7. Why Did a West Central Sudanic Style Cluster Prevail in the Blues?
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T - Why Did a West Central Sudanic Style (luster Prevail in the Blues? Africans deported to the United States left their home countries through many ports along the west African coast. But just as the Portuguese slave trade (especially from Angola, Nigeria, Dahomey, Guinea-Bissau, Gabon, and Mozambique ) was mainly directed to Brazil, so was the British and French slave trade directed to North Americaand the Caribbean islands. The influx of slaves from the western Sudan via the infamous He de Goree (Senegal) was considerable during the eighteenth century. Senegal was part of the French slave trading network to Louisiana. Eventually,in the nineteenth century,some of the descendants of deportees from Senegal, Guinea, and Mali ended up on farms in Mississippi and elsewhere in the Deep South, owned mostly by people of British descent. Another major transferencemoved slaves from Virginia, the Carolinas, and Georgia to these new areas. Others may have been imported illegally in the nineteenth century from the Caribbean or Africa through southern ports, Spanish Florida (until 1818), and the Republic of Texas (1836—1845). The names of ethnic groups from the geographical Sudan (as from other parts of Africa) were well remembered in New Orleans into the nineteenth century, though sometimes in the form of an interesting phonetic transfer into French. For example, Ful6e or "Fula" became "poulard" (fat chicken) in Patois (cf. Cable 1886: 522). Does that mean that the population in the Deep South, where the blues began, originated predominantly from the west African savanna and sahel zones? Not necessarily. Although until recently (cf. Holloway 1990; Hall 1992) we lacked reliable sources from any period of the eighteenthcentury that would allow us to split the African American population of that period genealogically along African ethnic lines, a few facets can still be reconstructed. 96 But we also know that internal North American and Caribbean migration was an important factor in blurring any persisting ethnic allegiances. In the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries in British-dominated areas of North America, it appears no African group retained its African language for very long. Within the context of the slave economy, many manifestations of group identity, beginning with language, were severely repressed among the captives. This is why—apart from isolated areas such as the Georgia Sea Islands (Turner 1949; Jones-Jackson 1987), remnants of west and central African languages have mainly survived under the coverage of a heavily reinterpreted English (cf. Dillard 1972). Expression of group identity in opposition to that of the "master" had to use the "master's" language. By modifying it phonetically, in tonality and grammar, however, the captives were able not only to express hidden resistance by turning things into symbolic mockery, but also to reinforce a separate identity that was paradoxically in the interest of both the captives themselves and the "master." Generally, American cultural historians agree that the iSzos to 18405 could be viewed as the period of the development of a distinct "American" popular culture based on a variety of "folk," regional, and ethnic models, distinct from transplanted Old World culture. This new culture included a significant African American component even in its mainstream level, in addition to the separate existence of African-American cultures among the slaves and free people of African descent. At that juncture African-American music seems to have passed through new creative developments in worksongs, instrumental dance music (the sources of minstrelsy), spirituals, and ring shouts (cf. Floyd 1995: 35—57; Abrahams 1992). And yet this is only one (albeit prominent) facet of the whole picture. The other is the likely existence, during any of these time periods, of cultural underground currents. Proceeding from this particular theoretical assumption, we can arrive at a sensible historical explanation of the predominance of west central Sudanic stylistic traits in the blues. However, this explanation can only be effected if at first a tenacious stereotypical idea is thrown overboard: namely, that a population or population segment's genealogical profile allows us to predict or retrodict its cultural heritage. The diffusion of culture traits, ideas, techniques , and so on is not necessarily proportional to the number of their carriers (i.e., the number of people involved in the process). For example, if in the rural West Central Sudanic Style Cluster and the Blues 91 forms of the blues in the southern United States we find a notable density of traits pointing to musical cultures in the west central Sudanic belt, that does not imply that the majority of the ancestors...