Friday, September 26, 2014

Love Songs!! Are they as potent today as yesteryear?

The age old debate has seemingly re-emerged, about the potency of modern R&B and soul music versus those of the rhythm and blues’ ‘golden era’ following mega hits by John Legend, All of Me and Sam Smith with Stay With Me. There has long been the feeling in and around world music industries that songs of the modern era do not stand the test of time as those of the 60s and 70s have managed to do so much so that they are still covered and sampled on a vast amount of modern tracks. 

Michael Barnett, a respected Jamaican musicologist, has been collecting records since the 1960s. He believes music standards have fallen considerably because the music business has become just that; a business.

“You don’t have people creating anymore. Melodies and instruments which were a big part of soul music is no more. What you have now are beats, and oftentimes when you hear it (the song) twice you get tired of it,” said Barnett.

In an interview with Billboard magazine during the 1990s, singer, Howard Hewett of Shalamar fame, commented on the increasingly popular trend of sampling. He said while it involved a level of creativity and helped expose music of other eras to contemporary audiences, he also saw a downside. 

“What are we going to listen to 20-30 years from now?” Hewett asked.

It seems though, with the ever increasing level of sampling in modern music productions, Hewett’s concerns have materialized. Rhythm and Blues and soul music, the music which inspired him, has morphed into a multi-million pop industry driven by one-hit wonders and disposable songs. Sampling is now full-blown, with even the most talented of the neo-soul movement borrowing heavily from music of the 1960s and 1970s, largely considered the golden age of R&B and soul.

Some of the leading in neo-soul artistes such as Keys, D’Angelo and John Legend have sampled or covered the music of James Brown, Roberta Flack and Harold Melvin and the Blue Notes. They have put new sheen on classics like Brown’s It’s a Man’s World, Cruising, originally done by Smokey Robinson and Wake up Everybody by the Blue Notes. Whether a different generation of artistes will sample or cover their work is left to be seen.

Old School versus New Method
Hewett, like many R&B and soul legends, earned his stripes the ‘old fashioned’ way. He got involved in the music business during the late 1970s with an independent company called SOLAR (Sounds Of Los Angeles Records) which groomed artistes similar to how Motown and Stax did a decade earlier.

Those companies nurtured the careers of the Supremes, the Four Tops, Smokey Robinson and the Miracles, Otis Redding, Isaac Hayes and Sam and Dave. They were run by strong-willed bosses in Berry Gordy and Al Bell.

Motown and Stax also had champion house bands such as the Funk Brothers and Booker T and the MGs who helped shape the sound and delivery of those acts.

“People like Berry Gordy had committees at Motown who would listen to all the songs recorded there before they could get released. You had Smokey, (songwriters) Holland/Dozier/Holland on these committees and it couldn’t get pass them if it wasn’t well done,” explained Michael Barnett of the old school method.

Today the Internet and social media has had a profound effect on R&B. Radio still plays a major role in exposing an artiste but nothing compared to mediums such as YouTube and Instagram which offers fans instant access into their favourite artiste’s latest productions. Songs are no longer hits based on quality, but more so, on their popularity and commercial success without concern of being relevant for years down the line. Hence hits of today are only hits for as long as they remain relevant and quite often that is only a few months.

Howard Hewett, who had a clutch of hit songs after leaving Shalamar, is one of the performers billed for the inaugural Soul In The Sun music festival at the Aqueduct in Rose Hall, Montego Bay on October 10-12. The lineup also features, Keith Sweat, Johnny Gill, Peabo Bryson, Regina Belle, Freddie Jackson, Jeffrey Osborne and 90s boy groups Silk and Dru Hill along with Jamaican sensations LUST and Richie Stephens. Soul In The Sun is sponsored by The Jamaica Tourist Board, Secrets Resorts, Iberostar, RIU, Royalton , Hilton Rose Hall, Jamaica Tours Ltd, Ocean Spray, Consumer Brands, Pure Country, Round Hill Hotel, El Greco, Holiday Inn, Jamaica Pegasus, Michael Thorpe Custom Brokers, Tai Flora Luxe, Ward’s Power Tools, John Swaby Productions and produced by Complete Entertainment Services.

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