Muslim roots in AfroAmerican music?
Sylviane Diouf

By Sylviane Diouf
Published on 02/14/2009
"Levee Camp Holler" is no ordinary song. It's the product of ex-slaves who worked moving earth all day in post-Civil War America. It has lyrics that, like the call to prayer, speak about a glorious God. But it's the song's melody and note changes that closely resemble one of Islam's best-known refrains. Like the call to prayer, "Levee Camp Holler" emphasizes words that seem to quiver and shake in the reciter's vocal chords. Dramatic changes in musical scales punctuate both "Levee Camp Holler" and the adhan. A nasal intonation is evident in both. Upward of 30 percent of the African slaves in the United States were Muslim, and an untold number of them spoke and wrote Arabic, historians say now. Coincidence or not, this traditional AfroAmerican folk music possesses features that are found in Islamic African music and hardly at all in other styles. Grehart Kubik, a musicologist who specializes in African rain-forest music, concludes: "Many traits that have been considered unusual, strange and difficult to interpret by earlier blues researchers can now be better understood as a thoroughly processed and transformed Arabic-Islamic stylistic component. What makes the blues different from African American music in the Caribbean and in South America is, after all, its Arabic-Islamic stylistic ingredients."

Muslim roots in AfroCaribbean music?