Lately, I have been going through a self-indulgent phase of listening to music from â€˜withinâ€™ the continent. As such, it has taken me by some good surprise to note that â€˜soulâ€™ music the current â€˜flavour of the monthâ€™
Lately, I have been going through a self-indulgent phase of listening to music from â€˜withinâ€™ the continent. As such, it has taken me by some good surprise to note that â€˜soulâ€™ music is not only at its most vibrant in years, but it is also the current â€˜flavour of the monthâ€™.
Many fans of soul have for long been arguing that there has not been a really great voice in the field since the days of Stevie Wonder and the â€˜Motown yearsâ€™, Donny Hathaway, Aretha Franklin, Marvin Gaye and my own favourite Curtis Mayfield.
However, today, there is a thriving crop of young neo-soul (new classic soul) musicians that are coming out with music that promises to give the current â€˜hip-hopâ€™ generation a taste of what it means to write and produce musical compositions that are works of art.
The soulsters include India Arie, Erykah Badu, Lauryn Hill, Jill Scott, the UKâ€™s very own Omar (whoâ€™s often overlooked), Bilal, Musiq and Dâ€™Angelo. To this we can add, Maxwell, Angie Stone, Glenn Lewis, the talented Mos Def, Nâ€™dambi, Joi, Rashaan Patterson, the brilliant Meshell Ndegeocello, Donnie Johnson (a relative of Gaye) and Floetry.
The new soul aspirants list the likes of Ella Fitzgerald, Stevie Wonder, Donny Hathaway, Prince, Miles Davis, Jimmi Hendrix and Marvin Gaye as their musical heroes. As a result of these diverse interests, the influences of Jazz, Soul, Folk, African, Reggae, Gospel and Latin music can be heard in a lot of the soulster albums.
The lyrics of these new young soldiers of soul are often thought provoking â€“â€“ I am thinking here of India Arieâ€™s â€˜Videoâ€™ or Dâ€™Angeloâ€™s â€˜Vodooâ€™ in which he attacks â€˜hip-hopâ€™. In other cases as in Lauryn Hillâ€™s MTV Unplugged No.2.0, they do not make for easy listening.
Basically, their compositions aim at steering clear of the misogynist lyrics of hip-hop, the thug life of gangsta rap, and the smooth overly produced R&B music (I am thinking about R.Kelly here) which appear to have clouded the â€˜black-urbanâ€™ music scene in recent years.
It is for these reasons that record labels are finding it hard to pigeonhole â€˜neo-soulâ€™ music into an easily identifiable music genre. The absence of a clear-cut genre makes it hard to sell or market their albums hence some of the major labels have tended to back off the soulsters.
In part, this explains why you find the likes of Raphael Saadiq and R. Kelly the â€˜rulersâ€™ of lightweight R&B tunes (with cupboards of awards) on major labels, whilst the likes of India Arie, Jill Scott and Donnie Johnson (not the darlings of the industry) are on small â€˜indieâ€™ labels.
To maintain their creativity, the soulsters have had to go in for â€˜indieâ€™ labels, which allow them to express themselves without having to overly worry about the whims of the market.
However, critics and thereâ€™s plenty out there, argue that a lot of the so-called neo-soul aspirants such as Maxwell, Musiq, Dâ€™Angelo, Raphael Saadiq (who I preferred when he was still with â€˜Tony Toni Toneâ€™) are overrated, muddled sex symbols whose music is oriented towards sales at the cost of creativity.
I for one feel that this is a harsh touch onto some of these artists. I have always felt that with the notable exception of Dâ€™Angeloâ€™s Brown Sugar in 1995 and Meshell Ndegeocelloâ€™s Peace Beyond Passion in 1996, the 90sâ€™ were for the most part filled with crappy R&B.
Yes, it may be true that a lot of the soulster albums are â€˜in-completeâ€™ compositions. In fact, it is hard to compare them to Marvin Gayeâ€™s, Whatâ€™s Going on, Princeâ€™s Around the World in a Day, Aretha Franklinâ€™s Amazing Grace, and Stevie Wonderâ€™s masterpieces of the 1970s Fulfillingness First Finale, Songs in the Key of Life and my favourite Innervisionsâ€™.
However, based on the lyrical strength of recent albums from say Omar, Lauryn Hill, India Arie, Meshell Ndegeocello, and those singles on Donnie Johnsonâ€™s critically acclaimed The Colored Section, it is fair to say that â€˜realâ€™ soul music could be back.
Dawn of a new soul era