This is the first draft of an essay published in Listen To Your Footsteps. I did make some edits for the final version.
I have loved music for as long as I can remember. My father had a record (vinyl) collection that he regularly added to on his travels around the world. I now own that collection and there are few things that give me as much joy as listening to the soundtrack of my childhood.
It was a rule that every Sunday morning, I wash the cars. As revenge, I would pull the speakers from the hifi as close to the door as I could and blast my selected artist or genre so I could hear it outside. It would take me 10 – 15 minutes to decide what I was going to listen to. Some days it was Bob Marley, others it was jazz – Duke Ellington, Count Basie and the like – or soul music, like Brothers Johnson, The Platters, The Temptations, etc.
My father also used to collect Readers Digest record packs, like Rock of the 50s & 60s or Jazz from the 20s to the 70s. In between that, there was Mirriam Makeba, Kori Moraba, Hugh Masekela, The Ramblers, Fela Kuti, etc. As I grew older, I started getting into the music of my time, my era. In the early 80s, we started receiving cassette tapes from friends overseas with this thing called hip hop and it connected with my spirit in a way that was unexplained, even though it spoke of places and lives very different from mine. I loved pop music that came out of the UK, like Culture Club, Billy Idol, David Bowie, Wham, etc.
I believe we, unconsciously, create soundtracks to our lives. There are the songs that are intricately linked to the moments and experiences we live through and, listening to them later, takes you back to that specific place, time and feeling. In his book, Mo’ Meta Blues, musician Ahmir ‘Questlove’ Thompson shares the journey of his life using the songs that were critical in his development. In his two books, Rakim Told Me: Hip Hop Wax Facts: Straight From The Original Artists: The 80s and Check The Technique: Liner Notes for Hip-Hop Junkies, Brian Coleman talks to an array of hip-hop artists and groups about their seminal albums, song by song.
Because I listen to such a wide range of music, across genres, I have a lot of favourite artists and there are thousands, if not millions of songs, in my life’s soundtrack, but there are musicians who I connect with on a deeper level.
August 2013. Sony Music South Africa held a tribute gig and launch party for the Depeche Mode album Delta Machine, at the Yamaha Music offices in Johannesburg. I was still doing some music writing, for Destiny Man magazine as well as my blog, and was still popular enough that Sony Music would seed me albums and invite me to launches. While Depeche Mode were not flown out for the launch, what they did was have South African musicians cover various Depeche Modes songs to perform on the night.
I do not remember much about the evening. I do not remember any of the musicians/bands that performed and the songs they performed. Well, all but one musician and I do not remember the song they performed. What I remember is the artist formerly known as Nakhane Touré, now just Nakhane, being introduced and this slight, seemingly gentle Xhosa person got on the stage blowing me away, with both their singing and their playing on the electric guitar.
From that point, I have followed their career, and fallen deeper and deeper in love with their music. Their music speaks to me on a spiritual level but I cannot explain why theirs does and that of others, making as beautiful music, is merely enjoyable. My relationship with music has always been like this. There are musicians whose music I enjoy and love and there are artists that I feel connected to in ways that are hard to describe. Why is something that I have grappled to make sense of my whole life.
- Marilyn Manson
- Lenny Kravitz
- anderson. paak
- Frank Ocean
- Jimi Hendrix
- Tupac Shakur
- Loose Ends
- Benjamin Clementine
- Kamasi Washington
- Public Enemy
- Saul Williams
- Linkin Park
- Gregory Porter
- Massive Attack
- Carl Hancock Rux
- Mint Condition
- Rage Against The Machine
- Meshell Ndegeocello
- Maverick Sabre
- Sun Ra
- Bruno Mars
- Burning Spear
- Buju Banton
- Curtis Mayfield
- Soul II Soul
- Thelonious Monk
- Esperanza Spalding
- FKA Twigs
The list is long and there are so many that aren’t on it. I loved Michael Jackson’s music and consider him the King of Pop. I was even a Michael Jackson impersonator in a high school show, but I didn’t connect with him in the way I did Prince. I love Maxwell’s music but the connection with D’Angelo always went deeper. And, I am by no means obsessive about the artists that I connect with in this way. I haven’t listened to every album they produced and cannot tell you about the intricacies of their lives, yet there is something there on an ethereal level.
I think there is an ambiguity in the musicians that I connect with. I am drawn to them for that ambiguity. For the existing outside of genre, or style, or opinion. There is always something in them that I can’t quite put a finger on and, in a way, that’s what unifies them. I know, I know, all of these things are subjective. I am sure, in reading this, there are 101 things you could say to counter that statement.
Are they misfits perhaps? Do they exist on the edges beyond the mainstream? No, not quite. And yet, I feel deeply connected to their music. Perhaps it is something in me that their music satisfies, fulfils, ignites, subdues….? Perhaps. It isn’t about them, or is it?
I am not one for this celebrity culture thing that seems to have gripped our world today. I don’t really care what people wear, who they are in relationships with, what they had for breakfast, who they are conflict with and the like. Sometimes, that has an impact on my connection with their music – exhibit 1 R.Kelly – because I am also not one for supporting music of an artist whose actions, values (or lack thereof) are in conflict with mine. And, there is a line for me where the excellence of the art supersedes the person. It is my line and I know when it has been crossed.
I have no answers to a question that I constantly ask myself. Maybe the thing to do is to ignore the question and just continue to create my life’s soundtrack.