Musical message from the soul

By Tihema Bennett

We walk and talk in rhythm, we hum and whistle our own tunes, we snap our fingers and tap our feet.

We are all musicians. We all have something inside us that is expressed through musical rhythm and melody.

Our voice is the instrument that stays with us wherever we go. It is unique, has its own flavour, and using it in singing is part of human nature.

Buddy Guy, Robert Johnson, Muddy Waters, and Howlin' Wolf all wrote their music from an emotional and meaningful place.

Their blues music was about struggle and hardship, oppression and darkness. They put effort and time into crafting their music.

They used their booming black voices to turn heads and grasp a crowd.

They were true musicians.

The incredible legacy left by these artists went on to influence people like Neil Young, Bob Dylan, Eric Clapton, Jimi Hendrix and Stevie-Ray Vaughan. These artists all created their own unique and moving music, which ushered in the new era of the electric guitar.

With Neil Young making his guitar cry and scream, Bob Dylan writing his way to heaven, Eric Clapton turning his guitar into an emotional "woman tone", Jimi Hendrix ripping his guitar strings and setting it on fire, and Stevie-Ray wowing everybody with his unique and incredible technique, these musicians transformed blues to appeal to a younger audience, giving it their own stamp.

They rebelled, opening the way for the rebellious, message-wielding artists of the late 20th century - Eddie Vedder and Pearl Jam, Kurt Cobain and Nirvana, Tom Waits, The Smashing Pumpkins.

These artists took music to another level. They created original, meaningful music, gifted to the mainstream.

Seattle bands Pearl Jam and Nirvana ushered in a new kind of bad-ass, a don't-care attitude, an attitude that didn't necessarily reflect them as people, but certainly reflected their music.

Tom Waits writes from the deepest darkest depths of his soul, creates smokey-bar songs with his deep, gravelly voice.

All of these artists were pioneers, poets who believed every word of what they sang and wrote songs not for their commercial value, but for poetic and personal value.

Then along came the cancer of commercialisation, the beginning of the end for modern music, best illustrated by performers like Britney Spears.

Spears is not worthy of being called a singer. She does what she does not to be poetic, not to move people, not to write from the heart, but for money.

She is the perfect example of a con-musician, one who tricks people into thinking that they have created the music they perform.

We do not seem to mind that Spears, for instance, doesn't write her own songs, doesn't sing live and uses Auto-Tune. We seem to find it okay that these con-musicians are making millions out of us.

Where Spears has gone, the Spice Girls, Katy Perry, Boyzone, Justin Bieber (I can barely bring myself to mention Rebecca Black) and others have followed.

Not only do they make millions, they receive awards - for saying words they didn't write into a microphone, then getting those words fixed and shaped to form a melody.

Not only are these "pop stars" ruining music, but so are today's DJs and hip-hop artists.

Hip hop used to involve real instruments playing behind talented rhythmic poets, but now it seems just the regurgitation of meaningless drivel over a computer-generated beat.

The tool used by all these con-musicians is Auto-Tune.

Auto tune was created in 1997 by Antares Audio Technologies as a means to disguise singers' off-key notes.

It was called one of the 50 worst inventions by Time magazine.

Auto-Tune is just a cog in the whole wrecking machine that is ruining modern music.

But there is hope. Yes, we can hold on to the fragile hope that musicians like Adele, Mumford & Sons, SuperHeavy and Foo Fighters will ensure the survival of the essence of music and songwriting - originality.

These artists are among the few who can influence the young to write music that is true to who they are, to not go after lots of money, and to write with originality music that contains the essence of what it is to be human.

Tihema Bennett, Year 11, Nga Puna o Waiorea/Western Springs College

- NZ Herald

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