Listen to this song by British ambient soul-jazz duo Zero7 with a prime cut off of their 2001 debut album. It’s “Likufanele”, and the album in question is one of my favourites of that year, Simple Things.
It’s been argued that this band created some momentum in a new form of easy listening. I suppose that can be argued pretty well. It’s true that Zero 7 can now be heard in places that you once found a lot of easy listening stalwarts. Yet, if this is the case, then maybe easy listening just got more interesting. Let’s take a look at this piece which seems to be mixing African choral music, with 60s Burt Bacharach orchestral pop, with 90s trip-hop. As much as I hate the idea of ‘functional’ music, if you’re stuck in a dentist office waiting to be fitted for headgear, you could do worse than hearing this piece.
But, before you think I’m damning this tune with faint praise, I’d like to say that there is something about this song, and the whole album in fact which just resonates with people – even with music snobs like myself. Here’s my theory.
There are people who go about their lives not noticing music playing. When they’re at the supermarket, the coffee shop, the gym, the spa, wherever, if there’s music playing they don’t notice it unless it’s innocuous enough to cease to ‘function’ wherever it happens to be playing. Zero 7 works for them, creating a mood for them to ignore the music to. Then, there’s people like myself.
I notice music everywhere. Every place I go, I am distracted by it. I can’t ignore it. So, for me it has to be good, not just functional, not just aural wallpaper as I go about my daily life. It can’t be boring, either. Zero 7, and ‘Likufanele’ (translated from the Zulu, meaning ‘it suits you’…) work for me, too. I love the enmeshing of the voices as they build-up, the warm sounds of the flugelhorn and the vibraphone, the sumptuous strings, the jazzy 70s flute, the spacey synths, and the Fender Rhodes piano. And I like the repeating chord structure, that seems to activate a memory of childhood which I can’t quite put my finger on.
Some types of music are easier to listen to than others. But, just because its ‘easy’ like this, it doesn’t mean it has to be uninteresting too. I think it takes a certain amount of skill to be able to strike that type of balance. And that is the key to Zero 7’s success.
For more information about Zero 7, check out the Zero 7 official web page.