HOme Away FrOM HOme
Growing up in Africa as a young girl my only link to America was through the popular music that played through the few radios my family owned. By all intents and purposes I knew no English words besides that of artists such as Michael Jackson who's music covered the distance of continents. American popular music has had a profound impact on me at every stage of my life. Through its many different genres it has been the soundtrack to my every emotion, situation and relationship. I know I speak for many people in my life when I say music has shaped the way I think, act and in many cases live. A good song can challenge us all to do better i.e. "Come Together" by the Beatles or encourage us to let it all go and have a little fun i.e. "Just Dance" by Lady Gaga. Music has done a lot towards limiting the differences between us all, it brings people together and gives people the opportunity to really understand one another. Whether it is a privileged person learning a little about the ills of living in the projects around the world through hip hop music or a Muslim learning a thing or two about a different God through Christian gospel music, our eyes are opened and our opinions challenged through this major form of entertainment.
When I came to America I quickly learned that popular music was a way of life and through the lyrics of songs people found refuge, made friends and communicated with one another. The biggest artists were those who seemed to be able to communicate the most basic human emotions in a melody that everyone could readily remember. American popular music was not just for Americans. I can remember the first birthday party I attended in the States and being very nervous because I had only been in this country for a small amount of time and was looking to make friends but feared not knowing many of the games played and not being able to relate to the music. So imagine my joy at hearing Michael Jackson's song Bad as I walked in the door and being able to sing right a long with my peers although I was still having trouble remembering basic English words and sentence structures. On that day music helped me close the gap and made me feel included. Fast forward to my matriculation through junior high school in which, to say the least, I was very far from the swan I grew into and often times felt overlooked by the boys I went to school with. After having a long crying spell and talking to my best friend in depth about not feeling attractive, she played for me a song that I will always hold dear to my heart. She played TLC's "Unpretty" in which the three girls sing "...You can buy all the makeup that MAC can make/But if you cant look inside you/ Find out who am I to/Be in the position to make me feel so damn Unpretty", I cried and never felt bad about myself again. Music was there for me in that moment for so many moments after that.
Throughout high school music continued to shape my existence. Because I did not have the same upbringing as so many of my peers I often time used music to fill in the blanks that created the difference in how we all were brought up. Going back and listening to the artists and songs that my friends referenced as they shared memories of where they were or what they had done made me feel a little less like an outsider. Music was the glue for my sticking on to the culture of American youth. It helped me open up and feel accepted into this world that was so foreign to me for so long and it continues to do that for many people as they make the journey to America. American popular music has created a language that is universal like math and science. It is as important as anything taught in schools today because it encourages unity and highlights differences instead of blacklisting them. Popular music is important to me because it helped to give me an identity in this home away from my home.