The question of whether a music form is a genre or not, and the difficulty in categorizing certain forms of music under genres, is what has goaded me to proffer a theory on the subject.
This piece is not necessarily to teach what should be, but to tell what is, and what has been practiced un-theorized in what I call music genre nomenclature (system for naming music genres).
“Genre is the term for any category of literature or other forms of arts or entertainment, e.g. music, whether written or spoken, audio or visual, based on some set of stylistic criteria.
Genres are formed by conventions that change over time as new genres are invented and the use of old ones is discontinued. Often, works fit into multiple genres by way of borrowing and recombining these conventions,” Wikipedia.
The Oxford Dictionary of English also defines ‘genre’ as “a particular type or style of literature, art, film or music that you can recognize because of its special features.”
We have music genres like reggae, hip hop, hip life, hi life, R&B, Pop, among others. There is also what is called sub-genres/off-spins or offshoots of most music genres. For example, dancehall and ragamuffin are sub-genres of reggae music which in turn originated from ska. Crank is a sub-genre of hip hop and azonto is a sub-genre of hip life.
But what are the parameters for creating a genre? What makes a music type a genre? Per the Wikipedia definition and others I have perused from other authorities, it is clear that there are yardsticks for determining a music genre but these are quite unknown to most people because they are not explicitly stated, hence this piece.
The first thing that makes a genre is instrumentation. A genre is determined or created by observing its instrumentation or instrumental composition. There is a difference between high life and hip hop.
The difference lies in their beat or rhythm, the musical instruments used and how they are played. While highlife employs the strings, horns, most times an ostinato of clappers or castanets, hip hop is mostly rapping and on hard kick beats.
We can also name a genre after a dominant musical instrument in the song. King Ayisoba doesn’t just do traditional music, he does kologo music, named after the kologo instrument.
Reggae has strong beats of the second and fourth in 2/4 and 4/4 time signature. This rhythmic pattern accents the second and fourth beats in each bar and combines with the drum's emphasis on beat three to create a unique sense of phrasing. But that is not the only characteristic of reggae.
Its message carries strong positive vibes than hip hop whose message is almost invariably wishy washy and self-centred. So ‘message’ is a parameter for determining a genre of music. Have you asked yourself why hip hop is mostly about self-politics? That is not typical of say R&B.
Coming home to Ghana, there has since been confusion of why Reggie Rockstone would name hip life as such when indeed it was hip hop that he christened hip life. A genre must have some uniqueness. I am proffering a third thing to be used as parameter for naming a genre, and that is language. We can create genres by the language in which the music is done. Reggie's concept of hip life was putting local language rap on any beat, be it high life or hip hop. In another breadth, he brought the second category of hip life which had English rap done on high life instrumentation. Even though this has been a point of contention by many, that remains Reggie's theory of hip life.
Gospel music is a genre, not just a descriptive form. Gospel music in general is characterized by dominant vocals (often with strong use of harmony) referencing lyrics of a Christian nature.
Its unique style of message makes it as such, so it is a genre of music. Anyone who thinks gospel music isn’t a genre of music may not have found out what the word ‘genre’ means.
To wit, once a music form has a special feature or special features that distinguish(es) it from others, it qualifies to be called a ‘music genre’.
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