Writing about World Music

Davidson College, Spring 2016

Author: rasalter

Matt and Kim

On Thursday night, Matt and Kim came to campus to perform for the students. Since there was a chance of rain that night, the venue was moved from outside in Patterson Court to the Duke Performance Hall. This inhibited many students from attending the concert because the Union Board could only hand out a certain amount of tickets and also deterred many people who originally wanted to attend. I was not particularly excited for that the location of the concert had been moved since I had seen Matt and Kim before at a musical festival during the summer and did not imagine that the energy would be anything like that, especially in a small enclosed space filled with theatre chairs. I decided that I would attend the concert anyways since I enjoy their music and think that Matt and Kim are both great performers that interact with the crowd unlike most other artists that I had seen live. My friends and I arrived at the concert, and all of the lights were still on and less than fifty people filled into the theatre chairs. A man who played somber sounding music on a keyboard sang while everyone sat, waiting for the main act to come on. I was disappointed and disinterested; my friends and I ended up leaving and waiting for the first act to finish before returning.

After receiving many texts that Matt and Kim had just come onto the stage, my friends and I raced back to Duke Performance Hall. By this time, the lights had gone down, and the seats and the pit had filled up. We squeezed our way into the pit through the screaming fans. I was quite surprised that I enjoyed the concert despite the unique environment. The small indoor venue with seating created an intimate setting, and Matt and  Kim’s energy radiated throughout the hall. The confetti that fell from the ceiling and Kim crowd surfing were elements that I thought would not be possible with an indoor concert. They were able to put on a performance that was comparable to the one that I had experienced at the musical festival this past summer.


The role of women in Indonesian society has been a focus of Andrew Weintraub throughout Dangdut. During the 1990’s, the state shaped culture, including pop music. New question arose regarding how gender differences should be performed and how the government should control the music. There was a shift in nature in Indonesian music, focusing less on the traditional aspects of the orkes Melayu and more on the new ideas of pop. Indonesian music now relied heavily on instrumentation, specifically the guitar. This movement to pop occurred as the government’s role in music began to change. Media became less centralized and now incorporated commercial television, where dangdut performances were shown on; recording companies would pay for their artists to be features on these channels. These commercial stations were privately owned so the government could not monopolize dangdut.

The new media was able to reach new audiences. Previously, audiences were the people who attended live performances, which normally included teenage to middle aged men. Now that dangdut was displayed on commercial television, a domestic space and live performance were available since it became more widely accessible. Also, the advancement of technology allowed for music to be listened to on cassettes, which dangdut very attainable.

Weintraub later discusses two pieces, “Are You a Virgin or Not?” and “O My Dear”. “These two songs present very different images of women, particularly the ways in which women articulate symbolically with the nation” (165). These two songs are Indonesian interpretations and portrayals of women in society, demonstrating a vastly different role that women could play. In both cases, women are not passive and are the main performer in each piece, both singing and dancing. In “O My Dear”, we get the portrayal of a woman who is married, emphasizing the importance of family values and tradition. However, in “Are You a Virgin or Not?”, we get the portrayal of a divorced woman, and the ideas of private and public places are confused. In this new era of pop, there was less conservative singing and dancing involving women. Some women believed this as empowering, while some critics viewed this unremarkable.


Andrew Weintraub explores Indonesian popular music, dangdut, in Dangdut Stories. In the opening paragraph, we are introduced to key themes of the book, including gender roles, western influence, and class. Weintraub crosses class borders when opening his first sentence with a dentist, a police officer, and a soup peddler as participants on Indonesia’s version of “American Idol”. By describing this show as “American Idol”, we get a westernized perspective of a modern mediatized contest that crosses national boundaries. There are American, Indian, Cuban, Middle East, and Indonesian music influence. All of these influences show a sort of universality in Indonesian music. “Everyone has experienced the same emotions- excitement, passion, and joy, as well as loneliness, anger, and frustration- and these constitute the raw material for dangdut songs” (13-14). These themes evoke many emotions that are perceived universally. Along with western influence and class, gender roles play an important role in Indonesian culture. Particularly, there is gendered division in how dangdut is perceived and performed. The mean and teenager boys were described as the ones who performed, while the women sat watching and talking about the performances. Later, Weintraub discusses how women are perceived while they perform. Their dancing, singing, and clothing is considered by some as objectifying, while others think it gives women a voice.

Another key theme of the book that is not described in the first paragraph is stories; Weintraub’s book is a collection of his stories and stories of other people from his fieldwork. Weintraub was not particularly concerned with validity of the stories he was told since the stories were meaningful and strategic to his ethnographic work, regardless of which one was verifiably true. These stories constitute ethnographic evidence. Dangdut can not be judged in a westernized context. It is thought of in a musicological sense instead of ethnographical sense; the western framework is not an appropriate interpretation of dangdut.

The Quran

Islamic practices in Egypt dramatically progressed in the 20th century. The main text that the Islamic people used was the Quran, which was not seen to have aesthetic value. The Quran was concerned with the beauty of the text not with the act of speaking, since it was interpreted differently by each person who heard it. It was also not considered to be beautiful or musical in all contexts; only in some frameworks is the Quran interpreted to have aesthetic value, depending on the cultural system. Prior to the 20th century, people were only able to listen to readings of the Quran in a mosque. There was belief that there was a strong connection between the text, the reciter, and the listener. The role of the person reciting the Quran was to be a voice or medium that conveys a message; he or she was not intended to add to the meaning, value, or impact of the Quran, itself. The role of person who listens to Quran recitation was to interpret the text the orator was reading and to listen with their heart. “Within the interpretive tradition, the rhetorical act is accomplished by the hearer and not the speaker” (134). The listener was supposed to take the meaning of the text for more than just the words that were being spoken. The listener was supposed to use more than his or her ears but also use the ruh, or soul, to recognize a deeper understanding. The act of a listener of preparing oneself to receive the text was emphasized in Islamic culture.

