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I grew up with a double societal influence. On the one hand, the stronger hand, was the rock and pop influence on the other was hip hop. I didn’t particularly engage in hip hop, I found it very commercial and monotonous. The lack of substance is what spurred on my oath to saw off my left leg if I heard one more song about hoes from different area codes or even an 8 line rap piece that accompanied the latest pop hit. Movie soundtracks were the other medium where I passively received this kind of music. One that still resounds in my ears is Sugarhill gang’s one hit wonder “rapper’s delight” sung by the frail granny in The Wedding Singer. Entertaining lyric but not life changing. That was the extent of my hip hop knowledge and listenership.

From then on I approached the genre with caution, although I didn’t dismiss it entirely. My refusal to listen to the commercial counted in my favour; it led me tosift until I found the good wheat.  It was at this point that I could draw the distinction between the diluted and the concentrated rap. I pin the watering down on the fact that rap has fused with other genres to, amongst other reasons, broaden its audience. In this process, sadly, many miss out on the true essence of rap. What is launched off the platform is a genre drowning in commercialism and worldly lyric. When considering the origins of rap, this is made clear.

Rap is a 40 year old man who grew up in the South Bronx in a community riddled with strife and poverty. Instead of taking up a gun to channel his emotion his weapon was his words. He has had a trying life trying to hold his own in a sea of faces but with aging, as one would expect, evolution has taken place. This wouldn’t be altogether negative had he not compromised himself in the progression.

Rap was regarded as a fad when it first became known; it was born out of the circumstances at the time making it vulnerable and subject to being replaced. However it has stood the test of time. Its approach of sustainability, however, could be seen as a betrayal to the genre. Hanging onto the last thread it has changed and adopted to accommodate the masses, allowing, on the one hand, for exposure and greater accessibility. In an attempt to ensure longevity rap has fused with other genres broadening its audience but losing itself in the process.

The choice for fusion would see rap being poured into the ears of more listeners but at the expense of diluting the original form. A shift of focus occurred as rap moved away from its original purpose of formation being a channel to express the struggle the youth experienced. It has to be noted that rap is generation specific catering for and meeting the needs of the youth in a certain age bracket in every generation. This can be seen in the content change as well as the prevalence of fusions. But, and this is a big one, this cannot be used as an excuse for poor music with unsubstantial lyric.

I can testify that fusing rap with other genres is to showcase it to those that wouldn’t instinctively listen to it. It would be easing them into the genre by mixing it with their kind of music, be it jazz, pop, rock or folk. But listeners are being cut short in being presented to rap in this way; just scratching the surface of what rap is really about. They are not seeing the man for what he has to offer, on the contrary, they are merely seeing his shadow. Yes, more people are exposed to rap while more rappers get money but I have to stress that the form is being compromised to complement other genres to point where, as many have claimed, rap is dead.

There has been a definite shift in content. A game of give and take. Lyrics aren’t entirely about struggling communities anymore, the more serious rap is about relationships and social issues. In that way they have broadened the audience without being entirely disloyal to the genre. But there are always exceptions to the rule. In too many cases rap is either unsubstantial or crass. There is almost a deliberate attempt to avoid talking about real problems, and in these cases the stereotype of rap is being encouraged. It is a world romanticizing the “I”, praising hoes, money and cars.

What is important thing to remember is that quality is more important than quantity. If rap artists kept this on the tip of their tongues a deviation from the genre, in its true sense, would be minimalized. I cannot rule out fusions completely because there are a few occasions where artists have pulled it off. The difference is that personality of rap is enhanced by the accompanying genre. It relationship does not allow for compromise or deviating attention from the one or the other. The fusion of rap and rock, in the case of Linkin Park and JayZ exemplifies this as well a local example of the fusion of rap and folk seen with Jeremy Loops and M.O. Leko. If these examples of fusion were used as a bar to be reached rap would include a broader audience as well as maintain its intention.

Maybe I should take up the position where I shouldn’t lament the old. I should jump on the bandwagon and just go with it, but having compared pure rap with fused rap I cannot get myself to do so. I appreciate most, if not all, kinds of music but get irked when something of worth gets worn out to the point where the original form is no longer recognizable. The intention of rap shouldn’t be to have the most listeners, if that happens it’s a bonus, the focus should be on its original intent: to be used as a platform to address issues facing local or global communities.








