Te’s Corner: Music Unites Our Timelines

By Donté Clark

I was speaking to an elder one day. We discussed the difference between our generations while sipping a cold drink.

He listed things that changed over the years, from when he was coming up. From segregation to integration. Great migrations from south to west and the understanding that the whole village raise the child.

He experienced those drastic changes over 50 years. I’m only in my 20s, but we both agreed on the plight of black Americans, and how each time period brought on new challenges to the same struggle.

Black folks have been resilient and creative through centuries of white supremacy and oppression. Although we’ve come far in pressing towards equity, there seems to be a saddening turn for the worse in our community.

While the elder and I settled on a long pause, some oldies played behind us. Catching the rhythm followed by the words, we both smiled as “My Girl” by The Temptations filled our silence. The elder bobbed his head, snapped his heavy fingers, looked at me and said, “That’s music.”

I listened as the elder reminisced about the soul in music from back in the day and it made me reflect. What role does music play in our lives, and how does it reflect the moral character of our community?

We know about spirituals freestyled by our fore-parents in the fields, expressing their woes and proclaiming their hopes towards freedom in an unforeseeable future. Music in the 60s gave voice to black empowerment and collective mobility and encouraged freedom fighters, riders and writers to keep on keeping on in the face of Jim Crow, angry mobs with white sheets, and police K9s.

Judging by the elder’s tone, he thought less about pop music today.

Picturing everything he said with such conviction, I thought of the artists now that speak of killing, getting money, buying cars, and expensive clothes. The only freedom I hear artist speak about is owning their masters.

Through music, I can hear the heart of each time period, what trail of tears were left behind for us to follow. But also drugs, partying and a player-pimp bravado.

Besides what some may say is or isn’t music, I hear its beat playing in everything. It’s the sounds in all aspects of living.

The taste it leaves on the words of beat poets and a good Sunday preaching, and the high notes of crickets on a warm autumn evening. A blue jay’s psalms heard through a cracked window just before dawn.

It’s in wind chimes in the distance pierced by a dog’s bark, mixed with an early flow of lawn mowers and airplanes passing by overhead. The wailing horns of Amtrak and whistling BART trains through the Iron Triangle of our Rich city.

It’s the sounds of people always on the move and others finally getting some rest.

It’s in the repetition of midnight snores vibrating through walls from a roommate’s dreams, and the soft breathing of a sleeping toddler. Hearing grandmamma hum the tune of Aretha Franklin’s soul cry out for a little respect.

Tuning in and out of the elder’s words, I randomly select figures walking past and wonder what beat they move to.

No matter our thoughts on music new or old, it remains the one thing that connects us all. It moves us to tears at a loved one’s wedding or a home-going. Multiple generations and cultures come out to the dance floor, sweating in harmonious rhythm.

They smile wide like an elder snapping heavy fingers sipping a cold drink while The Temptations drip cool from a car stereo off in the distance, as the O.G. smiles at a younger fellow and says, “That’s music.”


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