After asking Eric’s permission and getting the “okay,” I decided to write this post on Kevin Olusola, the beat boxing cellist, who Eric posted about a few weeks ago. After seeing the Danielson Family Band documentary in class today, I was even more inspired to write this post. There were a few comments on whether Kevin’s beat boxing and combined cello playing was truly creative, or simply beautiful, entertaining, or maybe just fun. I personally think that Kevin is extremely creative, and hopefully in this post, I’ll be able to explain to you why.
According to our class’s definition of creativity, the product that the creator creates must be novel, or new, and solve some sort of problem. And I think that Kevin’s music does just that.
As was mentioned in the comments, I am sure that Kevin did not come up with the idea of beat boxing and playing the cello at the same time. I’m sure that he wasn’t the first human being to ever try to do this. I completely agree. But in all fairness, Gandhi wasn’t the first human to come up with the idea of nonviolence; his ideas stemmed from Jesus. Martha Graham wasn’t the first person to come up with dancing; she learned from others. And the Z-boys weren’t the first to get on a skateboard and invent the sport. The reason that Gandhi, Graham, and the Z-boys are seen as creative is because they reinvented their field. They permanently changed their domain. They put a little bit of themselves into their work. They put their own spin on things. This is what makes their work novel.
Gandhi was the first to implement the ideas of nonviolence on a large scale and mobilize the masses. Graham was the first to dance the way she did. The Z-boys were the first to skate in their own unique style. And Kevin Olusola is reinventing music one note at a time. Maybe you haven’t heard of him yet, but a lot of people hand’t heard of Gandhi, or Graham, or the Z-boys when they were first becoming popular either. The point is, that just as other creators that we have studied in this class didn’t necessarily invent something brand new, but reinvented it by putting their own spin on it, Kevin Olusola is doing the same. He says, "I want to sing through my cello, I want show people that a cello can sing just as well as any artist." Maybe people have been beat boxing and cello playing for awhile now, but I know I haven’t heard of them. Kevin Olusola is bringing this type of music to the main stage, to pop culture, to Christian music. Just as the Danielson family was creative in it’s approach to Christian music, Olusola is creative in his. He is combing a type of classical music with modern day hip hop, and reaching all sorts of people in the process. And to me, that’s something quite creative.
Now to solving a problem. I feel as if this argument is more difficult to defend because it depends on what one actually views as a problem. What problem was Martha Graham actually solving by dancing? It’s not as if someone would have died if she had not “invented” modern dance. (No offense to you studying Martha Graham- I think she is awesome and extremely creative, but I’m just saying.) You can use the same argument with my post from last week- Qmilch. If Anke Damaske wouldn’t have invented Qmilch, would someone have died or the world ceased to exist? Well no, but she was still solving a problem of skin allergies, people’s comfort, etc. What problems were the Z-boys actually solving? One could argue that they “made” problems as they pushed themselves to their limits and tried to invent new moves. But like I said before, this part of the definition is trickier, because it depends on what you define as a problem.
In my opinion, Kevin Olusola does solve a problem with his beat boxing. To help explain, I should tell you: I’m a Christian, (please don’t stop reading my post right now just because I said that) and I enjoy listening to Christian music. And I’m going to be honest with you, a lot of it sucks. If you even agree that there is a “Christian genre” out there as Daniel alluded to today in the documentary, then most of the music that comprises the genre is not very creative at all. Chris Tomlin’s “contemporary” songs all sound the same, but if I just listen to old hymns from my grandmother’s time, I don’t get much spiritual-ness out of it. The Christian band, Gungor (who Kevin played for on tour, and I saw live this past October) describe Christian music in their blog. They say that Christian artists many times follow these rules:
“Use whatever musical style you wish as a medium to communicate your message. It’s not about the art, it’s about the message. So use whatever tools and mediums you have at your fingertips to do so. If you want to reach emo kids, then sing emo music but with Jesus language. The problem with this is that emo music is not simply reducible to certain sounding tones and chords. There are emotions and attitudes of different genres of music that are the soul of the music. You can’t remove the anger from screamo and have it still be screamo. It’s the soul of that music, whether that soul is good or evil is not the point, simply that it is the soul. So when you remove the soul from music and transplant the body parts (chord changes, instrumentation, dress, lights, and everything but the soul…) and parade it around with some more “positive” lyrics posing as Christian music, then what you have is a musical zombie.”
So in my opinion, there is a problem. And it’s that Christian music sucks. As Gungor said, to so many Christian artists, it’s not about the art, but about the message. There’s no soul, there’s no originality, there’s no uniqueness. And Kevin Olusola is helping to change that, much like as we saw with the Danielson family today in class. When I saw him in concert, and the crowd literally went silent when he began to play, I was awestruck by his talent. He was using his gift of playing an instrument, along with his ability to beat box to help reach people. And when bands like Gungor, John Mark McMillan, Chris August, and other people with genuine talent and not auto-tune (this goes even into secular music), lyricists, and their own personal back up band, can help reinvent an industry, and take a stand that Christian music can be inspiring and good music, too, well, that’s creative to me.
Kevin Olusola may not have invented cello beat boxing., but does it make it any less incredible that he didn’t? When you Google “cello beat boxing” he is the first person to come up anyway. He’s adding his own spin to the industry, to his field, to his domain- just as other creatives we have studied did before him. And he’s helping to solve the problem of worn out, passionless, “failure to inspire” worship music; not even brushing on the fact that he is bringing new life and passion to classical music, which to many has a connotation of being boring or only for old people. Maybe not everyone in the public agrees that he is creative, but people in his domain are taking notice. In fact, “after Olusola placed second in an international music competition… renowned cellist Yo-Yo Ma called his celloboxing performance "inventive and unexpected." ”
Kevin says about his talent: “I love it; it's something that the Lord gave to me and I want to see what I can do with it."
Now to me, that’s creative.