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October 07, 1994 - Image 8

Resource type:
The Michigan Daily, 1994-10-07

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Harper speaks out on music, unity

Ben Harper's life is all about chal-
lenges. Challenging musical conven-
tions and challenging himself to do
what is right by himself and his music.
The 25-year-old Harper is ready to
speak for himself, and because of his
different influences, he has the poten-
tial to speak for a generation. His style
is something like Tracy Chapman's,
but with more powerful rhythms. He
A brings together the most unlikely influ-
ences and creates a great mix.
Harper's debut album, "Welcome
to the Cruel World," is a mix of acous-
tic blues, folk and a touch of hip-hop.
Folk music and hip-hop? Before all
K you folk fans and hip-hop fans turn the
page, take note of the possibilities of
thecombination. "I love to hear a guitar
and voice and then I love this thick
} groove," explained Harper. "To bring
those two together in me - it's a
challenge. I definitely have a closer

association to hip-hop than I do folk. I
find people in the world of hip-hop to
be much more open minded than acous-
tic people are to other types of music.
I'm open to good music."
Through a post-modern, hip-hop
eclecticism he builds his songs. This
complexity is what makes his music
fresh and it is a reflection of Harper's
His different cultural influences
were there from birth. "I'm black and
I'm white," said Harper. "My mom is a
Jewish woman, my dad's African. SoI
don't dip into anyone's side. You know,
I'm on the side of goodness."
A phrase like "the side of good-
ness" may sound a bit self-righteous,
but Harper does not claim to know all
the answers; his musical style is not
preachy. Within the context of his
music, or even in conversation, his
message is two parts from the heart and
only one part heady moralizing.



Harper's concern for social and
political conditions such as education
comes out in the form of observations,
as opposed to specific demands. "We're
taught at a young age you've got to play
these notes, (at) this time, you've got to
color with these colors, in these lines,
instead of teaching each other unity,
equality, getting along. You know,
blood is blood. A heart is a heart."
It's not surprising that he is focused
on unity, since his musical challenge is
to unify eclectic styles into a coherent
form. Indeed, his music stands on its
own. All the way through "Welcome to
the Cruel World," the music's raw fla-
vor comes together, blending his plead-
ing vocals with gritty acoustic riffs and
a bumpin' drum set. He successfully
combines the intellectual with the
Despite the album's strong mes-
sages, the sound vehemently obliter-
ates any pretentiousness. Songs like
"How Many Miles Must We March"
bring together Harper's simple and
sophisticated lyrics with his new genre.
The track is about marching in circles,
an anthem which expresses both cyni-
cism at the 1960s and determination to
keep struggling. Again, divergentideas
come together in a happy marriage.

It is clear he takes his lyrics seri-
ously. Trying not to name any names,
but clearly concerned with the mes-
sages that rappers are putting out,
Harper puts both his and their lyrics in
perspective. "You have to live with
yourself and the words that you say,"
said Harper. "Reality, it distorts right
and wrong. Morality is so subjective,
it's the challenge." This is where the
challenge reaches the personal level.
As Harper searches for his correct moral
path, he takes us along for the ride
through his music.
If there is one thing he does know,
it is that music is where it's at for him.
When he speaks of the potential of
music as a form of communication, his
eyes light up. "I just think it's amazing
that music can be understood," ex-
claimed Harper. "It'samazingithasno
barrier ... It's powerful stuff." His
musical confidence is balanced by
thoughtfulness. When asked what he
needs in life, he said, "for me to need
anything more then I already have
would be taking what I have for granted.
I need my family, I need my music, I
need my friends. I need for me to live
my life through my conscience."
The challenge is fusing his cultural
backgrounds and his musical tastes;

the result is a satisfying and refreshing
unified whole. Ben Harper is focused,
and his solid first album and powerful
personality reflect that unity. Reflect-
ing on life, he said, "It's just so much to
a day you know. There's just so much
to every day." He's meeting the chal-
lenge and he's doing his best to soak up

Ben Harper sees music as his own form of communication. Deep, huh?

S Poy~rwn GRMRY
n au~f3WgMAN
01"94 PuIy6m ~rriilk GEWL
R , ". 4.AANw a mr-r I". A-Go44' "'I ''ew
2:00 4:00 6:00 8:00 2:00 7:00
Stanley Kubrick's A Clockwork Orange
Friday and Saturday at 11:45 pm
Starts Friday October 14 - A Tale of Winter
Starts Friday October21 - Killing Zoe
2:00 Saturday, Sunday Only - 11:45 Fri & Sat Only

every minute of it.
BEN HARPER wi libe opening for
Luscious Jackson at St. Andrews
Hall Saturday Night. Doors open at 8
p.m. and it's an all ages show.
However, the concert is sold out. If
you do have tickets, get there early
for Harper's performance.
CMA honors
songs and stars
On Wednesday night, the Country
Music Association hosted their 28th
annual Awards presentation. While.
there were no stars who hogged all of
the awards, the CMA produced a fine
show, highlighting most country mu-
sic stars of today and tomorrow. Like
every other awards show, the CMA
stars all wore red ribbons in support of
AIDS and continuously praised their
supportivefans, but unlike mostawards
shows, this ceremony only presented
12 awards; instead, the night was de-
voted to showcasing country music'
stars with over 21 live performances.
Vince Gill hosted the ceremony
and, after a lame start he became the
star of the final half hour of the broad-
cast, performing his new single and
winning the Male Vocalist of the Year,
for the third straight year, and the top
prize, the Entertainer of the Year.
Reba McEntire, who was nomi-
nated for more awards than anyone
(six), remained seated for most of the
ceremony. Her performance of her
current hit, "She Thinks His Name is
John," was the most classy act of the
night, but she only won Vocal Event of
the Year for "Does He Love You," her
duet with Linda Davis (who should
have won forshortest dress ofthe night).
In the surprise of the night, Pam Tillis
beat Reba and other better singers in
winning the Female Vocalist prize.
Brooks &Dunn obviously won their
third straight Vocal Duo of the Year
award and performed one of the best
songs of the night, "Little Miss Honky
Tonk," a new cut from their latest CD.
Clint Black also shined, singing his
remake of the Eagles' "Desperado,"
accepting the award for "Common
Thread: The Songs of the Eagles,"
which won best Album, on behalf of ?*
the dozens of stars who contributed to
this remake album, and leading off the
performance of Merle Haggard's
"Workin' ManBlues," partofa tribute,
to Haggard, who was inducted into the
Country Music Hall of Fame.
While Mary Chapin Carpenter un-
fortunately won no awards, her perfor-
mance of her newest hit, "Shut Up and
Kiss Me," was the overall best act of
the night. Each time she sang here
chorus, a knock on a door in the back of
the set would be heard and a different
artist would be waiting to sing her
chorus in their own unique way. The
final knock was by Little Richard, who'
performed the blues classic "Somethin'
Else" earlier in the night with Tanya
Tucker, who concluded Carpenter's;
song by planting a smacker on her lips
and leaving with her through the door. "
See CMA, Page 9

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