You got to learn that Ganja & Hess is one of the most compelling films ever—with a killer soundtrack.
You got to learn that Ganja & Hess is one of the most compelling films ever—with a killer soundtrack. Strange Disc

Sam Waymon, "You Got to Learn, to Let It Go" (Strange Disc)

Bill Gunn's bizarre 1973 film Ganja & Hess is an unprecedented fusion of blaxploitation, religious salvation drama, vampire thriller, and horror. When I first saw it in the late '90s, it struck me as an African-American El Topo or Holy Mountain—a psychedelic cult film full of dazzling imagery, existential dilemmas, and incredible music on the soundtrack. It requires at least two or three viewings to absorb. You can experience this sui generis movie tonight in a rare Seattle screening at Northwest Film Forum. Trust me: You need to see it on the big screen.

To put it lightly, I was overjoyed when Strange Disc put out Sam Waymon's Ganja & Hess OST during last year's Record Store Day. I was jonesing to hear those recurring, eerie child-choir chants on my own terms, and also the film's climactic song, "You Got to Learn, to Let It Go." Starting with a chunky, sample-worthy drum break, the song blossoms into a powerful gospel-soul lope not unlike Pastor T.L. Barrett's immortal "Like a Ship (Without a Sail)." The overarching feeling of "You Got to Learn" is that of nonchalant inspiration, a casual glide through the gates of "Heaven." Even an atheist can't resist it.