time passed, railroad songs. Segregated prisons were
the last locations where Afro-American work songs could be heard as a
matter of course. Today, as industrialism gives way to electronics,
these songs are fading into oblivion along with field hollers and urban
cries. In a sense, this is highly regrettable, as work songs provide
much information about Afro-American values and attitudes, spinning out
grass-roots philosophy, narrating legends, complaining against "the
system," gossiping, and in general expressing in song that which
would be considered inappropriate in normal conversation. To understand
the relationship of the Afro-American work song to its West African
counterpart, one might listen to a Hausa woman singing as she grinds
corn for the evening meal. The melody, a simple descending motive,
alternates with the heavy breathing of the singer and the sound of
grinding in the call-and-response pattern so typical of the music of
Black people throughout the world. The song (which continues until the
chore is finished ) is a gossip piece, consisting of improvised verses
which comment at random upon the morals of the neighbor women, the
exploits of the most popular young men in the area, the best dressed
girls in the community, etc. Listen to this recording:
UNESCO BM 30 L 2307. Nigeria-Hausa Music II.
Side B, Band 13. "Corn-Grinding Song."
The merging of West African and European elements in Afro-American work songs is dramatically portrayed in John Storm Robert's recording, "Imo Gal," which was made in Jamaica comparatively recently. Here, the ubiquitous call-and-response pattern and strident vocal tone is marked by the rhythmic swing of the pick axes and European harmonies.
Folkways FE 4602. Black Music of Two Worlds.
Side 2, Band 10. "Imo Gal."