Diaspora: Human expression shared between cultures

Graphic by Seth Walker

On Feb. 28, the friendly librarian Benaya Israel transformed into self-proclaimed “Mr. Music” for the day. He was the mastermind behind all the soulful goodness you may have noticed flooding the cafeteria and your eardrums that day. During a passing period it could be Stevie Wonder, about an hour later you may recognize a childhood song by the likes of Earth, Wind and Fire.
Anything could have been expected according to Israel: “Gospel, Reggae, African music, Hip Hop, Jazz and the last part of the show will be dedicated to love songs – mainly featuring Michael Jackson and Whitney Houston.” From 12:00 p.m. – 1:00 p.m. the music was playing Bob Marley’s Exodus album, a compilation of songs, which Time Magazine recently credited as “the album of the 20th Century.”
He initially wanted to feature these songs during Black History Month last year as the idea came about during a casual discussion between the black faculty. Regardless, he is pleased to be playing DJ for a day this year.
Israel says that similarities between African-American music and African music would be the call-and-response style of orchestration, such as a drummer answering another drummer with a varied beat, or a vocal style of call-and-response.
The listener is constantly reaffirmed of this chemistry within a track; they are experiencing a personal dialogue. It’s similar to eavesdropping.
Israel’s intention for the day was to “[simply] play black music. I want to show more than what is being played on the radio currently. Black music encompasses everything from Jazz to Classical.”
One could not help but ponder the vastness of black music, how it doesn’t just grace separate styles of sound but delves into and makes notable marks upon almost every musical style known to man. Everybody can relate to black music.
I slowly realized, midway through a Sam Cooke classic, how crucial this music is to the artists themselves as well as the listeners. I have known art to be originated from a need for humans to express themselves, a need to self-medicate by creating something, or a need to send messages to those going through similar emotions.
The public may welcome the messages as descriptions of the emotions themselves, many times arriving in the form of metaphors; an example of the diamonds which (we often forget) transpire from the filth.
Other times they are soothing lullabies to those undergoing similar trials; the reminder that we are not alone. And most times, they can just be substitutions for a current mood one would rather have.
Israel may have agreed with this analysis when he said, “Music is entertainment. With black music and all music, it is to keep the mind occupied, to help with life’s activities or different moods.”
Any art form sends a message. Since music is so readily available I often forget to regard it as such.
Feelings can make us do anything. Art can compel us to think, to change, to grow. It can also compel us to do the opposite.
So when I asked Israel what he felt of the differences between the music currently being played on the radio and what he remembered listening to growing up, his genuine smile faded as he enunciated his cautions.
“Black music has been message music from the beginning, starting with gospel from slavery, but now a lot of the artists are people who are not good at exemplifying good messages,” he said.
A dear example, for Israel, of a good message was from a reggae group called Third World, whose music began playing during our conversation.
The song was called “Dreamland” and the instrumentals and vocals paints the artist’s true wishes for everyone, that we might all find our eternal dreamland. Israel says ultimately, he wishes this for every student he encounters.