History lesson! Alan Lomax!
Alan Lomax (1915-2002) was a folklorist, music historian and 'ethnomusicologist' who recorded thousands upon thousands of folk songs from the US, UK, Caribbean, and others. In the '40s he produced concerts, recordings, and radio shows showcasing practically every form of music, from klezmer to jazz to spoken word to pop, blues and pretty much any form of world folk music you can name. This man is nearly singlehandedly to thank for the preservation of thousands of local folk songs before such cultures became marginalized under the weight of the modern world, as well as the resurgence of interest in such folk music in the latter half of the 20th century.
This album, Prison Songs, are real recordings of prison work crews and chain gangs in the Southern United States from 1947. Mournful work chants, complete with shovel/pickaxe strikes keeping time.
"These songs belong to the musical tradition which Africans brought to the New World, but they are also as American as the Mississippi River. They were born out of the very rock and earth of this country, as black hands broke the soil, moved, reformed it, and rivers of stinging sweat poured upon the land under the blazing heat of Southern skies, and are mounted upon the passion that this struggle with nature brought forth. They tell us the story of the slave gang, the sharecropper system, the lawless work camp, the chain gang, the pen." --Alan LomaxSome of these songs were also used in O Brother, Where Art Thou?
I cannot stress enough how much you should be downloading this right now. It's important. Listen to it. This is music.