To say it’s been a fair while since I’ve posted to this blog is probably a bit of an understatement. Over the past nine months or so, I’ve been busy balancing working full-time, with making a start with writing my first novel, as well as other projects, so reviewing books has taken a bit of a backseat. In addition, I realised I was at a cross-roads with this blog. As much as I love reviewing books, I was finding it hard to balance it with everything else, and truth be told I was starting to lose the joy of it all. So I had to breathe and stop, as the song goes, and think about what might come next.
The answer came as I was listening to one of the several Spotify playlists I’ve curated over the years, when ‘Say It Loud, I’m Black and I’m Proud’, James Brown’s infamous, unofficial anthem of the Black Power movement came on. As I danced and sang along, it struck me that the lyrics are as powerful today as they were back in 1968 when the song was released. To say out loud, “I’m Black, and I’m proud”, in some quarters would invite derision and accusations of being ‘woke’ or aggressive or even racist.
Yet such arguments and accusations blithely ingnore the social and political context in which a song like Say it Loud, and other songs like it were written. It’s easy to dismiss these songs as just being of their time, a nice bop or nod to the old days of soul and rnb, but the truth is they still have social, political and cultural relevance today. We are currently living in times of protest and demand for change from the Black Lives Matter movement, Pride marches for LGBTQ+ rights and visibility, #MeToo, to good old fashioned labour strikes. People are tired and are fed up of being failed time and time again by a system that works against them.
That’s why for me the music released during the 60s and into the early 70s are my favourite genre. They are timeless classics, together with the sheer quality of the musicianship which has resulted in many of these songs being sampled and covered over and over again and the evergreen nature of the lyrics. I think of Marlena Shaw challenging the ‘Legislator’ about the problems of living and raising kids in the ghetto, in ‘Woman of the Ghetto’. Or Syl Johnson’s heartbreaking ‘Is It Because I’m Black’, where he ponders whether reason why his dreams never came true was because of the ‘dark brown shades’ of his skin. Or Baby Huey’s cover of ‘A Change Is Going To Come’ in which he moves from a call for social change to one of personal and perhap spiritual redemption. Not everything speaks to my direct experience but I can certainly relate, and to some extent these songs shaped my upbringing and outlook on life.
This gave me the idea of creating a new section of Just Read It called Just Heard, where I could explore a selection of soul and rnb songs (and perhaps some other genres) which speak to the spirit of the 60s and 70s, the socio-political and cultural context. And look at the relevance the songs had then and now, as well as their contribution to music and culture.
It may seem like a departure from the theme of this blog, but I love music as much as I love books, and part of my love of music stems from my love of lyrics and the meaning they have and can bring. (Yes, I was that one who wrote down the lyrics to her favourite songs in a journal).
So I hope you will join me this little musical and literary journey. And don’t worry from time to time I will post the odd book review, so keep an eye out.