Musicians Listen Differently…End of story…(sort of)

Musicians generally have certain types of ears.

Stefan Walcott taking a listen
Stefan Walcott taking a listen

It is pretty important to have those ears if you deal with sound all day.

Musicians, no matter the style, have all developed awareness towards the components which make up music – melody, harmony, rhythm and texture.

For example, dance/house/electronica musicians are what I call textual bosses, in that so  much of their work revolves around the ability to make sure the synthesized sounds are performing their assigned function.  Check this link below.

For Dancehall producers on the other hand, it is all about the rhythm. For them the groove needs to be right. See King Jammy below.

I can go on and on and include performing musicians as well because the ability to hear and decode/work out what the hell you are hearing on stage is equally important as in the studio setting.

Musicians therefore feel justified in thinking (by their years of discussion and reproduction of what they are hearing) that everyone should hear like them. After all, what is music education other than – this is music – listen to it this way. However, given the general lack of traditional music education in many places, musicians find themselves frustrated when people do not hear music the same way they do. Watch the following link which has done the pandemic viral rounds on the Web.

If you did not hear those four chords no problem. It just means that you listened to those songs completely differently to how I did.  However, Classical musicians, in whose company I do not include myself, must be saying, can’t they hear that?? Those are the same chords over and over damn it!  While jazz musicians (not the pop-smooth ones) are saying that second chord could have been a lot more tasty with some harmonic tension. In short, they are all listening to it with musician’s ears recognizing what they think is musically important and what is musically lacking.  But are they in fact justified? Should their (our) listening practices be more respected, appreciated or ‘righter’ than those of the ‘Average Listener’?

These are not easy questions to answer. What I do believe is that everyone has a musical opinion and what musicians do is provide different perspectives on that particular experience. I do not however subscribe to the idea that the musician’s way of listening should be the ONLY way a song should be listened to. Take this example from Gyptian.

When this song was released in 2006 it was extremely popular. However, musicians would identify some glaring mistakes in the second verse not to mention the horrible tuning of the instruments. But should this take away from the pleasure of the so-called ’Average Listener’ ? In my view, it should not and there are other factors like Gyptian’s approach and singing style that still make this a TUNE!!!

To end, the listening experience and who is ’right’ within it is not a topic with easy answers. To me this is the difference between the arts and sciences, all interpretations are valid one, even if musicians think otherwise. So don’t be ashamed when a musician gives you strange looks, we just listen differently! Just look here at  Harry Connick  Jnr. who is dumbfounded at the aural ignorance of Jennifer Lopez.

*There are several good discussions on this by Tagg and Middleton. Check them out.

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A Waka Waka Story – From Africa to the World and back

As Cameroon plays today in the World Cup here is a story from last time around…

World Cup 2010 is remembered for many things: the first World Cup in Africa, the Spanish conquest on a continent which historically had not been that kind to them. It is also remembered for the theme song, “Waka Waka.” Waka Waka” is a fascinating song, and the interest does not come from Shakira’s stomach alone, but from the story of cross circulation it represents. But just in case we forgot, let us remind ourselves of Shakira’s version.

Firstly, “Waka Waka” is not an entirely original song, which is not that surprising given the nature of pop music; what is surprising, however, is where it comes from.

I hope you had enough patience to get to, by my count, the 8th hook and tenth section of this song because that is where Shakira’s song is taken from. Taken from, but not directly, for Shakira’s “Waka Waka,” is actually twice removed from the original. Here is the remake which I assume is the one which really inspired Shakira’s team.

So what is the big deal? Well, this song represents to me the many sides of popular music. For one, there is the global popular, which Shakira is plugged into; this beast consumes everything before it. The other two songs represent the local popular, which has its own audiences and degrees of success but is inevitably outside the huge global pop complex where the Shakiras and Rihannas of this world reside. Shakira’s “Waka Waka” then, sends a reminder to the global pop world that the rest of the world DOES indeed exist, because ultimately they were responsible, (directly so and not through ancestral influence), on the making of Shakira’s version.

Although the Shakira remake might once again seem to be exploitation of the so-called Third World, I cannot help but look at the other side. “Waka Waka” has managed to escape the Western imagination, for when we consider the Cameroon and Colombia depicted here, we see images represented in these videos that are not commonly seen of either country. In the case of Cameroon, some guys having a ball with tied on pillows, and with Colombia, a variety show. There are no jungles, no cocaine or Sylvester Stallone

In short, Shakira’s “Waka Waka,” was more of a World Cup song than people realised and can even be said to embody the made-up notions of equality which sport sometimes alludes to; see pop music is not all that bad.

Waka waka!