Listen to this track by funk-soul voice of conscience Curtis Mayfield. It’s ‘Future Shock’ as taken from his 1973 album Back to the World . This is a song that muses on the state of the present world, characterized by poverty, inequality, and hopelessness, and how it will impact the coming world for future generations. It is another poignant, and extremely funky, wake-up call from a voice of one generation to the next.
Curtis Mayfield is regarded as something of a visionary, not only as a musician and a songwriter, but as a figure in soul music that took the genre itself to another level. Mayfield’s political motivations are the fuel to much of his music, starting from his anthem ‘People Get Ready’ with his group the Impressions. That song took a gospel convention of deliverance from the world into the next, and made it more worldly, where deliverance is still hoped for, but rooted in the here and now in this world.
Mayfield was a writer of conscience, clearly interested in being a voice of his community, and even those outside of it. Yet, he was a musician interested in putting across an appealing sound, and solid songwriting as well. He follows the instrumental template of the Superfly Soundtrack, his most recognized achievement, pretty tightly here. But, there’s no harm in that, seeing as it had become a distinctive sound for him, with funk-soul grooves contrasted so adroitly with an orchestral string arrangement. And as also per his approach, Mayfield aims his socially conscious eye to the thread of history, and to the plight of a generation, and the one to follow.
This is what this track is all about. Concerns for the rapidly changing world and the relative cultural unpreparedness to support that change was a reflection of socio-political sentiment of the time, reflected in turn in Mayfield’s work. Even in academic circles, these ideas were being expressed in Alvin Toffler’s book of the same name, Future Shock released a few years before the release of this song. The state of the world is no different today, with drugs in inner cities, and now in suburbs too, along with seemingly endless conflicts abroad that present young men and women as fodder for war machines.
Even if Mayfield’s wah-wah guitar and funk-soul textures are decidedly, and wonderfully, rooted in the sounds of the early 70s, the problems which he is singing about certainly are not. We have a new year and decade before us. Maybe this will be the year that technological innovation and social consciousness are brought to the same level, when the types of solutions that technology presents, and the minds behind those innovations, can be applied to making our world a better place.
Happy New Year!
For more information about Curtis Mayfield, and for more music too, check out curtismayfield.com.