An instrument of music
I always saw the voice as an instrument. It can be beautiful, but if it’s not properly used, or if doesn’t carry emotions, I won’t connect with it; exactly like a technically amazing guitar riff won’t do anything to me if technic is all it is. And that applies even more so than the other instruments, in the way that the voice is unique. To add a bit of context: I don’t know why, I never hear lyrics. I have to concentrate on them, or in the case of my favorites songs, listen to them more than a thousand times to remember some parts. For me, the voice is an instrument of music, literally. When I listen to a song, the voice blends with the others parts. It’s not words anymore, it’s sounds.
The fact that lyrics don’t come directly to me is part of why I’m very okay with instrumental tracks. Sometimes, I listen to one hour-long versions (here, or here) of a 5 minute instrumental. It’s not really relevant to this article, that’s just me being weird. It’s also why I don’t find annoying the way Hamed Sinno sings, because it’s sounds, not an accent. He is an example on how to make the best use of your voice.
Jónsi from Sigur Rós may not be the best example for my next point, as he also sings like an angel, but he is a guy whose music I love so much, without understanding a word he says. Imagine a world where Sigur Rós has a disadvantage because they sing in icelandic and even… invented their own language. It may sound like it’s a barrier, and it actually is for a lot of people, but it shouldn’t be that way. I love the Portuguese on Bossa Nova songs, I fell in love with Buika singing in Spanish at Sziget, and I don’t listen to a lot of hip-hop, but I very much like the Italian of Willie Peyote.
Artists also use their voice in innovative ways. Everyone knows ‘Midnight City’ by M83. When I read the title, the synth resonates in my head. But the synth is actually Anthony’s voice that he sampled and modified. Another one of my favorite bands, Arcade Fire, has a lot of moments when they go “Ooooo ooooo”, “Whooooo, wooooo”. Not so much of an innovation, but to show that you could say anything and make it sound great. The most obvious example is ‘Wake Up’. Sometimes they don’t need lyrics, but to use their voices as instruments. Pitchfork explained it better here.
Speaking of Arcade Fire: to be honest, they don’t have the “best” voices. Win and Regine are no Adele. But they have the perfect voice for Arcade Fire. In ‘Sprawl II‘, Regine sings “they heard me singing and they told me to stop, Quit these pretentious things and just punch the clock“. I don’t have the context, but It could be that it’s because she doesn’t have “the” voice. But she has so much emotion in her’s that it really doesn’t matter. You have to witness Arcade Fire perform ‘In The Backseat‘ to see the magic of Regine, singing ‘Alice died’.
An instrument of change
Not so long ago, I started focusing on lyrics. A sentence that I hear, one that I read while making research, another one that I look for when I realise that I’ve been singing it wrong. It’s a slow process but it’s on its way. It made me like some songs even more, so I’m working on it. But I don’t want to force it.
Taken with the context of the album, some words can make you cry:
“Did you get enough love, my little dove
Why do you cry?“
Here, Sufjan Stevens sings the words of his mother on her deathbed. Fuelled by grief, his album Carrie and Lowell is amazing. The lyrics humanize the music.
Grief, but also love. Maybe now more than ever, the world needs romance. And our very own Zedd Amin from Taxi 404 has the words for us. Three extracts from his solo track ‘Hola Guapa’ always connect with me deeply:
“Le monde pleure car il ne te connaît pas“
“On s’enlace mais j’serre le plus fort“
“Loin de toi les années passent comme des années“.
Amin himself would argue that music doesn’t need a message. I won’t oppose him, just thank him for making me feel. And it’s not even happy-love. It’s heartbreak-love. But music has this power to transform sadness into happiness. So I’ll take that.
Nekfeu was most probably my gateway to appreciating lyrics. I remember clearly the night where I got (into) him. It just clicked. I only needed to focus on ‘Humanoide‘. One of the greatest songs ever written, and ever produced. The whole album is a masterpiece, but this song is so heavy with well-thought metaphors. So real, so full of realities that you never admitted to yourself, let alone to others. Long but not long enough. It’s one of the few songs that I stop and repeat after 30 seconds because I was listening to the music and not to the music + lyrics.
Some lyrics also resonate more with the social context of the world we live in. I always liked the song ‘The Toy’ from Big Thief, but I liked it even more when I read that the “toy”, so innocent at first is actually a gun, and the song is about gun violence. I see, and feel the song differently, for the best. I like music so much that the emotions a track conveys is enough for me. But the message is a nice plus.
Now that I said the word ‘social’, I finally get to my point. I am a progressive, and we live in an era where the conversatives are actually regressive. Fighting is a duty, and music is a tool. When I saw videos of Lebanese people in Martyr Square with ‘Killing in the Name‘ playing on loud speakers, I understood even more the power of music. It was so appropriate, so true.
Singing about social injustice is good. It makes people talk. Because only talk make things move forward. But even more than in the lyrics, artists have a social responsability to speak out. Not only they shouldn’t hesitate to use their reach to pass messages, it is their duty. Music is great, it is a necessity, but it’s also a luxury to be able to get goosebumps and happiness with it. Some people don’t have that chance.
If speaking out brings one vote in the right direction, so be it. Do it. Artists of the US, it is not ideal to have another centrist democrat in the white house, but what will happen to the world if Trump gets four more years. Artists from all around the world should use their voice to help society go on the direction of acceptance and love. Famous singers of Lebanon, you don’t even deserve to be mentioned, but I will use this opportunity to shame you. If only you followed the path of the alternative scene.