What? You’ve never heard of Soul Journalism? Here’s why you need it.

Ladies and gentleman I give you a journalism that has a heart, that cares, affects you and pulls an audience. In Studio 1B celebs gather. Several of the them that follow in this article I’ll interview. More in a moment. First cue: snares, hi hat, and call and response.

You got it, you got it
You got it, you got it
I know you got soul
If you didn’t, you wouldn’t be in here.

It’s the bowels of the 1970s, Bobby Byrd’s I know you got Soul lyrics is writ large. Maceo (Parker) and the Macks Soul Power, and Lyn Collins’s Message to the Soul Sisters are creating a revolution. If these fail to lift an eyebrow think if Bruno Mars was born in the 70s (with Love’s Train, a Con Funk Shun Cover) whose ode to the era is a thing of beauty.

On the back end of the Vietnam war, civil rights laws, growing disparities in wealth, politics of the right on the rise, and pop music of the free spirit, new voices are emerging outside of mainstream. They deliver socially conscious lyrics braised over a new musical arrangement — a composite of RnB and Gospel. It’s called Soul — beautifully and rapturously captured in the Oscar winner Summer of Soul (2021).

What does it mean asked mainstream media as James Brown intoned “Say it Loud I’m Black and Proud”. For a generation of Black people previously being referred to as negroes, it was new validation of agency. Being called Black a year earlier could easily draw fights.

Rockets, moon shots
Spend it on the have nots
Money, we make it
Fore we see it you take it
, sang Stevie Wonder.

These tunes weren’t just about gyrating on the dance floor, but exuded visceral cinematic images that cut quick to the heart when slunk in a sofa. Next up, Curtis Mayfield is about to drop on the turn table — Pusherman.

This was storytelling, journalistically of the essayistic kind that found a way to travel and influence its audience through escapism and re-memorisation.

The Question
Social narratives as I’m finding out in Studio 1B after Maceo Parker ( James Brown’s collaborator), Anita Baker and Roy Ayers have passed through would drive fictional films too. There’s a queen’s list: “I wasn’t about to cede control. It was my film says Director/Actor Melvin Van Peebles referring to Sweet Sweetback’s Baadasssss Song (1971) which mixes black sexuality, Panther politics and white supremacy.

To Sleep with Anger (1990) written and directed by Charles Burnett features Danny Glover in a narrative steeped in cultural tropes. Blink and you’ll miss them — from omens of broomsticks to how an unwanted guest overstays his welcome. And Peter Hollywood Shuffle (1987) and Spike’s She’s Gotta Have it (1986). Laugh, we did in the studio, but’s it’s an uncomfortable one. Soul Stories.

I’m beginning to think, way back then on the radio show I present fresh out of uni in the 90s, how and why you have Soul music, Soul food, Soul mate, but not Soul Journalism. It will take me another twenty-five years, whilst researching my PhD to return some kind of answer. Yeah I know, it shouldn’t take you that long, but academia loves to dot its Is.

Sounds odd! Soul Journalism! Well, you’ve had Gonzo, literary, slow, solutions and mojo over a period. Journalism’ spectrum of styles either point to a collocation with equipment e.g. mojo, otherwise stylistic parameters, or solutions which proclaims journalism must provide closure and answers to its storytelling. So why not Soul?

Journalism is about power and you can’t codify explicitly a Soul journalism because the structural framework that has framed journalism as an institution wouldn’t countenance it. That was before the decentralisation the Net. Twenty five years later you can do as you please. That’s how videojournalism in which I was an early proponent took off.

Yet in the canons of the music industry where classical music, pop music, big band Jazz and Northern Soul prevailed, Soul music broke through. How? Well, it already had an audience in its proto form in gospel in churches. Music doesn’t require its audience possess a literary lens for decoding, or otherwise sit still. It’s a corporeal transcendent experience of the senses. Hell! You close your eyes and get drunk on your favourite tune.

Two or more people with harmony could earn a crust without the need for journalism’s reproductive and distributional organs for selling their wares. Crucially, too it sold across demographics and cultures. Soul Music became a movement. Profit!

Soul journalism isn’t pointedly about Black folk or Black press e.g. The North Star founded by Frederick Douglass in 1847 or Jet Magazine (which used to drop in our household in the UK) anymore than Soul music could claim to be hermetically Black. You’ve just got to have soul to mine and drive a deeper message for audiences — something its music and films do.

