The Arabic/Islamic influence in Jazz and Blues

Modern American music traditionally labeled as Jazz, is often referred to as “The only true American Art Form.” This statement in one respect, seeks to elevate the music to a highly deserved, standard and designation; yet at the same time, it negates and ignores related genres and forms such as: Gospel (commonly known as “Negro Spirituals”) Rhythm and Blues, Doo Wop, Rock and Roll, Soul, Fusion, Funk, Latin and Hip Hop; all of which are equally American and equally developed and derived out of the Moorish, Aboriginal cultural experience on these shores.

Edward Kennedy ("Duke") Ellington and Louis ("Satchmo") Armstrong

Jazz and Blues, both have they’re direct roots in the spiritual work songs of the late 19th century, popularized and in the context of day to day life in Southern churches, and on plantations and sharecropping fields. The harmonies and rhythms were largely acapella, as there was rarely traditional training, or instruments available. The music told the story and saga of a people subjugated and marginalized by a hostile, dominant US culture. New Orleans of the early 20th century, is generally cited as the birthplace of this new music. Musicians and entertainers of the era usually led lives of hardship and victimization; at the hands of a segregated, unscrupulous, vaudville  entertainment circuit.

Billie ("Lady Day") Holiday and Ella ("First Lady of Song") Fitzgerald

Early pioneersof Jazz and Blues, include “Jelly Roll” Morton, Scott Joplin, Ma Rainey, Bessie Smith and Louis Armstrong. The great flight of aboriginal Moors from the South in the 1920s, also saw the music migrate north as well. The journey it traveled was usually up the Mississippi River; from New Orleans to Memphis, to St. Louis, it then spread out to Kansas City and Chicago, eventually making it’s way to New York City and the Harlem Renaissance. Gunnar Lindgren, the author of “The Arabic Roots of Jazz and Blues” illustrates the inseperable relationship between Arabian Islamic culture and US Moors. Many US slaves were of Muslim heritage. Christianity did not actively recruit and subdue it’s “human property” largely, until after Emancipation. Some argue that the shout phrasing, of some early gospel and blues vocals; may be indirectly linked to the Islamic “Call to Prayer.” He further cites that the Yoruba Tribe of Southwest Nigeria and Benin, is one of the most influential tribes in the diaspora, particularly in the Carribean.

Blues Matriarch Bessie Smith

The Yoruba trace they’re origin to ancient Arabia, and the area known as Yeman today. Lindgren goes on to say that many of the Pre-Columbian settlers, explorers and later guides of the Colonists, bore an Arabic rather than African culture, being that they were from the Iberian Pennisula (todays Spain, Portugal and Gibralter). The Spanish/Arabic music theory of the Medival Moors and usage of stringed instruments such as the lute, zither, lyre, kebee and rebab were all introduced to Europe by the Moors, and are the predessors of the modern guitar, prevalent in Blues and Jazz.

The Harlem Renaissance gave Jazz the international spotlight and showcase that brought world recognition. Musician “Jelly Roll” Morton is reported to have said, “Jazz ain’t Jazz without that Latin influence,” This refers to the intregal part that the beat, dance and Carribean culture from Cuba, Jamaica and elsewhere had; that spilled over into the US port cities of New Orleans, Mobile, and lower Missisippi. It is ironic that as the dominant Albion, Eurocentric US culture seeks to claim Jazz and it’s icons, as they’re own: many of the great artists such as Charlie Parker, Billie Holliday, Nat King Cole, Dinah Washington, Art Tatum, Fats Waller  and many others…lived fast and died young; never knowing what it was like to travel and lodge in desegregated facilities. The US that hypocritically claims them in death, oftimes did not permit them rooms or front door entry, into the very hotels  and ballrooms that they performed in, and made famous.

Colored Entrance 1956



“The Arabic Roots of Jazz and Blues” by Gunnar Lindgren


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