I’ve got soul, you’ve got soul
All the people in the world got soul
Soul is not something for just one race
It makes no difference what color your face
— Gene “Bowlegs” Miller, “Everybody Got Soul,” 1969
Columbia is a city with soul.
What does it mean to have soul? In America, the word “soul” has often been used as a prefix for anything cultural created by African Americans, such as soul music or soul food. But, on a deeper level, soul can also be defined as the immortal essence of every human being.
With that in mind, record store owner Kingsley Waring (also known as DJ Kingpin VOV) explains soul music. “Soul is the soundtrack of life. It’s the soundtrack of love, the soundtrack of struggle, the soundtrack of what people are going through. Soul is what it means to be. Soul is just that; it’s your soul on a recorded disc.”
While cities like Detroit as the home of Motown and even Memphis with its famous Stax Records label are widely regarded as producing soul, Columbia is less recognized as a soulful city. But at its core, Columbia’s soul is every bit as vibrant as these other storied cities.
“Soul is diverse,” says Kingsley. “A lot of people try to say soul records can only be played by certain kinds of people, but that’s just foolishness. Soul is the foundation.”
Columbia’s creative and soulful energy is bubbling to the surface in a delightful way, enhancing and enriching every area of the city’s culture at large. Even Columbia’s established nickname, Soda City, has been playfully injected with a little soul, creating an alter ego for the city in certain circles that simply refer to it as the SODA. From music to food and everything in between, the soul of Columbia is rising.
Kingsley, who owns Turntable City record store, explains the importance of soul music. “Soul speaks to everything. You have soul that entertains. You have soul that educates. You can play Sly and the Family Stone, but you can also play Luther Vandross or Aretha Franklin or The Temptations. Soul is just what it means to be. Soul is everything.”
As an avid music collector, Kingsley opened Turntable City in 2017 after years of acquiring records from local stores, record shows, record pools, garages, yard sales, estate sales, and family and friends’ album collections. An old-school, brick-and-mortar record store in downtown Lexington, Turntable City both sells and buys vinyl records, CDs, and tapes of all genres.
“When you talk about soul music, you’re talking about American music,” he says. “Everything has a starting point. And so even before American music, you’re talking about African music — the drums, the voices, the rhythms. You start with African music, then you get your spirituals or gospel songs. From there, you venture into blues, country, folk, and then that begins ragtime, jazz, bebop, and all of that. And jazz was so dynamic because it allowed for improvisation, which meant artists could just create what they felt. And from that jazz then gave rise to soul.”
Listing some of his favorites in no particular order, Kingsley includes The Best of Sam Cooke; Get on the Good Foot by James Brown; Young, Gifted & Black by Aretha Franklin; Innerversions by Stevie Wonder; Heartbreak by New Edition; Marvin Gaye’s What’s Going On; My Life by Mary J. Blige; Michael Jackson’s Bad; Parliament’s Chocolate City; and All ‘n All by Earth, Wind & Fire as among the top essential soul albums of all time.
“No other form of music has had the influence and power of soul. If I took all of the soul records and soul-influenced records out of my collection, I wouldn’t have a record collection,” Kingsley says. As he reviews Columbia’s local soul music scene, he recommends up-and-coming recording artists Katera Anderson and Tyné Angela as ones to watch.
Singer-songwriter Katera’s single “No Phone Calls” is a smooth and soothing song that’s relatable to anyone who has experienced a long, hard day. With lyrics like “I just wanna be by myself/Read a book off of the bookshelf” and “I don’t care about the nightlife/Homebody life is quite nice,” Katera’s song wraps listeners in a warm blanket that matches her low-key confidence and self-assurance.
“I think I’ve always known that soul music is what I wanted to create,” says Katera. “I grew up singing in church, and I consider that a style of soul music. I’ve been around soul music my entire life, so it wasn’t really out of this world that soul music is what I decided to sing.”
