Magazine article The Spectator

Let's Face the Music

Magazine article The Spectator

Let's Face the Music

Article excerpt

There isn't a culture in the world that doesn't accord the highest esteem to its original music, just as individuals cherish their favourite music, regardless of its origins.

Of the world's many languages music alone resists translation. Its meaning is as elusive as the wind we cannot clutch but always feel in our midst. It allows us to indulge feelings we would feel ill at ease with if they were expressed in any other language. Music is that friend outside ourselves who understands us as we would like to be understood. No one would think of saying he can't face the literature (poetry), or he can't face the painting. But we all have used the expression: he can't face the music. In the 1920s Irving Berlin wrote a song, recently popularised by Diana Krall, entitled `Let's Face The Music And Dance'. In both instances, music is substituted for truth.

The music we create or love to listen to is our confession to the world. For every feeling, inchoate or articulate, of anger, rage, unfulfilled longing, insecurity, alienation, there is a musical counterpoint, and is the reason why we listen to music outside our personal preferences. And when new feelings arise as a result of the world changing around us, new music forms come into being through which we can express how we feel about ourselves. Some of the music we think we don't like (rap, hip-hop, acid jazz, techno, house) is perhaps music we haven't understood or don't want to understand - about how people feel about themselves in today's world.

The least interesting thing anyone can say about new music, or any music for that matter, is that he doesn't like it. It takes no effort not to like any number of musical genres that, like Spanish or Chinese, are languages to be learned; a painstaking process that requires time, patience and willingness to meet what is there on its own terms.

So, yes, for the record, I can only scratch the surface of, for example, rap music, that for a rapper is a way of being and transcending. But as someone's confession about how he feels about himself in a world that I am partly responsible for, I am interested because I choose to be.

In the history of music, rap is the precursor of the visual arts equivalent of minimalism. That art and music found their vital pulse in minimalism as the 20th century came to a close is not a coincidence. In the 15th and 16th centuries, when both Renaissance and Baroque art and music offered the senses the greatest variety of expression, it was in direct contrast to the monotony of life, mostly lived in one town or village, where the days predictably blurred into each other over a lifetime. Today, where frenetic change is the new paradigm, we insist that all forms of the arts provide the simplicity and clarity that is lacking in our daily lives. (That literature has yet to discover its equivalent of minimalism may be the reason why it - as opposed to books is hardly read anymore.)

In the words rapport, rap brown, beat the rap, trapped, derape (out of control) we find the word rap. Rap is reverse capitalism, reverse colonialism. Rap is the reflux of Reagan economics. Rap is oblivion. Rap is Prozac wrapped in rapt, based on a sustained, one-note harmonic, that is hardly a melody, that repeats from the outset until the song ends. From America to the Arab quarters in major French cities to Africa and Indonesia, it is listened to worldwide.

Embedded in the ghetto origins of rap is the founding principle that melody is a bourgeois luxury rappers can't afford. …

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