Expand your musical horizons


     Music is an essential part of our lives. It’s the soundtrack to our situations, it exposes us to stories from a variety of people and brings people together during unfortunate circumstances. 

However, one thing I’ve noticed during my 19 years of life, is that while music brings people together, it also seems very segregated regarding certain genres. 

People of different ethnicities claim a music genre as their culture’s own. 

We’ve all been guilty of this. I recall back in elementary school the anger I had with a white classmate of mine for reciting lyrics to an Ice Cube song I had heard on the radio. This negative feeling I had toward him stemmed from how I saw other black people treat fans of hip-hop who were not people of color. 

Years later, similar feelings were directed toward me when I attended a friend’s quinceañera. Tejano and Latin music filled the entire venue. Being a black man, I felt that in order to feel comfortable in an unfamiliar party atmosphere was to dance along to the music. It wasn’t Michael Jackson or Lil Wayne, but it was music. 

The stares I received from other attendees ranged from confusion to pure disgust that a black man felt entertained by music that includes a language that he doesn’t speak. It made me feel dejected. It made me question why I’m so willing to accept other cultures if they won’t even accept me dancing to their music.

We as individuals limit ourselves to great amounts of closed-mindedness by listening to what we classify as our music. That night as well as observations throughout my life were examples of this ridiculous musical/cultural ownership philosophy we have. 

What I encourage people to do is to expand their musical consciousness by experiencing other genres that aren’t necessarily associated with their cultures. In the summer of 2016, I stopped listening to hip-hop completely and began listening to a genre I never listened to unless I was playing Guitar Hero or watching wrestling: rock ’n’ roll.

When I began my musical expedition, I was curious as to what exactly would rock and its sub-genres had to offer. I dove deep into Van Halen, Slayer, Rush, Pantera, Primus, The Red Hot Chili Peppers, Motörhead, Metallica and many more bands. 

One thing I learned is that being culturally uncomfortable does more good than you’ll ever know. I grew to become a huge fan of the aforementioned Metallica during this period of time. I grew to appreciate through them that there’s certain parts of musicianship in all genres that you can’t get from the others.

The wailing guitars, the kicking sound of the drums, the heart-dropping heaviness of the bass and the unique voice of a vocalist gave me a feeling I couldn’t get from listening to rap, pop or jazz. It felt that a story I could relate to was being told but in a different way. A more aggressive, up-in-your-face approach. 

My ears were exposed to an unfamiliar sound. In turn, it allowed my brain to comprehend that what I originally thought of as nonsensical noise is actually a poetic expression of emotion, just plugged in. 

I encourage as many people as possible to get uncomfortable and expand your cultural horizon through the art of music. If you’re black, plug in some headphones and listen to a little metal. White people, open your eyes to the struggles of black people by bumping a little gangsta rap. Latinos, open your ears to the easiness of jazz. 

I know, at first it may seem like your ears can’t take it. The loud noises, the vulgar language and the unfamiliarity in general may suck. But it’s worth it when you come out of the experience knowing more about music than just what your mind had previously allowed you to know. 

Music is an art. Some art is abstract: It’s difficult to understand on a first glance but becomes less complex the more you allow it to explain its meaning to you. Music is the exact same way. One song is not going to fully explain to you what makes a genre great. The deeper you dive into it, the more you start to understand what attracts a large following to a genre and will have you asking, “Why didn’t I listen to this earlier?”      

Take yourself out of a content state from a cultural perspective and allow music to do what it was designed to do: bring people together.