The Musical and the Spiritual

It has long been my vision of African-American music that the connection between the musical and the spiritual is so tight that this connection extends to musicians playing on a bandstand in an entirely – but maybe not entirely – secular venue. The book Trace of the Spirit discusses this in terms of the role played by music ultimately tracing its source to West African possession cults in the developing musical genres of the last half-century like rock, rave, punk, metal, the Grateful Dead kind of musical experience, as well as obvious forms like hip-hop.
Just now, watching a program on John Coltrane, one of his biographers, Ashley Kahn, orally captioned an old film of a Black church in the South by saying Coltrane’s earliest experience was the melding of the musical with the spiritual found in the Black church. “The musical and the spiritual are one.” This has become a trope in discussing all music of the African diaspora, but it always bears repeating. While music of the West was early on grounded in the religious realm as Bach and Beethoven manifest, there is yet a difference in the African and Afro-American and African-American experience.

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