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Does Music Have a Color?

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Next Monday, January 21 is Martin Luther King Jr. Day, a holiday that is supposed to celebrate the life and legacy of civil rights leader Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. I think that it is also a day to take time out and think about how we can honor Dr. King’s dream of equality through not only civil rights, but through things we enjoy everyday. For instance, music.

Last summer, I came across an article on the Huffington Post entitled, “Does Music Have a Color?” The article discusses a social project that involves interviewing black and white residents of Brooklyn in order to see if music truly has a particular color. It reminded me of a conversation I had with my Dad once.

We were talking about music and I asked if he knew that I listened to rock music most of the time. He replied, “Yeah. I listen to some white music sometimes too.”

That reply disturbed me. Why should rock music be considered “white music”? Furthermore, why any of the music my dad listened to (i.e. blues, funk, old school r&b) be considered “black music”? Is it because rock musicians are mostly white and blues, funk, and r & b musicians are mostly black?

The thing that bothers me about the social project mentioned in the Huffington Post article is that only black and white people are interviewed. I understand that it is easier to just interview two races, but it is a flaw when it comes to its purpose. In order to truly answer the question we must take the musician, the everyday music listener, and every race possible into account.

A few weeks ago, I was pleasantly surprised to hear a Japanese singer named Mika Nakashima show up on my online J-rock station. Japanese rock and japanese pop is considered the norm for most contemporary japanese musicians. Only, Nakashima wasn’t singing J-rock or even J-pop music. She was singing a jazz song  called “Love Addict”. I thought “A Japanese singer doing jazz?” for about thirty seconds, then just enjoyed the music. The singer and the music sounded so good, nothing else mattered.

A thing I think would have made the social project more interesting is the age demographic. If it had been done among young people ages thirteen through eighteen, I think the answers would have been more black and white. I feel this way because of my personal experience with music as a teen.

At that time, I felt like I had to listen to what my black peers were listening to because I was black. This consisted of hip-hop and contemporary r & b music. From sixth grade through ninth grade, I did that in order to feel accepted. It made me feel so fake, because I couldn’t personally connect to the music and yet I felt like I had to listen to the music because I was black.

Eventually, I met a Hispanic girl who introduced me to alternative rock music and soundtrack music and I fell in love with both genres. I also realized that this was a girl who liked these genres enough to tell others about them and not care what they think. If she could do that, then why couldn’t I?

When it comes to listening to the music, your race and the musician’s race shouldn’t matter. When it comes to appreciating the music, it is okay to take race into account somewhat.

I take pride in knowing that rock music would not have existed without black musicians like Chuck Berry, BB King, and Little Richard. Without them, The Beatles may have never been formed. However,  just because I take pride in this, doesn’t mean I get snobby about it. I don’t listen to the Beatles cover a Chuck Berry song and say, “The Beatles are trying to steal from Chuck Berry.”  Like it or not, I listen to what original songs the Beatles have created before I judge them.

To sum up everything, let me borrow a few words from Dr. King. Let the musicians not be judged by the color of their skin, but by the content of their music. Let the listeners not be judged by the color of their skin or music taste, but by the content of their character.

Written by Serena Zola

January 14, 2013 at 9:00 PM

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