There is something special about soul – Do you know what it is?

How many times have you been asked what your favorite genre of music is? At this point you had to stop to think for a moment and finally came up with the easiest answer, “Soul.” The person you are speaking with looks at you with a puzzled expression on their face but they let it go. Do you know why this is? It’s actually very interesting how the term ‘soul’ became entangled in a whole realm of genres but it isn’t really a genre itself! It’s fascinating really but if you had to describe it as simply as possible, you could just say that it is a collective word that is the umbrella for genres that grew out of it such as R&B (rhythm and blues), the Motown Sound, urban blues, jazz and even gospel music. 

Soul is that depth of emotion packed into each and every one of those genres that leapt from the soul of black Americans as far back as the colonial days. Each and every one of those genres within the wider net of soul has that something special that isn’t always in any other genre or style of music. If it doesn’t reach down to the very depths of a person’s inner being, it just isn’t soul.

It’s in the Roots

There seems to be a certain amount of confusion as to just what soul music is in terms of the origin. The fact is that soul music began collecting genres way back in the days of large Southern plantations that fit two very important criteria. The first, and probably more important from a historical perspective is that it came forth from gospel music in the Early American days. The only hope African Americans had in those times was hope in their faith, and that was strong. 

The second intrinsic characteristic of soul is that powerful, very powerful, sense of rhythm. This is why so many people believe that R&B is the parent with soul being the child. You just have to watch the old television shows where R&B groups did those amazing, choreographed moves that got the audience moving right along with them. However, there is a sociological reason as to why the bulk of society hasn’t yet experienced soul. It was a cultural thing.

You Probably Can Thank a Woman!

Here it gets a little tricky with several things going on in American society at the same time. Remember, women had just won the right to vote in 1920 but the spirit, the deep-rooted soul in the legislation authored by Jim Crow, was only related to white women. Somehow it all got mixed up like an explosive tonic and although many white women could vote, somehow the forces were working against them and it turned out that voting by anyone of color or the female gender was risky business.

It was these kinds of crises, this moral decadence that gave way to that gut-wrenching, soul-searching rhythmic movement that characterized early R&B, smooth jazz and has now filtered down to urban jazz. Any performer within any of those genres knows that stage presence techniques are as important to perfect as the vocals. Often there is a professional dancer/choreographer working with them and so rehearsal studios like those at the Pirate self-serve studios are absolutely perfect when working out the tiniest detail of movement and stage presence techniques.

In fact, soul is like no other category of music because it is just that, the soul of a people. Some recording studios also have dance studios where performers can get time on the floor working on their moves. Bear in mind that those moves are what endeared traditionally black genres to an average white audience and over time, even white R&B performers began using the same kinds of moves. 

A Culture Filtering Over and Overlapping

If you were going to do a more in-depth analysis of just what it is that makes soul music so special you will also understand that there are people in other parts of the world of course still experiencing this very same plight. There are oppressed peoples who are still suffering what African Americans have been experiencing for more than 200 years now. It was actually much longer than that because it wasn’t the Declaration of Independence and a country that won that independence that gave African Americans a modicum of freedom, but rather movements within the culture that brought attention to their strife, struggles and downright pain.

This calls to mind K-pop, a now extremely popular form of the American hip-hop genre as performed in Korea. There are rumors that K-pop is banned in parts of Korea but that, too, will only prove to make the movement stronger. Just as the soul of African American music brought it into the light, so too will that very same soul within the Korean people bring their music forward into its rightful place. If you want to know just what is so special about soul music, you could probably say that it is the music that is most in keeping with the heart of a people. 

A Revamped, Much Older Tradition

Perhaps it’s time to get back to those biblical roots that drove the early African Americans forward, just as bible stories and allegories carried Judaism and Christianity forward when there was no written language, for all intents and purposes. Only the elite could read the scrolls and so a culture was passed down orally. Isn’t this just how the soul of a people has been carried forward generation after generation until it became a musical statement?

If you want true music, music that embodies the soul of a people, then these are the genres where you can be immersed in a culture. Soul isn’t a genre in the traditional sense of the word, but it is the driving force that led to a cultural statement. This is what music is and should always be. This is why soul is so very special.

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