Writing about World Music

Section F, Fall 2016

Month: September 2016 (page 1 of 3)

Chi-Town

Chicago

Reading Brian’s post about how he misses Houston music and appreciates listening to it in the locker room before games, I couldn’t help but think about the music from my own hometown, Chicago. As you may or may not know, Chicago is the murder capital of the world with more combined murders than New York and Los Angeles this past summer. The history surrounding those figures is one of CPD’s biggest blunders, in my opinion, and this increased violence has lead to a new genre of music, Drill music. My private catholic high school sponsors around 300 kids from Chicago’s South side so this type of music took a spot in our school culture. By no means would I say its the dominant music genre at our school, but whenever i went out with my black friends, at least one chief keef song would come up. Today, I Heard a chief keef song come up namely “I hate being sober” and it brought me back to my days of rolling through the whitest suburbs in america blasting this type of music with my black friends.

Of rolling up to our bush league pickup hockey games in Kenilworth and beating our cross town rivals. screen-shot-2016-09-26-at-12-13-29-am

Of metra train rides into the city on St.Patty’s day

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Little moments that are so intertwined to chicago and my history that music brings me back to. On one hand I wish I heard more of chicago rap, but on another I know that hearing more of it would make me miss my city even more.

 

 

H-Town

I was getting dressed and ready to leave the locker room when all of the sudden a song came blasting  from the speakers that put me right back home in Houston, Texas.  My hands instinctually formed the shape of an “H”as I rapped along to every word . I never expected someone out here in North Carolina to be playing a rap song from a lesser known Houston artist, released over a decade ago, on the locker room aux chord.  Hearing the music of my hometown being played anywhere makes me extremely happy and this was the first time since leaving Houston that’d I’d heard anyone but myself play a Swishahouse track.

I’m a huge fan of many local hip-hop musicians from my city. I find it funny how often I’d hear particular artists back home, but now that I’ve moved away it seems like few to no one knows about them. I have only lived in Houston my whole life so I just assumed everyone knew who these artists were, when in reality they were all mostly local stars. One of my favorite rappers, Maxo Kream, though is having his first national tour coming up later this year, with three shows in North Carolina alone. I unfortunately have football obligations on all of those dates. Good thing I already saw him this past summer.

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When I’m jamming to my own tunes I tend to play a lot of Houston rap. One thing in particular that listening to my hometown music does is make me feel at home. I’m a good ways away, but music can definitely bring me back in a sense.

After discussing and looking at mbira in class, I was reminded of the mbira I have come across in Zambia, Africa.  As we talk in class about world music and the commodity that it has become, I find this to be a very concrete example of such for me. While the mbira is not native to Zambia, its existence is extremely prevalent in tourist markets in the city. In all my travels to Zambia, encompassing several different provinces and even more villages, I have never actually seen a Zambian play a mbira in a setting other than the market. mbira1-2Even then, they only play it to draw attention to their stall and to show its functionality. I have seen homemade drums (though still not necessarily traditionally of Zambian culture) that were used for music in the villages but as a commodity to sell to travelers, drums are not very suitable. As the instrument (being sold as a souvenir) usually must fit into a suitcase or other form of luggage, drums are not commonly bought in the market.

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As Zambia is a neighboring country to Zimbabwe and trade occurs across the Zambezi river, I can see how the mbira may have made its way into Zambia. Traders in the two countries also travel on the barges which sail between the two countries, allowing for the surveillance of competing traders and the discovery of what items sell the best. In this way, the two countries often sell similar trinkets in the markets, some native to a culture or tradition in one of the countries, and some that are simply items that the natives know tourists will buy (stereotypical items such as wood carvings of various animals, purses made of traditional fabrics, and jewelry). chipata_marketIn this way, the commodity of world music can be seen quite plainly in Zambia. As tourists most likely are interested in the music they deem to be foreign and tribal, Zambians adopt the mbira in their arsenal of trinkets and baubles. They simply seek to give the traveler what they expect to find in an African country, and in doing so they adopt part of a foreign culture and dilute their own rich history and tradition.