In the 20th century, there were changes to how the Quran was recited in Islamic cultures. Cassette tapes and other advancements changed the accessibility of hearing the oration of the Quran. The effect of this was a change in where the Quran was heard and interpreted. The different atmospheres, including noise, people, and lighting, affected the ambience of the listeners. The meaning of the actual text of the Quran changes as well as the interpretation to the listeners.The set of circumstances that listeners are were now experiencing not available before, like listening in a car, plane, or in public; all of these options greatly differ from the traditional and accustomed feeling of a mosque. The context of listening is now essential when it was not a question before. Along with these changes to the oral tradition, there are social and political factors that are changing society due to the developing technology.



In the Congo, hindewhu was developed as a technique for alternating between the sounds of voice and blowing into an instrument. The indigenous tribes in the Congo used this style to create music. Herby Hancock was the first African American to incorporate this technique into his song “Watermelon Man”. He transformed this hindewhu style by imitating these sounds, but he incorporated more instruments and added a beat with percussion and bass notes. Hancock integrated hindewhu into is his music by making it more complex and adding more layers of sound and voice. In addition to this, Hancock also made the tempo regulated, made the voice less breathy, and used a base guitar to westernize the music. Hancock used both mimesis, an imitation or copy, and schismogenesis, the recontextualizing in a new musical practice or culture, in his recording. Hancock thought that though he was using a technique that was not necessarily his, there was a global African diaspora. Therefore, the people of African origin that had been displaced were still part of the musical community and could draw on inspiration.

After Hancock’s recording had been released, Madonna sampled his reinterpretation of hindewhu. She used parts of his bass recordings to incorporate in her own song, “Sanctuary”. When she released her song, she had to credit Hancock for sampling his piece. As a result of this, Hancock became the legal owner of of the hindewhu style. This becomes an ethical issue because there is no individual or author of hindewhu since it is a vocal technique. This issue is similar to the ownership of the song “Wimoweh”, which was later featured in the Disney movie, the Lion King as “The Lion Sleeps Tonight”. However, the issue is different because “Wimoweh” has a specific owner of the song, while hindewhu can not be traced back to a distinct individual.


Fitzcarraldo, a movie filmed in the early 1980s, explores musical interactions between different musical cultures during an encounter of natives and Europeans in the South American jungle. Western and non-western cultures are contrasted in particular by their musical styles and preferences. As Fitzcarralodo and his crew drift down the water, they are suddenly overwhelmed by the sound of natives drumming and beating in a communal fashion. The loud percussive thumping symbolized a coming together of the natives and a display of their dominance to the foreigners. The natives’ music was very complex with multiple voices and drums, showing their sense of community and demonstrating their power. Since the natives were not visible in the film, their music is the only representation we have to make conclusions from. However, this may not be the most accurate interpretation because we only get one perspective, the view of Fitzcarraldo and his shipmates. Not understanding the full meaning of music or another aspect of one’s cultures may skew its true importance and intent. We are unsure of what the music means to the Amazon people because we never see their interpretation of the Westerner’s music. The only thing we can conclude is that music is a communal practice for the natives and brings the group together. From previous knowledge we know that the Amazon people are tribal, but we have an imperfect representation of them and their culture is only studied from a Westerner’s perspective. In response to the music coming from the hidden group, Fitzcarralodo and his crew began to play an opera by Caruso. They deliberately chose a piece that would sound peaceful with the main instrument as a piano, which was played softly in the background. Fitzcarraldo’s music choice contrasted the natives’ in style and technique. After the opera continues to play, the natives stop their drumming, which exhibits Fitzcarraldo’s superiority over the natives. This is significant because the natives initiated the drumming to show dominance but backed down after listening to the European music. The Amazon natives and Fitzcarraldo’s group can not communicate verbally because of the language barrier, so they communicate solely through music; the intensity of the natives drumming and the calmness of Fitzcarraldo’s music send a message to the opposite groups. This example shown in Fitzcarraldo exemplifies that there are two sides two communication, and normally, only one is seen. This is the problem with representation because not all views are correctly presented to an audience, which make it hard for people to interpret the complete truth.

Memories of Music

My first memories of music are my dad playing classic rock on the way to church on Sunday mornings. My dad would poorly sing the lyrics to Bruce Springsteen, The Rolling Stones, and Joe Cocker while driving. This music was always playing throughout the speaker system in our beach house while we were entertaining or relaxing. My mom also loves music and grew up playing the piano. She taught my sisters and I to play the piano; I first learned to play the piano when I was 6 years old, but I did not have any interest in continuing with it. I, then, participated in the band at school during 5th grade and played the flute. I did not enjoy playing the flute and decided to try something else. In 6th grade I joined the chorus and continued until I went to high school. I enjoyed singing but did not have enough time to continue because of other commitments. I rejoined chorus for my senior year in high school.

Today, I listen to all types of music because my little sister forces me to listen to what she wants to listen to whenever we are driving. She has introduced me to artists I never would have listened to and dragged me to concerts that I wouldn’t have thought of attending.

The song that I chose is “Why Not” by Hilary Duff. I went to a concert on her Metamorphosis Tour in 2004 when I was 7. She was the first concert that I went to. My sisters and I grew up listening to her music and watching her on TV.