Wednesday, June 19, 2013

The future of pop music

'Amo Noite e Dia' by Oba Oba Samba House

The other day I was thinking of three album titles that are likely not to appear on iTunes anytime soon: 'Chris Brown sings Rihanna', 'Jay-Z: the Reggae Album', and 'Niki Minaj: Worship Live at the Pentecostal Worship Center, Los Angeles', and wondering why this is so. Music is so niche-nuanced these days; mention the name of an artist and you already know what you're getting.

It wasn't always this way. There was a time when pop music was genuinely popular; that is, you didn't have 'hip-hop' charts, 'urban', 'smooth jazz', 'country', 'electro', 'kwaito', and a zillion other categories. No, there was a time when 'pop' embraced everything. The Beatles, for example, wrote reggae songs, Ray Charles sang country; and Aretha sang gospel and latin as well as soul. And everyone heard it all. In those bygone days, listening to the radio meant the whole family was catered for -- the kids, the teens, the mums-and-dads and even the grannies could expect to hear their current favourite songs being played by familiar corny-joke DJs.

But not, it seems, any more. What brought about this narrowing of focus, this fragmentation of music into many parts? Well, of course there are a lot more people in the world now -- seven billion or so, and they all like what they like; and there's a heck of a lot more music too. But I suspect the biggest instigator of the change is technology. When radio was the big thing, the unifying force that it was, it was partly because there wasn't anything else. If you wanted portable music, music on the go, it had to be from a transistor radio. There were no Walkmans, iPods, iPads or even beatboxes. Now it appears that half the world walks around with wires sprouting from their ears. I even saw a hoodie advertised recently that comes with earphones built-in -- 'fully washable', according to the blurb.

Yet I've seen, I think, a glimmer of change, and that's why I think bands like Oba Oba Samba House are the future of pop. 'Amo Noite e Dia' begins with that ubiquitous 4/4 House thump, but a short way through suddenly becomes a samba song. The words are in Portuguese (the title means 'I love [you] night and day'), but the band (they're from Brazil) sing convincingly in English too (check out their reworking of Kings of Leon's Use Somebody). I like the way they're bilingual and eclectic -- Portuguese bleeds into English and Rock sits side-by-side with House, Samba, and boy-band vocals. Oh, and perhaps most embracingly of all, they also manage to include the tradiditional Brazilian tiny guitar (cavaquinho) in their instrumentation and sound. Their albums bang like a mixtape, and I love it. Everything is back in the mix again. They are, to me, a miniature musical representation of the sprawling Internet, the way everything is available, all jumbled up, all up for grabs. And, as they should be, they're fun. Their sound should be chaotic, anarchic, but it's not; what they do shouldn't work, but it does; somehow what should be an unmanageable collision of languages and styles finds a sense of order. They are truly a band for the Internet age. So, welcome to updated radio. Oba Oba Samba House are the sound of our future.

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