Every week I add a few new songs to my playlist on Spotify (See the link to the playlist here: link).
Choosing the songs is the end of a rather convoluted process:
On Spotify, I ‘Like’ all songs and albums (I’m about half way through) included in the following book: link
I listen to the resulting recommendations from Spotify in my ‘Discover Weekly’ playlist.
I Pick a few standout songs and add them to my chimpwithcans playlist (link here).
The results are broad in their musical genre. It has turned into a pretty chilled playlist and I really enjoy pressing shuffle now. It has so many songs I never would have heard. Importantly I feel like I have had a say in training and filtering the Spotify algorithm to spit out something interesting.
This week, my Discover Weekly gave me the following standout tracks:
Fela Kuti – “Trouble Sleep Yanga Wake Am”. Below is a great review of the song:
Released as part of a quartet of albums from the most productive year of Fela’s career, “Trouble Sleep Yanga Wake Am” has all the hallmarks of a classic Fela single, a languid, self determined instrumental warm up that goes on for several minutes, putting the listener in the right frame of mind, and setting up a tonal theme for the rest of the performance, a choral style, call and response chorus in conjunction with Fela’s omnipresent band, and long winding verse that defy the laws of composition and march at a tempo that only Fela decides. But what really distinguishes this song from the rest of the master’s oeuvre, is the masterful storytelling that Fela employs. Fela had always understood that at the core of his sway over his fans was his ability to empathize with their terribly oppressed lives, and the skill with which he consumed their stories, ruminated on them and regurgitated them back, defiance milled into the broth.
“Trouble Sleep Yanga Wake Am” is brimming with defiance, delivered subtly as an exchange, reflected through a lens of righteous justice. Fela sings of the oppressed, and personifies the oppression of Nigerian people. He asks through a direct chorus and series of vignettes, that the suffering of oppressed be respected and that if it is not, then the oppressed is justified in their decision to revolt, to take arms against the persons who mock their suffering and remain unempathetic to their oppression. He substitutes the government for smaller, more relatable avatars of power, like the landlord who wields the power to deny shelter, or the policeman who can take away a man’s freedom, or even closer. Never to look away from intrigue when the opportunity presents itself, Fela subverts his own theme in the third vignette about a husband, citing that sometimes it is our own avarice and pride, not an external agitator that puts us in trouble.
Sidney Bechet – “Blue Horizon”. Holy moly please listen to this man play a clarinet! I remember when I was about 11years old my Mum tried to get me to play an instrument and I tried clarinet. I had zero idea it could sound like this. My efforts sounded more like a strangled ibis making an escape from the torture chamber…..But this man…..The control, the wary tension of the small group surrounding him. The sharp tone, a vigorous vibrato. This is an absolute master and I had NEVER heard of him until today. More fool me. Have a listen, just beautiful.
Today was a first. I laid down a drum track using the iPad, and sent it overseas to my dad in Kenya for him to overlay guitar and vocals.
I know musicians have been doing this for ages, but Covid19 is forcing us to use the tools at our disposal and pushing us out of our comfort zones. For me that means sticking to a blogging commitment and producing music with family overseas.
Do you like the sound of your own voice? The first time I heard my own voice must have been on an old phone message machine we had growing up. It held messages on tiny cassettes which it could play back to you.
Having a very creative best friend, we then started messing around with dictaphones and video cameras. When I got into music and sang in a band, we’d record on anything just to hear ourselves play.
And then came smartphones. Nowadays people are trying to get away from being recorded so often. Google Apple or Facebook hears everything we say. There are full fledged studio apps available at the push of a button/ swipe of a screen.
I seem to hear my own voice a lot these days. Whether it is sending voice notes, or creating podcasts. Hearing yourself forces reflection on what it is you’re saying and how you’re saying it. If you’re unfamiliar with it, it’s worth a try.
They say software is eating the world. In the world of music production, software has given anyone with a computer or an iPad access to multiple sounds and techniques. Is this a valid replacement for the old school methods?
Quincy Jones doesn’t think so. In his recent, infamous interview with Vulture he claims that: “Musical principles exist, man,” he said. “Musicians today can’t go all the way with the music because they haven’t done their homework with the left brain. Music is emotion and science. You don’t have to practice emotion because that comes naturally. Technique is different. If you can’t get your finger between three and four and seven and eight on a piano, you can’t play. You can only get so far without technique. People limit themselves musically, man.”
I agree with him on some of this – A classically trained musician will presumably be able to get more out of a production studio (and an iPad) than I can with my untrained background. But, I also think that convenience and emotion trumps technical proficiency for a reason – it sells. And so we have music-by-numbers.
The internet has let the genie out the bottle. By giving publishing and creative power to anyone with a modem, the internet upended the music industry harder than any other i can think of. Music used to have the perfect model. Scarcity in its production process meant that money was made at an astounding rate, and this could be ploughed back into experimentation within the industry. However with the cash dissipating due to online piracy and access to resources – most songs on the radio are now designed to appeal to the masses, and to guarantee a sale. Much like we tend to have sequel movies at the cinema, new ground is rarely broken in the mainstream music world.
My response to Quincy is – so what? Move out of the mainstream then. What Quincy Jones fails to realise in his interview is that mainstream music is only one type of failing music. In fact, the term ‘mainstream’ and ‘pop’ are becoming less and less important. The internet has built up communities around every kind of genre you can imagine – from classical to afro-electronic beats driven by iPads – you can find it if you want to.
The problem is not a lack of proficient musicians or producers in the world. It is just that Quincy is looking for new things in the old places. And those old places are broken now.
I have eclectic musical tastes. My father worked in the music industry for a long time in the 70’s and 80’s so I have a lot of old school rock in my collection. My mum loves classical music, and my grandma was a great pianist so I listen to some choral and baroque classical music – and my personal passion is blues and soul. Old school. I have also recently started listening to hip hop.
A look at the charts – the top ten on Google Play – is fairly meaningless to me now. Nobody is pushing the boundaries of any genre, and art is scarce when the aim is to appeal to the most number of people possible. When this is the case, inevitably the songs start to appeal to the lowest common denominator. Safe bets are placed like the countless sequels in the cinema.
That said, I like Rihanna and DJ Khaled’s song, Grateful. Also, Charlie Puth’s Attention is pretty good.
I’m a big Kendrick Lamar fan. Although some of his cultural references are hard to keep up with all the way over here in South Africa, I really appreciate his musicality and his creativity.
When I first heard him, the man seemed to be on a mission. There was more to his songs than a hit record. The depth of his music impressed me.
This interview is fantastic and confirms my suspicions. In particular I love how Kendrick describes his work as a sort of document for people in the future to look back on. It’s a really good interview. Kendrick Lamar’s focus and dedication to his art, with mindfulness of the broader community and heritage is something to aspire to, in my opinion: