Rastlin Jacob

Rastlin Jacob: The Music of the Spiritual Baptist

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AllMusic Review by

In the summer of 1939, anthropologists Melville and Frances Herskovits carted a heavy Soundscriber recorder (as well as two turntables and a belt-driven gasoline generator) to the village of Toco in Trinidad and recorded some 100 twelve-inch acetate discs of hymns, shouts, grunts, hums, and intoned prayers performed by an exuberant Christian sect known as the Shouters. Outlawed in Trinidad at the time, the Shouters met at clandestine meeting spots and engaged in extended singing sessions that frequently broke down into a chorus of grunts, groans, and handclapping. The resulting cacophony was far from random, however. The hymns included here show an amazingly intricate vocal structure perfectly balanced between rapture and control. Sung in Caribbean English Creole, the lyrics combine the wages of sin sentiments of standard church hymns with a kind of wistful longing for African repatriation, making for a fascinating hybrid. "When the Saints Go Marching In" appears here as a slightly sad, minor-key hymn to Ethiopia, and the result is hauntingly beautiful. The gospel blues standard "Oil in My Lamp" morphs into a song of joyous exaltation. "Onward Christian Soldiers" becomes an exuberant, marching romp full of trills and vocalizations that mimic trumpets. The songs are generally very short, due to the restrictions of the technology of the day, which is perhaps unfortunate, since the longer pieces show how much these songs build toward a kind of vocal rapture.

Track Listing

Sample Title/Composer Performer Time
1
1:40
2
2:02
3
2:35
4
1:17
5
2:11
6
3:49
7
1:35
8
1:28
9
2:01
10
3:45
11
1:44
12
3:58
13
2:05
14
1:26
15
3:43
16
0:54
17
1:10
18
4:01
19
1:42
20
1:27
21
1:18
22
3:52
23
1:41
24
1:37
25
1:45
26
1:55
27
3:35
28
2:18
29
1:28
30
1:27
31
4:08
32 2:00
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