The Null Device

The Afro-Scottish Musical Tradition

A Yale professor of music claims that African-American gospel music emerged from Scottish traditions, rather than African ones. Professor Willie Ruff, a renowned jazz musician, claims that the style of religious song that grew in black gospel churches in the American south owes more to Presbyterian traditions brought to the South by emigres from Scottish island communities (who worked as overseers on plantations) than the traditions brought from Africa by slaves.
"I have been to Africa many times in search of my cultural identity, but it was in the Highlands that I found the cultural roots of black America.
"When I finally met Donald, we sat down and I played him music. It was like a wonderful blind test. First I played him some psalms by white congregations, and then by a black one. He then leapt to his feet and shouted: `That's us!' "When I heard Donald and his congregation sing in Stornoway I was in no doubt there was a connection."

I'm not entirely sure how much credence to give this story (on one hand, it seems a bit like the thing about curry being a mediæval English invention; on the other hand, the arguments look superficially very plausible), though it's certainly intriguing. Though if it's true, it may explain the uncanny popularity of gospel-influenced soul music in northern Britain. (via 1.0)

There are 8 comments on "The Afro-Scottish Musical Tradition":

Posted by: limey Thu Sep 4 00:46:23 2003

Heh, it would also explain why scottish funk group Average White Band were so good

Posted by: acb Thu Sep 4 06:12:54 2003

That and Belle & Sebastian.

Posted by: Alex http:// Thu Sep 4 10:38:53 2003

Why has no one mentioned the Afro-Celt Sound System?

Posted by: dj http:// Thu Sep 4 13:11:05 2003

You beat me to it!

Posted by: Graham Thu Sep 4 13:13:47 2003

And then there's "swing low sweet chariot" and things like that.

Posted by: Graham Thu Sep 4 13:15:30 2003

And, err, Belle and Sebastian aren't very funky. At times, jaunty? Absolutely, but imbued with the Mighty Spirit of the Bodacious Funkatron? No.

Posted by: acb Thu Sep 4 15:24:54 2003

I thought the Afro-Celts were Irish, not Scottish.

Posted by: acb Fri Sep 5 03:10:36 2003

As for B&S, they have some very soul moments. Take _Don't Leave The Light On Baby_, a tune which sounds more at home in Philadelphia circa 1971 than Glasgow circa 2000.