Era of Throwaway Lyrics
By Austin Akalanze
Era of Throwaway Lyrics
I often thought it was the generation gap or perhaps the evolutionary cycle or simply a sign of the end times. But, whatever it is, one thing is certain: that music has changed immensely in the 20th century.
For brevity, my focus shall be on the sixties and seventies, when the nations seemed to have come alive with the lyrics and rhythm of the time and the nineties, when they seem to have lost that rhythm change that drove the sixties.
While music has grown in other times, the sixties saw an explosion in the industry. It did not only grow in size, but also in quality. Performers elevated the art to a new high, using their talents to address the needs and concerns of society.
In Africa, artists turned out hit after hit. This was especially true in central and western Africa. The folkloric songs of the fifties were replaced by the more vibrant, more up beat rhythm of the sixties. In Zaire, Franco in his hit song "Trezempoli," which translates "very impolite," criticized those who smoke in offices where they do not like smoke. Also in Zaire, Tabuley in his song "Sara" talked about the problem of divorce.
In his philosophy divorce is unthinkable. Nigerias, Fela Anikulapo Kuti, in his massive hit "Zombie", done in Nigeria's unofficial lingua franca, Broken English, berates the military government of then General Olusegun Obasanjo for its lack of vision and the soldiers for their blind obedience. "Zombie no go think unless you tell am to think" he lamented.
In the Caribbean, the Ska was polished and elevated to the richer, more balanced Rocksteady, with a lot of infusion of the African drum, and finally to the internationally acclaimed Reggae beat. Joe Higgs, Desmond Decker, and Bob Marley were some of the early apostles. In his hit song "War," Bob Marley reechoed a speech made by Emperor Haile Selassie of Ethiopia at the United Nations in the 1960's. "Until the philosophy which holds one race superior and another inferior, is finally and permanently, discredited and abandoned, everywhere is war." Also from the Caribbean, Jimmy Cliff, in his classic Vietnam lent a credible voice to the opposition against America's carnage in that country. "Yesterday I got a letter from my friend, fighting in Vietnam Tell all my friends that I will be coming home soon, my time will be up sometime in June. But Mrs. Brown your son is dead. Yet, in another hit he lamented the widening divide between the rich and the poor. It's a pain to see we are in a sad situation, suffering in the land. The rich is getting richer and the poor...
The story was the same in America. Descendants of Negro slaves turned the beats and experiences of White America's cotton fields into new forms, imbuing them with new spirituality and new energy that gave added impetus to their struggle. Candy Staton, in "In the Ghetto," captured the mood and spirit of Negroes trapped in the ghettoes of North America. "If there is anything she don't need, it's another little hungry mouth to feed in the ghetto and his mama cried." James Brown, in "I am Black and Proud," sought to bring pride back to blackness, which hitherto had been a burden and a badge of dishonor and scorn to those who wore it. Say it loud, I am black and proud, he implored. Cart Stevens, Wild World- now that I have lost everything to you but if you wanna leave take good