Blues has evolved from the unaccompanied vocal music and oral traditions of slaves imported from West Africa and rural blacks into a wide variety of styles and subgenres, with regional variations across the United States.
American slaves, for the most part, came from the Caribbean. They were brought there by Portuguese traders.
The Portuguese in the Caribbean
The Portuguese over the centuries for several reasons settled in the West Indies and, as such, contributed to the history of the region in one way or another. The Portuguese have been part of the life, economy and social culture of the Caribbean since the 15th century.
History has it that the first Portuguese to set foot in the West Indies were the sailors on board Christopher Columbus’ three ships—the Santa María, the Pinta and the Nina—which landed on the small island of San Salvador (or Guanahani) in the Bahamas on October 12, 1492. Columbus learnt to become a skilled sailor and map-maker in Portugal, the most important seafaring country in Europe at that time. There he met many experienced sailors, some of whom accompanied him on his maiden voyage to the New World, although he was at the time at the service of the Spanish Crown and not at Portugal’s service. Since the days of Columbus, the Portuguese have emigrated over the centuries in large numbers to the Caribbean for a variety of reasons
|Portuguese Empire 17th century|
In 1492 Columbus discovered the West Indies. Since the new lands were south of the Canaries the Portuguese king claimed they were his. However the argument with the Spanish was ended by the Treaty of Tordesillas in 1494. Portugal and Spain agreed that all new land west of a line 370 degrees west of the Cape Verde Islands would belong to Spain. Any land east of the line belonged to Portugal.
Following the treaty in 1498 an expedition led by Vasco da Gama sailed around Africa and reached India. Asia was the source of spices, which were very expensive in Europe. At first the Portuguese dominated the spice trade. In 1510 the Portuguese annexed Goa in India. In 1511 they took Malacca in Indonesia. In 1514 they reached China and in 1557 they established a trading post at Macao. The Portuguese also colonised Brazil in South America.
In 1576 King Sebastiao led an expedition to Morocco which ended in complete disaster. Thousands of Portuguese were killed including the king and most of the nobility. Sebastiao was succeeded by Henrique, who died childless. Afterwards King Philip II of Spain claimed the throne of Portugal on the grounds that he was King Sebastiao’s nephew. The Spaniards won the battle of Alcantara and Philip II of Spain became Philip I of Portugal.
From then until 1640 Spain and Portugal shared a monarch. However the union grew gradually less and less popular. In 1640 Portuguese nobles staged a coup in Lisbon. They deposed the governor of Portugal. The Duke of Braganza was made King Joao IV. Spain did not recognize Portuguese independence until 1668 when the treaty of Lisbon was signed.
Meanwhile Portugal was declining in the 17th century. In 1600 the Portuguese dominated the spice trade with Asia. However in the 17th century they lost their position to the Dutch. In the late 17th century gold was discovered in Brazil. In 1730 diamonds were discovered there. Taxes on both helped the Portuguese treasury.
In the 1720s, a pirate known as James made port at Oporto in Portugal. In the 1730s, Portuguese slave ships were allowed to make port in the pirate port of Libertalia, thanks to the deal of the Portuguese slave traders with the corrupt Pirate Lord of the Atlantic Ocean, King Samuel.
The Caribbean Slaves
Portuguese traders brought Africans from points in West Africa to Europe and the Caribbean, where they were sold at auction. These voyages lasted anywhere from 5-10 months. The slaves were introduced to Portuguese culture on these voyages.
|The slaves had children of their own that were sold as slaves to plantation owners in the new American South. Of course they brought their music with them.|
The Lesser Antilles islands of Barbados, St. Kitts, Antigua, Martinique, Guadeloupe, Saint Lucia and Dominica were the first important slave societies of the Caribbean, switching to slavery by the end of the 17th century as their economies converted from tobacco to sugar production.
By the middle of the 18th century, British Jamaica and French Saint-Domingue (now Haiti) had become the largest slave societies of the region, rivaling Brazil as a destination for enslaved Africans.
What is Saudades?
Portuguese “Saudades” is the expression the Portuguese use to describe the soulful feelings incorporated in Fado. Like the American Blues, the Fado form is AAB. Traditionally, a woman sings a soulful song about lost “saudades” but she’s accompanied by a guitar player or two. The traditional Portuguese guitar is a 12 string guitar.
Fado (fate in Portuguese) is a musical style, which arose in Lisbon as the music of the urban poor. Fado songs are typically lyrically harsh, accompanied by a wire-strung acoustic guitar or the Portuguese Guitar. It is usually sung by solo performers, with the singer resigned to sadness, poverty and loneliness, but remaining dignified and firmly controlled. In 2011, Fado was inscribed on Masterpieces of the Oral and Intangible Heritage of Humanity by UNESCO. It is claimed that fado origins are older, going back to the 15th century, when women cried with longing for their husbands that sailed to the never ending seas.
|Amalia Rodriquez “Queen of the Fado”|
In Late in the 19th century, the city of Coimbra developed a distinctive scene. Coimbra, a literary capital for the country, is now known for being more refined and majestic. The sound has been described as “the song of those who retain and cherish their illusions, not of those who have irretrievably lost them” by Rodney Gallop in 1936. A related form are the guitarradas of the 1920s and 30s, best known for Dr. Antonio Menano and a group of virtuoso musicians he formed, including Artur Paredes and José Joaquim Cavalheiro. Student fado, performed by students at Coimbra University, have maintained a tradition since it was pioneered in the 1890s by Augusto Hilário.
