A Small Price to Pay

Have you ever been embarrassed because of your parents? This can come in many forms. It may be as simple as them having a conversation about you with your friends, or perhaps their accent is different from what your peers are used to hearing. Children often are easily embarrassed by the silliest things about their parents.

I (Christy) have been embarrassed on various occasions, but when I heard my mom was getting braces, I just about lost it. To me, that was the end of my already-nonexistent social life. I was so self-absorbed that all I could think about was how much her getting braces was going to affect me. There was no stopping it; she was going to get them “so that [she could] align [her] lower teeth which moved with age. At the moment, hearing that answer would not have changed my perspective; it is only now that I realized how important the braces really were for her sense of self-esteem and health. As I grew up and became more mature, I came to understand that getting embarrassed over petty things is not as significant as it initially seems.

My dad got braces not long after my mom removed hers, only a few months ago. Surprisingly, I did not react negatively this time. His reason for getting them was similar to my mom’s. Now I can fully appreciate the reasons both my parents had for getting braces in their fifties. They were not intentionally trying to embarrass me; in fact, they were not doing anything that should even considered embarrassing.

However, braces are not the only embarrassing thing that parents can do to “humiliate” a child – sometimes there are many moments with them that become nightmares. Here’s an instance from my (Bill’s) life. It was during Young Musician, a musical competition, while I was walking up the stage. Every step was a struggle; my legs were weak and fingers were shaking.  To make matters worse, my mom called out my nickname that I had intentionally chosen not to reveal. Surprised and embarrassed, I tripped – but this was not the end of the embarrassment I was to suffer. The performance had ended, people applauded and just when I was about to walk down, my worst nightmare came to pass. My mom wanted to take a picture of me. Many children might share this experience, when a parent thinks that the whole world revolves around their child, and that everything can wait when a parent is taking a picture. I was already half way down the stairs when I had to walk back to the piano and pose “doing the peace sign”. At that moment I froze, but to my surprise, my dad walked up the stage, stood next to the piano with me and took the picture. Great. Just great. 

As children, we sincerely believe that parents find satisfaction in causing embarrassment to us, but when we look back at the funny moments that cause us so much “pain”, we realize that they only want what is best for us and do not deliberately want to embarrass us most of the time. Of course, we also need to try to understand these people called Parents – they love us (and, of course, for that we are very grateful). Maybe being embarrassed from time to time is a small price to pay for being loved. 



Come Together

It’s that time of the year again, when millions of Europeans come together to celebrate music through the Eurovision Song Contest. It’s a competition filled with nationalism, political controversy, interesting fashion choices and of course, tons of heartfelt ballads and interesting euro-pop performances that probably would sound quite bizarre in a different setting. And there has certainly been a few outrageous numbers in the competition that would have you exclaim ‘Only in Eurovision’, including old Russian ladies singing “Party for Everybody” while baking bread as a part of the choreography, a Romanian countertenor in black diamond embellished clothing. Oh, and Ireland´s Singing Turkey back in 2008.

However, Eurovision does not only contain crazy outfits and catchy songs. Politics often make their way into the arena. In the last few years, loud boos have echoed against the walls after Russia’s performances due to the outrage over the anti-HBTQ politics of the country, as well as the Russia-Ukraine conflict. Interestingly, these negative noises have been censored in previous years, but Sweden – this year’s host country – has decided to not censor the show at all. Sergey Lazarev, this year’s Russian competitor, is one of the favorites and says that Eurovision wants to keep politics out of the show and should do just that by censoring the boos. He says that a prospering gay community does exist in Russia and that a Russian victory this year would support it further.

The motivation behind the start of this loved and cherished contest was to unite Cold War Europe. Today, the competition is a friendly one between countries that once were at bloody war with each other. Sometimes things can seem a bit too friendly, when countries put their highest vote on their neighboring country in order to improve the bonds between their respective countries. This leads many to question the fairness of the competition. And in last year’s dramatically close battle between Russia and Sweden for first place, politics might have played a large part. Even though Russia’s competitor expressed her open mind and support of human rights and love, she was faced with deep criticism because of the negative attitude against the country in which she was born. If Russia wins this year, will that victory come without controversy? Probably not.

