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Jon Michael Spencer

The Rhythms of Black Folk: Race, Religion, and Pan-Africanism

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In this book, Jon Michael Spencer argues that African rhythm, particularly African rhythm in the New World, gives rise to the distinctive qualities of black cultures. These rhythms especially undergird and distinguish black music, dance and religion, each of which is a means by which Afro-peoples absorb these rhythms and concretize them in other aesthetic ways. Since black music has been the primary carrier of African rhythms (both black religion and dance are dependent on black music), Spencer contends that it is from black music that black people glean what he calls "rhythmic confidence," a phenomenon he describes as essentially equivalent to "soul." He explains how this rhythmic confidence is sometimes casual and calm and at other times explicit and insurgent, such as in rap music. Spencer's intent for reading the cultural history of Afro-peoples through this rhythmic lens is to clarify the cultural relationship people of African descent have to one another.