Life Without Music? Calling All Detectives, Illuminati At Large, Interpreting Prince

I'm going to guess here that proportionally speaking the year probably hasn't been all that dramatic. If anything, advances in medical science are keeping more and more people alive for longer than ever before.

Although it is being said jokingly, most people are at least somewhat concerned that 2016 has brought the Grim Reaper a bumper crop. All because the celebrities are dropping around us like flies.

This past month has been an unpleasant oboe in the music industry. The sudden death of the artist formerly known as Prince got the world in a purple panic.

Worse yet for the African diaspora, Papa Wemba went and turned his toes up a few days later.

Speaking of Papa Wemba, the man has managed that rarest of feats: He died doing what he loved doing, in front of a large and enthusiastic audience. No quiet fading into the sunset for this veteran, this ambassador of Congolese music and fashion for lo so many decades.

I guess the glorious death in much of human history has been that of a warrior, but for the creative class perhaps the sheer poetry of being taken through the veil during performance surpasses that of a sword in hand.

We must all go sometime, but how many of us get to go with a sudden elegance rather than the slow wasting away that life-extension offers? He died a musician's death indeed.

So yes it has been a bad year for celebrities. And for some of us of a certain age (the ones who actually remember watching Michael Jackson when he had his natural Bantu nose as opposed to having "heard about him" via YouTube) it has been a bad couple of years for celebrities.

I came across a comment on social media made by a delightful grouch who asked: "Why pretend to care about an individual's passing if they had barely any impact on my life and I didn't know them anyways?"

A fair protest, especially in our celebrity-obsessed modern culture, against the ritual hysterical performance of mourning that far too many people engage in. But there is probably something this individual didn't consider.

Every person who creates cultural products is affecting and improving the flow of human intellectual and social life in some way or another. There are always some lines of descent, culturally speaking, especially now that it is so easy to share products.

Take Prince, for example: He wasn't by any means the first androgynous man to wear tight clothing and glitter while bridging the gap between all the children that the Blues produced and Rock. Or Pop, or Hip Hop. He and others like David Bowie were channelling from the same source as much older performers like Little Richard and James Brown. All of whom are direct descendants of the music that the Africans brought with them across the Atlantic, along with that most important ingredient: A slick beat.

Even if these people don't affect us in a direct and personal way, they improve our quality of life immeasurably. Imagine life without music? Impossible, says the generation that is constantly plugged into their headphones, sampling from the works of those who came before to create new music.

Imagine life without the Tabu Leys and Madilu Systems who paved the way for Koffi Olomide, still indisputable king of Congolese modern weirdness and magnificence. Imagine a world without Congolese fashion and the impossibly seductive rhythms of Soukouss and Rhumba?

Having attended uptight events where the merriment of hip-shaking music wasn't welcome, I can personally assure you that life wouldn't be much fun without certain kinds of cultural products.

Maybe we know all this in our collective unconscious, because with every celebrity death comes the inevitable conspiracy theory. We try to confer immortality on celebrities and are overwhelmingly shocked when they turn out to be people who ail, who make terrible life choices, who are prone to accidents and other completely mundane ways in which the grim reaper collects souls.

My favourite is when the Illuminati headcases come out of their caves and start making even worse analyses of symbols than the novelist Dan Brown could ever hope to do.

Which doesn't mean that there isn't a little part of me that hopes against hope that Michael Jackson did actually fake his death and is enjoying a peaceful middle age somewhere quiet - his gift to himself for years of gruelling service to music and dance.

SOURCE: The East African