Way back when I read Melville Herskovits’ Myth of the Negro Past where he describes how many behaviors of American Blacks derived not from some distortion of White culture but from their African heritage. As I’ve written elsewhere, all that was reinforced and exemplified for me when I started attending a Black Pentecostal church where all these features were blazingly displayed.
Another outgrowth in the U.S. of African culture came from the Caribbean where massive formations of slave labor allowed the preservation and elaboration of African rituals, customs, arts, language, and attitudes. Once in the hotbed of Afro-Caribbean cultures in New York, Miami, Los Angeles, Chicago, and other centers, the music denominated Afro-Cuban evolved with jazz into salsa.
All along the way, dog-whistle references to Afro-Caribbean religion pop up, unrecognized. Spanish phrasing was ignored except by Spanish-speakers, who often dismissed the context-free lyrics as cute nonsense devised by fun-loving goof-balls – goof-balls who took care to preserve that image as a protective cover as they preserved their religion via such lyrics and esp lyrics in African languages which totally escaped the uninitiated.
And uninitiated is the word, for only initiates into these religions would get the references. Taking off one’s shirt, shoes and hat isn’t a tease nor a child’s nursery rhyme but a set of actions taken by an initiate when about to be possessed, mounted by his or her particular god or goddess. The names of these gods are called out in the songs, the most famous example of slipping the invocation of an African deity in under the noses of the cultural controllers being Desi Arnaz’ Ricky Ricardo routine in I Love Lucy singing Babalu Aye, a Yoruba god. Who knew?
The practice of these religions is still restricted in some ways, but the practicioners have formed protective societies whose members include attorneys and other persons of substance in the North American social milieu. The only really difficult matter is animal sacrifice, but if it is seen as a formal treatment of butchering the animal, akin to Jewish kosher or Islamic halal treatment of animal slaughter, this will no doubt pass into American culture like Catholics drinking wine in church as part of a ceremony.
In the meantime, we have a lot of great music from African-influenced religions to enjoy, from salsa to rhythm & blues, hip-hop to jazz.