By Howard Dukes
October 6, 2007 – It’s hard to make positive, uplifting music. Let me revise that: It’s hard to create music that causes the listener to think and elevate his or her spirit while remaining lyrically compelling and musically enjoyable. Anybody trying to make what gets labeled as “conscious” or “positive” music carries the burden of trying to accomplish all of those things, and many artists buckle under the weight of those expectations. The problem is that some artists are so self-consciously positive and uplifting that they lose all of the nuance, irony and metaphor in their lyrics. Their music becomes propaganda. Uplifting propaganda, but propaganda nonetheless. A lot of people want alternatives to the nihilism and cynicism that pervades the lyrics and subject matter of mainstream music, but they don’t want to be preached to.
Look, folks probably needed music to be explicitly positive back when the Impressions made “Move on Up” and James Brown dropped “Say it Loud (I’m Black and I’m Proud) during the Civil Rights Movement. Those songs also had the advantage of featuring funky melodies and memorable hooks. That doesn’t mean people no longer need inspiration. They also want to sing a catchy hook, tap their feet and maybe even dance. They want music they can play while driving their cars, or when having dinner with friends.
On her latest CD Changes, Inohs Sivad shows that she knows how to use nuance, irony and metaphor in her lyrics on songs like “Brown Eyed Susan” and “Out of the Barrel.” “Brown Eyed Susan” explores the gnawing insecurity many people have that they don’t measure up to society’s standards. Sivad uses the metaphor of being a Brown Eyed Susan in a garden of roses to make the point that all creation is beautiful without saying that – you know – all creation is beautiful. “I was born in a garden of roses/For so long/I thought my yellow petals were wrong,” Sivad sings. Then there’s the music, which on “Brown Eyed Susan” is as visual as it is melodic. The whirling violins create a picture of flowers blowing in the wind.
On the song “Out of the Barrel,” Sivad laments the tendency among some black people to sabotage the dreams of their brothers and sisters. This has been called the “crab in the barrel” mentality. The song’s reggae beat adds a sense of happiness that is augmented by Sivad’s lyrics. “Moving in confidence/A steady pace/Won’t hustle out my people As I elevate/Join me in the great escape/Come on/ We’re getting out the barrel tonight.”
Sivad shows that she also knows how make a love song – which is another shortcoming music critics see in today’s music. Love can be inspirational – or at least it should be. As much as R&B and soul singers approach the subject, it would be nice if an artists made the listener feel good about that mix of emotions love can make us feel. And let’s face it, one of those emotions is physical attraction. Sivad doesn’t get explicit on the song “Never Known,” but she does get real. She makes her intentions clear on this mid-tempo gem. “What’s your fantasy/I can show you beauty beyond all your senses,” Sivad coos.
The superficiality of contemporary music means tunes rarely explore Eros in all of its dimensions. Singers tend to keep their focus on the physical – reaching (and not too high) for simple metaphors such as comparing the objects of their desires to cars and animals. But even erotic loves exists on multiple levels. It may start with the physical, but evolves into something that can become life altering. That’s where “Changes,” the title track and best song on the CD, takes the listener. This makes the listener remember how they felt when they met that person who exceeds all expectations. The song’s arrangements are intentionally sparse – featuring a flute and an upright bass that demands that the listener lean in close to hear what Sivad has to say. And again, Sivad gets right to the point. “Years pass/Three, then six, then ten/You laugh/It might not happen again/You live/Not knowing what life has in store/And then/Someone walks through the door.”
Changes is not a CD that will get played in the club, but if you looking for something that manages to be life affirming and artistically pleasing, Sivad’s disc is one you’ll want to buy.