Sex, Drugs, and EDM

When pop icon Madonna introduced one of electronic music’s top performers, Swedish DJ, AVICII, to a crowd of 150,000 at the Ultra Music Festival, saying, “How many people in the crowd have seen molly?”, she unearthed a debate that has been rampant in electronic dance music since its start.  Concert attendees as well as listeners streaming from all over the world interpreted Madonna’s comment in different ways, but many recognized it as an explicit drug reference.  Molly is the street name for ecstasy, a drug commonly used at EDM (electronic dance music) festivals.

Even though the majority of the audience roared with excitement at Madonna’s apparent drug reference, some artist including revolutionary electronic DJ, Deadmau5, were not pleased at Madonna’s cavalier assumption.  Apart from sparking an epic twitter battle between two musical giants born from different generations, Madonna’s controversial statement does raise questions about the state of EDM.  According to a report by Australian newspaper, “Courier Mail”, from the year 2000-2008, ecstasy claimed the lives of 100 Australians.  Although drugs have always played a role in the production and enjoyment of music, the rise in ecstasy related deaths and the drug’s link to EDM concerts naturally raises the question of whether Molly is taking over electronic music.
After Madonna’s controversial comment at the Ultra Music Festival, Deadmau5 delivered a verbal thrashing, chastising Madonna for diminishing EDM as being simply a platform for youth drug use.  Writing on his facebook page, Deadmau5 lashed out, saying,

“Seriously, i giveth not a fucking single FUCK for slating on Madonna for reaching an entirely NEW level of idiocy… i can appriciate her meteoric career, and all good deeds done, but WHAT THE FUCK WAS THAT? That’s your big contribution to EDM? Thats your big message to ultra attendies? hipsterspeak for looking for drugs? fuck off you fucking IDIOT. fuck.”

Clearly fired up about Madonna’s assumption that electronic dance music has become dominated by drug use, Deadmau5 lashed out to protect the true and sober art form that is his music.  Madonna responded to Deadmau5’s harsh attack claiming that ‘molly’ had been a reference to a song she had intended on recording: “I was referring to the song called ‘Have you Seen Molly’ written by my friend Cedric Gervais who I almost worked with on my own album.”  In a statement steeped with sarcasm, Deadmau5 sent a tweet to Madonna dismissing her blunder.  Although the feud may have ended, Madonna’s explanation seems absolutely ludicrous.  To randomly blurt out the name of a Cedric Gervais track just before introducing Avicii just goes against any common sense.  Although Madonna most likely hoped that her statement would fall by the wayside along with Snooki’s pregnancy announcement, Deadmau5 would not let the issue rest.
After berating Madonna, Deadmau5 wrote a lengthy piece on the burden of responsibility and the misconception of categorizing EDM as a genre dominated by sweaty teenagers, their bodies convulsing with synthetic stimulants.  In the piece he expresses his philosophy of withholding judgment on drug users, but he refuses to accept that the EDM genre can be defined by some psychedelic experience outside of the music:

“So, if you can be pandered with MDMA references, then at least pander your own ass with a good sense of responsibility which will enable you to make the personal choices that are right for YOU… then I won’t have to feel like a fucking moron on a stage because you paid money to listen to some warm humming sounds high as fuck.”

Despite the crude language, Zimmerman’s makes a coherent and enlightening argument.  To assume that every audience member is sweltering in a pill induced high, takes away from the power of music.  Surely some concert goers may rely on drugs to enhance their experience, but there are also those fans who feel the waves of euphoria coming straight through the speakers.  Although tno data exists that can tell us how many people were using ecstasy at the Ultra Music Festival, the idea of musical integrity set forward by Deadmau5 should be enough to convince the public domain that ecstasy is not an inherent part of an electronic music festival.
Although Deadmau5’s sentiments towards the purity of electronic music are heartfelt, government projects such as the DAWN report (Drug Abuse Warning Network) warn the public about the increase in ecstasy use within the United States and around the world.  The number of emergency room visits related to ecstasy use rose from 10,220 visits in 2004 to 17,865 in 2008, showing a 74.8 percent increase in just four years.  The report also warns that atmospheres such as raves and concerts increase the chance of concert goers mixing the effects of several drugs.  Obviously, the synthesis of several stimulants puts the users health in great danger.  Although no artist explicitly advocates for the use of ecstasy at their concerts, some artists such as, ‘Designer Drugs’, make an obvious connection.  Even many song lyrics of popular EDM songs make subtle references to the  powerful effects of the stimulant.  With the media hype about the danger of raves it is easy to forget the historical past of drug use in creating and listening to music.  Each generation or appearance of a new genre of music seems to be linked to a type of drug.  The 60‘s-70’s were filled with hallucinogens such as LSD, lifted up by the screaming notes off of Jimi Hendrix’s guitar.  The music of the 80‘s reflected the spread of cocaine, and the 90‘s showcased the advent of the counter culture movement with drugs such as ecstasy and other stimulants.

