‘Negro’ Score a Jazzy Genre-Buster

In his Oscar-nominated documentary I Am Not Your Negro filmmaker Raoul Peck envisions the book James Baldwin left unfinished upon his death in 1987. Helping to tell the tale are a dozen classic blues tracks and an original score by iconoclastic Russian composer Alexei Aïgui.

Aïgui’s subtle, sophisticated music composed for the film is being digitally released by Lakeshore Records on Feb. 17. Aigui is celebrated in his native Russia, where he was born in 1971, and has scored more than 50 films and TV programs, winning every major Russian cinema award.


Alexei Aïgui divides his time between Russia and France, scoring for film and TV and performing with his Ensemble 4’33’’. (Photo courtesy Alexei Aïgui)

A violinist by training, he has since 1994 led Ensemble 4’33”. Named for the iconic composition by avant gardist John Cage, 4’33” refuses to be categorized, blending elements of contemporary classical,  electronic, jazz, pop and rock. He has composed for the Moscow Ballet, and has helped find new audiences for silent classics by providing new scores to such mainstays as Fritz Lang’s 1927 Metropolis, Ernst Lubitch’s 1919 The Doll and such Russian masterpieces as The House on Trubnaya Square.

A frequent collaborator of Peck, who is based in France , Aïgui spends about half his working time there, collaborating with directors including Pascal Bonitzer. He’s also toured the world with Ensemble 4’33”, giving his music a truly global scope and feel that is very much on display on the I Am Not Your Negro score, which sounds like it could be something you’d hear in a jazz club in Marrakesh, Tokyo or New York.

Peck, a native of Hati raised in the Congo, is currently director of La Fémis, the French national film school. He also tapped Aïgui’s musical touch for The Young Karl Marx, premiering at the 67th Berlinale later this month.

But I Am Not Your Negro is a very American story, albeit one told from quite a height. It’s Baldwin’s gift to share perspective steeped in personal suffering within a frame of detachment. Peck tells his tale using only Baldwin’s words and voice, with archival audio and film.

In 1979, Baldwin wrote a letter to his literary agent describing his next project, Remember This House. When the author died eight years later he left behind only 30 completed pages of the work, envisioned as a revolutionary personal account of the lives and successive assassinations of three of his close friends—Medgar Evers, Malcolm X and Martin Luther King, Jr.

The result connects the past of the Civil Rights movement to the present of #BlackLivesMatter. It is a film that questions black representation in Hollywood and beyond. “The story of the Negro in America is the story of America,” Baldwin writes, concluding, “It is not a pretty story.”

That is very true. But the music borne of that rough and often ugly alliance is great, and much of it is included in the film. It’s yet to be revealed what distributor Magnolia’s plans are for the licensed music, but the track list, courtesy IMDB, follows below. You can sample Alexe Aïgui’s work on Soundcloud.

“The Ballad of Birmingham”
Written by Jerry Moore, Dudley Randall
© Melody Trails
Performed by the Tennessee State University Students (2006)
Piano by Steve Conn
Vocals by Santayana Harris & Kameka Word
Courtesy of Dr. Robert R. Bradley

“Damn Right I’ve Got The Blues”
Lyrics and Music Written by Buddy Guy
Mic Shau Music Company / BMG Bumblebee
Courtesy of BMG Rights Management (France)
Performed by Buddy Guy
(p) 1991. All rights reserved by Silvertone Records Ltd.

“The Jailhouse Blues”
Lyrics and Music Written by Lightnin Hopkins (as Sam Hopkins)
Tradition Music Co.
Courtesy of BMG Rights Management (France)
Performed by Sam Collins (1927)
Courtesy of Yazoo Records/Shanachie Entertainment, Inc.

“Just a Dream (On My Mind)”
Written by Big Bill Broonzy (as W. Broonzy)
© Universal Music Corp.
Performed by Big Bill Broonzy
Originally Released 1939.
All rights reserved by Sony Music Entertainment Inc.

“Big Road Blues”
Written by Tommy Johnson
© Peer International Corporation
Courtesy of Société d’Editions Musicales Internationales (S.E.M.I.), Paris
Performed by Tommy Johnson
Originally Recorded at The Memphis Auditorium, Memphis, TN, USA, 1928.
1991 Remastered
Produced by Billy Altman
Digital Producer John Snyder At BMG Recording Studios
Digital Engineer Jay Newland At BMG Recording Studios/ Joe Lopes At BMG Recording Studios
Transferred to digital tape from metal parts by Be Bernardo Cosachev At BMG Recording Studios
All rights reserved by BMG Music

“Baby, Please Don’t Go”
Written by Big Joe Williams (as J. Williams)
© Universal Music Corp.
Performed by Lightnin Hopkins (1949)
Gold Star, SugarHill

“Route 66”
Performed by Nat ‘King’ Cole (1946)
Capitol Studio, Universal Music
Written by Bobby Troup
Published by Troup London Music
Under license from Music Asset Management, Inc.
(c) Bobby Troup, Edwin H. Morris & Co Inc.
Administrated by Warner/Chappell Music Belgium N.V.

“Black, Brown and White”
Written by Big Bill Broonzy (as Big Bill (Williams) Broonzy)
Performed by Big Bill Broonzy (1946)
From the recording “Trouble in Mind”, SFW40131
Courtesy of Smithsonian Folkways Recordings. (p) 2000.

“Stormy Weather”
Written by Harold Arlen, Ted Koehler
Published by EMI Mills Music Inc.
Courtesy of Sony ATV Music Publishing
Performed by Lena Horne and Recorded March 30, 1956.
(p) 2002, all rights reserved by BMG Music

“People Get Up And Drive Your Funky Soul”
Performed by James Brown
Written by James Brown, St. Clair Pickney, Fred Wesley
Published by Donna Dijon Music Publications/Sony/ATV Music Publishing.
All rights reserved by MGM Records

“Take My Hand, Precious Lord”
Written by Thomas A. Dorsey
© Warner-Tamerlane Publishing Corp.
Administrated by Warner/Chappell Music Belgium N.V.
Performed by Blind Connie Williams (1961)
Courtesy of Filmimages

“The Blacker The Berry”
Performed by Kendrick Lamar
Written by Agent Sasco, Kendrick Lamar, Zale Epstein, Eskeerdo (as Alexander Izquierdo), Brent Kolatalo, Stephen Kozmeniuk, Keith Lewis, Boi-1da (as Matthew Samuels)
Published by WB Music Corp, OBO Itself , Hard Working Folks Inc ., Top Dawg Music (Lamar)
Administrated by Warner/Chappell Music Belgium N.V. 1damentional Publishing LLC/Sony/ATV Tunes LLC
1daniable Publishing, 24 Diamond Music, c/o Tenyor Music. Kenobi Songs Publishing / Whiskey Valentine Publishing / BMG Platinum Songs
Courtesy of BMG Rights Management (France)
Z Jewgurnaut Music
(p) 2015 Aftermath/Interscope (Top Dawg Entertainment)
Courtesy of Universal Music Vision

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