Sometimes you just have to go to church. Not being a religious person, I sometimes raise eyebrows over my enthusiasm for going to church. But that’s b/c I love Black culture and the church preserves it…….. no, preserve is not the right word, rather it embodies it.
Outside the church, though, the welter of hip-hop, rap, jazz, and other forms of Black musical and dance expression appear to dominate, and they do dominate – the media. But sequestered in those churches is the deepest Black culture.
This was brought home to me just recently. I saw a program on LinkTV listed that seemed to be about music in Iraq. The title was “Soundtrack To War” and I thought I would see some of that fascinating Iraqi music we catch glimpses of in street demonstrations or wedding parties (when they’re not being bombed). However, it turned out to be American soldiers listening to and making music in Iraq. It covered heavy metal, rap, country, and so on, what you would expect. Quite interesting.
But suddenly, I was transported to an earlier time. Here was a circle of about 30 or more Black soldiers in their fatigues. The circle is important b/c the ring shout was an early expression of Black religious worship involving singing, a shuffling circle dance, handclapping and foot stomping in complex rhythms. A film survives of such a ring shout, apparently dating from early in the last century, surely one of the last survivors of this old African custom
However, the circle of GI (Joes and Janes) began the song “It’s a Mighty God We Serve”. As they sang, they bent over in unison then raised up and raised their hands in unison, almost a holy dance. Just as they ended (and were interrupted by a bomb blast that seemed to phase no one except me), you could hear and see off-beat clapping commencing the polyrhythms characteristic of this music and you could hear the overlapping voice starting to come in for the polyphony of voice typical of the Black church.
When I showed it to my wife, she immediately began singing and said that’s they way they used to do in church. She bet that most of the soldiers were from the South. I wish I knew of a way to find out more about them. The website did not offer any information.