The Origins of Jazz and How it Aimed to Eradicate Racism One Beat at a Time

Jazz is one of the most popular music genres in the world, but behind its strong rhythm lies a history of resistance and fighting.

Isabel Cara

By Lesly Sánchez

We all know the jazz genre as something classic and sophisticated, we have seen it grow and maintain itself over the years. Jazz is related to the elegance and passion of combining different musical instruments to generate harmony and obtain a melody that is pleasing to the ear. But outside its current status, little relevance has been given to how the genre was born.

Those who still say that art and music serve as nothing more than a distraction, are totally wrong. Music has always been a tool of protest against various causes, racism, discrimination, war, inequality, lack of love, class differences, etc. Jazz had a great contribution to the fight against racism and eventually became a glue that united different classes.

Ella fitzgerald

Musical Background

In the 18th century, before the abolition, people of African origin were forbidden to play instruments and be part of musical festivities, but everything changed when years later, New Orleans began to hold festivals of drums and folk music. At the beginning of the genre, it was considered music for people of low status and was only played in poor bars and brothels. So, the name “jazz” was used to refer to pleasure and naturally it was only consumed by the working class.

The use of a combination of various genres including African folklore and cultures such as Spanish and French, in addition to lyrics that were a social protest to racism and improvisation. As decades went by, syncretism and racial injustice derived in the rich genre of Jazz.

The Origins of Jazz

Created in the early twentieth century in New Orleans, Louisiana Jazz’s origins belong to the African American community, which made through music a social denunciation of the mistreatment of race and discrimination. At this time, it was practically impossible for people of color and white people to live in the same place due to outdated and violent laws. Black Americans were singled out for being different and constantly discriminated against while trying to do any normal activity.

So, Jazz… It all started in a small music establishment in New Orleans. A group of black musicians arrived to have a good time and eat; however, they faced quite a few stares from people who still did not accept that the races were mixed; so, they came to receive quite a few insults and mistreatment. One day in the same bar, this group decided to share their music and play live in a totally different genre, combining European and African styles.

The people of the bar liked it so much that they usually let them play some songs there. Little by little, the invisible yet powerful line of discrimination started to disappear to the beats of the music; all in establishment shared the same musical taste and the same intention to have a good time. Unfortunately, the world wasn’t willing to behave like the people in the bar and racism is still one of today’s biggest problems.