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Not Your Song: Positioning Humanity in the History of Music

Humans fear the past that suggests our ‘natural’ immaturity as a species – the homo-regresses.

If music, for human history, was a cultural achievement – the scale, tonic sol-fa, instrumental technology, gramophone and now the Mp3 digital storage – then what has it done for our progress as society?

For the monkeys and apes, our unwittingly purported special cousins (or ancestral friends), to say “uh uh ah ah oh oh” means a lot than just wallowing in solo or harmonic sound-wave-forms. It means “Watch out for that falling mango!” or “Run, here comes Mr Slithers!” or “Someone pick these bloody fleas off of me!” – a command, a demand, a clear call for action.

Meanwhile, humans, the progressive cousins compete with their diaphragms hallowing in “do mi so la do‘s” about “how beautiful the weather is” or “my woman is the most beautiful” or “I like to move it and dance like this” or worse “I love this music” or should I make it more political “Your lyrics and voice both flow so wack, its like preschool pattern on your tracks” – comparison confused for competition, compliments confusing confidence, complacency for countenance and containment for continuance. All the utter confusion that characterises so called “modern culture”, especially in the field of “entertainment” and more specifically “music”.

Perhaps a catalyst of this confusion is the despicable modern myth that humans “invented music”. Not surprisingly, it reflects the rhetorical cornerstone of western society – Susan Buck-Morss (1992) calls it “greatest myth of the modern era” – the Virgin Birth or the autogenetic origins of modern man in the New Testament gospel of the Christ being who was conceived from “God” or spirit or subject rather than nature or object.

The idea the man (as in the male body) could conceive himself (Jesus or Emmanuel being the earthly descent of God) through the womb without him falling back to his natural instinct – sexual reproduction – as an avoidance of the sin that is ‘nature’ (the body sensuality) has fed into the western ideal(ism) that the West thought the West. It is the flawed claim of origin that humans simply evolved to “think” culture for themselves without depending directly on nature (reproduction, food and the environment) or that humans were superimposed on the organic world as cultural beings. This myth obviously draws immensely from the ‘Book of Origins’ (Genesis) in which man became a final masterpiece of God’s creation that he was made to resemble the figure of his creator (with women simple being an extraction from man) which altogether denies both the mitochondrial origins of man from the truly autogenetic being (female) and the very act of (pro)creation which would be dubbed “the sin of knowledge” from the forbidden fruit (female canal reproduction organs). The underlying “truth” of modernity is that humans, under male supervision, managed to make themselves into fully rational beings – the Cartesian ego-cogito – who are the bearers of the own knowledge and power.

As such, humans deny their objectivity to nature – they are carried agents of a bigger system of creation. For one, humans are not the only species who mastered the craft of singing. Birds are singing animals whose sonic articulations are more than just mere communicative tools between themselves and other animals. They are instruments used to tell stories not familiar to the human ear and mind – such as heralding change: “what will happen as the season changes” or “we have a long journey ahead of us next month” or “when the sun goes north we follow my brethren”. Sometimes they prophecy about the future to come: “colder days are coming, let us prepare to hibernate!” or “many will die of starvation this winter” or “there will be a fire very soon coming in with the winds” even “You can only live with one child”.

Like humans with their ever-emerging technologies, they record, replay, rewind and fastforward time in their music. However unlike humans, they need no ‘technology’ (in the cultural sense) for this nor do they require, more importantly, documentary to remind them what they will inevitably forget. For these melodic feathered folk, like elephants who play the trumpets, re-member the cyclic pattern of events in which history unfolds. There is no linear discourse of time as a mysteriously unprecedented build-up of arbitrary events, but an (if you may allow me) overstanding (the confluence or wisdom and knowledge) of history as repetition with escalation – if it was tough last year, how much more this year. As such they are almost already prepared for change in living conditions and most importantly are not reluctant to moving away from space and time that is no longer accommodating to their habitation.

In fact, humans are the only animals who have come to be fearful of migration as national species who subscribe to borders and central institutions of control called ‘states’. Despite one of the only two undeniable facts of history that, to use the words of Ghanaian President Nana Akufo-Addo “migration is as old as humankind”. (The other historical fact being that ‘Kingdoms will rise as Kingdoms shall fall’). Birds, elephants, wildebeest, bees, ants, wolves, lions, deer, zebras (you name it) all migrate at least twice a year in order to survive for longer periods of time. Migration, like music and other cultural attributes to human development are as such not to be credited to human progress as we would claim it. They are natural features of existence and not a result of our cultural achievements that here at Indlwana we consider retrogressive as compared to organic developments in the ecology.

It is high time humans give credit to the other(ed) species who inspire human culture. Elephants and beavers could make shelters, fans, bridges our of tree branches long before humans had houses. Crows will through their nuts before passing cars to crack open the shells and squirrels open sliding-door windows with ease to rush to the kitchen and open the cupboard to choose snacks. Birds could sing complex melodies long before humans designed the scale, tonic sol-fa and other musical techniques which today they noisily compare and compete in bitter bids about whose culture has better music. Some dictate others on how their music should sound in a romantic search for paleanthropological origins of sonic differences (or references), which neither can fully trace in the progressivist history of humanity that seeks to trap the culturally unfamiliar into unhistorical obscurity.

Thus, let it be agreed that, in singing, humans merely imitate birds – the custodians of sonic flight. And if birds sing for an intellectual purpose – re-minding, heralding and prophecy – humans should neither attempt to walk low and slow with this power nor fly above their capacity into clouds of confusion with the practice. Do it like they birds, sing for change, for time, for PROGRESS.

Weak hearts be warned for you are about to enter the bird’s nest – the sacred cauldron of cooking songs. What you will hear here you cannot unhear.

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