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Fall 2022 VPA course, UG/Grad from across campus: Musics of the African Diaspora


Explore the diverse musics of the African Diaspora, the great “Feedback Loop” of pan-Atlantic musical culture, which gave birth to American popular music. Includes artists and repertoires from: West, Central, North, and South Africa; Jamaica, Haiti, Martinique, and Barbados; Brazil; New Orleans; American minstrelsy, spirituals, ragtime, blues, jazz, gospel, R&B, Latin jazz, funk, hip-hop and much more.


MUHL4300/5320 is a one-semester, topics-oriented historical survey of the history, styles, dissemination, and cultures of music in the African Diaspora, including Africa, the Caribbean, and the Americas. We will pay particular attention to cross-cultural influences, the interaction of tradition and improvisation and of pedagogy and transmission, and the impact of the African Diaspora on music and culture worldwide. NO SPECIAL MUSIC TERMINOLOGY OR NOTATION SKILLS ARE REQUIRED, and the course is open to both music majors and non-music majors.


Course requirements include reading and listening, mid-term and final essay exams, and a research project (paper, website, other medium) assignment. Fulfills Grad and UG MUHL requirements


Meets Tue-Thu 12:30-1:50pm


Suitable for upper-level undergraduates and graduate students but does not presume any extensive formal musical knowledge; enrollment is thus welcomed from American Studies, History, Mass Communications, Anthropology, International Studies, and Political Science, as well as Music.


All materials open-access.


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Dr Christopher Smith





Developing familiarity with a range of social, cultural, historical, economic, and biographical factors which have shaped African and African-American musics since first European contact. Emphasis upon understanding the interaction of “content” (musical structure, procedure, aesthetics versus agendas, biographies, and writing, etc) and “context” (times-places-peoples from which musical idioms and cultural phenomena originated). Enhance sensitivity to interactions of music and cultural history.




This course will concentrate on African music and musical life as that culture has been spread throughout the Diaspora, with particular attention to the dissemination of African musical aesthetics, approaches, and values in the New World. We will begin with the Great Kingdoms period of West African history, exploring the ways music helped make life possible in the Mother Continent, and the impact of colonialism and slavery. We will follow African musical aesthetics as they were brought to the Caribbean and to South, Central, and (eventually) North America, with particular emphasis upon the musical idioms developed in the pan-cultural cities of Port-au-Prince, Salvador, Havana, Kingston, New Orleans, Memphis and (eventually) New York. The semester culminates with an exploration of the impact of new African-American styles (principally soul, R&B, jazz, and hip-hop) as they have returned to Africa, thus completing the great “Feedback Loop” of African Diasporic cultural influence.


Instructor’s Personal Statement:

I have been a student and scholar of Black American musical styles, instruments, performance practices, and cultural context since approximately 1974. Thus, although I am not a BIPOC, I nevertheless consider myself an ally of these musics and of the complex and challenging cultural experiences from which they emerge. I believe deeply in the depth, power, artistry, and profound human experience that lives within these musics and I have spent a lifetime advocating on their behalf. At the same time, I recognize that I am an outsider to Black American experience and I vow to always seek to center BIPOC voices in this course’s content, practice, personnel, and outlook.


Chris Smith


School of Music

Event Information
Time: 12:30 PM - 1:50 PM
Event Date: 8/25/2022