Confronting racism through music

Not to racism imageFor at least half a century artists have used popular music as a way to confront racism, America’s original sin. Emerging in tandem with the civil rights movement in the 60s, serious social commentary became widely popular, taking a cue from the long history of worker protest music. Of course, there were sporadic efforts to tackle racism before then, like the unforgettable “Strange Fruit” written by Abel Meeropol and first recorded by Billie Holliday in 1939. But such efforts were not widespread. Sadly, the need to express the pain of racism through music is just as strong today as it ever was. I’ve listed below some of the most powerful songs about racism, some well-known and some lesser known. If you have suggestions to add to the list, let me know. Continue reading →

Basic Song Structure of Popular Music

Kinobe album coverSong structure forms favored by popular music have been pretty stable for decades. Most music (popular and otherwise) is built off at least two contrasting sections: the initial material (A) and the contrasting material (B). This helps give the music emotional direction, climax, and release. In popular forms, A serves as the verse and B serves as the chorus. The most common form, not surprisingly, is verse–chorus–verse–chorus–verse/interlude/bridge–chorus. After two repetitions of verse–chorus, a number of things can happen. There can be simply an instrumental verse. A bridge can function as additional contrasting material, taking us away from the basic material then returning us back to it. Sometimes there is a breakdown that provides contrasting rhythmic material, the equivalent of a non-lyric bridge. In a variation of this A-B form, there are two verses before the first chorus (A-A-B-A-B…). Continue reading →

New book explores music of Meshell Ndegeocello

Elliptical_smallMeshell Ndegeocello is one of the most fascinating and creative figures in contemporary music. She’s an artist who defies labels and music genres, continually inspiring many with her profound vision. Meshell is a rare breed in the music industry. She has survived and weathered the ups and downs of the business by evolving musically, even against fans’ expectations. But, even more, she has also evolved spiritually. She’s like an older sister or close relative who you watch growing up right before your very eyes, from crazy and wild to mature and content within herself. Continue reading →

Meshell Ndegeocello brings alive old and new songs

Meshell NdegeocelloOn May 30, I was privileged to attend an intimate performance and “All Things Considered” interview with Meshell Ndegeocello at the legendary Village Studios in Los Angeles. The event was organized to launch her new album, Comet, Come to Me, but she played songs from each of her previous albums—except Cookie, The Anthropological Mixtape, for which she said she needed to be in another mental space to deal with. (Cookie came at the end of her relationship with Maverick, with contentious demands from the label such as trying to select producers by opening up Billboard to see who had the latest hits. However, she teased that a song might make its way into a forthcoming concert.) It was a real treat for fans to hear songs from the early albums: “Dred Loc,” “Outside Your Door,” “I’m Diggin’ You,” “Who Is He and What Is He to You,” and “Ecclesiastes: Free My Mind.” I was so overcome I felt tears well up just hearing these songs brought back to life. Continue reading →