African Folk Music and Langston Hughes

Langston Hughes’ love for music was almost a natural phenomenon as an African American poet. He was interested in African folk music too. Blues and Jazz rhythms were constantly used by him in his poetry. The Blues was a type of music which has its origin in Africa and in the 20th century America. The blues are simple and elemental. They capture the deep depths of feeling of the African American race which had historically faced the horrifying reality of slavery, along with capturing the deep sense of anguish at discriminatory practices that the community is subjected to. It mainly developed as work songs amongst slaves who worked in plantation sites or labourers who had an Afro-American descent. So, the genre has been predominantly associated with people of the African American community.

Langston Hughes was one of the poets who captures the mood in the blues and jazz rhythms within his poetic expression. Indeed, when one reads his poems out loud, it almost sounds like blues song being sang. He used the genre of music in his poetry from the very onset of his literary career. One of his first poems published in 1923 was named The Weary Blues. The poem is infused with the African American ethos and has a piano player talking to his piano about his sorrows and pain. The speaker is alone, but he has a conversation with the piano. This talking and playing the song on his piano helps him deal with his anger that he keeps bottled up against his white oppressors. This is also the way he attains peace of mind. The theme of releasing pent-up emotions by the Afro-American community and the importance of it comes up again in another poem ‘In a Troubled Key.’ Herein, a lover expresses his hurt and pain at being ditched and ill-treated by his lady love. Blues music hence was a recurring motif and form that Hughes used in his poetry. In the collection named Shakespeare in Harlem published in the year 1942, Hughes included a set of poems called ‘Blues for Men’.

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