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People with drums



In "The Musical Legacy of Slavery" Rita Ray speaks to musicians and descendents of slaves from Venuzuela to Sierra Leone.

The routes from slave forts such as Bunce Island in Sierra Leone, to plantations in the Americas not only carried people, they also carried their memories.

Without slaves, whose ingenuity gave birth to new instruments, rhythms and vocal styles our musical landscape would be entirely different.

Rhythm and drums


One drum in the right hands can mesmerise hundreds of people. It was therefore feared by slave traders and was often banned.

The Maroons of Jamaica invented the gumbe. They seized their freedom and fled the plantations.

At the end of the 18th Century, after years of guerilla warfare, they won the right to return to Africa and they brought their drum with them.

Part one looks at the shared musical heritage of drums on two continents.

 Listen to part one



How does one pinpoint African musical influence?

Gaita is one example. It is the closest thing Venezuela has to national music.

In its original form it was a call to the African gods to come and rescue slaves from captivity.

Part two explores the rich, but often overlooked string tradition of West Africa and the impact it has had on American music.

 Listen to part two



The spiritual world was the only place that could not be controlled by slave masters.

By holding on to their religious beliefs and expressing them in song, slaves were able to retain at least some of their identity.

Part three explores who song became a form of protest and inspired the American civil rights movement.

 Listen to part three

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