However, the idea of using drugs to effect the senses has been around since the beginning of rock and roll.  Vocalist, Jim Morrison, of the doors once said, “I believe in a long, prolonged, derangement of the senses in order to obtain the unknown.”  Therefore, the idea of drugs playing a role in the experience of music is not new.  However, the question remains whether the nature of EDM encourages drug use more then any other genre before it.  Deadmau5’s aggressive and violent response to Madonna’s casual reference to ecstasy use seems to be a direct reaction to this assumption.  Electronic music is supposed to make you think, react to the thumping beats and soaring synthesizers.  It’s supposed to awake a primal feeling of excitement that can only be expressed through dance moves and massive smiles.  According to Deadmau5 it can do all this without any synthetic substance entering your bloodstream.  All it takes is the music.  In fact, Jim Morrison also said, “I like any reaction I can get with my music.  Just anything to get people to think.  I mean if you can get a whole room full of drunk, stoned people to actually wake up and think, you’re doing something.”  Certainly, there are artist like Deadmua5, who are doing something.

By Duncan Lowe


“If music be the food of love, play on” – Famous words by William Shakespeare strum “major” chords in South Africa’s younger generation as they listen under the influence of popular musical acts today. As the ever-growing belly of South Africa’s future develops, the world watches as substance abuse and drugs, through the impact of the media, act as the fundamental tools for a life-threatening nationwide-abortion. The music industry has always been linked to med’s, booze and outrages parties, but these connotations have been glorified and sensationalised inappropriately, encouraging fans to explore these law breaking, detrimental forms of a temporary high.  Internationally-worshipped names such as Lil’ Wayne, Rihanna and Wiz Khalifa headline the mainstream gang of artists who have most recently been promoting rebellious behaviour. With technology and the internet being more accessible than ever, a techno-driven youth, constantly fed with the ideology of “Rockstar-living,” is highly at risk. According to The Archives of Paediatrics and Adolescent Medicine, children in the U.S., a few years ago, listened to 2.5hours of music per day – by now, I’m sure that figure has increased. What are your children really listening to, the pure vibrations of musical arrangement or the influence of the world, slowly altering the next drug-related decision they’ll make?

In a technologically generated world, the media is a hub for all things new, exciting and trending. It’s a place where the real world is cropped and retouched to hide the secrets, truths and realities of the world around us. In the music industry of late, musical pioneers have collaborated with two well-known, timeless performers, “drugs” and “alcohol.” There was an era in musical history where drugs was highlighted and then banned. All was looking good up until its recent relapse. The issue revolves around a mixture of too many smoke scenes in music videos and a lack of constructive and creative content – but in the end, this really doesn’t matter. The youth of today don’t seem to see the demoralisation of societal structures, due to the distraction of catchy tunes and over-sung melodies blurring the distinction between “normality” and “wake up – this is something we should seriously be aware of.” If only we had a musician who would be bold enough to take the “hero” out of “heroin,” then we could all fly high…the superman way.   Since the successful 2001 debut of the iPod, Apple’s first-ever released portable music device, electronic companies around the world have launched more evolved yet similar products which accomplish the same purpose but with a lower price tag. In the last 10 years, more music devices have transformed into multi-media houses that are now able to browse the internet, capture images, record videos and for later models, are even “app-compatible.” This device, among cell phones and laptops, play a large role in a child’s life, giving them the freedom to control what they want to listen to. However, this may not always be a wise idea; what may be good for the music industry may not be as beneficial for your child.

The Facebook generation are so technologically dependent as they need it in almost all spheres of their lives, be it socially (networking), physically (WII Nintendo games), mentally (internet, school work) or even just for general interaction. It’s not uncommon in the 21st century, to see a variety of age-groups carrying and using cell phones every day; in fact, according to Market Tree, there were 10.2 million adults who possess cell phones in South Africa (33%) between 2003 and 2009. The access children have to cell phones and other modes of technology ring bittersweet tones for most parents – it does make life more convenient and safer for both the child and the parent, as they can keep each other in the loop; but it also makes one’s child more vulnerable to negative and harmful mediums that do not ask for parental guidance. Websites like “Youtube,” “Facebook” and “Twitter” keep the public in the know about the world around them. As smart and accessible as these sites may be, they could have too great of an influence on your child’s life.

