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Written byNina Tshabala

Illustrated byLia Pikus

Exploring the immense power that the Music we listen to holds.

“I love myself”, “happiness is within me”, “I am capable” – whether we say these phrases every morning or once in a while, most people are aware of daily affirmations or the power of the words you speak to yourself. Something you say to ease your anxiety or hype you up for an important pitch – the more you repeat it, the more you believe it. Ditto if you sang your way to confidence with “Don’t Stop Believin’” or “Bad and Boujee”. The music you repeatedly listen to becomes your mantra, becomes your mood, and can even become your personality. The dictionary defines “MANTRA” as “1. (originally in Hinduism and Buddhism) a word or sound repeated to aid concentration in meditation; 2. A statement or slogan repeated frequently.”

It’s a well-known fact that sound translates to form in the process of Cymatics (if you don’t know, well now you know). One way to demonstrate this is an experiment (that you can find videos of on YouTube) – where scientists use a metal sheet with something like salt or sand on it and place it over a speaker. When the music plays, the sand rearranges into different patterns. Each frequency creates a different pattern, and each sound has its own pattern. This means everything you hear – from the sounds of nature to all the sounds at a metal-rock concert – each frequency will have its unique pattern.

The music you repeatedly listen to becomes your mantra, becomes your mood, and can even become your personality.

This experiment demonstrates what happens in the brain when we hear sound, specifically music: The “patterns” signal information and energies in our brain; energies become emotions, which produce chemicals that arouse the senses – and we respond to the emotion with our body. For example, when we hear a song that makes us want to dance or when we listen to another song that aids meditation. One song may make me feel love but someone else, nostalgia. In this same way, certain songs can heighten anxiety or cause depression or even heartbreak to persist.

When we listen to music with lyrics, our brains don’t only process the sounds into energy and emotion, they process the words too. It’s just doing its job. However, the mind doesn’t make a distinction between the things you say about yourself and the things you say about someone else. So the words you sing… are about you. We’re not thinking about the musician’s life when we sing their song, we’re thinking about our own experiences. Whether you’re conscious of it or not, the music you listen to becomes who you are. An easy example of this is how music influences fashion. Or how the music you listen to in the morning sets your mood for the whole day.

A more extreme example of this comes from an episode of a show called “The Mind: Explained” (Netflix) called “Brainwashing”. A woman explained how she became a Neo-Nazi. She was heavily interested in counterculture and that exploration led her into the Punk-Rock scene. Together with the music she listened to (Punk/Rock, Heavy Metal and similar), the books she read, her entertainment – she would then surround herself with people who had similar tastes. As she got deeper into the scene, she was introduced to people she describes as “Skinheads” – more violent and, like the group she ended up calling her friends, advocated for white supremacy. But only five months prior, one of her favourite books was the autobiography of Malcolm X.

Now, this isn’t to discourage people from exploring different genres. I’m not suggesting you listen to Jazz in the morning, either. (Although, why not?). This is not about your taste in music – beauty is in the eye of the beholder. But, as artists and beholders, how conscious are we of the power of music? How can we practise consciousness in the music we make and/or consume? Artists – can a song help us deal with heartbreak without promoting toxicity towards ourselves or others? Can your music make us dance without glorifying alcohol and sex, or even blowing money (because, omg in this economy, stop it!)? Beholders – if your New Year’s resolution was ever “New me”, why are you still singing/rapping about your bad habits? And sometimes? Sometimes we are sad, anxious, or depressed because of our playlists. 

I wanted to consider the power of music through a musician’s perspective and I spoke to Elie Bandekele – Co-Founder of ‘The Acoustics Africa’; Model; a stunning musician and a dear friend. ‘The Acoustics Africa’ is a live event that gives artists a platform and an audience for their art. If you’ve already released, or want to release, a body of work and need a platform to market it – The Acoustics Africa is your guy. Their last event, held in early 2023 at “The Beach” restaurant in Rivonia, Johannesburg, brought singers, rappers, violinists, DJs and Elie himself.

NINA: Your journey in music started with beat-boxing? I think the only performances, though, were in your Primary School Talent Show? Tell me about that.

ELIE: Yes! I remember watching SA’s Got Talent and this guy named George got on the stage and said he was going to beatbox. Prior to that, I didn’t even know beatboxing was a thing and you could perform it. I was impressed and I just decided that I could do what he did. That was actually my first taste of doing something artistic.

NINA: Seems like art was a great exploration because you taught yourself guitar and you told me that, at first, you didn’t know you could sing!

ELIE: I really didn’t! Well, I could carry a note but I didn’t consider myself a singer. Then my siblings started telling everybody I could sing. Eventually, I joined the church choir and got familiar with the band. I would watch the guitarist, Mitch, then go home and try to mimic what he did to teach myself. Eventually, he bought me my first guitar.

NINA: Tell me about the music you grew up to?

ELIE: Congolese Christian music. This is why the church choir was an easy avenue. But my eyes opened to the scope of music in Primary school. I’d spend the afternoon at my friend’s house and he listened to EDM. That had an influence on my beatboxing and even my fashion – I was wearing Tommys, I was stepping! My friend had older siblings who listened to 2000s hip-hop and 90s RnB. When that held my attention, all I was wearing was baggy jeans and oversized shirts.

NINA: Do you have a song from childhood that stuck with you just because it sounded nice but when you consider the lyrics now, you’re like “I had no business…”?

ELIE: Confessions – Usher. I had no business. 

NINA: If you think of today’s chart-topping songs – the vibe, the lyrics, the visuals – how do you think unconscious listening could affect individuals and society as a whole?

ELIE: Have you ever overheard someone singing a song you don’t know and the words just make you go “What?! Do they hear themselves?!”. I feel like there already is an unconsciousness because the way people view certain things doesn’t come from nowhere. Like handling conflict – people choose violence because their music chooses violence. Certain conversations become normalised through song – like the sexualization of women by both male and female musicians. Or shyness away from certain subjects – like God or love unrelated to romance. We don’t always sing about those subjects out loud, so how do we talk about them with each other?

ELIE: I think of Christian music because it is encouraging music. For you to be encouraged you have to repeat it, it has to be understood. The more you meditate on it, the more you’ll believe it and I think that’s what a mantra is. But I know that is true about all music. If you repeatedly listen to a song that says “I’m a dog” or “I’m a player” – you’ll eventually prove it.

NINA: Do you think music can foster healing? Do you think genre matters?

ELIE: Music is subjective. I believe it can foster healing no matter what genre it comes from. Music comes from people, not genres. Genres are for the music business. I believe music can foster healing because it is spiritual; it speaks to more than what you look like or where you come from.

NINA: Three artists that influence your artistry?

ELIE: Tom Misch; Robert Glasper; John Mayer.

NINA: Three songs that point to your personality?

ELIE: Sing About Me, I’m Dying Of ThirstKendrick Lamar; MAKE IT HOMETobe Nwigwe; Family and LoyaltyGang Starr ft. J. Cole.

NINA: Three songs that give you courage or hype you up?

ELIE: Hate It Or Love It50 Cent and The Game; Pound Cake – Drake ft. Jay-Z; ClocksColdplay.

For more of our Visceral features, click here.

For more of our Visceral Features, click here.