Sunday, June 21, 2009

Joe Carter

Life is like music; it must be composed by ear, feeling, and instinct, not by rule.

~~~Samuel Butler (English novelist, essayist and critic, 1835-1902)

I was listening to NPR's "Speaking of Faith" interview with Joe Carter today, speaking of his knowledge of the African-American musicial tradition of spirituals. Different from gospel and blues, the spiritual was usually spontaneous and anonymous, but hundreds of them survive today. Arising from a people tortured and suffering, they provided expression and hope, and sometimes coded messages as well. Joe Carter explains the meaning of many of them - and sings them with his rich baritone.

"I can sing Motherless Child in Siberia — they know what it means. They've been through hell. I can go to Scotland and Ireland and Wales and they understand the sentiments."

His explanation of how African slaves came to take on their masters' religion so devoutly, even while faced every day with the hypocrisy of how they were treated by supposed "Christians" was quite enlightening. He says that while the Africans came from many different cultures and religions, they shared a general belief in one powerful God. That God was accessed through ancestors and was very land-based. Upon being stolen from their land, they lost "access" to their God. When they landed in America and learned about Jesus; their masters told them was the son of God. Through this son, they could appeal and perhaps reach the God of their home lands, from whom they were separated by a vast ocean. The Bible stories of Daniel, and Jonah figure strongly in these spirituals - and the hope of heaven someday became going "home".

Beautiful stories, beautiful music, uplifting and instructive and fraught with pain, suffering, fellowship, and hope.

While I was there, I also happened up on the NPR music links - they've really expanded their offerings - blogs, concerts, lists, downloads, interviews, newsletters, pictures, new artists, you name it. Music fans will spend a lot of time there.

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