SACRED JOURNEY: The Fisk Jubilee Singers®
Through the eyes of Producer/Director Robert Swope

As I walked onto the grounds of Elmina Castle in Cape Coast, Ghana, I was overwhelmed with the feeling that God had completely abandoned the place.  It was an emotion I had felt before, touring Auschwitz and Dachau concentrations camps in Germany years ago, but far, far worse.  An oppressive feeling of despair, of pain, and of complete sadness brought tears to the eyes of my entire crew.  The negative emotion that emanated from those castle walls was so strong you could feel it in your bones.

We proceeded to rig the production through tear filled eyes.  I was very apprehensive about what would happen when the Jubilee Singers arrived, knowing full well that Elmina was a probably a part of their own heritage.  How would the foreboding feeling of tragedy affect the voices of the ensemble?  As time grew near to filming, the air seemed to become even thicker with despair.  It felt as if the walls of the castle were closing in on us… in much the same way I can only imagine it would have been for the millions of souls who were imprisoned there during the 400 years Elmina was in use as a slave trading post.  In fact, Elmina Castle is the largest castle on the west coast of Africa and was responsible for millions of people either dying within, or being shipped from its walls.  It was extremely emotional to just be there.

As the Jubilee Singers began arriving, my worries as a producer quickly became reality.

The overwhelming negativity that made our crew weep now draped the ensemble in a blanket of despair.  Within minutes of entering the castle courtyard, the entire group was in tears.   Some physically shaking, some in quiet solitude, every woman and man was emotionally moved by the pain we all felt. 

Paul T. Kwami, Musical Director of the ensemble, and I  arranged the ensemble at the end of an outdoor courtyard about 100 yards long and 40 yards wide, and right on the ocean.  With tear filled eyes, we asked the amazing young men and women in front of us to sing through the pain… to use the raw emotion they were feeling and in doing so, let the Passion of God fill their hearts and command their voices despite the despair around them.

It was the hardest thing I have ever requested of anyone.

With a commitment to their heritage unlike any I have ever witnessed, the Fisk Jubilee Singers® began to sing.  The sound was God’s own Angels singing.  I was so moved by the ensemble’s sound that I cried again, as did the singers, as did the crew, and none of us could stop.  As the Jubilee Singers sang through the pain of Elmina, they never missed a note.  They never missed a phrase.  They never missed a beat.  I have never been so touched by anything in my life.

As the recording session continued, I knew that the High Definition footage we were filming was extraordinary.  Tears ran down the cheeks of some members of the ensemble as they sang.  Small gasps of sorrow made their way to the audio masters.  And I did not want to change it in any way.  The sound I was hearing was Pure:  Pure Emotion…Pure Passion…Pure Love… the perfect sound, a thing a producer can only dream of.

Sometime in the middle of the session, an extraordinary thing happened.  A change that would effect all of us for the rest of our lives.  A moment that would change Elmina Castle forever.  A change brought about by God’s Love.  A change delivered through the Fisk Jubilee Singers®.

As the ensemble sang An’ I Cry , Here Is One and We Shall Walk Through The Valley In Peace, we all felt a noticeable difference in our environment.  The singers brought the glory of God’s Love into a place that He himself had forsaken long ago.  And because of that, God Forgave.  It was as if a heavy wet blanket was lifted from the stones of Elmina Castle.

Paul Kwami said it best as we later wrapped the session.  Standing hand in hand with me, he quietly addressed the ensemble:  “Last week, as the President of Ghana gave you a standing ovation in the National Theater in Accra, I told you that my job on earth was done.  I was wrong.  Three days ago you performed in a private setting for the Ashantehene King in Kumasi, and with tears in his eyes, he requested an encore.  With tears in my eyes, I told you that NOW I was done.  I was wrong again.  As a child, born and raised here in Ghana, I came to this castle and felt the tremendous despair that you all felt when you arrived.  I knew this was a place that God had forsaken.  I prayed then that someday He would find it in His Glory to forgive the hundreds of years of human degradation that had occurred here.  I did not have the heart to believe it would ever happen.  Today, I have witnessed that remarkable reality.  As you sang in the voice of God, you invited Him to come into these walls and through your glorious voices, He finally Forgave this place.”  As Paul spoke, we all cried again, but this time, it was tears of Joy.

I have never been so emotionally moved by anything, anywhere, or at any time.

Paul was right.  We all witnessed what I can only describe as a miracle – a  miracle of God’s direct intervention on our Earth, and in our lives.  Not one soul present that day will ever forget what transpired on that afternoon in July.  We are all irrevocably changed forever.

As humans, we sometimes doubt God’s actions.  We sometimes take for granted how He moves in us, and through us.  After witnessing this project with my own eyes, and through my own heart, I will never doubt Him again.  Ever.

My undying thanks to both Paul Kwami and the Fisk Jubilee Singers® for the gift you gave to Elmina, the people of Ghana, and the gift you gave to me.  You are all truly Blessed.

 

Robert Swope
Producer/Director

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