Starting in 1939 with the career of Amália Rodrigues, fado was an internationally popular genre. A singer and film actress, Rodrigues made numerous stylistic innovations that have made her probably the most influential fadista of all time.
Slave Trade In America
Most American slaves did come from Africa. The majority of slaves who were brought to North America came from West Africa. They were captured and sold to slave traders. They were forced onto ships for the long journey to America. This journey is often called the “middle passage.”
|Large crowds of people gathered at auction platforms in the middle of town to look at the new slaves|
A large number of slaves who were born in Africa did not come directly to the English colonies or, later, the United States. Many people first spent some time on islands in the Caribbean before being brought here. Owners often purchased slaves from different parts of Africa. Because they spoke different languages, they could not communicate well with each other. This made it easier for the owners to control them.
In 1807, the United States Congress outlawed the foreign slave trade. The law prohibited importing any more people from Africa or the Caribbean. That would mean that, in the future, all slaves would be native born. However, the law was not well enforced, and some slaves continued to be captured and brought here directly from Africa and from islands in the Caribbean.
The American Blues
Blues is a genre and musical form that originated in African-American communities in the “Deep South” of the United States around the end of the 19th century. The genre is a fusion of traditional African music and European folk music, spirituals, work songs, field hollers, shouts and chants, and rhymed simple narrative ballads. The blues form, ubiquitous in jazz, rhythm and blues and rock and roll, is characterized by the call-and-response pattern and specific chord progressions, of which the twelve-bar blues is the most common. The blue notes are also an important part of the sound. Blues shuffles or walking bass reinforce the trance-like rhythm and form a repetitive effect called a groove.
|Robert Johnson, an influential Delta blues musician|
Blues as a genre possesses other characteristics such as lyrics, bass lines, and instruments. The lyrics of early traditional blues verses consisted of a single line repeated four times. It was only in the first decades of the 20th century that the most common current structure became standard: the so-called AAB pattern, consisting of a line sung over the four first bars, its repetition over the next four, and then a longer concluding line over the last bars. Early blues frequently took the form of a loose narrative, often relating troubles experienced within African American society.
Many blues elements, such as the call-and-response format and the use of blue notes, can be traced back to the music of Africa. The origins of the blues are also closely related to the religious music of the Afro-American community, the spirituals. The first appearance of the blues is often dated to after emancipation and, later, the development of juke joints. It is associated with the newly acquired freedom of the former slaves. Chroniclers began to report about blues music at the dawn of the 20th century. The first publication of blues sheet music was in 1908. Blues has since evolved from unaccompanied vocal music and oral traditions of slaves into a wide variety of styles and subgenres. Blues subgenres include country blues, such as Delta and Piedmont, as well as urban blues styles such as Chicago and West Coast blues. World War II marked the transition from acoustic to electric blues and the progressive opening of blues music to a wider audience, especially white listeners. In the 1960s and 1970s, a hybrid form called blues rock evolved.
Origins of the blues
The first publication of blues sheet music was in 1908: Antonio Maggio’s “I Got the Blues” is the first published song to use the word blues. Hart Wand’s “Dallas Blues” followed in 1912; W. C. Handy’s “The Memphis Blues” followed in the same year. The first recording by an African American singer was Mamie Smith’s 1920 rendition of Perry Bradford’s “Crazy Blues”. But the origins of the blues date back to some decades earlier, probably around 1890. They are very poorly documented, due in part to racial discrimination within US society, including academic circles, and to the low literacy of rural African American community at the time.
There are few characteristics common to all blues music, because the genre took its shape from the idiosyncrasies of individual performances. However, there are some characteristics that were present long before the creation of the modern blues. Call-and-response shouts were an early form of blues-like music; they were a “functional expression … style without accompaniment or harmony and unbounded by the formality of any particular musical structure.” A form of this pre-blues was heard in slave ring shouts and field hollers, expanded into “simple solo songs laden with emotional content”.
Blues has evolved from the unaccompanied vocal music and oral traditions of slaves imported from West Africa and rural blacks into a wide variety of styles and subgenres, with regional variations across the United States. Although blues (as it is now known) can be seen as a musical style based on both European harmonic structure and the African call-and-response tradition that transformed into an interplay of voice and guitar, the blues form itself bears no resemblance to the melodic styles of the West African griots, and the influences are faint and tenuous.Additionally, there are theories that the four-beats-per-measure structure of the blues might have its origins in the Native American tradition of pow wow drumming.
In particular, no specific African musical form can be identified as the single direct ancestor of the blues. However the call-and-response format can be traced back to the music of Africa. That blue notes pre-date their use in blues and have an African origin is attested by English composer Samuel Coleridge-Taylor’s “A Negro Love Song”, from his The African Suite for Piano composed in 1898, which contains blue third and seventh notes.
Blues music also adopted elements from the “Ethiopian airs”, minstrel shows and Negro spirituals, including instrumental and harmonic accompaniment. The style also was closely related to ragtime, which developed at about the same time, though the blues better preserved “the original melodic patterns of African music.”
|Charley Patton, one of the originators of the Delta blues style, playing with a pick or a bottleneck slide.|
The musical forms and styles that are now considered the “blues” as well as modern “country music” arose in the same regions during the 19th century in the southern United States.
Recorded blues and country can be found from as far back as the 1920s, when the popular record industry developed and created marketing categories called “race music” and “hillbilly music” to sell music by blacks for blacks and by whites for whites, respectively. At the time, there was no clear musical division between “blues” and “country,” except for the ethnicity of the performer, and even that was sometimes documented incorrectly by record companies.