VARIOUS ARTISTS / Deep River Mixtape
Although obscure in its origins and not as popular as many other spirituals, nevertheless this is one of the most important songs in the long history of black struggle and triumph in the USA. This is a song that expresses intense longing for release. A song that affirms that there is a better way than the one we suffer now. A song whose simple lyric of release and salvation from severe hardships celebrates the security of joining a collective of cohorts over in “camp ground.” Strange. The goal is to cross the river, cross the boundary, cross the great divide and get to camp ground, not to heaven or even some big city but to get to camp ground, to get to where all the folk are assembled. As do many of the ancient, anonymous songs, the seemingly simple lyrics of “Deep River” both mask and reveal a myriad of complexes and contradictions that simple folk found profound ways of expressing. I believe that descendants of the African diaspora have a special affinity for water, especially specific rivers, lakes, and oceans. After all, the water was not just a conduit for transportation, it was also a sound in itself, indeed the motion of water was “the” sound we heard when we were both born and borne: the sound we heard in the womb (particularly at the moment of birth), and the sound we heard as we traveled from the known into the unknown. Maybe it’s just me and my hyper-active imagination, over-thinking and wildly conjecturing on the meaning of a collective experience but, damn it, there has got to be a reason why water remains in our consciousness centuries after our capture in Africa, rupture from Africa, and transport via waterways into this new world. Anyway, here is this anonymous song, passed on to us generation after generation. Here is the song brought to us via The Fisk Jubilee Singers, one of the earliest recorded examples of Negro spirituals in general and this lyric in particular. Here are jazz variations and gospel incarnations. Here is the famed Paul Robeson baritone and the transcendent Marian Anderson contralto. The quicksilver lucidity of saxophonist Charles Lloyd and the brutal beauty of Archie Shepp’s bull roar. Hear the plaintive strings of Grant Green Jr. book-ended by the uncharacteristic (for him) serious organ&vocal rendition of Fats Waller. Here Horace Parlan does a beautiful solo reading and Jim Cullum offers an exuberant Dixieland frolic. From the modernity of drummer Stix Hooper to the faithful solemnity of The Five Blind Boys of Alabama. Here is “Deep River” the way you may already know it, pushed up next to “Deep River” in ways you never heard before. Here is a music that is deeper than any explanation of its meaning and effect. Listen and be transported across the seas of your own experiences, transformed by confronting your own inner demons and finding succor and release in the soothing sound of an ancient song sung anew. Here is “Deep River”—deeper than we consciously know, as deep as we all, collectively and actually, are, and that’s deep, deep. Deep. —Kalamu ya Salaam Deep River Mixtape Playlist 01 Fisk Jubilee Singers Vol. 3 (1924-1940) - The Fisk Jubilee Singers 02 Fine Arabian Stuff – Fats Waller 03 Deep River – The Five Blind Boys Of Alabama 04 Mainstream Straight-Ahead – Stix Hooper 05 Steal Away – The Phillipians 06 Deep River – James Cullum Jazz Band 07 The Very Best Of – Marian Anderson 08 In Copenhagen – Horace Parlan 09 The Glorious Voice Of – Paul Robeson 10 Introducing GG – Grant Green Jr. 11 The King and Queen of Gospel, Vol. 2 – Rev. James Cleveland 12 Toshiko Mariano Quartet – Toshiko Mariano 13 A'Cappella Gospel New Orleans – First Revolution Singers 14 Goin' Home – Archie Shepp & Horace Parland 15 Ballads & Blues – Odetta 16 Lift Every Voice - Charles Lloyd 17 Deep River – The Five Blind Boys Of Alabama
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