United States of America

For the United States of America, we wanted to divide the North and the South and present them as independent stories. Many of these narratives are full of paradoxes, where the nation’s birth of equality and liberty is deeply tied with the birth of slavery. In the process of their independence, the country claimed that Free ships make free goods as the main statement. Nevertheless, those goods were primarily produced by slave labour, where sugar, cotton and especially tobacco were one of the most valuable products produced by it. In some cases, historians claimed that the United States freedom was bought with slave labour.

Such paradox lies primarily in the south of the United States in the state of Virginia. Virginia used to be the largest state in the country and owned more than 40% of the slaves. Virginia grew the majority of the tobacco that funded the US Independence. The state also adopted a bill of rights making it the first state constitution, as well as drafted both the Declaration of Independence and the US Constitution of 1787 and the first ten amendments.

The trans-Atlantic slave trade was a combination of racism, economic empowerment and a result of technologic innovations. Nevertheless, racism has played a big role in the slave trade, but as well in the way scholars and different societies understood it. Early racist critiques pro-slavery claimed that black Africans were inferior to the white race, and regardless if they were from the North or the South, they were producing the narratives and writing the history of the South. Such meta-narratives remained from the end of WWI to the beginning of WWII.

After WWII, the narrative towards black history aimed to change its racist nature, but it can be said it just managed to brush off some of the rudest ones. This has perpetuated the narrative that they are a culture that has been denied the chance of cultural, social, intellectual and personal development. This despite that black enslaved Africans were actually able to produce and develop their own culture throughout their first 250 years on US territory. Therefore, those post-WWII narratives attributed such alleged biological inferiority due to socio(economic) circumstances. Arguably, one of the largest consequences of such interpretations of slavery has been that after the Civil War it has been focusing primarily on the lives and suffering of the slaves, but partially losing focus on the systematic oppression on their material life and economic system, such as low salaries, low specialisation levels of labour, lack of sanitary conditions, their low life expectancy. This might become highly relevant since many of these were conditions are still very palpable in many regions of the current USA and America.

Despite the emancipation, the major decay took place just after the Civil War. Many enslaved Africans had very high labour skills since many slave owners needed them to be ‘rentable’ in the industry and the production of artisanal products and crafts. It has been argued that for many enslaved people, their economic benefits were heavily limited, thus were able to have higher economic empowerment during their slavery period. Therefore, the focus on the interpretations and accounts around the suffering of the enslaved people managed to produce meta-narrative around the emancipation and libertarian movement that stopped such suffering. Nevertheless, those meta-narrative elements failed to engage with the social, economic and cultural elements required to achieve equality and integration. Such emancipation forced liberated people to live within a precarious cast system in a very similar way to their American native counterparts. It ended up as a fight for freedom but not equality since many of such divisions are very tangible in the everyday life of the USA.

By understanding the past and exploring such hidden narratives, we can have a glimpse of the current struggles of today’s libertarians looking for economic empowerment through jobs, education and access to schools, a damaging war on drugs and a criminal justice reform which systematically incarcerates and gives harsher sentences to minority groups in a system where slavery is still legal under the Constitution.

“Neither slavery nor involuntary servitude, except as a punishment for crime whereof the party shall have been duly convicted, shall exist within the United States, or any place subject to their jurisdiction.”

13th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution: Abolition of Slavery

The Graphics

USA South

USA Interaction Point

For the account used in the South of the USA, we focused on the plantations that funded the independence of the country. By the end of the 19th Century, freed people mixed many of their African beats and slave songs combined with American instruments and folk songs. This gave birth to Blues. In many cases, Blues used spiritual songs (religious) which embraced vocal harmonies.

Many of the lyrics in Blues music are raw and full of emotion. They tell stories of their community looking for a better life in a place of injustice and hopelessness. These stories were heavily based on slang and double meaning, which might be the reason why these songs were passed through oral tradition from musician to musician.

Soundtrack

Alabama Red by Sidney Stripling (1941)

This track is from the USA Library of Congres digital library. It is a field recording by John Wesley. The song is a Murder Ballad, which is a form of musical story that warned the audience about crimes that ended up in convictions or executions. Murder Ballads date back to the Renaissance and Baroque periods. This music genre, as well as the banjo, is not only present in Blues, but also in Rock and Roll and Country music.

Here is the 30-second track already cleaned and re-sampled:

Alabama Red by Sidney Stripling (Public Domain)

Murder ballads such as Alabama Red showcase raw stories that as part of the oral history of the community share historic recollections of how the different things that specific member of society have to live with. Murder Ballads can be used to enhance our understanding of the particular needs and struggles of the specific communities. For example, Dolly Parton, a country performer and songwriter from the United States wrote a song called Daddy Come and Get Me, where due to love, her boyfriend recludes her to a mental institution and her father has to go and sign her out. As a Murder Ballad, this song tells a very specific story of women’s rights. She is not able to sign herself off since as a woman, she does not have the legal power to do so. These kinds of songs, build up specific socio-cultural stamps of society and history that can help us understand better our past and the current cultures.

USA North

For the North of the United States, we started the story from the arrival of the libertarians of the south once they arrived in the North. We focused on the visuals where musicians took such culture and embedded the Black sounds of the recent black libertarians who left the cotton and tobacco fields, giving birth to Rock and Roll, and Jazz among many other genres.

Rock and Roll embedded many of the Jazz elements such as improvisation, syncopated rhythms and bending notes to produce a very unique sound.

Soundtrack

Roll Over Beethoven by Chuck Berry

Cuck Berry established the foundations of Rock and Roll. The song highlight the ideology of a more progressive libertarian society deeply embedded with teenage topics and consumerism (Don’t you step on my blue suede shoes). Nevertheless, still maintaining the connection to their history ( I got a-rockin’ pneumonia, I need a shot of rhythm and blues ).

This is the 30-second sample used for the interaction point:

Roll Over Beethoven by Chuck Berry (© Chuck Berry)