One significance of traditional folk songs that I was told by my Aunty goes like this: It’s from a story. There was once a man who realized that he has not been good to his wife. But it’s not in our Naga nature to express apology or affection easily and openly. So, he composed a folk song which says, “One cannot change one’s ugly looks, but one can change one’s bad character”, He changed and since then, he remained loving and caring to his wife. Folk songs are a medium of communicating things which cannot be expressed in normal conversations. My critic of the music remains but I’m able to appreciate it better after hearing that story.
There may be a guy who thinks that everyone likes Kenny Rogers ( I know one such guy). If there's anyone who doesn't, he/she ought to love Rogers. When I was in Patkai, the vocational students used to have Christmas concerts. But even if they sing difficult songs and classical music of the highest quality, very few would show up to attend the shows. When a band shows up which sings popular gospel or secular songs, it’s always houseful. Now, someone may blame the musical shallowness and the ignorance of the crowd. But will that be a wise thing to do?
There seems to be frictions between traditional and western music, and popular vs. ‘serious’ music. The churches in Nagaland are trying hard to promote indigenous music. Western secular music is thought by many to be a tradition destroyer, of low moral and a rebellion breeder. Instead of imitating the west, therefore, we should bring out songs that are authentic to our culture and tradition. However, this does not go down well with the young ones who are totally hooked to western music and reinforced by the media attraction. Some people try to reconcile the two through fusion music.
In my personal opinion, it wouldn’t be good to make a big fuss about the argument between western and traditional. We will always look for what we love to listen and will produce what we would like to listen. Traditional music when created well will attract people to it. We don’t love all that is western anyway. Also we can produce very good music which belongs to the western genre without the guilt of imitation. A time may come when the west would borrow our tune.
Now between popular and ‘serious’ music; by ‘serious’ music, I refer to the music literates and I didn’t say popular vs. classical because the ‘serious’ musicians/music lovers are not confined to the classical music. If I have to generalize, the ‘serious’ music people look at popular music as cheap and shallow while the pop music people look at the former as ‘boring’. Music appreciation is a very subjective matter and there is no authoritative judge to decide the case which is better than the other. Appreciation deepens and matures with knowledge but it would be unreasonable to try to educate the masses to ‘read and write’ music. For a farmer who returns home from a day’s work and turns on the radio, the local songs serve the purpose of his entertainment.
This brings us to the purpose of music. If I remember correctly, Ronald Pen talks of three levels of listening (though they are not tightly compartmentalized levels). An example of the first level is going to a concert and simply enjoying the show. The second level is where the listener appreciates the technical aspects of songs like the chord progression, harmony, keys, flats and sharps etc. The third level is where the music inspires and transforms the listener. Music can be used for meaningful purposes at all levels: relaxation to the farmer after work, stimulating creativity in the composer, and bringing people to surrender their lives to the Lord. This life transforming capability of even imperfect music has to be acknowledged. Also we should develop our skills, so that we present our best for God’s glory. In all cases we should respect and provide space to thrive, music that we have no ears for.