Notes on the songs from our 21st Southern Music Issue Sampler featuring South Carolina.
It is fitting that this Southern Music Issue (the Oxford American’s twenty-first) devoted to South Carolina should come in 2019, as the nation moves to better recognize the tragic anniversary of the first sale of enslaved Africans on American soil, in August of 1619. About forty percent of the enslaved people brought to America came through Charleston; today most African Americans have roots in the city (some estimates go as high as eighty percent). Or to put a finer point on it, as Joshunda Sanders writes in this issue, “No Black person has a family tree that has not been pruned by slavery.” Acknowledging, parsing, and reckoning with this history is the prominent theme of this South Carolina music issue—as is celebrating the immense wealth of cultural heritage that has sprung from this small, proud place.
It might sound like kitchen-sink music at first, seemingly made with whatever junk was lying around and played by whoever happened to be there. It might seem off, even uncomfortably so. But listen closer. The warble of stretched tape, the loose tuning, the home-recorded hiss. It’s all a disguise. At heart, lots of his catalog is strange, charmed pop music, wry without being goofy, ineffably simple, personal and universal at the same time.