January 4, 2008. Posted by Joshua Jackson.
I haven't seen Denzel Washington's film, The Great Debaters. But I'm already hooked on the soundtrack with Sharon Jones, Alvin Youngblood Hart, and The Carolina Chocolate Drops. Among others, they collaborate on the opening track, a ring shout called "My Soul is a Witness."
A ring shout is one of the most infectious and powerful types of music you'll ever hear. It's basically a religious song using traditional African dance patterns, with a counter-rhythm that can start easy but get extremely complex, depending on how intensely the performers get possessed by the spirit. Shouts were common ritual during slavery, and you might even find traces of the style in rural church services in the South, the Georgia coastal islands and the Tidewater region of Maryland and Delaware.
For The Great Debaters, "My Soul is a Witness" is recreated from the original field recording by Alan Lomax. In 1934, Lomax spent six weeks in Louisiana. In one of the Acadian (Cajun) towns, Lomax recorded a series of ring shouts by Austin Coleman, with Joe Washington Brown and Samson Brown.
Hear the original version of "My Soul is a Witness," as performed by Austin Coleman.
I spoke with G. Marq Roswell, the Music Supervisor for The Great Debaters, about the music he selected music for the movie. You can hear that on The WBGO Journal. Or listen below. - Josh
© 2008 WBGO