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Soul R&B: An Underrated Gem of Today’s Music

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Music has the power to change people’s moods, transport people back in time, and make life full of feeling — but no genre does it like soul R&B. Soul R&B serves as a testament to the human experience, encapsulating love, pain and reminiscence all in its rich, tender melodies. 

However, soul R&B is often overshadowed by trendy radio hits. The popularity of catchy hooks, streaming culture, and dance challenges in today’s music has made soul R&B appear outdated, unable to compete with what the general public loves. 

In a sense, soul R&B is supposed to be outdated. With its roots in gospel music and the rhythm and blues of the ‘60s, it is impossible to not hear a hint of nostalgia in soul music. The genre also involves more thoughtful listening than just humming along. It requires individuals to sit with the slower rhythms and vibrato-shaking vocals, allowing the depth of both to encompass their bodies and put them at ease. 

It takes a certain kind of skill from music listeners to appreciate soul music, especially when the days of legends like Aretha Franklin, Earth, Wind, and Fire and Sade are long gone. Thankfully, some modern artists carry the torch of these soul icons. Simultaneously reinventing and paying homage to the genre, they are gradually bringing soul back into its well-deserved spotlight.

Maeta, an up-and-coming 23-year-old soul R&B singer from Indianapolis, embodies the essence of bittersweet, ballad-infused soul music. Her music paints a vivid picture of the intricacies of a relationship: not just the good, but also the bad. Maeta’s light, otherworldly falsettos highlight the passion, exhilaration and security she cherishes in her partner. At the same time, the deep-set, low tone in her warbled runs emphasizes the unsureness and loneliness she fears for if her significant other leaves. The authenticity of Maeta’s instrumentals can be felt from a mile away, evident in the warm hollowness of bass guitars, soft yet resonant drum thuds, echoed snaps and sometimes more upbeat jam beats. Maeta’s recent 2023 song, “Through The Night (feat. Free Nationals),” is one of her dreamy concoctions, immersing listeners with how beautiful, yet raw, a connection can truly be if given time and effort to blossom. 

Amaria, another 23-year-old from further down in Tampa, Florida, revives the haunting, entrancing enigma of soul by recalling the dangers of being too deep in love in her song “Secrets.” Amaria, once a naive individual who fell head first, reflects on her resentment towards a love interest and, despite that, her refusal to let them go back to being a stranger. Amaria’s obsession with her love interest only seems to grow, accepting their hurtful behavior and reeling them towards her with the hymns of her honeyed, yet sultry tenor, which sounds strikingly similar to a siren. Her smokey tone is emphasized by the cleverly timed heartbeats of the distant, jazzy saxophone notes and cicada-esque rattles, the simple musical arrangement working in Amaria’s favor.

With an electric quiver of Stratocaster guitar chords, combined with lively, syncopated pacing, 32-year-old, Sweden-born Sebastian Mikael is the poster child of groovy soul, incorporating the genre with his experiences of ambivalence. Mikael weaves together tales of romantic entanglements where emotions run hot and cold, such as in his 2022 tune of “Scene 1,” where he wonders if he would feel any stability if the women he pursued reciprocated his interest genuinely. He also questions whether he is someone’s only option in his song “Exit” — a refreshing take, given that women are usually regarded as the more complex, yet less desirable figures in heterosexual relationships. The velvety twangs of Mikael’s whines and harmonies maintain a colorful vocal palette when transitioning between his head and chest register, bouncing back and forth in his songs like his wavering feelings. 

South Bend, Indiana-based, 37-year-old October London is the recreation of amorous, classic soul, celebrating the sweet, serenading love that black-and-white films depict. In “Back To Your Place,” London sets the bar exceptionally high for 2023 relationship standards. He ensures that his heart only belongs to a single woman whom he has waited patiently for and would like to share the rest of his life with, bearing his body and soul in her embrace. Although various songs of London entail mature, intimate content, he sings about these topics without vulgarity or vagueness, artful in his expression of adoration. London has a voice that makes it seem as though he was born in the wrong generation as the weathered fullness, vivacity and sentiment in his range are comparable to those of the greats, like Marvin Gaye’s. The stacked, acapella “oohs’’ in London’s choruses, the playful “twinkling” heard in the rapid, bright movement across piano keys and lulled violin scores add all the more charm to this music. 

The narratives well-told in soul R&B, as well as its profoundly distinct production, ensure its legacy in the ever-changing musical landscape, capable of touching the hearts of those young or old. Whether one prefers modernity over tradition, or vice versa, todays’ soul R&B is worth a listen.

Ingrid Avancena is an Entertainment Intern for the fall 2023 quarter. She can be reached at avanceni@uci.edu.