Where does the future of soul music lie? In a new sound or in the past?
How much of your taste in music has been influenced by what was played around the house when you were growing up? Maybe you aren’t old enough to remember records but some of the more old school stuff has been re-mastered for CD and is available digitally. As a generation grows older, the parents listen to what their children call music and lament at what they perceive as mediocrity. Each generation defends the evolution of sound that takes place during its formative lifetime.
Over the last century, there has been many a golden era. Sadly, there have also been the years of darkness where, despite having a space, a great deal of the music that is put out into society’s mainstream has a limited lifespan. When we talk ‘classic’, we look to our parents – and grandparents – era. It is hard to look at some of the rap and pop (and their offspring, rap-pop) dominating the airwaves and anticipate listening to them ten years from today, defining them ‘classic’.
Or perhaps it’s just nostalgia. Maybe I’m just harking back to ‘my time’. But, I don’t think so. That nostalgia seems to have crept into the soul and R&B world, after over a decade of schizophrenia, with much of what is called R&B falling more in the pop genre and even slightly older artists attempting to find their space in contemporary music by sounding current. Artists In the soul realm seem to have been, to a certain extent, consigned to the fringes as they struggled to find a sound that resonates.
Neo-soul artists became niche, shoved aside by the drive to find the next young voice who can sing and dance (with ‘swag’, whatever that means). Other artists like R.Kelly attempted to play with the young ones and ended up sounding so much like them, no-one could tell the difference.
Finally though, it feels like there is a subtle shift in the musical universe. Maxwell came back after a couple of years with a wonderfully soulful album that harked back to an era when soul music was rich musically. Even his styling had changed. Gone was the big afro and the casual, replaced by perfectly tailored suits and a more understated coiffure. Sade came back … period.
John Legend & the Roots didn’t dilly-dally, going straight to the 60s and 70s, with the album Wake Up!, which contained only one original song – Shine. Each song, from the title song Wake Up (a cover of Harold Melvin & The Blue Notes) to Bill Withers’ I Can’t Write Left-Handed feel as relevant today, as they were when first recorded.
R.Kelly, in releasing his best album since Chocolate Factory, also reached back into the Motown era, channelling everyone from Marvin Gaye to Smokey Robinson, reminding us why he is considered, by some, as one of the greater songwriters to come out in last twenty years. His inclusion of the ‘guide recording’ of You Are Not Alone shows that Michael Jackson recorded the song exactly the way he wrote it. Says a lot.
The list is growing. Raphael Saadiq has already been on this trip and, with Stone Rollin’, even pays homage to Lil Richard as well as the funk masters of the 1970s. Musiq Soulchild and Jill Scott have returned to a more soulful sound and even Beyonce has drawn from the 80s with songs like Party (featuring Andre 3000) and Love On Top. It seems we may just be fully embracing the past to create soul music of the future.