Lil Wayne, a prominent figure in the Hip Hop industry, is known for his battle with drugs and alcohol. The “How to love” performer has been quoted saying, “Drugs are bad I’m acknowledging that but when I’m on the drugs I don’t have a problem with that”. International song bird, Rihanna recently released her 6th studio album, “Talk that Talk.” The cover art of the album featured a stoned Rihanna with smoke blowing out from her mouth. Since when did drugs become glamorous enough to grace album covers? Madonna’s latest release which is also her 12th studio album is entitled MDNA, not only linked to an abbreviated name of the controversial star, but also linked to the actual drug which causes illusions and imaginary imagery, almost like ecstasy.

The effects of drug abuse can be fatal as seen by the members of the “27 Club,” a music industry conspiracy, listing all the legendary musicians who have died at the age of 27 by the cause of drugs. Most recently to join this list was pop/jazz singer, Amy Winehouse. The negative effects of drugs and alcohol within the industry is never spoken about until it’s too late. In February 2012, Whitney Houston was found dead. The cause of death is to believe to have been drugs.

With all these subliminal messages infiltrating the minds of our youth, can we really blame them for being curious about the nature of drugs? Just like Twitter or Facebook, weed has become a networking social-norm among most university students, creating a buzz when there’s nothing to do. In order for a child not to be shaken by the storms of the media, values and moral codes need to be implemented as a daily practise. Children need to learn to be secure within their own identity. It is also up to the leaders of our country to take a stand and encourage more positive music in the industry.

Dylan Chimes for Amnesty


When Bob Dylan speaks, writes or sings, one cannot help but be captured by the beauty of his words, entranced by his wisdom and mesmerized by his overall message. His influence in the music industry and his work in Amnesty International will forever be recognized and admired. So who better to pay tribute to in an amnesty album than Dylan himself.  Chimes of Freedom celebrates 50 years of Amnesty International, and has brought together over 80 artists from almost every genre and era, ranging from Miley Cyrus to Rise Against, Ke$ha to Sting, and My Chemical Romance to Pete Seeger. The brilliantly produced album leaves one in awe as each track haunts the next and embeds itself into the soul of the listener reaching out to every spectrum of our diverse population.

In January 1961 Dylan began his professional career as a musician and a poet, only a few months later Pete Benenson launched the campaign that became known as Amnesty International. At the time they were completely unaware of each other, yet Dylan’s artistic work indirectly linked together with Amnesty Internationals political work. This link would eventually unite nations and change the world as it promoted human rights for the unjust persecution and imprisonment of innocent people across the globe who peacefully fought for what they believed in, aiming to accomplish a state of international peace.

“A hero is someone who understands the responsibility that comes with his freedom”- this is what makes Dylan a hero. He is one to people of all different ages, what he represents will never die. The message of peace and hope are linked to him like Led Zeppelin is linked to Stairway to Heaven.

He connects. No matter what age you are there is always a Dylan song out there that will connect with you and what you’re going through, allowing you to believe in something greater than yourself, or your circumstance.

Each musician, from the diverse range of stars, brings their own unique style to the songs they sing but they all have one thing in common. They have brought just their voice, stripped down to their purest form.  Miley Cyrus’s cover of You’re gonna make me lonesome when you go brings a new maturity to her voice and unexpected but pleasant difference. Adele’s famous cover of Make you feel my love is as beautiful and pure as ever as her voice hypnotizes you while the lyrics are poured into your heart.

But, perhaps the most surprising and haunting track on the album is Ke$ha’s cover of Don’t Think twice, It’s alright. The raw emotion in the track is hauntingly beautiful, there are genuine sobs that are covered by the wallows of the cello and her harsh voice underline the tragedy of the cover, the listener associates so well with the song, leaving one feeling hopeless, raw and defeated, struggling to find just a hint of hope. There is magic in her genuine, emotional and distraught singing.

The diversity of the musicians and musical genres from rock to hip-hop, pop, folk, jazz, country, and metal is a huge asset to the Amnesty group as it brings in a whole range of supporters and emphasizes the universal appeal of the core message of human rights and the importance of Dylan’s impact on both amnesty and on culture.

Since the release of the 4 disc album on January 23, 2012 the artists that include, Natasha Bedingfield, Maroon 5, My Chemical Romance, Seal, Sting, and Pete Townshead have been touring all over America performing their songs to promote the album and the cause, once again uniting people through Dylan’s music, allowing them to believe and be a part of something that is bigger than themselves.

The album not only promotes peace but quality music. Musicians are coming together not to create a no. 1 hit but to create music because they love it, that’s what defines Dylan, and that’s what defines them. The magic in the album lies in the genuine emotion behind each song. The artists are examining themselves through their music, wearing their heart on their sleeve, showing their hand- them at their most vulnerable.

