By Roxann Yus | 10/08/22
Pride is sought after. It’s a quality of belonging and the feeling of success after many trials and tribulations. It’s working in the face of adversity and surprising all of the people that never believed in you. Some live with pride easier than others – they’re the lucky ones. Others can live the same lives, and often go the extra mile, and yet still find that, apparently, only modesty ‘suits’ them.
“But have some modesty.” What even is modesty anyway? Apparently, it’s the state of being unassuming in the estimation of one’s abilities. My next question: what’s admirable about that? Don’t we all want to assume our abilities and be confident? So then, if the music you listen to, and the artists you support, do not estimate their own abilities, then our relationship with music loses much of the power it’s capable of.
Music is capable to empower, inform, educate, and challenge status quos. That demands assumption. Punk music, especially, cradles all of these things fearlessly in its arms. It’s evolved from glamorising drug abuse and breaking guitars on stage to a political movement accompanied by creativity. Now, its abilities must be assumed all the more seriously. We’re done with talking all things anti-monarchy and instead stripping politics back to the ground. We care less about who wears a crown and instead care more about who’s been robbed of such gold. There’s no more distance between issues. The writers of the music are doing so in the face of adversity, sharing their experiences on a platform that was never designed for modesty. So why on earth is it expected of them?
Bob Vylan are a punky two-piece hailing in from the UK. Right now, I’d say they are the closest media outlet we have for real news and social justice. Their 2022 album Bob Vylan Presents The Price Of Life not only discusses their experiences as black men in the UK but also showcases how educated they are on UK politics. They are conscious and critical of how little UK politicians estimate their abilities, and how little they’ve provided to working class and marginalised groups. Therefore, if that’s modesty, let’s not praise it, ey?
Their album goes against the grain of what a punk album traditionally looks like and talks about. One particularly striking motif is their praise of healthy eating. Many of us associate the punk lifestyle with drugs, sex, and alcoholism. But Bob Vylan disassociate the genre from that altogether. They’ve made punk music emotional; they’ve turned punks into empaths and activists rather than trademark troublemakers. And this is especially why critiques of modesty against this band have come to my attention.
The ability to empathise, appreciate, care and love each other is rare to come by. So, why perpetuate little assumption of our human capabilities? When white people preach all of these things, especially, of course, with their ‘trademark’ non-violent, non-explicit and ‘pacifist’ language, they are praised as heroes. Take a look into the rock and metal community: While She Sleeps have created an immensely influential platform based on all of this. They strive for justice in their communities. And when they find justice, i.e., reaching the UK charts and being heard for their messages, they preach “POWER TO THE PEOPLE”. Now, Bob Vylan take a slightly different approach, but the reaction appears strikingly different.
Becoming a top-20-charting completely independent black act, they preach power to themselves. As they should: they’re making history. However, some of their responses included begging for “some modesty” from them, as well as disrespecting their space and climbing on their stage to pull them down from this, I guess, ‘undeserving pedestal’? But of course, these critics are “not racist, they’re just proud”. And although quoting Bob Vylan here, I don’t strictly mean proud to be British and sprouting with national pride. In fact, I mean they live with pride easily. They don’t need to assume themselves because the world has always assumed too much of them. They stand on a pedestal of ingrained ‘ethics’ and superiority, and as long as they’re pacifists, they certainly couldn’t be racist.
Well, racism doesn’t just take physical and legal forms. Violence intrudes on social values and justice too. Social values that may not be so obvious but totally ‘ingrained’ into one’s mind that they couldn’t possibly be racist. At least that’s their excuse for asking for modesty from successful black artists. Yes, you may not have “meant it like that”, but what did it mean in the first place? It meant a hierarchy. An expectation. A perpetuation of the struggle to achieve pride.
But despite how painful it must be to endure casual racism and disrespect during their highs and successes, Bob Vylan have responded to these critiques with maturity and so much respect. They are head-strong, forward-thinking, ambitious, mindful, brave, and truly proud. But to be proud isn’t always the same as having pride. A journey to pride demands the respect of everybody, whilst proudness can exist within yourself and yourself only.
The price of pride is high for those who have, for a very long time, been left behind and underestimated. It is something that must be continually fought for. This comes hand in hand with education, open-mindedness, empathy, and bravery. But fortunately, we all have the control of finding this proudness in ourselves, independent of the cruel world around us. This is what I call, with much aid from Bob Vylan’s recent album: the Pride of Life. This life is yours and nobody else’s. It’s yours to assume your own abilities, no one needs to have a say in it at all.
A massive shout out to Bob Vylan for continuing the fight towards pride. You’re incredibly important.
Side note: I support and admire everything that While She Sleeps create and achieve. I have used them as an example with no intention to put them down, but rather to exemplify the responses and reactions towards different acts within the rock and metal community.
Please support black artists such as Bob Vylan by checking out their recent album Bob Vylan Presents The Price Of Life. Similarly, Nova Twins have compiled a playlist called Voices For The Unheard which features a fantastic selection of artists, all of whom are people of colour.
Edited by: Roxann Yus
Cover image photographed and designed by: Ben Massey