So the other night I had dinner at Rare with one of my very best girlfriends, Kim. While we were guzzling cabernet sauvignon, reclining on the comfy chaise, noshing on lobster mac & cheese, and cackling at the vicissitudes of life, Rare had the illest playlist going on. The soundtrack of the evening featured songs like Tortured Soul’s “Fall in Love,” J*Davey/4hers’s “Take My Time,” and Gaelle’s “Falling” and some remix of Bebel Gilberto’s “Aganju.” Someone knew what they were doing. These are some of my absolute favorite songs, so as each one comes on I instantly break from conversation to:
First: stick my right hand in the air
Then: Snap my fingers
Finally: Exclaim “That’s my song!
After the fiftyleventh time I did that, Kim says me “How do you find out about this music? They don’t play these songs on the radio.”
::Enter moment of lucidity::
In the midst of my wine buzz, my dissertation research had just smacked me in face. Kim had just asked me one of the central questions in my research. She was 100% right, how do people find out about these artists without the support of major radio outlets, MTV/VH1/BET, and other mass media outlets?
Her query (temporarily) brought me out of my wine + food languor to consider the importance of her question. It wasn’t the first time I had thought about how people find their way to artists outside of the mainstream. I had posed the question countless times in interviews and randomly to friends. I’ve even jotted down my “musical journey of exposure” in my field notes in order to better understand how I arrived in the world of Omar, Jay Electronica, Algebra, Jazzanova, Bugz in the Attic, and countless others. But somehow it was different when someone was asking me that same question in the course of casual conversation it made me realize that the answer is not a mere footnote or anecdote, but it is fundamental in understanding how “urb-alt” communities are formed and sustained.
As I talk to others, I’ve learned that most people have had a circuitous journey of musical discovery that revolves around friend’s music recommendations, record stores (RIP), the internet, artists’ influences, and serendipity. Once someone becomes aware that the music exists, it seems to be easier for to find similar artists.
This recurring theme in the answers I’ve received is that it took some effort or initiative after the initial “encounter” (thanx Philip Bohlman) on the part of the listener to find artists like Earl Greyhound, Clara Hill, Rahbi, or whomever. What’s a synonym for initiative and effort that academics love to use? Agency! And that’s the one ingredient that most Marxist-based studies of popular music tend to minimize. Yes, the radio/BET/MTV may play the same five songs over and over and over again, but many music lovers push beyond what they’re offered to find out where the stash is.
My dissertation is about that push.
So the question remains, how did you find “your” music?
Did you accidentally pick up your boo’s ipod and fall in love with MF Doom? Did you go to “House and the Park” and hear the soulful house sounds of Osunlade? Or did you have a roommate who was blasting nothing but Tamar Kali?
Whatever it is, however you like it, I’d love to hear you story.
And to the wine and the homie, Kim, you’ve earned your place in my acknowledgements!