What Is ‘Good’ Music?

I have lost count of how many times I’ve heard septuagenarians say they miss the days of ‘good’ music.’ This isn’t just a Nigerian thing. So many people of advanced age sit in circles and talk about how ‘children of nowadays’ have ‘ruined’ music. Just like in every artform, people experiment and come up with new ideas every now and then. Disco, the genre, was also a form of protest against the counterculture movement which generally saw dancing as lame-ass shit. As history has shown many a time that all glory is fleeting, the 80s heralded the decline of disco music due protests majorly led by rock aficionados and critics. Mark Mothersbaugh, member of 70s rock band Devo, once described disco as “a beautiful woman with a great body and no brains.” Music has gone through a lot of changes since then, and will inevitably continue to evolve (unless, of course, judgement day eventually materializes). So, could the old people be right? Are the the music of the days preceding the current generation superior to what the artistes of today churn out?

Your mum probably doesn’t like Lil Wayne. I probably don’t know your mum, but i have an overwhelming feeling of certainty that your mum does not like Little Wayne. Why? Probably because his face is barely visible beneath a ton of tattoos (just for the record, the guy has a smiley face tattoo inside his lower lip). His raps are vulgar and obscene. He once talked about seeking solace in some lucky lady’s anus after almost drowning in the nearby orifice. A lot of parents don’t want their kids listening lyrics like that. Understandably, I have to admit. Imagine walking into your teenage son’s room and hearing his speakers blasting off “bitch I’m out yo pussy when I nut, fo’ real.” Parents have an obligation to encourage good moral behavior to their kids, so they’ll always frown upon lyrics like that, but that doesn’t necessarily make music containing such lyrics ‘bad.’ People (including some of the younger generation) have different reasons for regarding certain music as bad. Some as explained above. Some because the lyrics aren’t ‘conscious.’ Some because the sound is too ‘noisy.’ So, because of personal preferences, some regard certain records or genres (in some cases) as inferior.

N.W.A’s ground-shaking and controversial entrance into public consciousness was perhaps the most influential moment in hip-hop history. They were direct, angry, hungry, menacing, and said almost anything. It was the first time anyone had ever rendered accounts of inner city life that was so profoundly vivid and visceral. Unemployment and poverty were ravaging Compton at the time they made Straight Outta Compton – their debut album. Lots of young black people in the neighbourhood turned to crime just to provide basic needs. Young boys turned to gang banging as a result of frustration and resentment. Life in Compton was hard, and people fantasized about leaving for greener pastures where the government acknowledged their existence. Straight Outta Compton was catharsis on record. Music was the conveyor of pent-up disdain. It was also a means to educate the world about the N.W.A culture, which has managed to persist up until this very day in hip-hop. N.W.A’s story is an example of how music’s dynamism can be explored.

“Straight Outta Compton was catharsis on record.”

Most of Fela Kuti’s music was politically charged. He incorporated African instruments into jazz, and created a sound unique to him. He was a harsh critic of nepotism and the oppression of Nigerians by supposed rulers. Fela’s active years fell under an era of military dominance, where he spent most of his time being a pain in the ass of pretty much every military head of state at the time. His music cut across borders because of his bravery in the face of adversity and the heavy influence of jazz on his sound. Music was his weapon of inducing cultural change and political reform, in contrast to someone like Dremo (a self-proclaimed student of Fela’s school of thought). Dremo, like most of his Nigerian pop contemporaries, mostly gloat about their wealth and societal status. Either that or they mumble and ad-lib their way through anything and everything that could complement a danceable beat. But, why is this necessarily a bad thing? Wizkid’s 2015 single called Expensive Shit (apparently inspired by a Fela song/album of the same name) was barely a tribute to the afrobeat pioneer’s musical legacy. His change of the title’s context seemed to diminish the powerful backstory of the original. Does this necessarily make his music trash?

A fair number of Fela’s famous Nigerian contemporaries also did music that can be referred to as ‘conscious’. They sang about family values, spirituality, and humanity. Unlike Fela, their songs about romance and affection for the opposite sex were void of explicit lyrics. There was an unwillingness to compromise on moral standards. The refusal of the older generations to give the monumentally decadent afropop music of today a chance can, perhaps, be attributed to the strong religious values of Nigerians born in colonial/early post-colonial Nigeria. Religious or personal beliefs can induce prejudice towards art that thrive on obscenity. Individuals who solely listen to morality music may ignore the sonic and vocal dexterity of other records because of lyrics. This, inevitably, leads to one-dimensional perspectives that don’t do justice to the dynamic potential music can have.

 “Religious or personal beliefs can induce prejudice towards art that thrive on obscenity.”

Nostalgia can also have a way of making people adamant to change. Adjustment to new concepts can be hampered when there is attachment to those of the past. Your favourite song can’t always be the best song. Superiority should be judged based on execution of idea. If a gospel singer compiles a list of popular church songs and records them over identical instrumentals, does that make the output better than that of an alternative rock artiste who is known for inflammatory lyrics and avant-garde production? People make music for different reasons. Commercial motives apart, music can be a means of momentary reprieve, rebellion, or transportation of another kind. All of these can not be explored in conformity. Think about it.

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