Let's kick off 2020 on a light note, shall we? (no PUN intended)
Music in any form that it brings you joy, is simply GENIUS.
The way it works is actually quite simple and has to do with a strong aesthetic emotion: nostalgia. Good music memories anchor deep in our brains because of the strong emotions associated with them. The peak aesthetic experience we sometimes feel from simple everyday casual listening of great tunes actually changes our brain chemistry. If that's not magical, I don't know what is.
A couple of years ago, I discovered The Nostalgia Machine, a website with music that dates as far back as 1951. The way it works is you input a year of your choice, say '1990' and voilà...music from that year pops up.
Granted, the data is based off the American billboard year-end hot singles chart which they used to scrape YouTube for videos, but you have to agree, it's a great concept.
You can disagree, but I think music poetically defines the human experience - so - why not? It's a wonderful way to learn about your self, life and culture among other things.
Growing up, I saw and participated in rich traditional and contemporary music shows at school (shout out to Namasagali College) and went to concerts at the National Theatre in Kampala. This certainly broadened my musical horizons. I'm no music connoisseur, but I'm content with how my taste in music has evolved over the years. I've grown to appreciate music from artists like Yanni and Keiko Matsui, who's known for her cross over mix of smooth jazz, fusion and new age music style (listen to Water for the tribe to see what I mean.)
What I've also found quite fascinating is how new music fits into patterns already mapped out in the brain by our past musical tastes. It is pleasurable not only because it is familiar, but also because it deviates just enough to feel new and exciting. That's why you can relate Keiko's music to Chloe Flower, the classically trained composer-pianist, who opened Cardi B's 'Money' 2019 Grammy performance with some impressionistic broken chords, reminiscent of Maurice Ravel or Debussy, on Liberace's crystal piano. It doesn’t seem repetitive.
The really dope thing about music is it can be used as a mood enhancer or elevator. For the brokenhearted, a sad song is empathetic and validating. It is an elixir of motivation to compel the completion of the most mundane of tasks.
It motivates and energizes us when we need incentive. It’s a great tool for distraction and redirecting our focus. It educates us and opens our minds to the common human experience, our history and our hope for the future. It also plays a big part in defining who you are.
I'm convinced that our coming of age is marked by a personal soundtrack and we can evoke vivid memories and emotions by listening to music. This is the best way I can think of to showcase my appreciation for music from as far back as I can remember. I'd say it's similar to Teen Vogue's Playlist of my life series on YouTube.
This is how I'd define the playlist of my life:
Have you ever seen Coldplay live in concert?
I have. On TV. Ha!
(Shout out to their stage directors)
I think the relevant question for any concert is whether it’s a compelling slice of artistry or a glorified piece of marketing. Not with Coldplay's concert, particularly the one in Sao Paolo in 2018. The show (as it is with all their shows) was a surging explosion of light and color. The stage bathed in flower petals, with Martin, his t-shirt flying up over his torso, leaping and dashing down the runway-into-the-crowd like the Pied Piper of Love crossed with Bono crossed with Springsteen (whom I think he oddly resembles when he smiles - now there's a random thought!).
This is how I felt for some of that period of my life.
Like Coldplay, there’s no denying that I had a remarkably happy and seamless existence. If you take a closer look at the band though, Chris Martin completely dominates Coldplay; there’s no yin to his smiley enraptured yang. He’s the rock-king superstar the other band members all worship, humbly, as the genius who made their fates possible, and almost every moment of the band’s creative energy is organized around what Chris is going to do next: the piano chords he’s playing around with, the lyrics he’s writing, his endless studio perfectionism. It was such a weird time in my life, I was Coldplay, and Chris Martin was that period in my life. Thankfully, it wasn't all weird. I found a way to create Chariots of Fire by Vangelis moments. I had times that made me feel like Notorious B.I.G's Hypnotise. There were also periods where the Greek pianist Yanni's Truth of touch took me through some of my toughest times.
Whatever the case, I strive to live my life in such a way that it's not a regret. I don't want it to sound like musician Charlene's Never been to me cautionary tale. I think we all aspire to thrive in that regard. Just listen to the song - you'll know what I mean.
Fascinating musical enigmas
I kinda like that there are artists who take their music seriously enough to do what it takes to ensure the focus remains on the music. It's what's made me take a liking to their art and expression in its purest form. Music from these 'musical enigmas' made me discover parts of myself in ways I didn't know I could. These songs represent a shard of my younger days and hold different emotions and memories for me. As I mature, I know that I can always connect back to a different time through music. There's a couple I like, but I'll share only 5:
Daft Punk's one more time song was my introduction to 'electronic pop music'. Imagine this:
A song written by French people, in a Japanese anime, performed by aliens singing in English...
If I'm being honest, I think that song was 2 decades ahead of its time. Think about it for a minute:
It’s a philosophical meditation on the nature of human suffering and redemption. Performed by two guys in robot masks
I really felt it and believed it when they said 'one more time, we're gonna celebrate...' Lol! The French duo's names are Thomas Bangalter and Guy-Manuel de Homem-Christo even though they've rarely been seen without their signature "robot helmets"
H.E.R.’s early disguising of herself was, she once claimed, a way for listeners to focus on her music; She's made a name for herself performing in her trademark dark sunglasses. I love her because her music expression offers brutally honest snapshots of young black womanhood in the 21st century. Her voice is beautiful. Her live performances are richer and even more emotional than the recordings. Best Part is my favorite. She's no longer fully anonymous though. Her name is Gabi Wilson.
