Must be the music
9th July 2012 · 0 Comments
By Edmund W. Lewis, Editor
The Louisiana Weekly
Remember the good ol’ days when you could turn on the radio and hear something uplifting? You know, back in the day when you could hear Earth, Wind & Fire tellin’ sistas to “Be Ever Wonderful” or local funksters Chocolate Milk tellin’ folks that “all you got to do is let down your hair and be free”? I certainly remember.
I think about those good times every time I turn on the radio and hear some of the mental junk food being pumped into the ears of people today. Nobody seems to want to sing or write about love any more. Ginuwine, who has limited skills by the way, had a very popular “ballad” about getting “In Those Jeans” a few years ago, while many other songs illuminate the lack of respect, trust and understanding between men and women.
Sadly, many people take the soulless music that rules the airwaves today for granted. I can only conclude that this is because the community has been inundated for years with mindless, hollow music by white-owned radio stations with no vested interest in the African-American community or its future.
In the 1950s, 1960s and 1970s, the Black disc jockey was almost as influential as the preacher. He certainly had the attention of the masses. He moved the people with positive, upbeat music and shared information about important developments and issues in African America such as boycotts and community protests. That has changed in part because there are only a handful of truly “Black” radio stations in existence today.
Sure, there are urban radio stations, which often means white-owned radio stations making money off Black music listeners. For the record, I don’t have a problem with white folks making money off Black folks as long as they’re providing a quality good or service and giving something back to the community. In this case, by giving something back, I mean allowing Black disc jockeys, executives and radio personalities to uplift and inspire the people they serve with progressive music and an informative, empowering format. For the most part, that ain’t happening, even when Black radio personnel give a damn.
Intelligent, positive-minded radio personalities are often forbidden by the powers that be from infusing their shows with African-centered beliefs and values. As a result, the opportunity to pass on the wisdom, courage, love, hope and faith of our forebears is tragically missed. I suppose that’s the price one pays for working for “the man.” Of course, some of us also place limitations and shackles on us.
Is it any wonder our children are the materialistic, unappreciative, confused, impatient, self-absorbed beings some of them are, given the steady diet of mental junk food they are fed by radio stations and music videos? It doesn’t help matters that responsible, relentless parenting is largely becoming a lost tradition.
The profundity of the influence music has had on Black youth can be found in the following passage of an article by Bob Law titled “Listen Up: An Open Letter to Black Music Radio and the Music Industry”:
“[O]ur young people cannot choose life if death is all they are taught. They cannot choose love if lust is all you exalt. They cannot choose God if Satanism is all you feed them. Since you already have their attention and access to their minds, I urge the Black decision-makers in the radio and music industry to consider well the very seeds you plant in the minds of our youth. At some point you may very well have to answer for it.”
Music has always been an integral part of the Black experience. Long before we were kidnapped and dragged to America in chains, the music of African people reflected the spirituality, sensibilities and mores of the Motherland. In ancient times, our music emphasized the importance of family, community, history and the connection with the Creator. Those values can be found in African-centered phrases like “I am because we are” and “we are who we were.”
Once we reached these shores in colonial times, we used songs like “Steal Away,” “Wade In The Water” and “Soon I Will Be Done With The Troubles Of This World” to soothe our souls and pass on important messages without being detected by “Mister Charlie.”
Later, songs like Billie Holiday’s “Strange Fruit” and Louis “Satchmo” Armstrong’s “Black and Blue” told our story. In the 1970s, Godfather of Soul James Brown blessed us with songs like “I Don’t Want Nobody To Give Me Nothing (Open Up The Door And I’ll Get It Myself)” and “Say It Loud (I’m Black And I’m Proud)” Incidentally, I remember playing the latter for my nieces and nephews a while back and they went hog wild; even at their young ages, they could feel the music and the truth of what Soul Brother No. 1 was trying to convey.
