A few weeks ago, on learning that Vivian Green will be coming to Nairobi for a show, someone asked me a rather interesting question.
“Are you not writing about Vivian Green coming to Kenya? is it because she soul’d out?”
I knew about Vivian Green coming to Kenya a while ago upon which I made a comment on twitter to the effect that, her 2nd album was more of RnB and that she seemed to have shed the Neo Soul side of her that I liked and instead embraced a more ‘pop'(popular) tone to her music.
The debate of what is Neo Soul and what is RnB is one that is not ending anytime soon but for someone who knows their music, the ear tells it all. There is that intuition that determines my take on a song.
As a poet, hearing a song whose lyrics do not hold a deeper meaning and are meant to be understood the way they were sang, I tend to become quite critical of musicians who switch from Neo Soul to RnB. This is in no particular undue reference to Vivian but many artists who start out with that Soul feel then somehow loose it somewhere. This can sometimes happen if the producer/agent/manage who the artists engages do not have the artist’s best interest and thus become very commercial oriented. There is also the pressure to remain relevant thus an artist if forced to release half baked songs.
Very few record labels can respect an artist’s wish to take a 10 year break like Sade and Maxwell did.
I had an interesting discussion with DJ Eric yesterday on this same subject. I interviewed him some time back as he quite knowledgeable on not just music but the journey of an artist who starts out as unsigned and eventually gets signed on to a major record label. He gave me an example of Alicia Keys, Angie Stone and lately Maxwell.
My take is that, Neo Soul as a genre that is trying to stand on its own is going through the same challenges that RnB and New Jack went through having come from classic Soul. There are those who will fall by the way side and those that will remain true to their art.