Why is soul music called soul music? This may not be a popular view but I don’t find it often reveals someone’s soul or touches mine. There are some amazing vocalists within the genre, and some fantastic songs, I can understand why a fusion of RnB and Gospel music is expected to be meaningful or powerful but maybe this is a big ask of artists still breaking through in the scene. I guess we all start somewhere, and actually think there may be a freshness to some younger performers which isn’t present in the more professionally produced and popular sounds. But is it soulful?
On Sunday evening I had an enjoyable night with some friends at Soul Live Acoustic – a new initiative from Soul Features held in the very cool new venue ‘Spotlight’ in Digbeth. There was a really nice friendly vibe and the MC was good fun. I was impressed with the way the night was run – I just wasn’t that keen on the music and I found it hard to explain why. The Soul Features website claims to be a (the?) ‘Home of Real Music’. I love a good vocalist and the different acts featured some real artistry, on vocals and instruments. My friends seemed to enjoy it a lot as did the crowd.
I know it’s just my own subjective opinion, but to me the different acts seemed to be trying rather hard to sound like someone else or show off. I guess when you admire other great artists then it’s natural to want to emulate something of their style and I guess if you fake it well enough you can make it. A good forgery may be an amazing piece of art even if it isn’t original. I couldn’t sing like most of the artists, some of whom had an amazing range or deep vocal quality. I’ve been impressed in the past when people like The Vocal Orchestra covered R.E.S.P.E.C.T. or Son of a Preacher Man and I’ve had fun singing those songs karaoke style myself, but I’m not sure anyone expects karaoke to be moving.
I know there’s a fair bit of imitation in other styles of music as well, and again, I’ve been guilty of trying to sound like Joni Mitchell (which would annoy her by recent accounts, but not so much as if I sounded cheerful). Even when I’ve written songs I sometimes notice influences from other artists and find it hard to be truly original. But I guess in my own typical folk/roots/singer-songwriter circles I find artists who seem more genuine somehow. I wrote a blog post a while back called Sharing Your Soul, and I think that’s something I really value in my favourite music. It helps that I go to venues where the artists are well chosen and there’s an honest even occasionally haphazard vibe at times. I’m sure the team at Tower of Song would wish well to other promoters of up and coming live music and to be fair, their range of music includes plenty of blues and some Celtic soul as well.
I really don’t want to be mean-spirited to young artists who are still forging their own style or finding their audience. I understand how critical it can feel to amass Twitter followers and YouTube views but I like it when it seems like people are actually interested to connect with you rather than just wanting to boost their stats. I did feel a bit old at the gig – not least because I’m not used to standing up for 3 hours but also I think all the artists were younger than me. I think my favourite track of the night was J P Cooper’s ‘Colour Me In Gold’ which had a bit more of a singer-songwriter feel to me.
It is a challenge to be authentic and there were some good attempts at tackling deeper issues including losing friends too young. When you’re trying to perform at your best then it maybe feels like a contradiction to be the real you. I think this definitely carries over into other areas as well – I’ve got into discussions in the past about how real Christians are being if they keep presenting themselves as the person they feel God wants them to be. I guess the willingness to be vulnerable that I find attractive in others isn’t so easy to practice myself. Perhaps you need a supportive audience, not someone who will criticise you for trying to sound like someone else or show off (sorry guys) but who will applaud your attempts to be genuine and encourage you to give your all.