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Young America

What were the first ones like?

Northamerican multicultural richness is reflected in its folk or traditional music. It has three main roots that represent the first population groups: natives, immigrants and slaves.

The first Northamerican musicians were those from their native lands who developed a great variety in forms and techniques through which they expressed their beliefs in the spirituality of Nature.

The Red Shadow Singers – Buffalo Song (2008)

This is a traditional ojibwa song that was recovered by one of the most prestigious formations of the genre. The ojibwa nation has a very extensive culture which was documented with pictograms.

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The most important elements of traditional Native American music are singing and percussion. Vocalization takes many forms, both solo and choral, and it uses words or nonsense syllables. Singers rely on a constant rhythm provided by percussion, especially drums and rattles. Although many of these cultures have become extinct, others remain relatively alive, sometimes in a more modern form.

Did immigrants have an influence?

The first European immigrants who, from the 17th century, arrived massively from countries like the UK, Spain or France brought in the Christian choirs, musical annotation, and new styles and instruments.

Later on, the colonization of new lands brought new cultures and nationalities that integrated within the United States. This way, cajun and creole music, polka, violen, klezmer and Texan music were incorporated.

Jean Ritchie – Sweet William and Lady Margaret (1961)

This is a version of a traditional Irish ballad which was recopilated by Thomas Percy in the 17th century. The mother of folk is an expert in apalache music and its characteristic sweetness.

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The majority of the Thirteen Colonies inhabitants who founded the USA were of British origin, which is the reason why Anglo-Saxon culture has had the greatest influence on traditional and popular American music. Many traditional American songs have the same music as the originally British, but with new lyrics. We find humorous stories, tales, and ballads. We can also find stories of mining accidents, shipwrecks, murders, or legendary heroes.

The third group?

Ancestors of today’s African-American population were brought as slaves to work on the southern plantations. Coming from different areas of West Africa, they incorporated their deep musical and spiritual tradition.

These people also created a rich variety of genres and styles that marked their primacy in popular music. Their music uses elements such as “call and answer”, accent shifting and complex syncopated rhythms.

Henry Ratcliff – Louisiana + Bakari-Badji – Field Song from Senegal (n.d.)

A recording in whick folklorist Alan Lomax mixes two countries cries: an African-American one, from Mississipi; and an African one from Senegal. The similarities between the two of them are clearly visible.

The slaves who came to the United States preserved their traditions through music. They sang work songs, hollers and, after their Christianization, negro spirituals or versions of Protestant hymns to which they imprinted their personality. In the 19th century these music styles became very popular, even among white audiences. Black soldiers who fought in the Civil War and the mass migration of former slaves to the north contributed to this. The evolution of these three sources would later give rise to blues, jazz, and gospel.

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