genre of music – the jazz. Just like blues, jazz used the blues scale, but it was more advansed, based on dynamic, rhytmic variations and improvisations. The chords. Jazz bands started to play in bars and nightclubs all around America. The most common instruments was guitar, piano, bass, saxophone, trumpet, clarinet, tuba and double bass. Jazz music became popular in both America and Europe after World War One, both by black and white communities. Some of the most famous artist in jazz was Miles Davis, Frank Zinatra, Billie Holiday, Louis Armstrong, Duke Ellington and many many more.
They use to say that everybody wants to be black but nobody wants to be black. The meaning of this quote, is that nobody would like to live through the opression and struggle that have haunted the blacks for centuries, but everybody loves their contribution to culture and music. White people who love jazz and collect their vinyl records, white kids acting cool with hanging pants and listen to hip hop. Black people started to influence all of the american and western popular culture and it continued to do so. After World War Two, the genre of Rock n Roll was created in the USA. One of the greatest rock legends of all time was, off course Elvis Presley, taking the American youth with storm in the 50’s, while the parents went completely mad over the disguisting dirty Rock Music. Even if Elvis Presley was white, he took his inspiration from blues, jazz and rockabilly and developed this into Rock n Roll, known for it’s heavier and faster touch to it, with electric guitars and a more heavy drumset. During that time, there were still many people that thought that black people should do black music and white people should do white music. Elvis Presley broke that norm and combined it all into one.
In the sixties, the rock n roll genre lightned up a bit. Pop music developed. It was soft, melodic and friendly and was developed by bands like The Beatles in the 60’s. The pop music would later be electrified in the 70’s, and 80’s with the disco, funk and electropop genres. But in the 60’s, there was also a new genre of rock music with a harder touch to it. Hard Rock. Bands like Rolling Stones took the Rock n Roll to a new level, with harder drums and more fuzz and distortion to the guitars. But there was an even heavier subgenre of rock that would soon be born.
In the late 60’s, bands like Deep Purple Led Zeppelin and Black Sabbath, all from Great Britain, invented a new form of aggressive and brutal rock music, famous for it’s distorted guitar riffs and heavy distincted drums. The genre would continue to develop in the 70’s and had it’s climax in the 80’s when it got the name Heavy Metal. In this time, heavy rock bands like Black Sabbath provocated the parents with their occultism and provocative music. Hints about sex, alcohol, drugs and everything that was tabu, made the society go bananas over the new terrible rock music. Worst of all was the accusations of satanic themes. Black Sabbath used a lot of satanic symbolism in their music, like upside down crosses. This trend continued in the 80’s, Heavy Metal, with themes about death, partying, war, sex and revolution against the society. Bands like Iron Maiden, Judas Priest and Metallica hit the world hard in the 80’s.
In the 90’s, the new subgenres of metal took form, to an even more extreme level. Death Metal, with it’s fast double bass drums and it’s hysterical dark and brutal guitar riffs, and the growling vocals. Growling was a new way of vocal performance in metal. They were not winging at all, just growling like demons with their throats. Black metal was the most controversial of them all, with the most extreme embracing of the satanic themes, provocating and mocking religion, songs about burning churches and drinking pig blood and and worshipping the devil.
Beside the extreme metal in the 90’s, there was a new genre of music developed. Hiphop. Hiphop was known for it’s rap. The vocalist did not sing, but rather speaking in rhytm to the beats. This genre had basically no connections to the blues or jazz, but should be considered a completely independent genre of music. It was developed by black people in the street, often in neighborhoods with much segregation and crime. The lyrics of rap music was rebellic against society, against racism, polticians and the police, with lyrics about violence, sex and drugs. Some parents and moralists in the society was upset with this rap music, claiming that the lyrics encouraged violence and riots, but mostly, the lyrics were just showing the reality for many black people in the US, and the problems in the black society.
However, there have been some famous white rappers as well, like Eminem, who was critisized in the beginning for “stealing black music.” White people should not do hiphop, blues or jazz or whatever, they said. But truth is that music with black origin has become a part of the mainstream society all around the world. Actually, music should be used for people to enjoy, of any race or religion. There should not be any rule saying, white people should do this music and black people should do that music. Music is made to enjoy and connect people, not divide people. Everybody should have the right to listen to what they want and create what they want, no matter where they come from and where they live.
Here are two videos, one about the evolution of Rock and one for Pop.