If we were to see all the tracks on the album as one soul, we would be looking at a soul that has loved and lost, a tortured soul, a hopeful soul, a soul that has seen beauty, and experienced unbearable pain. A soul that has truly lived. This is life, this is what creates and promotes peace. Peace isn’t a simple ideology; pain and loss will always exists, but calmness and awareness can ease that pain. Genuine peace can only be achieved when we can truly understand ourselves, and those around us, and stop hiding or trying to destroy loss and fear- Dylan is confronting these issues and so Dylan is confronting life. Through his music Dylan is describing life and how to achieve true peace.

It takes something very special to get over 80 artists to unite and put together an album that is solely based on music that has already been heard. Bob Dylan combined with Amnesty International is that ‘something special’. Only Bob Dylan could bring Ke$ha to sob in her song, could get My Chemical Romance to sing about peace and hope and could get 92 year old Pete Seeger to appear on the album ‘singing’ Forever Young with a child chorus. There is brilliance in his writing that finds a way to connect with anybody, his art explores and expresses the anguish and hope of the modern human condition, a universal theme that will never die.

In every generation there is a fight, a struggle for change. Whether its fighting for gay rights, gender or racial equality, a political shift or even a social revolution. Today there are those voices who are still unheard, those who fight and die for what they believe in. ‘Chimes of Freedom is dedicated to the people worldwide who are unjustly imprisoned or threatened for the peaceful expression of their beliefs’. To all those who are inspired by Dylan’s music, his message and his expression of hope, Amnesty International encourages you to take action on behalf of the people who fight and die without being heard.

photo’s taken from: -


One Million Hit Wonders

Music artists Justin Bieber, Katy Perry and Sean Kingston all have something in common, besides being accomplished musicians and celebrities, of course. What these icons have in common is how they all made it into the world of fame by sharing videos of themselves over the internet. After accumulating a large number of followers online, they were eventually discovered by important people in the music industry and embarked on their music careers, developing into the successful stars we know today. Although this may seem like an effortless task, there is more to becoming discovered online than simply catching a lucky strike. With a little push, however, I think this innovative way of reaching your dream is worth a try.

Rather than the old-fashioned, boring way of being scouted in shopping centers or discovered in talent shows, these days it is becoming more and more common for music artists to become known through the internet. With websites such as Youtube, Myspace, Facebook and Twitter, social media has provided the youth of today with the exposure that new artists need in order to gain world wide fame. The process of sharing a video with just a click of a button is proving to be more powerful than we could have ever imagined.

Justin Bieber is probably the most well-known music artist to be discovered on Youtube (besides Rebecca Black perhaps, but, for obvious reasons, I will refrain from mentioning her ‘claim to fame’).  Bieber began singing at the early age of 12 and took part in local talent competitions. Wanting to share his talent with their friends and family, Bieber’s mom opened up a Youtube account and posted videos online of his performances. It turned out that it was not only his friends and family who were interested in his videos, but many other people too. More and more people began to subscribe the videos, and sooner or later Bieber had established an online fan base. The commotion around these videos soon warranted the attention of talent manager, Scooter Braun. Braun, obviously impressed by what he had seen, contacted Bieber and flew him out to Atlanta, Georgia to meet with world-renowned artist, Usher. In October of 2008, Bieber was officially signed to Island Records and went on to record his debut album, “My World”. With Usher as his mentor, Bieber continues to grab the public’s attention, whether good or bad, and demonstrates how it is possible to achieve fame through the internet.

Sean Kingston’s story proves to be a bit more about persistence than luck. Instead of using Youtube, Kingston followed tips posted on the internet about how to gain recognition via Myspace. Taking this advice, he proceeded to send music producer, J.R. Rotem, countless messages pleading him to listen to the songs which he himself had posted on his Myspace profile.  Kingston continued to send him messages until Rotem eventually replied. After listening to Kingston’s music, Rotem became interested in working with Kingston and it wasn’t long until Rotem signed Kingston to his new label, making him the first artist to be signed. Kingston has since created a name for himself in the music world. He has gone on to work with artists such as Bow Wow and Lil’ Wayne and is set to work with Akon, T-pain and Dr. Dre in the near future. Kingston therefore proved that, by taking advantage of the opportunities he had in front of him, he was also able to use the internet as a means to get himself noticed.

