Tuesday 3 August 2021

Mary/ Mary J. Blige (1999): Albums of my Life: an A-Z

 spending hours of my time, in my room listening to albums like this one. At age 15, I was on an R n B/ soul train, browsing the comparatively small, devoted section in HMV like my life depended on it. It's not like we had Google, so I would get to see some music videos on MTV Base and then I would go from there just following artists through artists. If someone collaborated on a track of a singer or band I liked, I'd hunt that artist out. Or if I heard a snippet of something somewhere that caught my ear, I'd try and investigate, often taking a gamble on an album just based on hearing part of a song or the reputation of a singer or group. Some R n B and soul was brought to me through the mainstream charts-- but,  more than many of my friends-- I sought out music of black origin in a big way. There was nothing that came close for me in terms of the romance, the sweetness of the harmonies and the sexiness! 

From a young age, I listened to Michael Jackson's back catalogue with an affinity for the way it dove in and out of pop, soul, disco and funk. Of course, as a pre-teen, I'd never have given my passion for music a second thought, in fact, it's only as an adult that I realised that music obsession (listening to albums from start to finish, lying on your back on your bed, eyes closed; skipping back to a certain riff over and over to mentally assimilate the beautiful vocal acrobatism of it) is not something everyone does. But this is what music of black origin does for me. I say 'music of black origin' deliberately because as I've got older, I realise the importance of that. The far-reaching influences of R n B (from jazz, gospel, swing and blues) tell part of the history of its foundings; however, the context of racial segregation and discrimination can never be overlooked. From oppression comes solidarity within communities, creative power and a powerful sense of ownership.

Whilst Mary J. Blige's 'Mary' was part of a soundtrack to my own youth, it is my understanding that Mary J. Blige and other black female artists like her are not only iconic, but imperative role models within the African-American communities and beyond.