by Idasa Tariq
From the late 1800s to the early 1900s, silent films were “the thing” before IMAX and 3-D glasses. Silent films, with no recorded audio, were shown in a theater where there was space for an orchestra to play live music during the movie, making for a whole new level of watching movies at the theater.
Pittsburgh’s Hollywood Theater in Dormont, in collaboration with Jasiri X and1Hood crafted a soundtrack for Oscar Micheaux’s 1925 silent film classic Body & Soul, starring Paul Robeson. Together, we created a unique, artistic and emotional experience unlike any other
Body & Soul 2016, is a combination of silent film, theater and live, operatic-Hip Hop; connecting themes that were happening in 1925 to what’s happening with us today.
When Jasiri, 1Hood teaching artist & producer LiveFromTheCity and myself began working on this soundtrack, the creative team from the Hollywood Theater suggested “character theme songs” that we could build off of.
But before we could do that, we had to watch the movie.
The first time watching the movie had us like, “Wait, what?” Watching the movie a second time, along with research on the synopsis of it to follow, the movie covered a few emotional subjects that stirred people. Themes of interracial racism, sexual abuse, corruption, love and the misuse of leadership in godly worship were tightly integrated through the film. We watched the film on YouTube, which had its own soundtrack by the George Eastman House; not the original soundtrack from 1925.
And that’s where we started with making ours.
Jasiri directed us in creating themes that would connect to both the scenes and characters, respectively. Following Live’s lead, we created 10 core songs, accompanied with non-lyric production that incorporated today’s Hip Hop and Trap sound. Bass-driven with an attention to “space”—especially on songs like “Won’t He Do It” (featuring 1Hood Media Academy artist Dejah Monae and LiveFromTheCity), “Faded Memory”(featuring Dejah Monae) and “Courage”—we created a bouncy and “minor over major” soundscape.
With Body & Soul being a silent film, the only dialogue, aside from our music lyrics, is in the film in between scenes. Because of this, it makes the musical element of silent film even that much more important, since the music (even without lyrics) has to match the emotion and tone of the scenes as closely as possible. With silent films being the predecessor to the movies we see today, which sometimes have an overload of special sound effects over common epic orchestra themes, it makes you listen to movies differently now.
Personally, working on this was insightful in that I was educated on other forms of media that predate our current media. Seeing our roles as African Americans in silent film was inspiring—a black director with a leading black Actor that told a story and not a minstrel joke, to have the opportunity to restore this story in our own way, and present it to the public in a professional and orchestrated manner.
And to understand and respect the sound and power of silence.
Idasa Tariq is Assistant Creative Director & Artist at 1Hood.