 

Music: My Escape

Music has always held a very peculiar, but influential part in my life. One of the major purposes music serves for me and I’m sure several other people is the ability to cope and even escape from difficult situations and problems. This is not entirely true for my childhood; I listened to music whenever my parents had it on and never explored past that. (For more about my musical preferences, check my previous post “The Evolution of my Musical Taste”) As a grew older, the world of music as a whole was revealed before my eyes (or my ears… I don’t know). I was introduced to different genres, artists, and styles that made me want to listen, learn, and understand more about music. It got to the point that different situations warranted different genres and even different songs in some circumstances. There are different rap songs that I listen to in order to hype myself up for a football game, but I want to listen to other rap songs when I just want to relax. On some occurrences, this can happen with the same artist. I’m not much of a Kanye fan, but some Kanye West songs are great to listen to before a football game. On the other hand, I find that some of the older songs from Kanye (I like the old Kanye) are better songs to just chill to. His first album The College Dropout, shown below, is a great example of this and if you haven’t listened to it, I highly recommend it.

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Music has helped me celebrate the best times and gets me through some of the tough times. When my first legitimate relationship ended with the girl I thought I was going to marry after 3 months dating, I found comfort in the songs “Happy” from Pharrell and “The Man” from Aloe Blacc (I thought some would find that enjoyable). After my most recent girlfriend and I split ways after a year and a half, Kid Cudi seemed like the only person who understood me through his verses. It was crazy and amazing how much I could relate to almost everything he was saying at that time (even though I’m not a pothead) and I realized how much music actually meant to me.

Most recently, music has served a huge role and helping me cope and escape from the current issues in the world today. With the recent developments last week with another African American male being shot, I felt this to be extremely relevant and important. Throughout the entire summer including last week, it’s been extremely difficult to deal with these outside issues. Many times, I’ve felt as though nobody truly understands me with these matters and nobody really knows what I’m personally going through. I quickly found this to be untrue when I heard some music from Kendrick Lamar. Having been a fan already, I have found a new appreciation for Kendrick in the current circumstances. He knows what’s really going on and explains some of my views in his songs/pieces of art. I honestly don’t know how I could get through some of these situations without music, which means music saves me from myself sometimes and even some of the world’s issues. With that being said, I’m going to leave with one of my favorite lyrics from Kendrick Lamar:

“I’m f-ed up/ Homie you f-ed up/ But if God got us then we gon’ be alright”

Olympia Australis

Every year, the Winston-Salem Forsyth County School system puts together a series of All-County concerts, featuring students from high schools and middle schools in the county who have auditioned and been selected to play in an ensemble. This past winter, an Australian composer named Sean O’Boyle conducted the High School All-County Orchestra group, and also came to speak to my AP Music Theory class. He spoke about various aspects of his musical career, and how music has impacted his life. Of all things, he discussed how excited he was to conduct a piece, to be played by the All-County group, entitled “Olympia Australis”, which he had written sixteen years ago. He then proceeded to tell my class the story of this composition.

The piece was written for a contest held every four years to select a theme for the 2000 Summer Olympics in Australia. Through his superior composition skills, and maybe with a little luck, he ended up winning the contest, and his piece had the honor of being ABC’s official olympic theme for that year. Mr. O’Boyle also explained that the contest had a very interesting rule. Each musical submission had to feature a traditional instrument which represented the location of where the Olympics were being held each year. For this case, O’Boyle represented Australia by featuring the Didgeridoo, a traditional Australian instrument.

I found this guideline to be very interesting, and as a perfect way to incorporate World music into the traditionally Western setting of a symphony orchestra. In this case, I would classify this piece as “World music”, as the composer is Australian, and the piece imitates Australian styles, despite also featuring many characteristics of Western music, but I think that it brings up a great topic for debate. What if the composer had been American? Would this piece still be considered as World music, or would it be considered Western music that imitates music from other cultures? I think that cases can be made for both sides, but I would be interested to hear some opinions on the matter.

For reference, here is a recording of the WSFCS High School All-County Orchestra performing this piece:

An Innovative Device

One thing I could not stop thinking about after class on Thursday were the different types of mbira that we played with. At first, I thought that these were very simple instruments, yet after thinking more over the weekend, I realized just how innovative they actually are.

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For instance, there was one that seemed to be made out a squash. The fact that anyone was capable of actually creating a musical instrument out a fruit is pretty amazing. When most look at food, they would easily just eat it, and then toss it. However, whoever created the mbira had much more imagination than most. They were able to turn what to many would be trash, into a much more spiritual, meaningful instrument that could be used for years as a way to connect with their god.

One of the things that truly makes these instruments so amazing is that they can be made out of multiple materials. They are not restricted to metal and wood. Their keys can be made out of wire, wood, or whatever else is able to make a similar sound. Some are industrialized in the shape of trapezoid; while others are much more natural, and made out of the shells of fruits and vegetables. Also they are all not constructed the same. They all have resonating chambers, yet some chambers have more than one hole in which the sound resonates.

