What is this ‘black’ are we talking about? The black of Africa, the Caribbean, Brazil? Can we just say that all these people, from all these diverse countries and cultures just make one type of music. We can’t even talk about African music as if it were just one thing.
In Europe and the USA ‘black music’ means r’n’b and rap. This is a tiny gamut of music made by black people and some of it is even written or performed by whites. So now they call it music of black origin. But it is actually commercial music. It comes from the music industry – industry as in making money. It is popular music. For something to be popular it has to appeal to the widest market, hence it cannot be too intellectual, too original or too difficult. It has to be safe. Black music has become non-threatening, formulistic and middle of the road. It has become the new MOR. For me, it is like wallpaper; something that I might play when I have more important things to do. Just to keep away the silence.
Brecht said “Art is not a mirror to hold up to society, but a hammer with which to shape it”. But ‘black music’ merely reflects. They tell me it reflects ‘real life’; the real life of those in the ghetto. But I don’t live in the ghetto. Why should it speak to me? In reflecting it ends up glorifying the ghetto and the criminal lifestyle of the gangster. It sounds like whining. Men complaining that life owes them something. Eminem moaning about his hard life. Do I care? You are not exactly a poor man.
When I say I would rather listen to music that can lift me above the level of the ghetto, music that will elevate my soul, I fear I might sound elitist. But it is a risk I’m prepared to take. Give me music that speaks to me Byrd, Bach, Webern or the choral music of South Africa, which can reduce me to tears in minutes, and call me a snob.