But what would it look like? In the centenary edition of International Affairs Volume 98, №1 Scholar Amitav Acharya asks a question, germane for its time. What if experts from the South shaped International Relations Theory?

Ergo, there’s something that’s uneasy about how many countries in the world shape policies that frame your world. It’s shaped by a westcentric view and a structural racist framework.

Acharya writes:

While race existed as a cultural marker in earlier history, a mutually-reinforcing link between racism, slavery and empire is a distinct product of western Europe and the US-led world order. Yet, mainstream scholarship on International Relations has obscured the question of race or worse, legitimized its exclusion in discussions of world order-building. At the same time, demand for racial equality from anti-colonial forces presented an alternative and inclusive conception of world order.

It’s a brilliantly shaped essay, prompting questions about how the world is seen as au natural when questions, for instance seemingly benignly about hierarchies facilitated policy makers towards ‘ othering’. In a previous posting I wrote about a Ghanaian philosopher Amo in the 18th century whom it’s believed would have questioned Descarte’s “I think therefore I am”, with the simple response, “Who are you?” A Ghanaian would be thinking of “we”, not “I”.

This world order-building is prominent today in maps. Policy framers gave the world this to consider placing America and USSR as sizeably on par with Africa when their true size is demonstrably smaller. You can actually see the division of conflation between the North and South.

Acharya’s article, which is among the most read from the global think tank Chatham House, raises interesting questions in journalism.

What if the Global South, which Acharya says is a broad term, had the power to shape journalism? What issues would govern their outlook? How would they frame the boundaries to practising a holistic factual form of storytelling? Where would community versus the individual be situated in a story matrix? What other factors would influence the pillars e.g. objectivity that have been conventionalised journalism as we know today.

Have you noticed that just like International Relations Theory academics e.g. Carey et al rarely frame race and culture as intrinsically integral to its reception.

An Answer
A year ago I had a chance to glimpse some answers when I helmed one of the global calendar’s most high profile journalism gatherings, the Future of Journalism at Cardiff, as Chairman of the Committee.

Our keynotes Professors Gary Young, Danielle K. Kilgo, and Cherian George probed similar themes of inclusion and and how politics and Journalistic scholarly work is viewed.

Soul Journalism — it‘s empathy. Its focus on social conscious accretes Dubois expressed meta way of thinking. Recap double consciousness. Its call and response is the equivalent of the chorus, seeking an answer “Living just enough for the city, whoa) Ain’t nothin’ but the city”, before, if anything it’s time to move on. In today’s broad journalism politicians know how to exasperate their interviewers with a no answer response.

Stevie sang
A boy is born in hard time Mississippi
Surrounded by four walls that ain’t so pretty
His parents give him love and affection
To keep him strong, moving in the right direction
Living just enough, just enough for the city

In some ways Soul Journalism is already a practice, a subset of a larger palette which has its antecedents in the 1960s, surfaced in the 90s and in the 2000s materialised enough to be analysed in its fulsomeness.

In Covid lockdown, one of the BBC’s most respected journalists would do something that both lyrically and cinematically was straight out of Motown. Clive Myrie wanted to express empathy for a cleaner, a man who worked the hospitals in his own way, that amounted to saving lives.

When I caught up with Clive, I had to ask about his scripting. This is a masterclass in the elements of Cinema journalism — my PhD practice and something I’ve immersed myself in since the 90s. What Clive delivers here is gold.

The line Clive is referring to is at 00.51 seconds. “He’s at work as London waits and Blackbirds sing”.

Soul journalism is an acquisition for greater meaning and depth from beyond the nominal western perspective; cinema journalism is the meta verse that holds it. If you’ve got this far reading….

I know you got soul
If you didn’t, you wouldn’t be in here.

Dr David Dunkley Gyimah’s archive from the 1990s consists of an array of celebrity and race related stories. Working with his Archive producer, he’s trying to find a way to present them.




Top Writer & Creative Technologist, Int. Award Winner. Cinemajournalist. Cardiff Uni @jomec. PhD (Dublin). Visiting Prof UBC, Ex BBC/C4News. Apple profiled.

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Dr. David Dunkley Gyimah

Dr. David Dunkley Gyimah

Top Writer & Creative Technologist, Int. Award Winner. Cinemajournalist. Cardiff Uni @jomec. PhD (Dublin). Visiting Prof UBC, Ex BBC/C4News. Apple profiled.

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