The mbiras are truly works of art. They come in all different shapes and sizes, yet all are categorized under one instrument. That was another thing that perplexed as, yes there are different categories of mbira, yet they are all a part of one big mbira family. I have wondered why this was the case, because it seems so strange to me that one is able to classify two instruments that are engineered similarly, yet differently, as the same instrument. This is not the case in Western culture, as we see the violin is similar yet different to a viola. Maybe the word mbira is used in the same way as stringed instruments and percussion instruments.

Nevertheless, the ingenuity of the mbira makers is truly amazing. They are able to take such simple items, and use them to construct much more complex musical instruments. They are truly beautiful works of art.

Britain’s Illegal Rave Parties

Where do English teenagers in the London area go to party when their favorites clubs have been shut down? Over the previous 10 years, police have gone to work shutting down the city’s favorite legitimate and illegitimate rave sites. From licensed clubs to impromptu field parties, all types of electronic music venues have been forced to shut down or relocate outside city borders.

In response to this persecution, active young adults have taken to throwing parties in London’s industrial, dilapidated east side. The ingenious concept behind this idea comes from a section of British law that would sound ludicrous to many Americans. Essentially, any non-residential property that is not currently occupied may be inhabited by so-called “squatters” for a short period of time. Some stipulations apply; for example, squatters cannot use any electricity, even if the building is equipped (doing so is considered stealing from the energy companies). Also, the residence must not show any evidence of breaking-and-entering.

Experienced scouts will search for potential locations after sundown. When an acceptable one is found, the scout will alert the musicians (DJs), who will post the location and invites on social media. Sometimes, a location isn’t found until 10 pm. Everything moves quickly after the discovery. Soon, the DJs are wheeling their speakers into the building and setting up as the crowd files in and patiently waits for the lights to be set up and balloons to be blown (at least one of the party-goers will bring a generator).

The police often make appearances, however the experienced party-goers will often go outside to speak with them and assure them that the occupation of the property is completely legal. Nevertheless, some incidents still occur. A portion of those in attendance will certainly be using hard drugs, which often gives police the warrants they need to shut down the rave.

I think its interesting that a desire to listen to music in this manner will drive people to go to extremes such as this. That said, I definitely hope to be lucky enough to attend one of these one day. EDM is probably my favorite genre of popular music; it composes about half of my Spotify songs list. If you have the time, I would recommend watching the Vice documentary that covers this topic:
http://www.vice.com/video/locked-off

Prisencolinensinainciusol

What gibberish! The art of imitation and mimicry is alive and well in the world today. While on the topic of mimesis, why don’t we explore a category completely different, yet exactly the same? You are able to imitate a style of music but is it possible to imitate the sound of an entire nation’s worth of music? Sure, easy! What if you don’t even use real words? This becomes a little more difficult, but Adriano Celentano, an Italian, accomplishes this in Prisencolinensinainciusol.

This gibberish depicts the way American English sounds to others nations. Rather than mimicking the sounds of other non-Western nations as does Adiemus, the practice is turned on its head as an Italian imitates the sounds of American music. Celentano’s gibberish begs the question of whether similar structure of sounds in lyrics makes music that can be classified as part of the region imitated. Does this need to be classified as some type of accent or is it simply imitation? As in the case of Adiemus, this classification becomes a little muddied because of the difference between imitation and the art of creation.

Adiemus attempts to portray music from around the world in a way that Westerners can envision as native to those regions. Using a variety of instruments that sound like they are from more remote parts of the world to Western listeners, Adiemus characterizes world music. They also use non-sense words like Celentano but in a different way. Celentano uses gibberish to portray a single nation whereas Adiemus aims the characterize mostly non-Western music.

No matter the reason behind the music, this sort of gibberish has seemed to catch on and opens a whole new avenue for which to look at music. This new age of music excites me for what is to come and the different directions in which music is headed. I appreciate many types of music and exploring a new genre gives me a lighthearted feeling and makes my heart pump. No matter the direction music is driven, I will welcome the change and revel in the new age of music.

