Aesthetics & Metaphysics: The Soul Music Crossroad

While sitting down to a meal of fried chicken, greens, mac and cheese and green beans at an eatery in Winston - Salem, NC, I was informed, "It's only called soul food above Virginia. For us, it's just traditional cooking." I thought about how true this was, as the only spots that called themselves "Soul Food" restaurants in the south, did so to attract out-of-towners, and the locals usually scoffed at their fair. In the music industry, "Soul" became that moniker of pride for music coming from the Black experience. Understanding that the Black American experience is one of mixed influences and the music  reflects that as well. Soul is largely shaped by syncopation and chord voicing, which is how the squarest of songs can become soul songs. For example, Al Greene's version of "Unchained Melody" verses the traditional rendition. The influence of the West African and Native American harmonic and melodic constructs had a profound impact of the music of European Americans, particularly the folk forms. In traditional European music, it is musically illegal for a Five chord to be followed by a Four chord; which is the turn around of your standard 12 - bar blues. A chord progression that is rather common to Blue-Grass/ Roots / Folk music is this: I - V - I - IV - I - IV - V - I - vi - IV - V - I - IV - I :|| Curiously enough this same progression can be found in music of Senegalese extraction. The construct of the 32-bar ballad can also be found with in the Congolese song forms, which also appears in the Latin American form, the bolero.

African American music is essentially what happens when African harmonies and rhythms meet Native American melodies, and European instruments. The 12 tones of the post Pythagorean theorem that we know as the chromatic scale allowed us a means of charting these complex harmonic structures. We also have to remember that the precursor to Country, which was called "Hill Billy" was one of the original forms to have hit records that were written by Black Blues artists. For example, "Careless Love" became a Hill Billy/ Folk standard, but was written by WC Handy. The voices of our ancestors crept back into the music through the jazz players, the unadulterated channels of the J Mood.  In the music industry, the jazz payers have been the ones at the heart and soul of the backing music for almost all pop music. For Motown, Stax, Atlantic, Chess and all of your foundation boutique Pop and Soul record labels were a team of jazz trained players who could flex r&b, pop, rock, and soul at the drop of a hat. In the south, it was the country players who could flip over and play some Country/Hill Billy Soul and Gospel in a wink. As a result you have the southern soul sound (Muscle Shoals, Memphis, Georgia) and the northern soul (Stax, Motown, Atlantic). Northern soul was also interwoven with Caribbean influences, both Afro- Latin and West Indian. Case in point, the calypso and Bossa Nova overtones found in Jackie Wilson and various Motown recordings.

This northern and southern line finds it's way across the various decades to the extent that the hip-hop of the southern region very much maintains the percussion and bass patterns of traditional southern soul, including the use of 6/8 time signatures super imposed over 4/4. The difference being that the new sound is a drum machine instead of a drummer. On the other hand, norther hip-hop is more inclusive of African hand percussion carrying the counter-points.