The turbulence and conflicts that are realities in our world today conflict with other areas – like music – and it seems to be hard to look beyond politics when judging an artist in a competition like the Eurovision Song Contest. As a politically interested person, I know that it can be hard to ignore the political views that certain nation’s governments represent, even when it´s about music. But I think that we all have to remind ourselves that a person can represent only him or herself – not necessarily always a country as a whole. At the end of the day, we shouldn’t have to worry about whether our actions and words are in complete agreement with the policies of our own countries in every aspect of life. We are all from this same world.

The theme of this year’s Eurovision is “Come Together”, and so perhaps we should do just that; we should forget the conflicts for once, and unite with the help of music and creativity.

Does Pop Affect Your Brain?

Dear Generation Z,

Should we be concerned about what contemporary music could be doing to our brains? Could classical music be better for our overall brain growth in the long run? Some scientists seem to believe that contemporary music could be damaging our intellectual power. According to this article, contemporary music may be hindering our creativity, and making us settle for less when it comes to our artistic abilities. This can be a little disheartening considering so many people, including myself, listen to and love contemporary music.

I took the liberty of interviewing three people who are more informed about music than I am, to get a broader opinion on this debatable topic. Daniel Bussey, a senior high school student interested in the benefits of music therapy and hoping to major in Voice Performance in college said, “Contemporary music is [not] bad for your brain . . . Due to classical music’s intricate structure the brain is particularly responsive to the genre of music. Although most contemporary [music] is not as intricately structured as classical music . . . contemporary music can definitely be used in positive ways . . . due to the upbeat nature of modern music . . .The brain actually gets quite excited when listening to it.” Bussey takes a stance that supports both contemporary and classical music. He recognizes the intricacy that classical music incorporates while still accrediting the positive aspects contemporary music brings to the table.

Amy Onyonyi, who will be attending The Boston Conservatory and studying Vocal Performance in a Bachelor of Music degree this fall stated that, “Studies show that classical music is better suited to positively stimulate the brain. Cows produced more milk listening to classical music than when listening to contemporary music . . . .  It ultimately depends on . . . how [a person responds] to different genres of music. Some people are more productive when listening to jazz and others when listening to sonatas [therefore] I can’t generalize and say that one is better for the brain than the other.” Onyonyi appreciates a plethora of music genres and would not put one above another. Her opinion is based on the fact that it is the individual’s choice.

After getting the idea to write about this topic from Audrey Statler – my current music teacher – I was interested in knowing what her standpoint was on this issue.  “I would hesitate to say that all contemporary music is worse for our brains than classical music . . . but being proficient as a classical musician does take more academic study than being proficient in contemporary music. On the whole, classical music is much more complicated and more difficult to understand . . . . Therefore [it] probably demands that we use more of our brains when listening to it.” Statler, a professional trained in music, knows from experience that classical music is more challenging than contemporary music. In her opinion, classical music is more stimulating, but contemporary music is not necessarily bad for one’s intelligence.

Obviously, this issue is not easily concluded. I would be reluctant to speculate on whether contemporary music is bad for one’s brain, but I can say that contemporary pieces are significantly simpler to learn than classical ones. Thankfully they are both different from each other, and bring an intriguing aspect of diversity to the music industry.

So, what do you think? Does the fact that your iPod is filled with pop music make you think you are at an intellectual loss, or do you think that you creativity levels are doing alright?

A Kenyan Coachella? Yes Please!

For two weekends every April, the Coachella Valley Music and Arts Festival takes over the small desert town of Indio, California. The word ‘festival’ may conjure up images of sodden fields and mud-splattered boots, but over at Coachella, it’s a classier affair. The two three-day weekends of the festival (this year it spanned April 15-24) consist of flower crowns, daisy dukes, non-stop music, fashion and fun.

For those who missed it this year – because they were busy with school, work, or live on the opposite side of the world – the highlights included: Guns N’ Roses performing with AC/DC’s Angus Young; Halsey hosting a mini Panic! At the Disco show; Lorde and Sam Smith singing with Disclosure; and “Sia’s concert performance of a generation.” Not to mention the surprise appearances by Kanye West, Rihanna, Kesha and even Bernie Sanders.