The 1970s was probably the pinnacle of African-centered consciousness and positivity in Black music. You had songs like “We’re A Winner,” “Keep On Pushin’,” “Love’s In Need Of Love Today,” “Stand,” “To Be Young, Gifted and Black,” “Respect Yourself,” “Move On Up,” “What’s Going On?” and “Inner City Blues,” just to name a few. It was an era when Black folks were strong and beautiful and politically active and unapologetic about their Blackness.
There has admittedly been a lull in the level of African-centered consciousness, hope and self-love in the music created by Black artists and played on the radio in recent years. One has to ask how much of this disturbing trend can be attributed to the dwindling number of Black-owned and operated radio stations and the extent to which white record label executives and radio station owners and managers have dictated Black musical diets. One need only look back as far as the growth and proliferation of gangsta rap to witness this dynamic at work.
At a time when Blacks are being bombarded with chronic social problems such as Black-on-Black violence, poverty, the spread of AIDS in communities of color and drug addiction, our minds and spirits are being contaminated with toxic songs dripping with misogyny, self-hate, materialism, nihilism, negativity and violence. When we need to hear artists talking about positivity and solutions, all we hear are songs about flossin’, gettin’ paid by any means necessary and all of the expensive cars, homes and jewelry most of us cannot afford. When we need to hear songs about love, what we get are songs about bumpin’ and grindin’ and lickin’ folks up and down. It’s lunacy for those kinds of songs to even be considered for airplay.
We need to be clear about the fact that the brothers and sisters who make this maddening music are every bit as much sellouts as the ones who pimp the Black community on election day or turn their backs on the community once they “make it.” Nevertheless, far too many of our young people exalt them as “ghetto superstars” and self-proclaimed pimps, playas and hustlas, and adopt similar values and philosophies about life.
Mind you, there are still positive artists out there making music, but all too often their music isn’t given a chance to be heard on the radio. That’s not what the masses want, they are told by people who have never set foot in our communities.
Those of us who see what is happening must do something to change this. When radio stations fail to play music that reflects our culture and values as a people, we simply need to shut ‘em down. How do we shut ‘em down? By boycotting businesses that support these irresponsible stations and by refusing to listen to the garbage being played by radio personalities who often have very little say in what gets fed to the listening audience. If we refuse to tune in en masse, you better believe there will be some changes. As long as we quietly accept what is handed to us, it will continue. When we get sick and tired of being sick and tired, a change is gonna come.
If we open our eyes and ears, there are certainly signs of hope. For every cat comparing curvaceous women to jeeps, there are young Black men — crooners like Frank McComb, Gordon Chambers and Will Downing — singing about real love. Revolutionary love. The kind of love that requires monogamy, commitment, selflessness and honesty. For every sista talkin’ ‘bout “He’s mine, you mighta had him once but I got him all the time,” there are soul sirens like Faith Evans, Jill Scott, Rachelle Ferrell, Algebra Blesset, Carmen Rodgers, Conya Doss, Cassandra Wilson, Esperanza Spalding and Dianne Reeves bearing their souls for all the world to see and giving us something we can feel.
Our job is to make sure their music gets heard by the masses. We need that. We need to hear about people falling in love, and doing silly things for the love of a man or a woman. We need to hear about smitten people “walking in the rain with the ones they love” or “goin’ in circles.” We also need to hear about love lifting folks higher and higher and cats like Stevie Wonder, Babyface and Brian McKnight penning songs about the love they have for their children.
We need more organic, life-affirming music from artists like Corneille, Maxwell, Eric Roberson, h20, Leela James and Maysa, and more music from artists who know what it means to actually pick up an instrument and master it rather than use a keyboard to mimic its sounds.
If we are ever going to be free, there must be a return to the understanding that everything Black artists create must be linked in some way to efforts to free Black people’s minds, bodies and spirits.
Let’s keep that in mind as we celebrate Black creativity and our musical legacy. Let’s re-commit to supporting positive Black artists and encouraging others to do the same. Harambee.
This article originally published in the July 9, 2012 print edition of The Louisiana Weekly newspaper.