Bill Banfield is a professor of Africana Studies/ Music and Society and director of the Center for Africana Studies and programs at Berklee. An award-winning composer, jazz guitarist /recording artist, and public radio show host, he has authored five books for Scarecrow Press on music, arts, cultural criticism, and history.
The main question I want to pose in this spring season is: What kind of contribution are you really ready to make as a musical citizen in our society, culture?
Nobody ever wanted music to be a drink of holy water, but I came up as a young musician when music was notes played and sung by musicians; that’s music. So what happened to mainstream popular music?
When I grew up as a child, I became entrapped by the imagery of a musician, Jimi Hendrix. Now what is a kid who has potential going to see when he/she looks at today’s popular music culture? Let me set this right. I don’t have a problem with the music culture being the sole ownership and direction for this generation. But what bothers me the most is that we have now for the first time in my life, a generation of young people for whom there is no “musicians’ culture” being created. If your griots no longer tell the tradition, if that tradition has been completely hijacked by corporate outsiders, how will the people find their centers again? That’s the question I ask, daily.
Who’s creating the definition of music culture right now?
I was actually quite inspired by a segment of The Voice recently where Usher and Jill Scott coached singers on interpretation, voice support, emotional cadence, and “saying something” with your song.
That’s “old school,” or as I like to say, “the school.”
The definition of what we see as mainstream/main-street music culture today has shifted, so we watch those shifts and address the good and bad, the why, what, and how, and where do we go from here?
Of course you live in your times, and it is your time to create the new music, but it must be music that is informed with knowledge and wisdom, by the thinking and attitudes of great musicianship that drive us, and the foundation of the great art music traditions, movements, and artistry that got us here. From these viewpoints, informing each other is the formula for moving forward. But your “cooking recipe” has to be seasoned with the right balance of the right great musical stuff.
Today’s challenge is now one of distancing yourselves from the pervasive tendencies to be smothered over with complacency, laziness, “easy push the button” mentality that is soooooooooo pervasive today, and that breeds unprecedented levels of disrespect, incivility, and entitlement that this generation wears so proudly.
Music is the musician’s public spirituality, music is our priesthood. We have to continuously change the world. That kind of commitment is what for me is lacking. Where are the replacements for the Bob Marleys, Joan Baezs, the Arrested Developments, Bob Dylans, Dave Matthews, and India.Aries?
I believe that many of the lessons we learned from spirituals to blues to today—and musicians’ lessons of focus, dedication, skill development, commitments, passion, courage, and integrity—are the threading, the connecting of the dots, the chain-of-life lessons you will need for survival as a musical citizen. That’s our job to keep the eyes on the prize of great musicianship, and to underline these lessons. This is the kind of contribution we can make together as artists.
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