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Music, Milestones and Memories

Recent losses have had me wondering about the power of music. Long (post) lockdown walks attached to my iPhone while streaming endless playlists take me back to my good old days and remind me of some lessons for these not-always-so-good days.


Songs and music take us back. Who can ever forget the first song they danced to on their wedding day? Or the hymn that had them sobbing by the graveside of a departed loved one?

Music – like scents – evokes the most powerful memories, dragging half-forgotten events and incidents out of the storeroom of our minds.

Nothing captures the essence of a time or the mood of an era better than music. I remember as a child being awestruck by the stridently confident lyrics of ‘Young, Gifted and Black’. Instead of the lacklustre and patronising word ‘coloured’ that others used about us, we could, at last, say the word ‘Black’; shout it out loud, claim the colour with pride and make it ‘our thing’!

While it won’t pay the bills or guarantee you job security, music can put you in a different space and take you to a better place.

As a young child growing up in independent Ghana, although far away from the struggles of apartheid South Africa, I still felt the pain of our oppressed black brothers and sisters when my father would play his icon Miriam Makeba’s heart-breaking record ‘Khawuleza’. I remember how the sadness and loss in her voice filled me with outrage at what was being perpetrated elsewhere in Africa against our own.

And as adolescents living in London, while we weren’t physically part of the civil rights movement fighting for equality on the urban streets of the United States, we recognised the bewilderment and anger in the words of Marvin Gaye’s ‘What’s Going On?’ and we responded in our hearts and on the dance floor when Teddy Pendergrass, along with Harold and the Bluenotes, urged us all to be part of a global change for the better in ‘Wake Up Everybody’.

We mourned for lost leaders who died too soon when we listened to ‘Abraham, Martin and John’ and sighed for the kind of love Barry promised with ‘My First, My Last, My Everything’. We got on the ‘Midnight Train to Georgia’ with Gladys and stayed up late to watch the first televised screening of Michael’s iconic ‘Thriller’ video.

And who, in my generation, can forget the sense of power and optimism that we felt as we hit the dance floor to ‘Ain’t No Stoppin’ Us Now’. We could do anything because we had the funk!

Motivating Memories

Fast forward to today. Those shiny New Year resolutions have mostly crashed and burned by the wayside, our jobs look shaky as businesses struggle to survive a pandemic and economics, unpaid bills pile up and – at least, for those of us in the West – gloomy weather leaves us suffering from the seasonal affective disorder that is so accurately termed SAD.

But while it won’t pay the bills or guarantee you job security, music can put you in a different space and take you to a better place.

Music can help you remember and recapture the mood. Remember when we picked ourselves up from a bad romance and soothed our battered spirits by singing along to Gloria Gaynor’s ‘I Will Survive?’ And how we were soon back to strutting our re-energised selves to Aretha, and demanding ‘R-E-S-P-E-C-T’?

As Jean Cocteau wrote, “All good music resembles something. Good music stirs by its mysterious resemblance to the objects and feelings which motivated it.”

Feeling blue? Let Bill Withers remind you that today too can be a ‘Lovely Day’. Recapture the joy you felt when you first listened to Stevie Wonder blast out ‘Sir Duke’ and let the optimism you felt yesterday give you a new take on today.

Feeling discouraged? Let Labi Siffre’s ‘Something Inside So Strong’ remind you what you’re made of.

Not feeling the love? Listen to George Benson’s ‘The Greatest Love of All’ and re-learn that valuable lesson about loving yourself.

Trust me - it works.


Author of the novels ‘Imperfect Arrangements’ ‘From Pasta to Pigfoot’ ‘From Pasta to Pigfoot’ and ‘From Pasta to Pigfoot: Second Helpings’ and the books I Want to Work in… Africa: How to Move Your Career to the World’s Most Exciting Continent’ and ‘Everyday Heroes – Learning from the Careers of Successful Black Professionals’

*Updated from a previous Editorial

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