I recently had the pleasure of spending a bunch of hours with a group of incredibly talented, creative and inspiring musicians. I am so grateful for those humans. There is no better salve for hopelessness than being surrounded by passionate people.
A particular conversation stands out in my mind from my time with that group. We were all seated in a semi-circle waiting for what was coming next, and the hosts of the event we were waiting for began asking some provocative questions about the nature of commercially successful music. What does it mean to be a musician who is in the business of music? How do we, as artists, deal with commerce? Some heated dialog ensued! There were questions of whether we should "dumb down" music for the masses. The musicians in the group were passionately defending long-lasting artists who have a place in the history books but also the trashy one-hit-wonders that we all love. Someone made the point that nowadays people don't consume albums like they used to; the single is king! Folks were vehemently proclaiming the necessity of honesty in music, that truth is the most important thing! It was a spirited discussion to say the least. We were agreeing with each other a lot--very passionately. An outside observer may have interpreted it as an argument, but truthfully it was just a bunch of people who have a deep love of music commiserating about and reveling in that fact.
As the conversation marinates in my mind, I am thinking of the yoga students in my after school program. They are middle schoolers, predominantly fifth graders (although the program includes students up through eighth grade). After we have snack, play some yoga games (yoga freeze tag is a favorite), and do a seated meditation, we start the actual yoga asana class. I always play music. The kids LOVE music--of course! One of the incredibly adorable moments was when Tito El Bambino's "El Amor" came up on my playlist (I adore that song and I karaoke the shit out of it)--the kids are mostly Dominican and they were SO SURPRISED that I knew it. After the initial shock of a white woman knowing a song in Spanish, the kids sang and grooved through the vinyasas. Without fail, when I fire up my phone to start the music, I get a lot of requests for certain songs. "Play some Rihanna!" "Do you have any Drake on your phone?" Don't get me wrong---Take a Bow remains my jam five years post-release. Everyone knows that Marvin's Room is EVERYTHING. And Take Care? I got chills the first time I heard that song, and I dance my ass off to it in zumba class. I will most definitely include awesome pop songs in my yoga class playlists. HOWEVER. When I put on Saul Sweet's Bloodsport remix, or Banks' cover of Are You That Somebody, what happens? The kids groove and jam out! Because the music is good! It's emotionally impacting! Moving your body to good music feels amazing!
When there is passion and honesty behind music, it is palpable and it connects. I think sometimes as musicians we sell our audience short. The kids in my class may not know Raleigh Richie because he's not on Hot 97, but his voice cuts to their core and the deliciousness is undeniable. The Beyonces of the world aren't the only ones who can make an impact on young ears. The only disconnect is bringing that music TO those young ears.