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Assessment Artifact: The Song “Once in a Lifetime” by Talking Heads

Free «Assessment Artifact: The Song Once in a Lifetime by Talking Heads» Essay Sample


Music is a form of art whose medium is sound. Art is an integral part of everyday life as it influences and pervades all spheres of human activity. There are different types of music depending on culture, region, and value systems. Musicians use the art of music to convey various messages and ideas. The paper explores the western and non-western styles of music. Moreover, it examines how Talking Heads adopted the style and salient features of non-western music. It also focuses on the effects the song “Once in a Lifetime” by Talking Heads has had on contemporary culture and the musicians’ career as well as reputation. Lastly, the paper compares “Once in a Lifetime” to the non-western song “Zombies” by Fela Kuti and traditional Yoruba music.

Fela Kuti and West African Music

Fela Kuti is a West African musician from Nigeria. He was born in London but grew up in Lagos, Nigeria. He played West African Yoruba music created by the Yoruba people. People say that Yoruba music is mainly performed by using the hourglass tension drums known as the dundun (Agawu 8). This style of music is often associated with dancing. To play Yoruba music, musicians can also use different musical instruments such as the ashiko and sekere. Fela Kuti is famous for his song “Zombies” whose styles of performing and dancing were borrowed by the western rock band called Talking Heads.

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Yoruba music is popular among the Nigerians and people in West Africa in general. Traditionally, people performed this music during ceremonies such as weddings and victory celebrations after a war. At times, they used it to praise individuals for their brave and heroic deeds. People describe Yoruba music as the one that contains important messages. Every time there is a need to convey a message in West Africa, Yoruba music is used for this task. This music is able to convey the message clearly and concisely. People believe that the voice of music is a living and ever active artifact (Agawu 86). Fela Kuti, as a West African singer, is known for his unique choice of words in music. In his song “Zombie,” Fela Kuti describes the soldiers in the country as zombies, and this has aroused the indignation of the military. The musician uses the salient features of Yoruba music to express his view on the military and their methods.

Review of West African Music

Yoruba music is mainly characterized by jazz, funk, and rock theatrics with eclectic performances. The music is famous for bright and very charming vocals combined with strong and attractive lyrical melodic style (Rueckert). The West African music allows the singer or band to create cheerful and enthusiastic moods. Some West African artists, such as Tal National, ensure that their songs are structurally dynamic and unique. Additionally, polyrhythms and beats are of great importance in this music. The audience helps to create the beat by clapping (Rueckert).

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Talking Heads and Western Music

Talking Heads is a rock band from New York City. It was formed in 1975. The band successfully produced some commercial hits and often collaborated with other artists such as Brian Eno.

Yoruba music includes African dancing and drumming that make the music even more interesting to sing and listen. The features of African Yoruba music is the reason why Talking Head incorporated this style into their music. The musicians liked the lyrics, dance styles, and instruments used in Yoruba music. In the 1980s, rock music saw a dynamic shift. The change influenced Talking Heads to start something new and interesting. Talking Heads decided to show life as it was. The musicians’ intention was to sing about everyday life. The band was among the first to introduce black pop music into the white American culture (Shmoop Editorial Team).

The band utilized a simple guitar and drum beats in their music. They used conflicting rhythms and instruments (Shmoop Editorial Team). Talking Heads got the idea of incorporating Yoruba music into their songs from pop music producer Brian Eno. Eno introduced the band to one of Fela Kuti’s albums of African jazz and funk style known as Afrobeat. Fela Kuti greatly influenced Talking Heads as his music introduced the band to polyrhythms. Talking Heads loved Kuti’s style of music and made a decision to borrow and use it for producing the song “Once in a Lifetime” (Shmoop Editorial Team).

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Influence of the Song “Once in Lifetime” on the Musicians’ Career and Reputation

The song “Once in a Lifetime” by Talking Heads went viral owing to its message and mode of singing. The song was a great hit, and many radio stations regularly played it making Talking Heads quite famous in their time. “Once in a Lifetime” greatly influenced the career and reputation of Talking Heads and brought them success. After the production of the song, the band started to perform in many concerts and participate in live shows. The move to produce the song was inspired by the producer’s idea that “an error is a sign of a hidden motive” (Shmoop Editorial Team). Consequently, the song “Once in a Lifetime” considerably changed the musicians’ lives, career, and reputation.

Influence of the Song “Once in Lifetime” on Culture

The song “Once in Lifetime” describes the situation in which most people find themselves during the midlife crisis. The message of the song proved to be interesting for many listeners (Shmoop Editorial Team). Through their song, Talking Heads want to depict how life can sometimes reach a daunting and controversial moment of truth and reflection. Additionally, the song emphasizes the inability of people to change the natural order of things. Listeners can use the song to evaluate themselves and acquire new traits. The song has changed their cultural beliefs and has allowed them to use western ideas in the dance sphere.

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Talking Head’s “Once in a Lifetime” and Non-Western Music

Talking Head’s song “Once in Lifetime” is similar to the West African song by Fela Kuti. Like the West African song, “Once in Lifetime” proves to be very instrumental. Moreover, they both try to convey the similar message. Talking Heads borrowed the dance styles and instrumentation from traditional Yoruba music. The main feature of the West African music is the use of polyrhythms (Shmoop Editorial Team). Polyrhythms pervade the songs of both Fela Kuti and Talking Heads (Shmoop Editorial Team).

In their songs, Talking Heads used a clean guitar and un-syncopated beats. Dramatization was achieved by unfocused eye motions, sharp breathing, and physical spasms. Concerning West African musician Fela Kuti, he used instruments such as the drums called the Yoruba Gangan and the sekere. Kuti combined them with traditional African dancing and ululations (Shmoop Editorial Team).


Fela Kuti and Talking Heads show impeccable abilities and styles in the performance of music. They use music to communicate important messages and ideas. Inspired by the songs of Fela Kuti, Talking Heads borrowed the style of traditional Yoruba music and incorporated it into their famous song “Once in a Lifetime”.


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