Lamont Jack Pearley
“ Spirituals & Slave songs are America’s only folk music and the finest distinctive artistic contributions she has to offer” – James Weldon Johnson
On my journey researching and studying my heritage, it’s connection to Blues Music and the traditions of christianity the generations of both sides of my family lived by, I’ve began to draw a conclusion tracing all the way back, that the Blues, work/prison songs and the Spirituals all stems from the Hebrew Tribes of Israel, and we (descendants of Prisoners of war known as ‘ Black Slaves” or “African Americans”) are the children of the tribes. I’d even be as specific to say The Tribe of Judah and/or Levi, the Igbo and Songhai Empire.
As controversial as this may be, I have decided to tackle this subject and it’s connection to the heritage and history of the Blues. So the question would be, where and how did I draw this
conclusion? As much as I would like to say “it’s simple”, it isn’t. See, we can start from Ethiopia and Egypt, or the story of Moses, Noah, Shem, Ham, and those. We can even quote the many biblical scriptures that speak of curses that were punishments for Israel; for example, being back in Egypt (Bondage) for breaking the covenant. The truth is it’s all of the above, considering the erie parallel of those curses in comparison to the African American experience on this land which birthed the Blues, Spirituals, “Black Slave Songs” and Prison/Work Songs. One can actually say that experience is a prophesy manifested.
Many experts, enthusiasts, writers and even leaders of religious organizations have analyzed and presented many different theories on the origins of the music, as well as the relationship between “Black Folk” and our God. How we worship, do we worship? Were we practicing demonic rituals? The connection between the music and spirituality. And, are we even worthy of worship, considering we were not looked at as human.
Let’s start with a quote from German musicologist Richard Wallaschek, which in his book, Primitive Music (1893) he states that “black songs were mere imitations of European compositions which negroes have picked up and served up again with slight variations.” That speaks volumes to me, more so because a lot of African Americans believe that the Bible, Yahsua (Jesus) and Christianity as a whole was given to us as a tool for submission from our captors. Those who owned slaves. And if either theory is correct, that the songs of our people, and our spiritual beliefs came from Europeans, the entire conversation about Blues being the song of the Black experience is moot. Further more, it would debunk the concept of ancient African civilizations not only being the first, but the hub for Physics, Religion, Science, Mathematics and the like that was spread through their early expeditions that we all know actually happened.
So how did I come to this point, and what does it have to do with the Blues?
According to John Lovell, the Spirituals is a social consciousness of the African American, or at that time the Black Slave. It was the climate of the time, and that consciousness was a reflection of the slaves ‘African Background’, life on the Plantation and everything else endured in the New World. Not totally disregarding the spiritual beliefs and practices of the slave, to him, it was broken into three themes: 1) a desire for freedom; 2) a desire for the justice in the judgement upon his betrayers; and 3) a tactic battle, the strategy by which he expected to gain an eminent future. Again, this is his breakdown of the Black slave songs, which shows ‘me’ a direct link to the African who evolved into an African American Slave, and their predecessor, the original Hebrew Israelites who seemed to share the same consciousness as they were in bondage in Egypt, as well as captives in Babylon.
Now, Miles Mark Fisher brings another theory to the table. He believed the Spirituals are the life to the paper accounts of Black folk striving for earthly freedom, rather than hopeless Africans who forgot where they came from. He states that “the songs tell a historical story of how the Negroes attempted to spread brotherhood by the sword, and took flight to ‘better’ territory when possible. Again, a direct connect to the Old Testament stories of Judah, Jerusalem and the like if my biblical memory is correct.
James H. Cone makes a great point as he dissected Fisher’s writings by stating, “ The contention that
the spirituals are “historical documents” is based on the assumption that they are African and not European…”, “Therefore when Africans were brought to America, they carried with them the art of storytelling through music.” One could correlate that to the Levites or the Griot, which to me share a lot in common.
Be that this may not be 100% concrete evidence to most, what it does show is multiple voices of highbrow researchers and historians clearly stating that this tradition of Spirituals, or “Black Slave Songs”, which the Blues came, stemmed from Africa and traveled here with the captives. They also, in their research and writings, whether intentional or not,showed a mirror to the accounts of the Old Testament Hebrew Israelites,The Lost Tribes.
Referring back to scripture and the early days of the Tribes of Israel, one of the curses that was to come upon those who turn from God was to be removed from their true God, not know who or what the deity was, and to serve the god of those who have them in bondage. I guess that can be a point to those who believe the European missionaries “gave” the “Black Slave” Christianity. I can also quote from Amiri Baraka’s book, Blues People as he states, “The African has always had a traditional respect for his conquerors gods”, and “The “gods” of the African eventually became the ‘holy Ghost”…lastly if you consider the rundown of curses that would be implemented on Israel if they broke the covenant by turning to other ‘gods’ and serving them, you can hear Amiri’s words ring as if he were giving a hidden message when he wrote, “But the African could not function as a human being without religion; he daily invoked the “conjure men”, herb doctors and root healers, cult priests and sorcerers – the mystical forces he thought controlled the world”.
There are a good many Black folk that believe the ancient spirituality of Africa surpasses The Lost
Tribes, Judaism, Christianity, and Islam. They say it stems from Ancient Kemet. Some believe in the oneness with the universe that allowed the sorcerers and cult priest that conjured up spirits are the true traditions. Me personally, I believe it’s all relative and relevant to the lineage of the Original Hebrew Tribes and their descendants, leading to what has been called the Blues, an American Art Form. Why, well that gets deep…and I will post another article continuing this thought as I continue to search for The truth of Blues, which lead me to search the truth of God.