Marsha Hansen - My Soul Is A Witness - The Message Of The Spirituals In Word And Song

Published Friday 15th December 2006
Marsha Hansen - My Soul Is A Witness - The Message Of The Spirituals In Word And Song
Marsha Hansen - My Soul Is A Witness - The Message Of The Spirituals In Word And Song

RATING 8 8 8 8 8 8 8 8
LABEL: Augsburg Books ISBN13: 9780806652856
FORMAT: Book General book

Reviewed by Paul Poulton

How on earth did black African slaves ever embrace the religion of their captors? Maybe it's another example of God being able to turn bad situations into good. It was because of that turning towards Christianity that we now have such a strong body of songs that have encouraged the world. These days we hear a lot about prophetic songwriting; it's not new. The spirituals were written by unknown slaves who were moved by God's Spirit to sing songs that spoke and still speak to the world. In this book and CD package Marsha Hansen points out that it's been claimed that one can make a journey from Genesis to Revelation by listening to the spirituals. Music was part of the medicine that God used to help the African American people through one of the most traumatic periods of their history, and through their suffering all peoples can be blessed. This book explores the history and philosophy of the spirituals. Marsha, herself a singer, is married to Rodney Hansen a Lutheran pastor, but it's not Rodney who is the well known relative but Keith Richards, who is Marsha's brother-in-law. Keith played guitar on the accompanying CD. The Stones have always had that gritty edge to their music, so it's fitting that he should be close to this story of the spirituals. Which, as Marsha points out, are "messages of faith and of life's experiences laid bare." Indeed the Stones' song "Brown Sugar" can itself be seen to show the stupidity and selfishness of the slave trade. Keith wrote about the slave trade before Marsha did! Marsha also raises some excellent points about how the Bible was used to support slavery, her rejoinder to that argument is a pleasure to read. There are a good handful of very readable quotes, she has chosen her sources carefully. Including St Augustine who said, "(God) did not intend that his rational creature, who was made in his image, should have dominion over anything but the irrational creation - not man over man, but man over beasts." Simon Bolivar said, "I ask you: a man owning another man! A man, an object! One in the image of God yoked like an animal!" Marsha has done a fine job. A beautifully presented book. There are 14 spirituals on the CD, but don't expect too much from the CD.

The opinions expressed in this article are not necessarily those held by Cross Rhythms. Any expressed views were accurate at the time of publishing but may or may not reflect the views of the individuals concerned at a later date.

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Reader Comments

Posted by Chris Riser in Portland, Oregon @ 18:31 on Dec 23 2006

Please dig a little deeper and listen to the heart of the recordings, especially tracks 1-7.

Thanks for reading.

Posted by Chris Riser in Portland, Oregon @ 18:30 on Dec 23 2006

Over and over again an archaic mood rises from these sessions, many of which Hansen notes were recorded "between meals, with lots of laughter and more serious moments of reflection." I imagine that this was the same spontaneity which produced the original songs themselves.

Posted by Chris Riser in Portland, Oregon @ 18:29 on Dec 23 2006

The first seven tracks were recorded in Hansen's home studio and the arrangements are hers also. The bluesy down-by-the-Delta instrumentation gives her arrangements authenticity and these old spirituals renewed vigor. See This Little Light of Mine, or even better, I Got a Robe, as examples. These two songs have been rescued from the homogeneity of the Wee Sing catalogue. For that I owe Mrs. Hansen a debt of gratitude.

Posted by Chris Riser in Portland, Oregon @ 18:28 on Dec 23 2006

Why has the CD been relegated to only one sentence in this review? Sure, the recordings are not million dollar studio sessions, but then again, the slaves who so humbly cried out to God didn't have the resources of their masters at their disposal, either.

The opinions expressed in the Reader Comments are not necessarily those held by Cross Rhythms.

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