How Music Constructs a World

One of the most moving scenes, in fact, the most moving to me, in the movie Twelve Years a Slave is when Solomon Northrup is at the graveside with the other slaves as they begin singing. Not having been raised in that culture, he has been a bit aloof throughout his servitude, but on this occasion, he is drawn into the communal grieving expressed through song. It has to be one of the most powerful depictions of the centrality of song to African-American life.
And it derives, IMHO, from the way music in African culture is used to construct a reality. Reading Dried Millet Breaking by Ruth Stone brought this to my mind as she describes the Woi epic among the Kpelle people of Liberia. So many things in the epic are accomplished via music. It is that ubiquitous and required presence of music that so distinguishes the culture of West Africa and of the cultures of the African Diaspora. It is as if the world is being created with music, much as the slaves created a world with their music where they, including the deceased, were of value and were whole.

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