Guest Post: Iambic Pentameter

This morning I planned to pontificate about my ‘musical integrity’ (predicated on nothing more than growing up in an era that produced the likes of Jodeci, Boyz ∏ Men, R Kelly (pre paedophile allegations), Sade, Erykah, Talib Kweli, Micheal Bolton (yes we Africans love a ballad) Brownstone etc – need I say more?) and write about the shameful disposition of black music in this modern time. Then I went on facebook and was reminded of Esperanza’s well deserved Grammy and saw someone had posted a link to the wonderful India Arie’s I am ready for Love. Listening to it was like a little piece of heaven delicately wrapped in passion and delivered in hope. My faith was restored…. Until I turned on the radio.

A sampling of London’s ‘black’ (remarkably renamed urban – not sure why the two must equate?) radio stations, once staunchly representing the multifaceted diaspora of black music, have over the years become stifled by commercialism and disintegrated into a mockery of their former glory. The most successful of these stations (unlike Rih Rih I don’t need to say ‘the name’) has unintelligibly turned its back on the listeners that grew its popularity; a loyal listenership that forgave its regular silences (when the authorities cut the line) and distorted signals (as an aspiring DJ pledged his allegiance by standing in the freezing cold on a roof somewhere with an antenna trying ascertain signal) as it ascended from a basement in south London where it had broadcast as a pirate station, to the bright lights of central London when it was sold to a major commercial station. With the fame came the fortune (sponsorship, advertisements, product placemen, celebrity DJs, and insipid chart music) which has undoubtedly denigrated the quality of the station and its attractiveness to its original listeners (either that or the original listeners have just got too old and lost touch with what’s modern – that’s probably my real excuse!). Today it resembles homage to Rihanna, Neo, Tinie Temper (at least one guy holds it up for the UK), the dude that sings ‘black and yellow’ (you too can be famous by coupling two colours together and ‘cleverly’ repeating them in monotone over a catchy beat), Drake and his wife Nikki (is that true? What a pair they make) with a splattering of other artists whose musical repertoire and range of iambic pentameter (its no Shakespeare) begins and ends with countless assertions of their name, their record label and their brazen demonstration of wealth. The uninspiring mediocre ‘music’ pumped out on rotation is so discombobulating I’ve had to ration my listening to the rare but essential select shows for real music lovers (often on a Sunday evening as that’s the only time it is considered reasonable to dedicate air time to adults).

Chris Philips is, without question, the saviour of black music on commercial radio. Every Sunday evening I tune in to Choice fm and listen to the ‘old skool (sorry, it irritates me too) to new cool’ flavours he tantalises his listeners with. For the last couple of years all of my musical purchases (and yes I still like to experiment with CD) have been a result of the gallant recommendations on his show. The dulcet sounds of Anthony David, the funky house of South Africa’s Black Coffee, the tumultuous baritone of Jose James, the irreverent joy and humour of the Foreign Exchange, the historical inference of Black Star and the reminders of the struggle in Donnie Hathaway, Fela and Nina Simone. The rare groove of the 70s, the funk of the 80s, the swing of the 90s and the crunk of the 00s are interwoven with the sound of hip life and house from Africa, soca and bashment from the Caribbean, Jazz from Cuba and salsa from Brazil. It’s a truly delectable pleasure and utter respite from the contemptuous and inane dribble that permeates the airwaves.

Please forgive me if I seem somewhat hostile towards the new kids on the block. Far from it, when I’m out jogging (a rarity that needs to occur at a greater frequency if I am to continue eating cake) the sounds of 
Tinchy, Tinie, Jay-Z and Rihanna blast from my ipod. My sole angst is with the UKs ‘black’ mainstream radio stations, which upon listening to for more than 30mins you’d be forgiven for believing black music began with Akon, hit a crescendo with Lil Wayne and Jay Sean and came to a catastrophic close with Drake. That is not the extent of black musical history by any stretch of the imagination.

Check out Colourful radio wherever you are in the world. Here you’ll find Chris and a whole host of other DJs heralding the true art form of ‘music’.

Calamity Jane