Tyné Angela is a vocalist, composer, and multi-instrumentalist who has released five independent records and has performed across the United States and internationally. Reflecting on soul music, Tyné says, “Learning more about the history of what I’m creating has really given my music a lot more depth. I think about how music can carry cultural memories, and I believe that is what gives music soul — thinking about those who came before us and the journey they traveled, as well as thinking about where we’re now trying to go.”
Marcum Core, known professionally as MIDIMarc, has produced hip-hop beats in the Midlands for more than 20 years, sampling classic soul and R&B to create fresh sounds that bridge the history of soul music and the future of hip-hop music for a new generation.
When asked why soul music is so important to him, MIDIMarc says, “Soul music and gospel music have been the soundtrack of my family. I was definitely part of the Southern go-to-church-on-Wednesdays-and-Sundays culture, and my dad, who was originally from North Carolina, was always playing and singing lots of gospel music. My mom, who was from Detroit by way of Mississippi, was the one who very proudly introduced me to the music of Motown when I was little.”
He explains that as a kid, he would visit his grandmother from Mississippi, who had an impressive record collection. She would find him going through them and sit down with him to listen to it together. “Being from the Delta, my grandmother would not only play the songs, but she would tell me stories about when she went to see this or that artist perform or even about how she might have taught them in school because she lived in a tight-knit community where everybody knew everybody. So it was my family that introduced me to soul music, and I just loved it and wanted to know everything I could about it.”
In addition to his love of soul music, MIDIMarc grew up with an appreciation for soul food, sharing that some of his favorite memories are of driving around to find good soul food restaurants with his father. “I’ve been living in this area since 1988. In Columbia, barbecue isn’t necessarily called soul food, but I would definitely classify it as soul food. Big T’s BBQ on Garners Ferry Road is one of my favorite restaurants, as well as True BBQ in West Columbia,” he says.
These days, it’s not unheard of for soul food to do the driving around as food trucks change the way people discover new restaurateurs. For Breyontay and Agunew Ladson, who started Ladson Sauce Seafood in 2019, their family food truck has allowed them to bring a taste of Charleston to the Midlands.
With his lilting Geechee accent, Agunew explains, “Both my wife and I are from the Lowcountry, and both of us landed and met in Columbia nine years ago. We both loved seafood and missed that taste of home. Before we started our food truck, whenever we’d get a taste for seafood, we’d jump in the car and drive home to Charleston, sometimes three or four times a week,” he says, laughing. “After a while, I said to myself, ‘We just need to learn how to make this stuff.’”
Agunew started experimenting in the kitchen with different ingredients, letting his wife taste test as they tried to get the sauce right. “She’d tell me what was missing or what it needed. And we finally came up with the end result, which was our own unique sauce.”
As a result, the Ladsons now run a thriving family business that shares an authentic taste of home, with some of their most popular menu items — like Seafood Rice and the #5 Crab Leg Tray — selling out every day, likely thanks to that famous sauce.
Folami Geter, owner of the Columbia restaurant A Peace of Soul Vegan Kitchen, offers a modern and healthy take on traditional soul food. Located on North Main Street in Columbia and originally named Lamb’s Bread Cafe, the restaurant was established by Folami’s father in 2005.
“It was the first vegan restaurant in Columbia and one of the earlier ones in the Southeast,” she says. “We fill a unique niche, so even in our early years, we were easily recognized because there wasn’t anybody doing anything quite like it. Folks who wanted to eat a little healthier just gravitated towards us because you’re still getting what you want, you’re just getting it healthy.
“I’ve only ever lived here in the South, and soul food is what we eat here,” Folami continues. “It’s what everybody is familiar with, and down South every event is centered around food. If someone dies, we’re eating a meal at the repast. If someone is having a baby, we’re bringing food to the baby shower. Sunday dinners are still a thing here and always have been. Soul food has always existed and it is so familiar to people. It’s the food they’ve been eating all of their lives, and we’re giving a healthier alternative.”
Looking ahead to the future, the city of Columbia is clearly on the rise. As it enriches its food and music scene with vibrancy and vitality, the immortal nature of Columbia’s soul proudly lives on.