Music genres are dying all the time. The future of music depends on their death. If they don’t, there won’t be any reincarnations and therefore no new music. Music, however, is eternal; it has soul but it does not have a body. We are the resonating body. Outside our eardrums music does not exist; it is only inside our minds that a series of air vibrations become a melody. Music exists only in us and it manifests itself through us therefore it is constantly changing with us. There is as much music on this earth as there are fingerprints and vocal folds. Music is in constant need for change that’s why it lets its genres gently fade away only to reincarnate their souls in new bodies, new times and new cultures.
On speaking a foreign music language with a native accent or a native music language with a foreign accent
A fusion between music genres is way more than just mixing two genres together. To get a closer look at this concept, let’s first make this analogy with linguistics; For instance, when an Italian person who has mastered the English language converses with other English-speaking individuals, they can perfectly communicate with him but they can clearly hear his Italian accent and even more, know where his accent is actually coming from. Some of us can easily differentiate between an Italian, Indian or Arab speaking fluent English and that won't affect the comprehension, flow and depth of the conversation.
Now, what if that same person reaches a higher level where he can also speak Italian with an English accent? He would have then mastered both languages and both accents in those languages and can speak a combination of the four that will eventually sound like a third new language. That is probably the ultimate point of mastery one can reach in terms of linguistic fusion but not only is it limited, it is also worthless since this will require all people to comprehend all languages in order for the fusion effect to take place. What this suggests is that if a language the whole planet understands exists, the result of this linguistic fusion will be successful.
You certainly guessed it: Music.
It is mind-boggling how a complex series of air vibrations produce such beautiful sounds, when and only when, they hit those eardrums and travel to our insides to move us upside down. What is even more mind-boggling is that there’s no need for a translator. We are designed to decode those cosmic sounds with their infinite patterns and data just like that; effortlessly, through higher channels and regardless of ethnic and cultural backgrounds. All that makes the above-mentioned fusion effect not only possible with music, but also essential for the advancement of art and life’s flow.
When is new music new?
Music is one of the myriad representations of the universe; it is a spiral that is constantly and infinitely spinning into the future. I personally believe that music is governed by the law of natural selection so music genres that “die” and come back resurrected in a new body are music genres that survived the ages and managed to be imprinted in our DNA aurally. Socially accepted music is infinitely reborn into new music; its counterpart becomes rare or extinct.
What makes intermarriage between genres (or particular elements within those genres) organic, therefore successful, is when it resonates with the linguistic accent theory. New music is new when it resembles that third new language born out of two or more mastered parent languages. Some marriages are organic, innovative and last forever. That’s why they imprint their places in history, and in a lot of cases, lead to an infinite breed of “new” music. Some other marriages fail and die because of incompatibility and/or misunderstanding of each other’s core musical self.
Music has soul; therefore the reincarnation of the modal self of Arabic music into the complex harmonic body of Jazz (& vice versa) is possible.
Jazz was the sound that called upon me without equal. I had to understand this sound, I had to speak it. After 12 years of intense and passionate diving into the depths of this complex Black American art form, “Ashur” came out. “How do you integrate your Arabic heritage into your jazz playing?” was a common question and the way I answered the first time was: “My Arabic heritage flows into my jazz playing naturally just like my accent when I speak English. Therefore, I play jazz with a Lebanese accent”. My answer surpassed me but I liked it. I found it to be convincing and it did receive acknowledgment from those who heard it. The truth to it and the passion I have in naming things brought up the urge to call this amalgam something specific. I thought of Afro Tarab.
I see Afro Tarab as the reincarnation of both: the modal self of Tarab into the harmonic body of jazz; and the African soul of jazz into the Tarab self of Arabic music.
Now to clear out any misunderstandings: Giving a certain entity a name doesn't mean claiming invention of it; it is simply a way to distinguish it from other similar entities. Some people call their mustang Sally or their regional storm Alexa while Sally and Alexa are common names that belong to everybody. Afro Tarab belongs to everybody and I’m not the only one playing it. So many fantastic musicians are fusing their cultural heritage with jazz and each is calling their music what they feel their music should be called (or not be called).
The point is, music is eternal and it manifests itself through its messengers on earth. Those messengers are conductors, and not as in the orchestral music sense; conductors as in the material that permits flow.
Just as electric currents move through a lightning rod, the true conductors are the musicians through whom the music is being manifested and the composers through whom melodic channels are accessed and translated into ink. Every single composer is a potential inventor of a style just like every singer has unique vocal folds with unique vibrational qualities. However, since not every set of unique vocal folds produce an innovative way of singing, not every composer invents a style that survives to see the light.
Music knows to which body she should send the soul of a dying genre.
The Black Ratio
Black American music is unique and there’s nothing like it. Because of it, hundreds of new genres were conceived, reborn, incarnated and intermarried in less than a century. In the 1940s, nobody would have imagined that jazz would travel that fast to the most distant places and that the number of musicians around the world devoting their lives to this music would increase at this exponential speed. The reason why this has happened with black American music and not with other types of music is no coincidence. The proofs lie in the ancient African rhythmical patterns and their linkage to the universal ratio as well as in the African gene and its representation of the universe. By black American music I don't just mean jazz, I mean all the music that stemmed out from the rhythmic African ratio and that got cooked in the Americas. This includes funk, hip hop, pop, salsa, samba, rock, disco and blues to name just a few. The rhythmic African ratio which I'll refer to as the Black Ratio is the secret behind the magic we are all subject to when we hear those genres.
How many types of genre reincarnations are there? Why does black music reproduce so frequently but other types of music remain stagnant or reproduce slowly? What is Black Ratio in numbers and how is it related to the African gene? If black rhythm holds the secret of groove, what does black harmony hold?
As much as I would love to tackle those questions, they are beyond the scope of this essay but attempts will be made in future writings, so stay tuned.
- Tarek Yamani