What makes us like music?

Ive always wondered how people talk about liking certain ‘type’ or ‘genre’ of music – and not liking certain other ‘types’. What makes us like certain music… and not like something else? And why do others like that something?

Ive grown up listening and admiring all types of music/songs. (But yes – please do not include bands like backstreet boys etc. Because if you do like them – then you really shouldnt be reading this. This post is about music.) My earliest memories are of Dev Anand songs and the awesomely cool tunes of Shammi Kapoor. Even now, listening to them on the radio brings a smile to my face. I then moved on to more western stuff – being introduced to Pink Floyd at a very early age (and very obviously, not understanding a shit of what that music was – and that led to that tape never having gone beyond Another Brick in the wall part II) – and listening to Enigma – Bryan Adams (because at that time it was very cool to know ‘Everything i do’)

Those were the days of school – when u are in the age when you start having crushes on every girl that even looks at you. The days when you recorded cassettes and gifted them to girls you liked – and obviously, they were filled with mushy romantic numbers of the times – Nothings gonna change my love for you…. Hello… etc. etc…

And then i moved to college – where i matured into listening to (and finally understanding) Floyd, Deep Purple – and other typical college-getting sloshed-type of bands. This didnt mean that you had stopped listening to Bryan Adams or Bon Jovi – you still had those cassettes in your stash – but – you kinduv did not talk about it. Just kept it to yourself. Please forgive me.

And then you graduate further. It becomes no longer cool to headbang and get drunk listening to floyd. You become a wine enthusiast. So then – you start listening to Pavarotti – and Cafe del mar when you have people over (because you stop going out).

And this brings me to the crux of the matter. I do not believe that people actually like or dislike a particular ‘type’ of music. The liking or not-liking probably depends on a lot of factors. Mood being one of them. Situation being another. And how about people around you? Where you live? What you do? Everything in a way. Everything around me influences what i listen to and what i enjoy at any particular time. And i believe so it is with everyone else.

Music is inbuilt in the human body. Are brains are wired to make us feel elated on hearing music. And just like certain things are said to be ‘universally’ beautiful – so is music. Each human being knows music – and knows when an artist goes wrong. Its just very mystical to even think about how every human can make out melody from discord.

I came across this very interesting video of Bobby McFerrin (The guy who sang ‘Dont worry be happy’ – and no, he is not dead) in which he does a small experiment using the pentatonic scale – and proves how every human being has a basic understanding of music.

Its just weird how something youve never heard before just catches on – and you keep listening to it until you cant get enough of it. And it happens even when it is completely unrelated to your past experiences. I had never heard or liked or even tried to understand anything about african music ever. But this year, at the WOMAD Abu Dhabi – i happened to hear two groups –

The first was Habib Koite – if you have a copy of windows XP or above, look up the free music that comes along – Yeah.. u never knew it was there did you? Habib Koite comes from Mali – sings in african – plays guitars that he fashions and builds himself. Plays along with a bunch of extremely talented musicians – who use anything from tables to sticks to create music.

I was lost in awe of the music. It was probably the most awesome musical experience i had had. But then – was it just the music? Or was it also the people i was with? Or the fact that it was live, on a beach? I guess it was all these factors  – all together – that just clicked and enhanced the music that was playing.

Thats the entire gist of this post i guess. That its not what you listen to that makes you like something – its how you listen to it. You have to have some amount of alcohol in your blood to truly enjoy Floyd. You need to have a glass of wine in your hand to understand Pavarotti – and you need to be in a car driving, to be listening to Highway to Hell.

I leave you with the second group i heard at WOMAD. The Royal Drummers of Burundi. They left me open mouthed. In awe of what i had witnessed. The thumping of those drums actually moves you – you literally feel the vibrations in your heart. And you cant help but admire the skill and talent of these guys – from a country you probably never even heard of.

1 comment for “What makes us like music?

  1. Kiran Sethi
    June 2, 2010 at 3:24 pm

    Just to add to this list – Wake Up Sid and Kaminey which you only listen to when you are with Rey!! Mom

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