Off-stage, the fashion and revelry are as much a part of the festival as the sounds. Most celebrities and supermodels attend Coachella, so the chances of meeting your favorite famous people are pretty high. Gabriella Opagi, a student in Kenya and a fan of the festival said, “I love the idea of the celebrities mingling with non-famous people without it being a big deal, it’s like an unspoken word to not freak out-as everyone is trying to have a good time. It would be cool to have that in other places”.

So far, it all seems pretty glamorous, right? But how much does it cost? For the 2016 festival, general admission tickets were $399, or $459 with a shuttle pass included. VIP admission is $899, and VIP parking is $150. But scoring tickets to the festival is only the beginning of the challenges that await potential Coachellers. Essentials like travel to the festival, lodging, and dining during the weekend usually command the larger part of a festival-goer’s budget. “By the time you get into the show, you’re broke,” says Ross Gerber, CEO of LA-based financial firm Gerber Kawasaki and a long-time festival attendee.

When we think Music Festival, we might imagine non-stop music and partying with thousands of strangers crowded together, like at Coachella, Tomorrowland or Lollapalooza. We also might think of the “West” (i.e. America or Europe). We do not often connect music festivals to Asia, Africa or even Australia, unless they are focused on traditional or cultural music. But, there are non-cultural music festivals that take place in countries like Kenya, for example, they are just not as popular and publicized.

“Sunglasses At Night” is the brainchild of 6:AM Entertainment Kenya Ltd. It’s the one party of the year where the venue is washed in some of the most sophisticated lighting ever seen on the Kenyan scene. The bright lights make the sunglasses necessary for the ravers as they enjoy the colorful effects of the professional light installation. Other music festivals in Kenya include –Beach Life, Kikoy Culture and Earth Dance. All cost around 1,500/- 3,500/, which is about 15-35 USD. Relatively cheap, right? However, there is a slight problem. To be able to attend, you have to be over 18 or 21. This is a problem, as teenagers want to go, and as they can’t, they get fake IDs and get in illegally. It is actually sad that kids have to go to such lengths to have a fun night out, as there aren’t any “teen-friendly” non-cultural music festivals for them to attend.

What would it be like to have a “Coachella” in Kenya? Opagi, on the benefits of a music festival becoming a reality in Kenya said, “If you would Africanize Coachella, because not many Africans listen to all-American music per se, people would go and have fun, and learn more about American music. It would also be a great opportunity to showcase Kenyan talent for all ages”.

Promoters out there: are you listening?

A Head of Half-Dreads

What do you do to feel empowered?

To some people, empowerment can take the form of metaphysical expression. As aspects of distinct cultures uncoil and fade away in the modern world, individuals still ascribe to physical expressions of culture. Ideally, these echo the spirituality of the cultures they descend from, but, more often than not, they simply become a “hipster” trend.

If you’re like Amanda Daggett, you may feel empowered by wearing your hair in dreadlocks. She views her mane of blonde dreads as a “unique journey” that is different from those of others who decide to also experiment with hair traditional to mystics, warriors, and sailors in many cultures. Amanda Daggett states that her dreads are not a cultural statement, but rather a method of self – empowerment.

On the other hand, Tessah Schoenrock, a blogger on Thought Catalog, describes Caucasian dreads as “frizzy pieces of dog ****” that present a cultural offense. While caustic, her article stems from a topic that needs more awareness in the West: cultural appropriation.

Cultural appropriation occurs when elements of minority culture are adopted by a dominant, oppressive culture for materialistic reasons. The societal, and, in some cases, spiritual roots of these elements are ignored or manipulated in order to make one appear more “interesting.” As members of a dominant society, it seems as if young Caucasians want to disassociate with oppression. We hardly have any cultural or physical identity that lies beyond the favored territory of the West. We want to be more “ethnic,” and this desire navigates to the broken record of Western materialism. In a context of racial discrimination, “white” dreadlocks sometimes are tokens to buy societal ground under capitalistic regulations.

