Sunday, May 6, 2012
What’s in a Song?
What attracts one to music?
Is it the instrumentation or the lyrical content? I have previously attempted to tackle this issue here. And just like then, the answers are still as blurred.
Today, I bring in some examples starting with urban artiste Fatsani Kalonda whose showbiz name is Blackjack.
This member of youthful dancehall group Nyasa Guruz, which has died earlier than it was supposed to, recently released a solo track ‘Wadya Iwe’.
Soon after its release there was strong debate that the track had obscene lyrical undertones. If one critically listens to the track, they are left with questions as to what exactly is the artist accusing the other of having eaten.
There is controversy surrounding this track with some listeners believing it to be a sexual track and the lyrics that are lewd in nature. I am not here to agree with this assertion, or condemn the artist for coming up with such a track right.
But if truth be told, I knew this song because of the hullabaloo it caused in the music cycles; not because the instrumentation is unique or because it was well and innovatively thought out in terms of its general rhythm, but it has reached far and wide because of its message.
Which takes me back to the questions that I started with; what attracts one to music? Is it the instrumentation or the lyrical content?
Now let me talk about Bushman the iconic Jamaican Reggae artist. Of course he was raised in the Rastafari culture from a young age and this, in a way, moulded his musical theme.
Cannabis is a banned substance because it is considered to be a drug. Many Jamaican artists have sung in support of its usage due to its link to the Rastafari way of life.
Being that as it may, many people talk about cannabis in hushed tones.
But artists like legendary Peter Tosh, equally referred to as the Bush Doctor for his track about cannabis, ‘Legalise Marijuana’ talked about in a way you would think was with tongue-in-cheek or better still a no-holds-barred advocacy for the substance.
Well, while most artists have sung about it like ‘John Holt with Police in a Helicopter’ and even Joseph ‘Culture’ Hill who did a track called ‘Home grown’ in his album ‘Humble African’, lovers of the tracks have paid a deaf ear to the lyrical content.
“Home grown in my back yard, the best herb you could ever find! Home grown in my back yard and Bill Clinton knows it is mine.”
Until his death, Joseph Hill’s music was created beautiful as he used to mix fine lyrics with even fine hooks and with his unique, reedy voice his music was enchanting and made you nod your head even when you could not agree with his message, especially on ‘International Herb’ for example.
Then this "Home Grown" track, which has Morgan Heritage harmonizing it, is the kind of track that takes away your breath due to its melodic prowess, even when you would not approve of its message. You just need to check its popularity rate worldwide.
Perhaps another track of equal controversy to look at is by Bushman called ‘Cannabis’ which starts with some coughing apparently someone choking with marijuana smoke, ensconced into the introductory stages of the track.
Bushman sings praises of Rastafari, chants down Babylon and exalts the healing power of marijuana during his performance and in a track whose lyrics are tight.
If you listen to this track, you will appreciate its balance in terms of instrumentation and vocal control and quality and these are the things that will attract you before you are put off by perhaps the hemp message.
Another good example of where lyrics sometimes can do very little to dissuade music lovers from falling for a piece of music is Lucius Banda’s ‘Yellow’.
This political campaign song had those that were resolute to remove the ruling party from government at the time, cursing its lyrical content but the way the track was instrumentally arranged was something that they failed to ignore.
At the end we still get back to the question: What is in music? Is it the instrumentation or the lyrics?