billb-300x200Bill Banfield is a professor of Africana Studies/ Music and Society and director of the Center for Africana Studies and programs at Berklee. An award-winning composer, jazz guitarist /recording artist, and public radio show host, he has authored five books for Scarecrow Press on music, arts, cultural criticism, and history.


I don’t go to YouTube to learn music. I don’t want to wade through a bunch of electronically connected references that I know aren’t the real deal. I have little interest in pushing a button to discover the next new thing, but would  rather create a new chord, song, groove, and then take out a pencil and chart and orchestrate it. So let’s face it, there is a widening gap today between young people and the older folks’ “back in the day way.”

The creative exchanges gap is over internet access and gadgets navigation. In the gadgets and internet game, the younger generation has won. The issue I think is: what does today’s younger generation value? And is it able to parse out the tendencies inherent in free electronics usage and keep a distance from sliding into apathy for human interaction, respect, the value of time-tested processes, and good old-fashioned hard work and focus? But how can you focus when the lights blink so fast and furious and there is an “easy can do” push of the button?

The old-school generation has to be able to help build the bridge(s) over the troubled waters of current connections, commercial banter and the definitions of what’s forward in a sea of
spiraling rhetoric, rhymes , rudeness and reality rancor. In other words, there is more to love in our world because we have so much more to play with, it’s just we take less time to talk about and realize the fun is only in how you play the new game together.

The American Gothic is a very well known symbol of "holding onto until death, the old standards".

American Gothic is a very well-known symbol of “holding onto the old standards.”

We need a radical reboot of our creative aesthetic platform-program, if it is to be inclusive and connected to today’s generation, artists, audiences. Music in particular has never ever been so different in the way creative people can make it, take it, fake it, and shake it. It’s a completely different mix, all puns intended.

We simply have to create another “through wire hook-up,” because our traditional lines won’t connect. All studies show that the No. 1 event and enterprise that is meaningful and significant in the lives of this generation, is the web, electronic connectivity, and social media.
Which means most of the cultural codes, values, and the means by which we obtained success, are of little significance to today’s young people.

Most of the things we (anyone born before 1985) got excited about can be accessed through almost completely other means, or don’t exist as primary anymore. The shift is major modulation. For example, the ethics involved in preparation to aspire toward achievement is completely different today. “Digital natives” may acquire things or ideas through tribal social networking and sharing content. Here you notice a radical shift in the value of obtaining things and goals away from a more traditional “old school” orientation. Original, individual thought and critical thinking has shifted to shared platforms. The ethic that says you can achieve what you want because you have direct access has replaced an ethic that is prepared for appreciating the long haul and the aspiring hard work to make it in the world.

These seem like very different rules. But how will the bridge be built that puts in play sustainable exchanges in the two worlds, and where shared cultural codes are possible? That is the challenge today, because the economic, generational, and cultural gap has to be closed.

1982 Untitled [Angel]

Hip-hop artist Jean-Michel Basquiat’s work represents the post-modern psyche pointing to contemporary social condition. 

There are a few realities here. You cannot live in a world or society that you can’t talk about. You cannot talk about any change in that society without looking toward young people to be a part of that discussion and change. But change means a real consideration of our realities. The gaps today between young people and the older folks’ “back in the day way” can be lessened by having dialogues among artists/ teachers from both generations, and finding bridges that connect both groups ideas’.

So in music we can jam together, we can sing together, we can build some bands together, and we can listen together even if the tempos are faster, the volume is louder, the back beat is harder, and the melodies jump more and the harmonies aren’t sure.

The one thing that’s true: people out there love what we artists do.

Justin Poon