Cover image for Music of the common tongue : survival and celebration in African American music
Music of the common tongue : survival and celebration in African American music
Publication Information:
Hanover, NH : University Press of New England, c1987.
Physical Description:
xi, 495 p. ; 22 cm.
General Note:
Originally published: London : J. Calder ; New York : Riverrun Press, 1987. With new pref.


Material Type
Call Number
Item Available
Book 780.89 SMA 1 1

On Order



In clear and elegant prose, Music of the Common Tongue, first published in 1987, argues that by any reasonable reckoning of the function of music in human life the African American tradition, that which stems from the collision between African and European ways of doing music which occurred in the Americas and the Caribbean during and after slavery, is the major western music of the twentieth century. In showing why this is so, the author presents not only an account of African American music from its origins but also a more general consideration of the nature of the music act and of its function in human life. The two streams of discussion occupy alternate chapters so that each casts light on the other. The author offers also an answer to what the Musical Times called the "seldom posed though glaringly obtrusive" question: "why is it that the music of an alienated, oppressed, often persecuted black minority should have made so powerful an impact on the entire industrialized world, whatever the color of its skin or economic status?"

Author Notes

CHRISTOPHER SMALL is also author of Musicking (1998), Music, Society Education (1996), and Schoenberg (1978). Senior Lecturer at Ealing College of Higher Education in London until 1986, he lives in Sitges, Spain

Table of Contents

Preface to the 1998 Edition
I Introduction Africans
1 Europeans and the Making of Music
2 On the Ritual Performance
3 Rituals for Survival I
4 On Cultures and Their Fusion
5 Styles of Encounter I
6 On Values and Values
7 Rituals for Survival II
8 On Literacy and Nonliteracy
9 Styles of Encounter II
10 On Improvisation
11 Styles of Encounter III
12 On the Decline of a Music
13 Styles and Rituals
14 On Records and Rewards
15 Styles of Encounter IV
16 Confronting the Rational God
17 Index