For as long as I can remember, I have always been a huge music fan. Hip Hop, R&B, Reggae, Jazz – I loved it all. With this being said, I believe I was a lot more passive in my engagement with music as a teenager. It is only in recent years that I have come to know exactly why music – black music especially – has done so much for me as a young black woman and a black millennial. Let me explain.
I recently finished my Masters degree, of which my dissertation research focused on how the children of West Indian immigrants used performance art to address their struggle and oppression, and essentially, as a form of resistance. The reason for this interest was simple: the invisibility of black British experience in academia needed to be addressed; and what better way to do so than explore the very forms of art used by black Britons to address this invisibility. I focused primarily on the music of Britain’s premier reggae band Steel Pulse and the poetry of Linton Kwesi Johnson – both of whom used music and dub poetry to form a unique black British identity. Through their art, they sought to create a space of belonging in which their fellow young black Britons could exist, and exist freely. It gave them a space to comment upon the struggles of their day-to-day lives and in some way, acted as a form of therapy, offering guidance in what would have been the most trying times of their lives.
Fast-forward almost 40 years to the year 2016, and still those struggles are just as apparent as they were then. 2016 was without a doubt a truly traumatic year for a great many reasons. The number of black bodies lost to police brutality rose to alarming numbers. Donald Trump became the President-elect in November 2016, an event that was a true reflection of the rise in racial tensions and the intolerance of white America. 2016 also handed us Brexit, another major event that proved the tolerant society that Britain claims to be is a complete and utter myth. On top of that, in 2016 we lost a great many legends, including Prince, Muhammad Ali and George Michael to name a few.
Still, if we are to view music as not only self-expression, but as a direct commentary on the way in which socio-political issues effect us as black people, it is no wonder that black music was so very important in 2016. It was therapeutic and healing, and almost acted as a form of therapy for young black millennials. We saw Solange release the stunning album A Seat at the Table, which looked at the joys and the pains of being a black woman in an anti-black world. We also saw important releases from Chance the Rapper, Noname, and a personal favourite of mine, A Tribe Called Quest, who released We Got it From Here…Thank You 4 Your Service. This album release was particularly important for me, as it came out following the announcement of Trump as the next US president. Its release was perfectly timed and was a direct reaction to the current state of race relations in America.
The amazing thing about black music is its ability to articulate, connect and explore the differing experiences of the black diaspora. Whilst our environments and surroundings may differ, it is our shared history that keeps us very much connected. That is why no matter where we are positioned within the black diaspora, black music will touch us in the same way that it touches our brother, or our sister. As one can see, throughout history, music has given us the support we need to help us through very trying times; and it will continue to be foundation upon which we can exist, and exist freely.
By Lydia Rose