African American Culture Today – The Banjo

african american culture today

Afro-American history is one of the most complex areas of history to study today. The truth is that only by having a deep understanding of this past, can the present survive. By opening up historical doors, by learning about the people, places, and events that shaped and impacted the African American experience, we can better understand modern day issues impacting the black community today.

Let’s Understand African American Culture Today With Some Examples

A group of people riding on the back of a bicycle

Let’s take a look at some examples of how understanding the cultural heritage of blacks can help us better understand the complex present. In many cities across the United States, there are pockets of neighborhoods where the black community lives, works, and learns together. In many instances these neighborhoods are formally segregated by police lines and events can be orderly, yet violent. This is true not just of large cities, but of smaller ones as well. The simple explanation for this phenomenon, of course, is that Africans who reside in these neighborhoods have a history and they want to keep that history alive.

One such group is the West Coast Blues Band. The history of these band members can be found in the local newspapers and black residents were known to collect their own copy of “Hear my Banjo.” Not only was this paper a means of keeping up with current events, but was also used as a tool for storytelling. The late civil rights leader, Martin Luther King Jr., was quoted as saying, “Hear my Banjo,” in a famous speech. This quote continues to remain a clarion call for people of all races and ethnicities to hear and respond to the voice of the African American man today.

A similar story exists with the late George Clinton. He was born in Mississippi and grew up in segregated apartments. He would go on to become one of the most popular and influential leaders in the civil rights movement. Like many other African Americans, he could not escape the segregated south, even when it was in his best interest to do so.

Long History Of Friction Between Whites And Africans

A man flying through the air while riding a snow board

There is a long history of friction between whites and Africans in the United States. Early white settlers and slaves alike experienced an intense level of animosity toward the African Americans. Slaves would riot after being left alone by the white man. The attitude toward blacks changed drastically after Manifest Destiny, when the former slaves of the former slave owner began to organize and form the African American communities that exist today.

For some, the integration of African Americans into the European culture is a welcome change. There are those, however, who would prefer a more “Americanized” version of what an African American experience might be. These people would prefer for their cultural practices to match that of their European counterparts.

Choice Of Musical Instruments Made By The African Americans

One example of this can be seen in the choice of musical instruments made by the African Americans. Throughout the years, banjos have become instruments of choice for African Americans who wish to add a little flavor to their sound. In the early to mid nineteenth century, banjos were often imported from Africa and were often used in conjunction with lutes (in the case of ragtime), claves (in the case of bossa nova) or strummed cymbals (in the case of topanga). Modern banjos are a far cry from the instruments of yesteryear.

Final Thoughts

The banjo is an interesting choice for an African American musical instrument because of its colorful history. Many early American blacksmiths perfected the art of making banjos to fit the demands of plantation owners. This instrument was often used in the celebration of success in the field and was also used to play traditional music for the men during courtship rituals. Today, banjos are used for a variety of purposes, ranging from banjo solos to country blues, bluegrass and rock and roll.

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