Friday, February 9, 2007

The Music of Life

Thinking about our last two lectures and the emphasis on the sounds of Purgatory I realized there is something about the music... while I was reading, I kept hearing that they were singing, but it wasn't until I was done with the reading that I thought about what that music might sound like. I've always had this notion that music is holy, all music. Everyone has an instant connection to the spiritual realm through music. That's why there are so many genres. Whether it's Gregorian chanting, steel drums, hip-hop, country western, whatever, there is a music that touches us. A lot of people like songs with good lyrical content (because let's face it, there's a lot out there that has really poor quality lyrics.) I'm one of those people- sometimes. Sometimes the sound of music or of a voice stops you altogether, and dashes all your notions about lyrical content to the ground.

I love Dead Can Dance. They are probably my favorite band. There were two singers in Dead Can Dance: Brendan Perry and Lisa Gerard (I say were because they split up and now have solo careers.) Perry usually sings in English, but not always. Gerard sings phonetically most of the time, which means, she isn't actually singing words. She also sings on the Gladiator soundtrack (she collaborates with Hans Zimmer a lot) in case anyone is familiar with that. One of my favorite songs, "Devorzhium," was on the movie Unfaithful, in what is arguably the sexiest sex scene ever made. The song has no words, but there is singing, and something about her voice is incredibly seductive, and perfect for that scene. Gerard's voice is captivating whether she is singing words in English, words in some other language, or random sounds. It's one of those you've-got-to-hear-it-to-believe-it things.

Another example is the singing of the Mbuti/BaAka people. These are the people who live in the forests of the Central African Republic, also known as 'pygmies' (although that isn't very nice). They don't call themselves pygmies. They are BaAka, which means "The Forest People." Their religion/worldview is that the forest is their mother and their God, and they are its children. All life comes from the forest, and they sing to it. My first year of college was at Bakersfield College. I took a class in Ethnomusicology, and we did a unit on African music. There are so many types of African music; we had to identify the country, culture, and purpose of the song as well as every instrument being used! The first time I listened to the CD with the BaAka singing "Makala," I was overwhelmed. If you've never heard their singing, I heartily recommend it. I can't hear it without crying. It is so incredibly beautiful and sincere, and just... human? I don't know how to explain it, but this is the song of my heart. Something about their voices moves me, although I have no idea what is being said, and there is almost no music (just someone drumming on a hollow-log drum).

When I hear Dante's description of Purgatory, I hear that sort of thing. Music that stops you in your tracks. Music that makes you sit there, smiling in the sun, contemplating and not thinking. Music that brings tears to your eyes. Music that can change you.

*if you want to hear Mbuti singing click here:

1 comment:

Annette said...

I love the Gladiator soundtrack. I recognized Lisa Gerard's name when you said it. Coolio.