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AMERICAN MOSAIC - February 15, 2002: Olympic songs/question about Carnival in the US/a history of African American hairstyles - 2002-02-15


Welcome to AMERICAN MOSAIC — VOA’s radio magazine in Special English.


This is Doug Johnson. On our program today we:

Play some songs for the Olympic Games ...

Answer a question about Carnival in the United States ...

And report about a museum show for Black History Month.

African American Hairstyle Exhibit


A show about the history of African American hair is taking place at a museum near Washington, D.C. The expressive nature of African American hairstyles is celebrated through pictures, drawings and historical objects. Barbara Klein tells us about it.


The exhibit is at the Montpelier Cultural Arts Center in Laurel, Maryland. It shows many different ways African Americans have worn their hair during different periods in history. In Africa, as in other parts of the world, hairstyles are linked to cultural identity. They show an individual’s group, age, sex, social position and profession.

Traditional African hairstyles include braids and twists. Some of the more complex designs were produced with bones, shells or seeds. Well-kept hair was important in African societies.

Hairstyling traditions of Africans greatly changed after they were brought to America as slaves. Long hours of work in the fields left blacks too tired to produce traditional hairstyles. So they developed new ways to wear their hair. Records show that slaves wore their hair in ways that established a link to their African past.

After slavery ended, blacks began accepting European ideas of beauty as a way to gain social acceptance and to get jobs. However, attempts to straighten their curly hair were difficult and often dangerous. In the early Nineteen-Hundreds, Madam C.J. Walker developed a product called the hot comb which made it easier for blacks to straighten their hair. Her efforts made her very rich and also created thousands of jobs for women.

In the Nineteen-Sixties, the American civil rights movement led to a renewed interest in African culture. Blacks began to celebrate their African appearance by wearing more natural hairstyles. For example, a natural hairstyle called the Afro became very popular. The Afro also became linked with the Black Power Movement.

African Americans have continued to wear their hair in many different natural styles linked to Africa. One example is a twisted hairstyle called dreadlocks. Dreadlocks were first worn in Africa. The name dreadlocks came from early European travelers. They thought the style was ugly or “dreadful” because it was not combed and grew into rope-like pieces. The hairstyle is popular in Jamaica among members of a religious group called Rastafarians.

Experts say African-American hairstyles such as braids and dreadlocks have led to social tensions, problems in the workplace and legal action. Exhibit organizers suggest this may be because some people have not fully accepted the appearance of African American hair in any style.



Our VOA listener question this week comes from Brazil. Valmecir Jose de Souza asks about Carnival celebrations in the United States.

The Carnival celebrations in Brazil are world famous. Each year, hundreds of thousands of people gather in the city of Rio de Janeiro. They enjoy a series of lively parties and parades.

Carnival is a traditional time of celebration before the Christian season of Lent. Lent is a forty-day period of spiritual renewal before the holiday of Easter. Carnival ends with a wild celebration on Mardi Gras, the Tuesday before the start of Lent. This year, Mardi Gras was celebrated on February twelfth.

Traditionally, Mardi Gras is celebrated in many Roman Catholic countries and other communities. French colonists first celebrated Mardi Gras in what is now the United States in the Seventeen-Hundreds. Mardi Gras means “Fat Tuesday” in French. The tradition became popular in New Orleans, Louisiana and spread to nearby areas. Today, Mardi Gras is a legal holiday in the states of Alabama, Florida and parts of Louisiana.

New Orleans is the oldest major city in the southern United States. It is known for its music, food, and noisy celebrations. New Orleans has one of the world’s biggest Mardi Gras celebrations. Different groups called krewes have parades. People wear strange, colorful clothes. Beautiful, sometimes frightening, masks cover their faces. Dances and a huge party end the celebration on the night before Lent begins.

Several other American cities had their own celebrations this year. For example, the Brazilian community in New York planned its own Carnival celebration. Part of Saint Louis, Missouri, held almost four weeks of parties and celebrations. The main event was a parade last Saturday.

Another celebration was held in the Florida city of Leesburg. This was the fifth year for Leesburg’s Mardi Gras celebration and parade. The celebration included music shows, dancers, food and drinks. Organizers of the Leesburg event chose a man and a woman to help lead the parade. They also named two dogs to lead a Mardi Gras parade for animals. Money raised from the event went to the Leesburg Arts Center.

Olympics Music


Athletes from around the world have come to the United States and are taking part in the Winter Olympic Games in Salt Lake City, Utah. American television has been using a popular song to communicate this message. It is “America,” written and performed by Neil Diamond.


Here is Shep O’Neal with some more Olympics music.


American songwriter and conductor John Williams wrote music for the Olympic Games that were held in Los Angeles, California, and Atlanta, Georgia. The theme from the Atlanta Games is called “Summon the Heroes.”


John Williams also wrote the music for the Salt Lake City Olympics. He recorded it with the Utah Symphony Orchestra. At the start, the Mormon Tabernacle Choir sings the three-word Olympic message, “Citius, Altius, Fortius.” The words are Latin for “swifter, higher, stronger.” We leave you now with the official Salt Lake City Olympics theme, “Call of the Champions.”



This is Doug Johnson. I hope you enjoyed our program today. And I hope you will join us again next week for AMERICAN MOSAIC — VOA’s radio magazine in Special English.

This AMERICAN MOSAIC program was written by George Grow, Cynthia Kirk and Nancy Steinbach. Our studio engineer was Tom Verba. And our producer was Caty Weaver.