Era of Throwaway Lyrics
I often thought it was generation gap or perhaps evolutionary cycle or simply a sign of end times. But, whatever it is, one thing is certain: that music has changed immensely in 20th century.
For brevity, my focus shall be on sixties and seventies, when nations seemed to have come alive with lyrics and rhythm of time and nineties, when they seem to have lost that rhythm change that drove sixties.
While music has grown in other times, sixties saw an explosion in industry. It did not only grow in size, but also in quality. Performers elevated art to a new high, using their talents to address needs and concerns of society.
In Africa, artists turned out hit after hit. This was especially true in central and western Africa. The folkloric songs of fifties were replaced by more vibrant, more up beat rhythm of sixties. In Zaire, Franco in his hit song "Trezempoli," which translates "very impolite," criticized those who smoke in offices where they do not like smoke. Also in Zaire, Tabuley in his song "Sara" talked about problem of divorce. In his philosophy divorce is unthinkable. Nigeria’s, Fela Anikulapo Kuti, in his massive hit "Zombie", done in Nigeria's unofficial lingua franca, Broken English, berates military government of then General Olusegun Obasanjo for its lack of vision and soldiers for their blind obedience. "Zombie no go think unless you tell am to think…" he lamented.
In Caribbean, Ska was polished and elevated to richer, more balanced Rocksteady, with a lot of infusion of African drum, and finally to internationally acclaimed Reggae beat. Joe Higgs, Desmond Decker, and Bob Marley were some of early apostles. In his hit song "War," Bob Marley reechoed a speech made by Emperor Haile Selassie of Ethiopia at United Nations in 1960's. "Until philosophy which holds one race superior and another inferior, is finally and permanently, discredited and abandoned, everywhere is war." Also from Caribbean, Jimmy Cliff, in his classic “Vietnam” lent a credible voice to opposition against America’s carnage in that country. "Yesterday I got a letter from my friend, fighting in Vietnam… Tell all my friends that I will be coming home soon, my time will be up sometime in June. But Mrs. Brown your son is dead.” Yet, in another hit he lamented widening divide between rich and poor. “It’s a pain to see we are in a sad situation, suffering in land. The rich is getting richer and poor…”
The story was same in America. Descendants of Negro slaves turned beats and experiences of White America's cotton fields into new forms, imbuing them with new spirituality and new energy that gave added impetus to their struggle. Candy Staton, in "In Ghetto," captured mood and spirit of Negroes trapped in ghettoes of North America. "If there is anything she don't need, it’s another little hungry mouth to feed in ghetto… and his mama cried." James Brown, in "I am Black and Proud," sought to bring pride back to blackness, which hitherto had been a burden and a badge of dishonor and scorn to those who wore it. “Say it loud, I am black and proud,” he implored. Cart Stevens, “Wild World”- now that I have lost everything to you …but if you wanna leave take good care, hope you make a lot of nice friends out there but just remember a lot of nice things turn bad out there…”