Like me, you’ve probably discovered that listening to old songs can take you back in time. Souvenirs associated with music flood your brain, as do associated emotions.
To research suggests that because emotions enhance memory processes and music evokes strong emotions, music might help us form memories – either over pieces of music or over experiences associated with a particular music.
I experienced this quite recently while digging through my father’s record collection. I was surprised at how much this affected my emotions. The memories of my childhood came back to me and I began to truly understand the connection between memory and music – I could clearly see how these records shaped who I am today.
My father was the son of a preacher from Dundee Pen, a rural parish in Hanover, Jamaica. He was part of the second wave of the Windrush generation. He came to Britain with one goal and a Dulcimena, a sort of suitcase. The goal was to one day return to Jamaica with his wife and build the house of their dreams. He worked hard – first shift work, then nights – which meant in the 1960s we didn’t see him much except on weekends. It was then that the record collection came out.
Although he was quite religious, his record collection was eclectic, in the sense that alongside The thrillers of grace, Jim reeves and Elvis, you would find Domino greases, Duke Ellington, Charles Mingus, Grant Green and even Jimi Hendrix – from whom I ended up learning to play the guitar by slowing the vinyl 45rpm (revolutions per minute) to 33rpm.
My dad’s friend brought a fresh bun (a sweet and spicy bread often with added dried fruit), coconut drops, and hard bread with steamed rice and callaloo, a side dish popular Caribbean vegetable. Daddy had a Grundig roentgenogram – something that I inherited. It was his sophisticated sound system. Mine is much more expensive but now too often, ironically, bypassed for my iPhone and Spotify.
Post-Jamaican independence songs from the mid-1960s and 1970s as “Do not feel any pain” (1973), “007 – Shanty town” (1967), “You can get it if you really want it” (1970) and “The more they come, the more they fall” (1972) were our favorites and represented for us, at the time, the personification of songs of resistance.
Jamaica was independent, after all, so we could sing, dance and celebrate, in the moment, while coexisting alongside the harsh realities of British society and institutional racism. Through music, we quickly learned that British colonial ties with Jamaica were not entirely severed. With the growing popularity of pirate radio music, songs like “Get up standing “ (1973) and Linton Kwesi-Johnson’s album “Forces of Victory” (1978) reached the masses – articulating frustrations of racial injustice and unfair laws on stops and searches.
Even though my father’s record collection was an inspiration, it was our family friend Herman who had the most radical collection. He had retired from the military and owned a cool 1970 BMW 02 E10. His record collection was much larger and more varied: Great youth, Jimmy falaise, King Tubby, Pablo, Tree, Curtis Mayfield, Rick james, The Isley Brothers, Gil scott heron, Cymanid, Miles davis, Jean Coltrane, War, Danibelle, Walter hawkins and the Last poets are just a few examples of the black music he performed from a large collection of jazz, blues and gospel.
There was a constant theme of empowerment and the struggle against power in his selections. We argued about this: which approach to tackling racial and social injustice was best, Malcolm X Where Martin Luther King Jr.? Both radical visionaries, Martin Luther King was often seen as a nonviolent pacifist, while Malcolm X was called a political renegade – both stereotypes that are not necessarily correct.
Rebel music as pop music
As the culture of pop music developed in the 1960s and 1970s, it evolved and was often voiced as protest music. Artists like Neil young, Bob dylan, Simon and Garfunkel, Joni mitchell, The Beatles, The rolling stones, Lou reed and many other popular music groups of the time were widely viewed as anti-establishment.
This explosion of political and cultural expression in popular music culture was, in many cases, inspired by the protest rhetoric of black musicians. The teenage rebellion galvanized an explosion of new fashions, perspectives and points of view. This coincided with the civil rights and the Black Power movement in the United States, which, through black music, articulated the struggles, innovations and celebrations of black life.
Thinking back to my father’s music collection, I understand more clearly that the music I listened to as a child has, in part, shaped my personality. It also provided me with an important emotional shield and internal power that has helped me arm myself in the struggles black people still experience.
Maybe you’d like to take a moment to reflect on your own music listening experiences – how a song, playlist, album, cover, gig, or performance has touched you and still is deeply rooted in you. your memory. I’d love to hear what tracks or albums influenced you and your life story – plus why – in the comments below.