Katy Perry’s journey to fame demonstrates how, even though there might be  a certain amount of luck involved, little can be achieved without putting in hard work. Before gaining international stardom, Perry pursued her music career as a Gospel artist, signing with the Christian music label, Red Hill. During this time in her career she released a self-titled album, “Katy Hudson” (she only later adopted the stage name ‘Katy Perry’, due to the fact that her actual name was too similar to that of the actress Kate Hudson). Her debut album did not prove to be a success and even failed to chart. In the end, the record label ceased any further operations. Perry, however, did not give up. She went on to record yet another solo album, but this unfortunately never got released. It was only in 2007, when Perry signed with Capitol Music Group, that her career took flight. In November of 2007 she adopted the idea of offering a free download of her up-and-coming song “Ur so Gay”, which she posted on her Myspace account, in order to create online buzz. It proved to be an instant hit and was even brought the attention of Madonna, who mentioned it on various radio stations, thus creating even more of a buzz. From then on, Perry’s career blossomed. From her release of her chart-topping single, “I Kissed a Girl”, she has since spawned five number one hits and shows no signs of slowing down. Thus, through her story, she demonstrates that, while it is easy to disclaim these stories as pure luck, fame is only achieved by putting in the effort. She went through a lot of rejection in the beginning of her career, but broke through and never gave up.

The difficulty with this means of finding fame, however, is that there are over a million other equally, if not more, talented people out there with the same dreams and aspirations. It is said to be believed that there is an average of 48 hours of video material being uploaded every minute onto Youtube alone. This obviously decreases the chances of ever being noticed by anyone who can make you famous, but does not make it impossible. The stories mentioned above, although examples of artist who managed to find their place in the music industry just by sharing their talent over the internet, ensure that becoming famous does no simply happen overnight. They do, however, suggest that, as long as there are people who are willing to continue to do the same as what they did, it is more likely that music executives, and other important people in the industry, will come across such talent and go on to create budding new stars.

I therefore encourage as many of you as I can to display your talent on the internet and try to gain as many followers as possible. For whether you are an aspiring rock star, an indie kid, or even if you believe you are the next pop sensation, it seems quite clear that posting your videos on the internet might pay off quite well. It certainly did for those three.

It’s a Tuesday night, in a small smoky bar. Burning licks, walking bass-lines, scats and melodies permeate every corner and crack of Tagore’s in Observatory, Cape Town.  Filled with its regulars and the occasional lower main road stumbler, Tagore’s is one of the few jazz clubs to be enjoyed in Cape Town-“few” being the preliminary word of focus here.

Of course, there is a reason for everything- a reason why more jazz venues don’t fill our city- there is no demand for it. Jazz may be loved by many but to most people, it is a genre that lies on the outskirts of music. Unless you grew up with it, it is an unfamiliar and uncomfortable territory.  We don’t hear it on the radio, in clubs or in most restaurants. So our perceptions of jazz become that of either the slow cheesy saxophone that plagues romantic scenes in your favorite day-time soapy, or the idea that random nonsensical notes are simply thrown together and called a solo.

Yes, jazz may sound different to any other type of music you have ever heard. You can’t always hum along or find the beat and that makes you terrified. When you first heard JOHN COLTRANE it sounded wrong and un-coordinated. When you find yourself in a jazz club (if you even knew they existed) you are surrounded by closed eyes and tapping feet and the occasional “oh yeah” from members of the crowed that you just don’t seem to understand. If this sounds at all familiar, the last thing you should do is to sum jazz up based on your current understanding of it. There might just be something somewhere in it for you.

In most cases music has been, over the years, linked to a lifestyle. In the 60s and 70s popular music supported the hippie lifestyle or hardcore anti-establishment culture. Today there are a number of different lifestyles associated with different genres of music. The hipster, the gangster, the indie-kid, the goth… and so on. (You get the picture) But jazz is something different all together. It couldn’t be more about the music. Jazz musicians don’t scurry on a Tuesday morning to make sure everyone at the gig that night will be wearing their hip “jazzy” attire. Most of them don’t lead conventionally idealistic lifestyles that are trendy amongst the youth. They are not promoted enough in the media to be associated with consumerist products and ways of life. This gives Jazz the space to just be what it is without the pressure of pleasing the mobbing masses. So if you claim to be all about the music then jazz should really be the genre for you. Still not convinced?

Listen, listen and listen more. That really is the key to getting to know about jazz. There is something so magical about forcing ourselves through a process of hearing something so unknown to our own ears- so different to the sounds of the many clone bands that adorn the screens of most of our IPods.  When asked to define jazz, the famous trumpeter LOUIS ARMSTRONG said “Man, if you’ve got to ask you’ll never know.” Jazz can require so much understanding that sometimes only the musicians themselves will truly get it… but the more you listen, the more you’ll understand, the more you’ll learn, the more you’ll love and the more addicted you will become.

