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Roundtable Discussion

The Musical Journey of the African Diaspora

participants in discussion

 Prof Craig Boyd, Dr. Melissa Gonzales, Dr.Marta Moreno Vega, Prof. Peter Manuel, and Ms. Kimberly Mann 


14 April 2016 -- Enslaved people carried with them many valuable skills and useful knowledge that helped to build the societies in which they found themselves during the Transatlantic Slave Trade. In many cases, experts told participants at an event on “The Musical Journey of the African Diaspora” held on 14 April 2016 at New York Headquarters, the rhythms and musical traditions they brought with them from their homeland were essential to their survival and maintaining their identity.

As one travels through the African Diaspora, music and dance considered to be indigenous is largely reminiscent of the African continent, yet not everyone recognizes this fact. The next step in this musical journey is to document the African origins of these art forms. That process of remembering will help people recognize the creativity and contributions of Africans while enjoying the music that they have adopted today as their own.

“We have to see each other, in each other, and make the connections,” said Dr. Marta Moreno Vega, moderator of the panel and founder and president of the Caribbean Cultural Center African Diaspora Institute in New York City. Dr. Vega said the study of Africa and the African diaspora, impeded by colonialism, is still in as nascent state. “The United Nations can help us make these connections.”

She said the creativity and innovation African slaves used under unbearable conditions to remember their musical traditional was miraculous, “It was understanding spirit,” she added.

Part of the 2016 annual observance of the International Day of Remembrance of the Victims of Slavery and the Transatlantic Slave Trade, the briefing was organized by the Department of Public Information’s Education Outreach Section in partnership with the NGO Relations and Advocacy Section.

In response to audience members disturbed by the lack of recognition of the link between Africa and many types of music and dance in the world, Professor Craig Boyd, of Suffolk County Community College, believes it’s important to share these traditions broadly. “We must also educate students about the origin of the sounds that were woven into gospel, jazz, blues and rock and roll and other popular musical styles in the United States”, he said.

Dr. Melissa Gonzalez, who teaches at Hunter College and Montclair State University, said technology, unimpeded by funding and bureaucracy, can be used to create playlists of music and other information to help young people know how the contemporary songs they listen to every day have their roots on the African continent.  Dr. Gonzalez gave an overview of how African music and dance are reflected in the samba in Brazil, the tango in Argentina and the Cumbia in Colombia.

Dr. Peter Manuel, a professor of ethnomusicology at John Jay College and the Graduate Center of the City University of New York, explained how Africans created new instruments, such as the steel pan in Trinidad, in the face of opposition by government officials. He also traced the many types of rhythms and instruments that are popular in the Caribbean but are of of African origin, such as the Congo drum, Bata drums and the Mbria.

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