S.O.U.L. on ice?

Cool note from Shellton Tremble

Recent programming changes on Clark Atlanta University’s WCLK-FM have longtime listeners worried that the place where hot sounds of traditional-meets-experimental soul and jazz is being cooled to tepid blandness. The station has shifted to a pre-programmed, smooth jazz format in an attempt to attract new membership.

At the center of the issue is the beloved 20-year veteran DJ, Jamal Ahmad. Long before Pandora, he opened ears to new music that local and international listeners were unlikely to hear on other local stations.

Like I mentioned in a previous post, activism is at our fingertips. As a Creative Loafing Atlanta freelancer, I have to shout out my colleagues who were on this from the jump. CL contributor and publisher of Slo*Mo Magazine, Carlton Hargro, set off the protests on Facebook with “WCLK: Save our S.O.U.L.” and a Change.org campaign to make sure WCLK supporters’ demands are heard. Hargro is proposing that WCLK allow Ahmad to direct programming for the entire station.

Staff culture writer, Rodney Carmichael, said this in his August 28 Crib Notes post:

“Between Ahmad’s original WCLK-FM show “S.O.U.L.” (Sounds of Universal Love) – which pumped a weekly diet of UK soul, drum ‘n’ bass and acid jazz from 1995 to 2005 – to his involvement as co-founder of defunct indie label Groovement Collective (which introduced listeners to India.Arie, Donnie, and others), Ahmad is a large part of the reason why Atlanta’s soul scene took over the world stage in the 2000s.”

Clearly, WCLK’s neutered background sound is a serious step in the wrong direction for a number of reasons.  First of all, in the past decade, digital stations have made radio an increasingly democratic space free of marketing boxes. Also, in Atlanta and other major cities, the smooth jazz format is a proven fail – with experts declaring the subgenre itself dead.

Unlike any programmed playlist on or offline, Ahmad combines his repertoire with in-depth cultural context, musical facts, live interviews and all-around broadcasting savvy. He knows what we need and want before we do and makes sure we get it right on time.

Like that Indeep disco jam, “Last Night a DJ Saved My Life,” S.O.U.L. fans can attest to how Jamal Ahmad has saved the day from the weeping and gnashing of teeth known as Atlanta rush hour.  His shows make us feel, think and jam no matter where we are. With every form of liberation, though, we know freedom ain’t free, so if the good folks at WCLK leave well enough alone, we’ll have to back it with increased membership dollars. Period. If we had to lose our S.O.U.L. to find it again we can say it was all worth it.

Image: Shellton Trimble So True Art

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Robin Thicke has blurred the lines between sexy and sleazy

I don’t know where to begin with Robin Thicke’s new video, “Blurred Lines.” The song itself, featuring Pharrell Williams and T.I., is a funky, soulful slide reminiscent of Marvin Gaye’s “Got To Give It Up.”

The lyrics and juxtaposition of nearly nude women with farm animals are where the problems lie. Thicke wanted to convey an image of women free from restrictive relationships with, “OK now he was close/tried to domesticate you/But you’re an animal, baby it’s in your nature/Just let me liberate you.”

Liberate? With three men in suits next to topless women? Where is the liberation in that?  Now, don’t get me wrong. I’m not a prude. Even the unrated version of Maroon 5’s “Moves Like Jagger” has quite a few mammary flashes.

The biggest difference is attitude. The Adam Levine-led vid has a much stronger air of self-assurance among everyone involved. The women in “Blurred Lines,” when not rhythmlessly prancing around a bale of hay, riding a stationary bike, or cuddling baby goats, appear visibly uncomfortable. One model practically shrinks away as T.I. brushes her hair during his raunchy verse, “Yeah, had a bitch, but she ain’t bad as you.” Really T.I.? To whom are you referring? Not your wife, Tameka “Tiny” Harris.

Which leads to another curious point. Thicke supposedly asked his actress wife, Paula Patton, for “permission” to launch this video, but there so far have been no reports of T.I. talking with Tiny or Pharrell conferring with his fiancée, Helen Lasichanh, on the content . Does that indicate that they are simply lesser participants in Thicke’s vision, or that it is weak for black men to consult the women in their lives on professional matters, particularly those involving the inevitably sexually charged art in R&B and hip-hop?

Unfortunately, the ends, or rear ends, don’t justify the means. Instead of a sexy career revival, (especially for Williams and Thicke), the trio comes across like dirty old men trying to push up on barely legal college girls. Thicke almost looks like he’s trying to up-sex his oft-compared, blue-eyed soul contemporary, Justin Timberlake, who spent a few months in media purgatory in the aftermath of the 04’ Super Bowl “wardrobe malfunction” incident with Janet Jackson – who suffered even worse, but that’s another story.

I don’t know where to end with this either, except to say that people like uncut videos, but Thicke could have done better. A lot better.

Take a look for yourself. This is clip is NSFW, so check it out before you go to sleep, not when you get to the office.