What I didn’t know just a few years back, is that jazz has a number of sub-genres which are all so vastly diverse that they are hard to compare at all. I’ll admit jazz is that of an acquired taste. I’m not saying that you’ll like it all (maybe you will) but I’m almost certain 9/10 of you who read this article have something waiting to surprise you… if you just listen.

So where do you start? It is impossible to cover all of the jazz styles out there in this short article. It is something that can be studied ones whole life, but that doesn’t mean we can’t start small. Depending on the type of person you are… why not try the following recommendations.

If you love vintage cars, bow ties and head scarves, you think you could swing dance and could see yourself living in a slightly simpler time then big band Jazz should bubble your bath. Listen to the likes of COUNT BASIE, DUKE ELLINGTON AND ELLA FITZGERALD.

If you’re passionate about cultures and music from different parts of the world, you’d love to travel and find yourself drawn to the strange indigenous sounds of instruments like the Didgeridoo. Believe it or not, there are a number of jazz genres for you. Start off with a little Latin Jazz. (With this you can never go wrong)For an introduction listen to BUENA-VISTA SOCIAL CLUB or the KLAUSS BROTHERS.  On top of that the New Wave Jazz style of AVISHAI COHEN should tantalise your taste buds.

If the idea of jazz scares you a little and despite my brilliant convincing you are still a little unsure, look into modern jazz fusion. Try listening to THE BAD PLUS who play jazz renditions of BLACK SABBATH, NIRVANA and BLONDIE. If that’s a little too frantic for your liking BRAD MEHLDAU’S smoother sound should excite you.

If you loved the 90s, old school hip hop and like your pants baggy, acid jazz is a seamless combination of jazz, funk and hip-hop. The great thing about acid jazz is that you have the opportunity to hear it from a band and even a DJ. It has strong elements of electronic music and the use of the loops. THE BRAND NEW HEAVIES and INCOGNITO might just get your love for jazz started.

If you like things energetic and on the go, you like to be spontaneous and in the unknown-there is only one word you should know- Bebop. It’s inventive; it’s fun and even a little crazy ay times. CHARLIE PARKER, THELONIUS MONK and DIZZY GILLESPIE are the artists you want to get your hands on.

So there it is… starting small. You may decide that you hate jazz to its core, but if you’ve listened, listened and listened at least you’ll be making an informed decision. Droning on with the masses unaware of what you’re missing shouldn’t even be an option in any area of your life. You have the opportunity to hear something new. If you are a music lover, that alone should get your talent receptors buzzing and ready for action. As famous jazz singer NINA SIMONE says. “Don’t let me  be misunderstood.”

By Sarah Farrell




Digging Up The Roots

The history of the blues is one that is splattered with irony, and drips with racial judgement. It was invented by black people, yet popularised by white people. Only black people are said to be able to play it well, yet the market is saturated with white players. That’s the racially ironic nature of the blues – a genre whose influence is often forgotten today.

To some the blues is envisaged through old, suit-wearing, wrinkled, black men playing worn-out acoustic guitars; to others the blues is Eric Clapton – or his white, Stratocaster-wielding, British counterparts – and to others still the blues is just something that they read on Wikipedia as being an influence to Jack White. The blues of today has become very diverse, and often goes unacknowledged for its role in shaping the landscape of the popular music that we see before us today. Keith Richards was the first to admit this in an interview for The Stones’ 22nd album, A Bigger Bang; “If you don’t know the blues… there’s no point in picking up the guitar and playing rock and roll or any other form of popular music.”

Keith churning out some blues

If this relatively old musical genre is so far reaching and has been so filtered and altered over the years, then what can we call the blues of today? Are the blues currently being diluted into the white mainstream until they disappear into the history books as ‘just an influence of rock n roll’, or are the ‘white man’s blues’ a valid part of the genre?

The long history of the blues, whose origin almost perfectly coincides with the first sound recordings, certainly contributed to its altering and ever changing form. This manner in which the blues has so drastically changed is extraordinary for a genre which is only based around a simple three chords. The simple roots of the blues, which is expressed through repetition – both musically and lyrically, started growing during the early 1900s where, in the ‘Deep South’ of America, the blues were sluggishly conceived.

These roots slowly spread amongst the African-American population, and, by the 1920s, early recordings of blues music began in earnest. At this early stage the blues were focused almost entirely on a black audience and were performed almost entirely by black people.