Bollywood

Reading about how world music is synthesized to be used in certain ads reminded me of what I learned during one of my academic decathlon years when the topic was India. We looked at various traditional Indian music styles—from different areas, religions, and for different purposes—and also at music in the movie industry of Bollywood. I found it very interesting that the music created for movies was very unique not only in the world scene but also within India so as to be a genre in itself. This movie music, while containing many  traditional elements, also has many modern aspects that provide it the quality of Bollywood music. Much like some of the stories found in Bollywood movies, the music draws on Western influence and combines it with traditional Indian music to provide something that fits in with the film. The two examples we focused on mainly, told stories of love within the respective movies. And I remember in one of them in particular, there is a segment where a string orchestra is heard in the back. This represents the Western influence in the music as it is from an orchestra with a Western formation. This introduction of more Western aspects in the music, had to be done gradually and in small measures to ensure the acceptance of it by the Indian public as they sought to identify themselves and Indian life through the movies and thus traditional elements in the music were key to this identification.

In the case of Bollywood music, we see the opposite of the ads as discussed in class since these sought to bring to Western viewers the exotic experience of world music by synthesizing non-Western tunes. I find this interesting as the West has “brought” Western culture to multiple non-Western cultures around the world while these cultures have not “brought” themselves to Western culture but rather have been “brought” mainly by Westerners returning. This plays into Bohlman’s idea of power and how this has affected the perception and definition of what world music is.

Explaining the Ship Metaphor More

I want to explain the ship metaphor I used in class on Thursday, not because I think the metaphor is perfect, but because I want to think more about why I used it, what it meant, and what parts of it remain relevant in spite of the ways it might “break down”; further, I want to address some of the frustrations I felt in class because I was on the cusp of completing the idea, but was also limited by the time we had and my intention to listen to the ideas of everyone else. No one actually has to read this, though, so I can vent as I wish! So, without further ado:

The idea of the ship being made with several parts drew upon the idea of the Ship of Theseus from philosophical thought. The actual function of that ship philosophically is, well, unrelated; to summarize, the idea is that the ship constantly has its parts replaced to the point where it no longer maintains any of its original parts. While this is a fun thought experiment in regard to the actual identity of the ship, the ship metaphor I brought up in class used the assumption that the ship had an overarching identity greater than its parts, that the particular organization of the differing parts of the ship made up its identity rather than the parts themselves. I assume this particular “solution” to the paradox and proceed from there.

The important part of the ship, though, was no so much its organization but its country, or area or, most specifically, culture, of origin. The idea I tried to present was that the parts themselves could be from a variety of areas, but the specific combination of parts, the Adiemus or other simulated world music, could be unique to a particular area–that being the Western advertising market. The ship itself could have any number of American or Japanese planks, but could still fly a British flag. What I realized was that this example cracked when considering the multiple possible definitions of world music. Two in particular stood out: one in which each individual country counts as part of the world music, and the other in which the idea of “world music” as a whole represented its own type of music. If one is to take the second interpretation, it would be difficult to even consider the metaphor. The ship, being made of music, would essentially just be a performance of various parts of what already was “world music,” and, consequentially, would be the same, its own sort of world music. However, when considering “world music” as a broad word encompassing a wide array of cultures and musical traditions instead of a specific side of a dichotomy that was the opposite of western, the advertising music seems clearly not to fit in. After all, no single country or culture could lay claim to a tradition of music that was Frankenstein’d together from each one of them. Rather, the reason for the music’s creation would have to be considered, that reason being a western one; as would the composer, the intention, and the literal genre of the music.

The problem with calling the advertising music “world music” is its inability to fit into any singular world musical tradition. In fact, the only tradition it fits into is the Western music tradition, in spite of being composed of influences all sourcing themselves outside of that tradition.  Like the ship, the music is less of an actual structure and more of an organization (admittedly less solid than wood), and in many cases music has drawn upon other music without becoming that music; for example, some modern electronic Western styles sample heavily from swing music. Those types of music are not called “swing,” but rather, either “electronica,” or “electro-swing,” or even “low-fi hip-hop.” In spite of the fact that they draw from old sounds, they don’t fit into the old genres because the organization of those sounds is modern with modern instrumental backing. The advertising music is similar. In spite of being made up of ideas from different cultures, it is ultimately still music made for advertisements, which is still a tradition for Western peoples made by Western composers that fits into no other specific world music tradition. The ship that takes wood from South Africa and sails from Colombia, but is made in Britain and follows a British construction style, it is not South African or South American–it is British. That said, if the boat was made by a Colombian or South African shipwright to fit the style of traditional boats from those countries (should there be traditional boats from those countries) and bequeathed to the British naval force, it must then be labelled Colombian or South African. The important part of the identity of the boat is which tradition it actually falls under and, because the advertising music has no tradition outside of its own, it must be labelled as being part of, primarily, that tradition–the Western one. That said, I am not particularly proud of it being from a Western tradition, should I communicate myself that way; I simply feel that designation to be the most accurate.

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