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A Big Secret Revealed (for Musicians).


(ThyBlackMan.com) I have quite the Christmas gift for all musicians, as we all close out the year.  And you’ll find that it works even better for Kwanzaa…

I am about to reveal a secret nearly as old as time itself (fellow Bible readers will find it hinted at all the way back in Genesis 4:21).  I am about to reveal what has made the difference between getting a few minutes of fame and achieving lasting success, between being a one-hit-wonder and being the creator of classic music that people want to hear over and over again for years, decades, even centuries.   I am about to reveal the one sure-fire way to have a fan base that will support you through thick and thin. 

Are you ready for this? 

Here it is: Meet the deep needs of your community with your music, watch your community expand,  and repeat the process.

Consider the Negro Spirituals, that great body of music created by our ancestors, that great body of music first noted around 1750 by the wider world, and which has influenced every other music that came near it (including European “classical” music at least as early as the time of Beethoven) and after it.  This great body of music is listened to and loved to this day, around the world, and many musicians who have respected this music and made use of it have prospered for more than 260 years.  From the Negro Spirituals and their secular counterparts, the worksongs, all of blues, jazz, and gospel rose, which in turn fostered rock n’ roll, pop, and hiphop. 

But the creators of the Negro Spirituals were not thinking of record contracts when they put forward their music.  Our ancestors were creating what they needed to endure and escape the worst oppression in the history of the modern world – the long centuries of chattel slavery. 

Whoever first uttered “Nobody Knows the Trouble I Seen,” “There is A Balm in Gilead,” “He’s Got the Whole World in His Hands” and “Go Down, Moses” was meeting the immediate need of his or her soul, and the souls of fellow enslaved Africans – and likely doing even more than that. 

Whoever first uttered “Wade in the Water” might not only have been expressing his or her Christian faith but also telling others how to throw off the pursuit of slave masters and their paddy rollers, who often would use dogs to try to track escaped slaves.  Whoever first uttered “Heaven, Heaven” may not merely have been expressing his or her longing for a heavenly home of peace and rest.  That one line, “Ev’rybody talkin’ ’bout Heaven ain’t a goin’ there” might have been uttered while looking directly at the plantation house, making that Spiritual a very early protest song!

Around 1865, the great body of Negro Spirituals and worksongs was complete (“No More Auction Block For Me” comes to mind); slavery officially ended.  But the raw power of that music, honed in centuries of direct and vital community service, could not be restrained – given the freedom of its creators, that music went out and astounded the world both in its original form, in arrangements, and in all its offspring – blues, jazz, gospel, and more.   That music continues to speak to the people of the world, in all its forms and offspring, to this day. 

Once again, let’s examine the secret I have shared to your success: Meet the deep needs of your community with your music, watch your community expand,  and repeat the process.  The Negro Spiritual is the world’s greatest example of the working of that secret; if it worked for our enslaved ancestors, it will certainly work for us.

The trouble for us is that we have allowed ourselves to manifest much more self-centeredness than our ancestors could afford.  We are impatient for fame and fortune; we see our music as merely our vehicle of self-expression; we think the whole world should be astounded at our individual genius and be willing to hand over fame and fortune to experience it. 

But here is the cold, hard truth: no one cares about your genius for its own sake except maybe your mother.  Everyone cares about getting their own needs met.  So, be a genius at using your music to meet the needs of the people around you – in churches, temples, and mosques, in schools, in community centers and events; everywhere in which someone needs a touch of beauty, of creativity, of support against oppression, against pain, against scarcity, against grief and loss, and for inspiration and encouragement to triumph.  

And don’t worry about getting rich; money will come if you are faithful, but concern yourself first with service, faithful service to your community.  You will not get rich in money right away, but you will be wealthy when it comes to people who will support you with all that they have – you will have a fan base loyal enough to carry you a long, long way for a long, long time, through the ups and downs of your professional career. 

Nothing you will ever do will be as hard as enduring a few centuries of chattel slavery – thus, the secret of your ancestors’ music and ultimate success will take you as far as your gifts in music can go.  Here is the secret again: Meet the deep needs of your community with your music, watch your community expand,  and repeat the process. If you practice this secret faithfully from here until the end of (your) time, you will know the greatest success this earthly life can offer. 

Staff Writer; Deeann D. Mathews

You may connect with this talented sister via twitter; Deeann D. Mathews.

She is also author of The Freedom Guide for Music Creators which can be purchased from the website of Marcus Bookstores, the oldest African American bookstore in the world: http://marcusfillmore.wordpress.com/2011/07/01/c8/.” 


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