And the beat goes on — literally — or at least the controversy does about what constitutes good music. In the documentary Diary of a Decade, the issue is expertly examined and arrives at some very definitive conclusions. Directed by music aficionado Jason Orr, the film features the music that generations of black and white Americans have sung along to with an uplifting familiarity. What is good music, and what’s missing in today’s music is (drum roll, please) — soul. That assertion is backed up by a cavalcade of hit makers and music icons, which include Dallas Austin, Erykah Badu, Jill Scott, David Anthony, George Clinton and Raphael Saadiq, just to name a few. Coupled with commentary from Dr. Cornell West and Dick Gregory, Orr has carefully crafted a masterful film that journals the songs of an era that gave rise to groups like Earth, Wind & Fire and The Isley Brothers. The Savannah-born and Antigua-raised director admits, not only did he assemble the best of the best for the film, he also honed his talents and cut his teeth in the company of greats. –roz edward
What did you want to accomplish with Diary of a Decade?
To tell a chronological story about black culture, as it relates to the dissolve of soul music, and the movement known as the FunkJazz Kafe in Atlanta. Hopefully, the film will wake us up and make us aware of what’s happening, and how the music progressed and digressed simultaneously.
How do you connect with people who aren’t familiar with the music you’re talking about?
All we have to do is reboot. Sam Cooke, Gladys Knight, the Jacksons are in our DNA. … We’re talking about Cameo, Slave, ConFunkShun, Earth, Wind & Fire, The Isley Brothers, Brass Construction … and what happened. You don’t hear anything like that anymore … and why — because we don’t cultivate it.
What, in your academic background, prepared you for this?
It’s funny. I went to Northside High School, and I just attended my 20-year reunion. I applied the skill set I developed there and applied it to making my brand. There were a lot of folks like DJ Talib Shabazz and Travis, who choreographed This Is It and taught both Michael and Janet [Jackson] dances. Our class was just full of super talent.
What do you think of today’s music?
As I watched the BET Awards, I thought “We’re at the end. We’re at the end of the Rick Ross, Rihanna, Nicki Minaj era.” A layman can look at these people and say, “This really ain’t talent. It really ain’t good.”
Note: The film continues to tour around the country at public screenings to sold-out audiences, in Atlanta, Los Angeles, San Francisco, Philadelphia, Detroit, and Dallas, followed by New York, London, and Honolulu in early 2013. The film has been officially selected by the Pan-African Film Festival, the Philadelphia Independent Film Festival, Atlanta Film Festival, BlackStar Film Festival, San Francisco Black Film Festival, and DocuFest.