The Musical Other
Ameer expresses his views on the coloured rock band member and their role in a predominantly white scene.
Before venturing into the inside of the venue way after midnight, I meet a white guitarist that I’ve seen somewhere before. He wasn’t anything out of the ordinary as far as local guitar players go because otherwise I would have remembered his name. “Hey, mate,” he says while heading on out. And I ask him of the whereabouts of his destination. “I think I’m about to head off home now. There’s not much going on down here” he says. I wish him well for his trip home and thereafter, I give a signed greeting to a bassist I know. This particular man of colour usually tends to my musical needs; him being a customer assistant at the local guitar store. I ask if his band is playing tonight over the loud din from inside. His response is that I had just missed them, but he made mention of another band playing inside. A live gig wasn’t my purpose that night but I decided to give them a listen while I wait for my friends to arrive. Afterall, the friends I was waiting for were all Muslim coloureds like me and this wasn’t the conventional scene where coloured Muslim boys hang around. But I considered myself an exception, for I had played at this venue a year ago with my metal band and I felt I had been accepted as an honorary metalhead. I had headbanged with metalheads whose skins were the palest of pale, of whose hair were the straightest, longest and blackest I had ever seen along with a beer-odour that was the most intense I had ever experienced. Also, I was well versed in rock discourse and this was apparent to the frequenters of this venue, given my faded Led Zeppelin T-shirt. I had been through the saltmines of the metal scene and felt quite at home with whatever was to happen that did not concur with the “skin-culture” imposed on me at birth. I made my way through the crowd to watch the band that destroyed the lovely evening silence.
They were a mediocre rock band at best – simple guitar lead melodies played over standard power chords. The singer/guitarist sang in strained high-pitched vocals as if he was still struggling with the vocal handicaps laid upon pubescent males. The pseudo American accents and mannerisms on stage could but stifle a yawn from the most musically tolerant of gig-goers. I seemed to be the only one with this point of view as I witnessed the crowd singing along until I asked the coloured brother in the sound booth about the band’s particulars. “Some crap band from Cape Town,” said the sound man. I stood and analysed the gig further to pass the time. Eventually, I felt something strange about the ambience of the place. On paper, it was the same type of gig as every other at this venue, but I then realized the oddity of this event.
There was not one white person in the room. The band, each individual in the audience and the aforementioned soundman were people of colour. What really puzzled me was the fact that I was in a room with all my own people, yet I felt out of place. I was used to standing around white people at a gig while taking comfort in the fact that I was a non-white with some sort of credibility. There is no question that in Cape Town, rock and metal are genres with a predominantly white audience and played by white people mostly. This is also a stereotypical association as well as a fact. The stereotypes of this would be that coloureds have a genetic predisposition to not ‘understand’ rock, metal, punk and similar white genres, and at the same time are only physically able to enjoy ‘their’ genres such as hip hop, rap and R ’n B. This stereotype works in the same way towards white people liking rock and being unable to understand these coloured genres. And hence, the barrier exists between the brownies with their Hip Hop and R ‘n B culture, and the whiteys with their rock and heavy metal. But why does this stereotype exist here in South Africa? The media definitely has something to do with these stereotypes being somewhat consistent with the global stereotype of rock being a white genre.
The media makes us associate good things with certain types of music via signs such as money, sex appeal and desirable automobile aesthetics with Hip Hop and R ‘n B whereas rebellion, aggression, epic guitar solos and big hair are associated with rock and metal. The main question here is why people of a certain skin colour seem to be compelled to listen to their stereotypical musical taste? It is as if people started to form unspoken cults where certain race groups abstain from a type of music because it is regarded as sacrilege to indulge in the ‘other’ genre from the ‘other’ racial group. This leads us to question the role of early musical influences in people’s lives and whether whatever is exposed to them while growing up is the cause of this dichotomization. Are people classically conditioned into liking certain types of music through a type of propaganda through the media from an early age?
I used to be a coloured music purist myself in my early high school days and anything slightly leaning towards rock was something to avoid. I would scorn at the traitors who indulged in the ‘other’ genre and whiteys who listened to ‘my’ music were infidels. I took music very seriously and this sense of rebellion aroused my senses. However, in somewhat of a revolution, I decided that Queen wasn’t that bad and slowly began to delve into the rock realm. I worshipped the song Bohemian Rhapsody for it was certainly musical genius and eventually found out that Led Zeppelin’s Stairway to Heaven rivaled it as the greatest rock song ever written. By the end of high school, I was completely into classic rock and by taking the Led Zeppelin route, I was exposed to heavier eighties metal. I gigged with hard rock and metal bands throughout university celebrating my official taste in music. All of a sudden, I feel as though I am an outcast. I am the ‘other’ in the type of music I indulge in and have now become used to it. I scorn at some for not being independent enough to decide what type of music suits them. I feel they should not be compelled to like any genre. I now am aroused in the rebellion against conforming to a particular genre. The response I got as a coloured musician in these types of bands was fairly good but I still felt as though I was the ‘other’. For example the other members in my band would not be stopped at the door having to prove they were with the band. I also felt somewhat special being able to truly exhibit my metal status as I eloquently churned out rock and metal riffs to a white audience while surrounded by whiteys onstage. As a crowd member, I once moshed so hard as to have achieved an offer to a free shot from a fellow mosher. I declined due to my religion and he in turn declined my suggestion of Coke as a consolation due to principle. This was another indication of the insolubility of my beliefs and culture with the metal scene.
The ‘other’ has excelled in terms of global music. Jimi Hendrix outplayed legends Eric Clapton and Pete Townshend during in the last four years of the sixties and is now regarded as the greatest and most influential guitarist ever. Eminem, a white blonde blue-eyed man, is now regarded as one of the greatest rappers alive. And there are many ‘others’ in our world such as Tom Araya, the voice and bassist of thrash band Slayer, and Kirk Hammet, the lead guitarist of Metallica. The response to these band members is similar to what I had experienced as being an ‘other’ on stage. It is a response that is not determined by the colour of your skin but rather the quality of your performance. If you please the crowd in any genre, you are doing your job.
On this reflection, I stand in awe of my situation in the crowd amongst my people of colour and watching a coloured band please a crowd. I ask myself if the ‘other’ still exists in this situation as I start bobbing my head to their songs. I think about the relevance of where they stand in terms of the rest of the Cape Town rock music scene and whether they could be regarded as a statement towards the scene. Afterall, even though their level of credibility and amount of musical exposure and experience is questionable, they are doing their job and expressing their views through the music they love. The ‘other’ in this sense is irrelevant because this is the common goal of all musicians.