Us Likes a Mixtery: Listening to African-American Slave Music

A fascinating article by Shane White and Graham White on the incomprehensibilty/unrecognisability of African American slave singing and work shouts to 19th-century white listeners. This condition of unrecognisability has its origins in the retentions of African song and in the suppression of slave communications with one another. Singing becomes a means of subversive communication beneath the radar of white slave owning perception.

This is not so far off the conditions for the satire and parody in the origins of Trinidadian calypso of whose subversiveness white listeners were largely unaware until the language of the songs changed from French to English. This clearly relates to Edouard Glissant’s (“Din is discourse”) and Kamau Brathwaite’s (“It may be in English which is like a howl, or a shout or a machine-gun or the wind or a wave”) writing on the slave shout or scream. There are connections also to Alejo Carpentier’s amazing account of the Haitian slave revolt in The Kingdom of this World (“all the voices joined in a yenvaló solemnly howled above the drumbeats”).   

 

Us likes a Mixtery