Last night I had the pleasure of seeing Ladysmith Black Mambazo in Olympia with a friend, and it brought to mind something I have noticed before, which is how the voices of men in song are missing from our culture. I’m not sure exactly how to explain this, because I’m sure you can immediately think of all kinds of genres, such as rock and roll, pop, etc., where men are prominent. But it’s not this basic – unembellished, deeply male, powerful singing.
I have heard it other places too – on Anoushka Shankar’s albums of Indian music (for example, “Rise”), in Peruvian music… basically in world music. But not ours. Our male voices are almost always counter-culture – not a strong presence of or within the culture. Just being men, who they are, expressing their basic essence with their voices. The only good examples I can think of that give me the same feeling are black spirituals from the South – but again, those are African roots and African-American voices, raised in opposition to (or spiritual endurance of) the dominant culture of the time. Maybe it’s no surprise that my favorite American music now is blues.
So where are our voices? Where are the male voices that represent my culture – Norwegian, French, Welsh? American? Did they ever exist? Or is that not our way? Perhaps they are heard in fishing tales, in heroic stories, in myth rather than in song.