I have been trying to learn a little bit about music in general, and African music in particular, by reading Oz Fritz's posts. I have always listened to all kinds of music, and I do have a few albums of African music, but I don't known African pop as well as I know classical, jazz, rock, etc. May I suggest taking a moment to read his latest blog post, about a movie he is working on that is apparently a documentary on the music of Mali? There is a clip, about five minutes long, promoting the movie, and you get to see Oz himself at the end.
Anyway, I followed a link from the post to a 2010 Oz Fritz post describing a recording session he took part in during a trip to Mali, recording drummers and other musicians. (Oz really seems to get around. A recent post describes his experiences recording rock music made by indigenous Australians.)
That earlier post, "Music Is Medicine," explored the effects of music on listeners, describing how the music of the recording session affected Oz as he worked to capture it. Oz writes that he believes he was able to record a powerful sound:
But besides that, the ancient traditional rhythms and music they played was incredibly strong, powerful and uplifting. At one point - and this is where it becomes hard to put into words - I distinctly felt part of a much larger group body that was using the sounds and rhythms as a kind of navigational guide for entering into alternate modalities of perception outside the domain of common consensual reality. In more common vernacular, it completely blew my mind!
Some people call this trance music but I consider this a bit of a misnomer as trance implies a loss of volition. The effect I felt seemed to last, with varying intensity, for quite awhile but it probably was about 20 -30 minutes in common time. Yet, I was always able to keep a part of my attention on the recording itself.
Although it's a different kind of music, I would imagine that Oz is interested in the experiments that Robert Anton Wilson tried in listening to music. Eric Wagner has written about the time RAW sat up all night, taking LSD and listening to all of Beethoven's nine symphonies, one after the other. And as I've noted, RAW has written lyrically about how Beethoven's music communicates "the higher states of awareness achieved by a fully turned-on brain."
I have been known to listen to Beethoven to improve my mood when I was venturing into the unknown. I listened to a Beethoven symphony years ago as I drove from Lawton to Oklahoma City, to meet a woman in a restaurant for what was essentially a blind date; I had met her via an Internet dating site. (She drove up from Tulsa. She was fun to talk to and I had a good time.) When I had hernia surgery a few years ago, I took along a small, cheap MP3 player and listened to Beethoven as they were giving me anesthesia and rendering me unconscious to go under the knife.
There's a lot of debate over whether Dimitri Shostakovich was a great composer, or a crummy one. I don't pretend to be a musicologist. I just know that when I listen to much of Shostakovich's music, I feel happy. I drove to work the other day feeling depressed, but as I listened to a recording of his music, it pulled me out of my bad mood. Oz's latest post talks about the joy of the music that is made in Mali in the midst of poverty that most Americans can't relate to. "Life is hard, music is good," Oz writes. Shostakovich spent much of his life being abused by one of the most loathsome tyrants of the 20th century, Joseph Stalin. He never stopped writing music, although some of it had to be put away for many years before it could be heard. Many critics write about the darkness of Shostakovich's music, but for me, it is full of energy and joy.