Archive for December, 2009

In Praise of the Samplers and the Sampled…

Posted in Uncategorized on December 29, 2009 by Josslyn Luckett


“Let everything that has breath praise God”  Duke Ellington

Sometimes I think I’m so old school.  Though I grew up with hip hop, I always thought I was more up on the sampled than the sampler.  Driving home in a wintery New England mix, I slide in my Christmas present from ma, Vijay Iyer’s Historicity cd, and at some point find myself dropping Phife Diggy rhymes over Iyer’s luscious keys but don’t see, “Electric Relaxation” on the list of song titles.  Do I have the wrong beat?  Busted.  Vijay gives credit where credit is due…Ronnie Foster is the composer of “Mystic Brew” and that is the name of the song that Tribe Called Quest sampled for “Electric Relaxation.”  I am on such a steep and steady learning curve these days.  Anyone reading this, I so appreciate your return as I am returning from a 4 month+ haitus to allow for my move to the east coast and first semester of divinity school.  A new city, a new post, a new blog engine (wordpress seems to love jazz so I thought I’d change labels…) a new year and a new decade! 

One of the most dynamic and challenging theological questions I’m looking at personally and writing about some in my course work and sermons (that’s right, sermons…here I thought I was launching into the very academic, theoretical side of the study of comparative religion, but thankfully couldn’t resist a  course called “Preaching for Social Change” taught by the brilliant Detroit pastor, Dr. Charles Adams) is the question of how far back must we look to find and generate deep meaning.  I recently argued with a bible historian about the centrality of the Christian bible…admitting it’s a book I reach for much less frequently than I reach for “A Testament of Hope” by MLK or “Catch a Fire” by the Wailers and what I do recognize in the bible I often realize I’ve heard first in a sermon by King or lyric by Bob.  In a course on “Music in Islamic Contexts” I wrote a final term paper on the Sufi praise singers of Senegal, whose lyrics often center around their marabouts (spiritual leaders of their specific orders, like Cheikh Amadou Bamba or El Hajj Malick Sy) more so than the Prophet Muhammad or Allah…a choice that generates a great deal of controversy.  I found in writing my sermons and papers I was much more interested in talking about King or Thich Nhat Hanh, Medea Benjamin or Mamie Till, Marley and Youssou N’Dour and of course, Duke Ellington whose examples of faith, whose voices and rhythms of courage speak to me more clearly most days than prophets of earlier generations.

I’m here to grapple.  When I hear Vijay and think Phife Dawg, I accept and am willing to be schooled about the fact that Phife and Q Tip would not have relaxed me so sweetly if they weren’t first led into the mystic by Mr. Ronnie Foster’s groove.  When Youssou sings of his beloved Bamba and the sacred pilgrimage to Touba, I understand that Cheikh Bamba became the leader he did because of his profound devotion to the teachings of Muhammad.  And this same level of devotion is seen in King and Marley’s connection to the book of Exodus, to the Gospels.

“Who Jah bless, no one curse, thank God….”  Bob Marley

In gratitude for the praise singers and composers, the pianists, preachers and poets, I’m going to recommit to showing up to our sacred music sangha here in these posts much more faithfully in 2010.  I look forward to growing our community.