A tune that makes you tap your feet and want to join the answering chorus plays in Harbeson Hall; a slave work song from the mid 1800s with “heavy, deep-south dialect” titled Grey Goose.

Music instructor Ray Briggs teaches the Afro-American music class and asks students to heed to the lyrics of the song, which tell the story of a goose that cannot be killed, cannot be eaten and even survives being sawed. The song ends with the goose seen flying over the ocean. Briggs explains the goose represents an African-American slave who flies over the ocean back to Africa.

Briggs explains to the students that Afro-American music was an outlet for the slaves to say what they meant without being detected. The music empowered the people who had no rights. “Music helps us transcend the physical context we are in,” said Briggs.

According to Briggs, in the new world’s cultural mixing wherever Africans were, they tend to develop some kind of popular dance music, such as Salsa in Cuba, Samba in Brazil. In North America early music moved from work songs, to blues, ragtime, jazz, R&B all the way to hip hop.

“The history of slavery allowed for the different influences to show up,” said Briggs. “It is essential to know how the things that are valued have developed.”

Violin player JoyAnna Hatcher sees Afro-American music as an integral part of American culture. “It’s easy to look at music and culture as a final product, disconnected from the process that created it,” said Hatcher. “With this class, I am able to connect many types of music to its roots”

Students like Emilia Maysonet, sociology, learn the important complexities of racial inequality and social identity. “I try to get a feel for all the different elements that impact African-Americans today, anything from sociology, history, psychology, and the arts,” she said.

The history of how enslaved Africans developed unique musical traditions is based on their African past but also partly based on the European influences and to some degree also the indigenous influence of the people that inhabited the new world, according to Briggs.

Film major George Gonzalez de Cossio, whose eclectic music taste includes electronic, rock, metal, alternative, pop, classic, ethnic music, takes the class to understand how music has evolved and the people responsible for that change. “You could say I’m a music and history junkie,” he said.

“Having the chance to study Afro-American music in detail and African music in other parts of the new world, I see all the kinds of connections in music,” said Briggs. “The influence of African music is so prevalent because the slave trade dispersed Africans in so many places.”

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