Sia, who isn't fully anonymous either wears a wig that obscures her face to conceal her face to avoid a celebrity lifestyle and maintain some level of privacy. Elastic Heart will forever be my jam. It's very unique and I liken that the video is a form of contemporary dance and is almost 'animalistic'. It just embodies such strength and inspiration. She's taken so much heat over the years for performing with then 15 year old Maddie. (story for another day) Also, can we just take a moment to admire her musical genius? She was (and still is) a really dope writer. She's written so many great songs for Rihanna, Rita Ora, Neyo...and many more artists.
Marshmello is a masked DJ-producer known for hits including "Alone" and "Silence."). He's one of the biggest producers in the EDM world. He also wears a custom helmet for public appearances. As a DJ and EDM Producer, he needs to collaborate with other singer artists to produce a song. The ones he's collaborated have done quite well. At leas the ones I enjoy! I personally love his collaboration with Selena Gomez on their track Wolf. His identity is unknown although it's suggested that his real name Chris Comstock.
Gorillaz are a British virtual band created in 1998 by musician Damon Albarn and artist Jamie Hewlett. The band primarily consists of four animated members: Stuart "2-D" Pot, Murdoc Niccals, Noodle, and Russel Hobbs. What a concept! That said, a Gorillaz live show has never, strictly speaking, made any sense to me. They've been in and out of testing the audience’s suspension of disbelief, if not their entire willingness to go along with this whole cartoon-band conceit. Still, the cartoons are still a huge part of Gorillaz’s appeal. To each their own! I still like them! My favorite song of theirs is Clint Eastwood because the melody has a 'feel good' element to it.
Musical Legends who made an impact
I feel like this post would have severely lacked if I hadn't included musical legends that I grew up listening to, and eventually learned to appreciate. They also had a huuuge role to play in paving the way for others after them.
This list is in no way exhaustive. It's only a drop in the ocean of musical talent out there; and mostly just what I grew up listening to. Here are my top 5:
Beyoncé, is one of the biggest entertainers in the world and has been for almost 2 decades. She's the only one who made Adele feel the need to refuse to accept the Album of the Year Grammy. Her reign of power is a result of hard work. She is the embodiment of female empowerment. She empowers the black community. She became the first-ever woman of color to headline Coachella since its founding in 1999. It was historically significant especially because she paid tribute to crucial elements of black culture throughout the performance.
Lyrical genius aside, Tupac and Biggie were the most famous and visible casualties of the East vs. West coast rap drama that was so prevalent in the mid to late nineties. They were both friends initially and IMHO, both were excellent rappers, and you can actually hear Pac's influence on a lot of rappers who've come out since. Biggie was also really well loved and highly regarded by his community. When they died, it was a wake up call to a lot of folks who were playing this Thug Life and talking a lot of sh--, that there were real stakes and real money and egos involved, and for the smartest among them it forced them to take a step back.
Ugandan musical legends Afrigo Band is the longest-lasting musical group in the history of Uganda, having existed for 44 years (as at August 2019) I still listen to them today have stood the test of time. I think it's so cool that 'semadongo' (which means "master of many big musics"), has become the trademark of their music. Their continued faithfulness to the various dance music forms that inspired and shaped semadongo distinguishes the band from many Ugandan popular music groups and serves as the core of Afrigo's popularity across different audiences. (I'm actually listening to their hit Sikulimba as I type this. Ha!
Missy Elliot is one of the true geniuses of the form. She is to rap what Prince was to R’n’B, both in terms of her impact upon the genre and her ability to weave in styles and strands from outside it. Her creative aesthetic is unmatched. She's blessed an entire generation with her out-of-the-box thinking and risk-taking concepts. I applaud her wearing an "Iconic" nameplate around her neck because she's earned it with her grit, grind, tenacity, and fearlessness.
Missy is the first female rap artist to enter the Songwriters Hall of Fame. She is also Michael Jackson Video Vanguard award recipient.
Lauryn Hill is one of those people on a higher plane without even trying. She possesses an extraordinary aura. Her album 'Miseducation of Lauryn Hill' was such a beautiful myriad of experiences. Through The Fugees’ tracks, guest features, and deep cuts, fans knew that she could rap with immaculate proficiency. That much was for certain. But Miseducation truly made it known that she was an indomitable force on the mic. “Lost Ones,” the album’s opening track, was enough to determine her fate as one of the G.O.A.T.s. When an album opens with “It’s funny how money change a situation,” you know you’re in for a ride. That aside, she drops so many gems (check her out in this interview) She's also paved the way for so many like Queen Latifah, Monie Love, MC Lyte, Lil’ Kim, Foxy Brown and so many other female musicians)
'It's more important to be righteous than to be right' - Lauryn Hill
Music is so vast in it's experience, and there were/are so many musical legends that I feel the need to add a few honorable mentions:
Salt and Pepa
Pattie La Belle
Kanye West (I kicked myself for adding him to this list, especially after his recent outbursts. But I'm focusing on the music right? The man is a lyrical genius)
I'll stop here for now, and get into other musical facets in Part 2/2 which I'll be posting soon.
Thanks for reading this far!
But before I go, allow me to pass on the proverbial mic - what does music do for you?