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American Popular Music - The Music of the People - Part 3

american Popular Music - The Music of the People - Part 3

      Perhaps, it could be said that an alternative form of ‘protest’ music, is soul and funk music. It takes up where protest music left off, with the fusing of genres such as Blues, Jazz and Gospel to name a few, which typically were played by African-Americans, and uses more upbeat rhythms and lyrics, creating a sense of liberation and optimism for the future. The music is generally more rhythm-driven, with grooves being often the focal point of Funk music; ‘The commonly expressed notion that African music is “all about rhythm” is an over-simplification,’ however, the emphasis on rhythm makes such styles of music very easily distinguishable from other genres, especially those already popular in Western culture. Equally, there are instrumental changes; protest music was generally more limited in instruments as it mostly relied up the human voice, however with Soul and Funk, we see new instruments such as Synthesizers and electric pianos, coupled with horn sections, typically including Trumpets, Trombones and Saxophones, playing catchy riffs, easily fusing with the rest of the music with beautifully blended harmonies. Electric Guitars and Bass Guitars will often add the richness of the song, creating grooving basslines and complimentary melodies. For example, Stevie Wonder’s piece ‘Living for the City,’ is a landmark piece of American Popular Music, unashamedly addressing racism. Yes, the song was released in 1974, after the American Civil Rights Movement had officially ended, but ripples from the movement continued long after it had ended, and I believe this song is continuing the cause of the movement. Lyrics cite that for an African-American, ‘To find a job, is like a haystack needle, cause where he lives, they don’t use coloured people.’ The chorus, which is structured effectively like an anti-chorus, possessing the characteristics of a verse of typical popular music, reiterates how African-Americans are ‘Living just enough, just enough, for the city,’ which strongly implies how people are only just managing to get by, as a result of all the prejudices they face. Despite the harshness of the lyrics, the song has an infectious rhythm, in part created by a synthesizer being used not only for melodic purposes, but also for the bassline, giving the whole song an ‘electric’ feel, making it seem more alive, and making it immediately more danceable. The song is on the whole, positive. Wonder also mixes the actual sounds of sirens, traffic and voices with the music recorded in the studio, as if to create an authentic experience. This works very well to create a sense of empathy, and also to remind African-Americans, along with non-African-Americans alike, that they can in fact get through their hardships; as the song states, they are living ‘Just enough, for the city.’ Although the song does specifically address racism, it is relatable to all demographics of people, as we all feel at some point that we aren’t coping with what we are being faced with. 


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