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July 21, 2006

CW releases CD of music with roots in colonial slave trade

Colonial Williamsburg announces the release of “From Ear to Ear: The Passage of African Music Through American Slavery.” The CD re-creates the lost and forgotten music performed by Africans in the 18th century and follows the music’s transformation as the people moved in forced bondage from Africa through the Middle Passage to the Caribbean and finally to America.

Revolutionary and thought-provoking in its content, “From Ear to Ear” required extensive research to develop. Unlike European music in the 18th century, the original lyrics of African slave music were not preserved on paper but only through oral tradition – literally from ear to ear. Foundation employees, outside experts and volunteers had to dig deep for what little information remained to re-create a sound that would be both genuine and true to its roots.

After restoring some of the 18th-century African instruments and persevering through hours of practice, the performers created music reflective of the original sounds that changed across three diverse geographical areas and from one generation to another. The sound on the CD reflects the music as it might have sounded when performed by people working in the fields and going about daily activities, releasing the joy and sorrow in their souls through song and rhythmic sounds.

Many of the instruments for the music of Africa were created from items on hand – the bones, hides and horns of animals; gourds, shells, reeds, carved pieces of wood, boxes and tools. The songs came from the cries of enslaved field workers calling to one another, children playing and families mourning their dead.

This African-styled music mingled with European musical forms and developed into a creole musical sound – uniquely American with a distinctive African essence. It could be heard from the sugar plantations of Barbados to the tobacco fields of Virginia; it was music deeply immersed in everyday African American life. The roots of today’s blues, jazz and bluegrass sounds can be traced to these energetic rhythms and mournful sounds.

The CD includes interactive “extras” that can be accessed on a computer, allowing the user to virtually “play” a balafon and also contains background essays, song lyrics, a short video, historical images and background information about the performers. A booklet accompanying the CD includes background information and a brief history for each of the 23 musical cuts. The CD is available at the WILLIAMSBURG Booksellers at the Visitor Center, The Craft House and Everything Williamsburg in Merchants Square, or call 1-800-HISTORY.

Editor’s note: To request a copy of the CD, contact Michelle Fulghum at

Media Contact:
Barbara Brown
(757) 220-7280