I’ve thought a lot about committing to dreads for a cultural statement. What if I decide to bear dreadlocks in order to diminish my own white privilege? By choosing to promote a non – Caucasian trend, won’t I revolutionize society? And, because so many white men and women already sport dreadlocks, won’t my dreadlocks reflect both “ethnic” culture and mainstream culture?

The hard truth is that I am still classified in the Caucasian range. No matter if I mold my embryonic dreadlocks into a head of glorious Medusa snakes or how many times I am told I could pass as “Romani,” I still breathe the tacit privileges of a white woman. That is where the boundary of cultural appropriation lies.

Sanjana Sharma and Stephanie Mithika recognize cultural appropriation as a valid issue. Mithika says that cultural appropriation stems from “deeply rooted stereotypes that bleed into everything” while simultaneously questioning as to “who has the right to cultural artifacts?” Similarly, Sharma questions that, while “we listen to ‘black’ music,  what makes it ‘black?’ Isn’t [imitation] a mark of respect?”

I don’t think it’s wrong for people to empower themselves for the right reasons. Forms of physical expression, removed from cultural shackles, echo the spiritual pursuits of the ancient. When they succeed in doing so, are they transcendent of the laws of cultural appropriation? Does cultural appropriation crystallize the fluidity of culture?

And, the fundamental question: is it always appropriate to culturally appropriate?

The Language of the World

“Music is the universal language of mankind”. These words penned many years ago by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow – an American poet and educator – still ring true today. In our world, music is the perfect field for innovation and creativity. There is always new combinations of notes and words, each individually crafted in order to express thoughts and emotions.

Africa is full of countries that are full of music. Kenya is a good example of a country where musical artists are developing new ways of expression, combining both native and imported beats together with soaring melodies and complex harmonies. Different genres from all over the world are being mixed by artists: the carnival style rhythms of the zouk genre, the Jamaican breezes of reggae sound, the Congolese dance music called soukous, Western hip hop – the list of the combined elements seems endless!

Many of us tend to listen to generic music produced in the US or UK. Generally, the popular media only promotes musicians in, and from,  the Western world. With so many songs, so many artists, so many videos, it’s difficult to choose what to listen to. With more money spent on the music industry in the West, it is very logical that we have forgotten that other non-Western styles and artists exist. And yet, great musicians are live and express this living all around the world, and are rarely heard and appreciated. Rarely do we look at the Billboard Top 100 or other top music platforms and see the name of a credible non-Western artist.

In African countries, including Kenya, music is an art form that is easily accessible. In the matatus (minibuses for public transport) here in Nairobi, music is often played. While driving by a crowded street or market, beautiful rhythms and melodies can often be heard, pumped out by loud-speakers, car radios, and mobile phones. Music remains important for all people – rich and poor, old and young.

No one can be forced to appreciate a certain style of music, obviously, but sometimes we just haven’t been allowed to – or had the will to – discover new and different styles of music that are available. Maybe we’d like it, if only we could hear it! Even though Western media often only shows one side of the music industry, that doesn’t mean we can’t find the other side. Western music doesn’t need to be the predestined path we take. We as consumers have the power. We can – and should – encourage artists from all over the world to keep producing music. And, we need to listen!

Here’s a short list of some of African musicians that have recently been making waves in the African music industry (and Sauti Sol’s video for their song “Live and Die in Afrika”). In researching this article, we enjoyed learning about these artists, and listening to the latest up and coming expressions of life from this side of the world. Some suggestions:

Sauti Sol (Origin: Kenya)

Diamond Platnumz (Origin: Tanzania)

Tiwa Savage (Origin: Nigeria)

Sarkodie (Origin: Ghana)

Juliana Kanyomozi (Origin: Uganda)

Yvonne Chaka Chaka (Origin: South Africa)

Oumou Sangaré (Origin: Mali)

It’s a privilege to be able to hear how different music styles and genres can be mixed together in endless combinations for unique sounds that satisfy the ears. With all of the incredible music that is available – on the internet and all over the world, it’s definitely time to open up our ears. Now is the time to discover unrated and underrated musicians, and let them wow us with music we’ve never heard before. Longfellow was right – music is the universal language – regardless of where it comes from.