This ‘first wave’ of the blues brought about performers who, although at the time did not achieve either commercial or critical acclaim, are now considered to be – by some – what the blues is all about: sad and solo black men with acoustic guitars, just crying an unheard cry to the dismissive world. Artists like Robert Johnson, Son House, and Blind Willie McTell are prime cuts from this period of the blues. Although their music made an unbelievable contribution to music, their songs were soon forgotten by the masses.

The only known photographs of Robert Johnson

The music which emerged from these artists was as rough if not rougher than the places, conditions and feelings which these musicians were singing about. The pure emotion that emanated from these early recordings was hugely influential to the next generations of musicians that went on to emulate them.

Eric Clapton was part of this new wave of musicians in the 60s who made a musical, Columbus-like voyage to America, and ‘discovered’ this music. He admitted his particular love of Robert Johnson in his autobiography: “At first the music almost repelled me, it was so intense, and this man made no attempt to sugar-coat what he was trying to say, or play… [but,] after a few listens, I realized that, on some level, I had found the master, and that following this man’s example would be my life’s work.”

Eric Clapton's 2004 Robert Johnson cover album

It was during this period that Clapton and Co. started to mix the blues with rock, and create a monster which still breathes today. This new generation of hip musicians acted as a Martin Luther King figure, unifying the black side of the blues with the white side of rock. Despite the irony that it took some white, British kids selling black America’s music back to them for the blues to gain popularity, these youngsters opened up a chasm of musical expression and exposed many people – particularly Americans – to what had been sitting around in their back garden for years.

This ‘British Invasion’ brought about bands like The Rolling Stones, Led Zeppelin and, of course, The Beatles – who effectively received the gift of blues from America, repackaged it, and sold it back to them. Muddy Waters made a snipe at Mick Jagger about this phenomenon, saying that “He stole my music, but he gave me my name” – the bitter/sweet nature of the blues perfectly articulated.

Mick Jagger and Muddy Waters

Although some blues purists, who don’t want their sacred, ‘Aryan’ genre to be tainted, would disagree, this mixing of musical styles and race was responsible for some of the best mainstream music that the world has ever heard. These new musicians effectively created a haze (which was also ironically mimetic of their sobriety) between genres, fogging up the distinctions between what rock is, what pop is, and what is the blues are.

It was this synthesis of genre, the grey area that was created between the white and the black music, which made the blues much more difficult to definitively classify. It was in this grey area that the beauty of musical mixing became apparent.

Then – in typical blues fashion – this amalgamated, musical nirvana slowly disintegrated. Blues however has proven over the years to have more lives than a cat, constantly dying a short death before being reincarnated. This reincarnation almost always takes place in a different musical body – whether it is mixed with jazz, rock n roll, folk, country or soul.

Fast forward to the year 2000. Blues is reincarnated again, this time in the body of alternative rock. It was called post-punk revival by some, but it was just the blues rearing its head once again, further amalgamating and diluting the purity of blues. However, just like in the 60s and 70s the music produced by this blues-inspired-monster was amazing, and found mainstream prominence.

Bands like The Black Keys, The White Stripes, Black Rebel Motorcycle Club and The Kings of Leon all emerged from this movement, once again exposing a new, mainstream generation to the blues – albeit blues full of pounding rhythms and distorted guitars, which have been much altered from their humble, acoustic upbringing.

The White Stripes

The blues even travelled internationally during this movement, where they were poached by places like Japan – through bands like The’s – proving that the genre, born out of raw emotion, truly is a universal language.

These waves of blues-inspired movements just keep coming, and, although there are sometimes lapses between sets of these waves, the new waves that arrive are filled with great music. For a genre that is obsessed with death, it seems impossible that it will be killed off – the blues-monster has a tendency to just sprout a new head and carry on fighting.

Even in South Africa, the blues have recently been revitalised – by the likes of Shadowclub and Taxi Violence. They are able to mix their ‘rocky’, South African sound with the feel of the blues. This band therefore illustrates the adaptable nature of the blues which, having been passed over the Atlantic many times is also present locally.

Shadowclub - Bringing the blues to SA

The blues has changed a great deal since its inception – being influenced racially, culturally and musically – and, no doubt will continue to change and adapt even more over time. Yet, one thing that has not changed as the blues have progressed is the emotive pull that the genre provides. The feel for the blues, although expressed in different ways, will always remain the same. That’s the essence of the blues anyway, the feel. As Jimi Hendrix famously said, “The blues are easy to play, but hard to feel.” So, as long as artists can recreate that musical feel of the blues, and audiences are there to appreciate it, the blues will remain immortal.