When I think of Africa, I think music. Yes, of course… the red earth, the entrepreneurial passion, the dictators who relentlessly refuse to give up power but also, the music. It’s in our DNA, it’s how people interact, celebrate and communicate. It’s a true indicator of the wider social and cultural issues. Music gives us hope and, it sometimes seems, that is what political and religious fundamentalists are threatened by.
A popular podcast that explores this powerful medium is Switchedonpop https://www.switchedonpop.com a podcast about the making and meaning of popular music. It’s a show that unveils how secret Swedish producers create nearly all the top ten hits we hear today to how the Jonas Brothers mirror Mozart’s youthful party days.
Describing the soaring popularity of music podcasts, one of Switchedonpop’s hosts, Charles Harding, says; ‘Music podcasts are a perfect marriage of medium and message. A host can queue up the track to elucidate a point, without alienating a listener for lack of knowledge of a genre or technique.’ He continues, ‘This active listening is empowering because it gives people access to a new language that they thought was only available to trained professionals, but turns out to be essentially human.’
Another powerhouse in this genre is Song Exploder, http://songexploder.net which takes you on a journey through the creative process of making music. Host Hrishikesh Hirway says; ‘the show provides a chance to hear music in a new way. Like tasting the individual ingredients and spices that combine to go into a dish, I hope that hearing the individual pieces and layers in a song makes listening to the finished product a richer, deeper experience. Song Exploder tries to illustrate all the little ideas that go into a song, as well as how creative minds operate.’
In researching this article, I’ve discovered CHVRCHES – https://soundcloud.com/chvrches a three piece indy pop band from Glasgow, in Scotland. In a recent podcast interview steered by Hrishikesh, the band breaks down their latest song “Clearest Blue,” from their album Every Open Eye. They describe the process that has brought them success – basically they establish a set of rules and then quickly drop them. After listening to their podcast, I immediately downloaded their song ‘Clearest Blue’. Another fan won. I’m either an advertiser’s dream or proof that I really am an advertiser’s dream!
The Greek philosopher Plato once described music as the realisation of the soul. The Orphean movement also shows us that music can be a great healer. In 2009, (a study at the College of Alternative Medicine, JEONJU university, career researchers Kim, Wigram, & Gold) university researchers found that children with autism showed more emotional expression and social engagement during music therapy sessions than in play sessions without music . This emotional element is probably applicable to us all – hands up anyone here who hasn’t teared up at least once, whether it’s the national anthem, your football team’s war cry or the soundtrack of your first kiss! For me, it’s Rachmaninoff’s Piano Concerto Number 2 that quickens my heart. And when it comes to Roberta Flack’s Killing Me Softly….well I’m dabbing my eyes just thinking about it.
Hard to imagine then, what it must be like when the music stops; when you are prevented from listening by order of punishment or death. That’s what happened in Afghanistan when the Taliban came to prominence in 1994. Music, which played such a big part from birth to weddings to deaths, suddenly ceased.
Afghani journalist Qais Azimy, has tracked the rise and fall and rise again of the Taliban and the impact on local music. ‘Music has been an integral part of social life, throughout the history of Afghanistan’ he says. ‘As far as history has recorded, the Taliban government was the first to ban music which it did for four years,’ he continues, ‘and we’ve always been aware of the subtle resistance to music from the religious community and clerics. The Taliban’s ban on music was also done under the pretext of the religion, and still today, female musicians and musicians who attend dance parties, often become targets.’
A similar scene in Pakistan too. Al Jazeera online journalist Sheerana Qasi knows all too well the hatred elicited by education and music in some parts of the country; she lost family members during a Taliban siege; ‘Music is considered a form of spirituality and connection with God – the most liberal aspect of Islam known as Sufism’. Despite that, she says; ‘musicians in Pakistan have been killed, tortured or forced to quit any form of music. The Pakistani Taliban in the past torched and bombed several music shops and chased and killed singers who continued their musical activities. To the Taliban, music is considered ‘un-islamic’. But there is hope, Sheerana says that; ‘music might be under siege in Pakistan, but it is certainly not seeing an end’.
Whether you are in Africa or Pakistan, a musician in the United States or a German philosopher – music breaks down barriers. Friedrich Nietzsche said: “Those who were seen dancing were thought to be insane by those who could not hear the music.” And Taylor Swift: “People haven’t always been there for me but music always has.” Music for anyone’s ears.
You’ve read her here, now listen to Jane Dutton’s own podcast – African! It can be found on this link https://soundcloud.com/janedutton/african and also watch her present the news on the Al Jazeera network. Twitter @janedutton
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