Writing about World Music

Davidson College, Fall 2015

Month: October 2015 (page 1 of 2)


Adele recently released her first song in three years, “Hello.” It was met with widespread adoration and excitement for the release of her upcoming album. When I heard the song, especially when I listened to the lyrics, I realized it was a somewhat victorious/somewhat melancholy post-breakup song. However, I knew Adele had been in a steady relationship for a few years and had even had a child recently, so the source of this song couldn’t have been recent events. This made me wonder where, and how, authors got their source material. Is this song based on events that happened 5+ years ago? Is it her form of catharsis for a long-ago ended relationship? I have little doubt that this song is based on true events, but is every song? Are some songs based on borrowed or even fictionalized stories or events? Does it matter?






Black Rhythm, White Power

I think this article connects nicely to the concept brought up in class about how tourists felt the desire to actively participate in Balkan culture because Balkanites could see themselves in the culture. There was a level of comfort in that Albanians are different culture, but they are still white so they wouldn’t have to feel guilty by actively participating in the culture. This contrasts nicely with the fact that regarding the African world music people wanted to listen to the music that wasn’t entirely African. They wanted to listen to the world music that had “African characteristics” such as the drums, but not the actual music because of the discomfort they had with the “savagery” of it. Nowadays, it seems to be the exact opposite.  There’s an immense fascination with black culture and the desire to imitate and adopt the characteristics of blackness. This article explores the rational behind this adoption of black culture and the problematic issues that arise from this fascination without adequate consideration of the its’ origins.


Is mastering practice unselfish?

As many of us have noticed, after reading Moving Away From Silence and The Life of Music in North India by Turino and Neuman respectively, the music cultures in Conima and North India value practice significantly more than talent. And as many of us pointed out in are introductions ( including myself), this value of practice is very different from the United States where we almost completely value talent. Although, as we learned this is not the place for this discussion because we are focusing more on ethnomusicologists than the normal American reader. But I thought this would be an interesting area of discussion for our blog.

The focus on practice instead of talent in these two cultures is a theme that I focused on this project. I was tempted to say that a focus on practice is a more unselfish music culture because there is less of an emphasis on money and fame. But I realized, after some classmates pointed it out, that this is not necessarily unselfish because the musicians are still trying to obtain personal goals. So a few questions arose from this. Is a focus on practice less selfish? Is it more virtuous? Is the focus of the music culture in the United States selfish because many artists focus on obtaining fame and wealth?

Fascination, Musical Tourism, and the Loss of the Balkan Village

Continue on the discussion of musical tourism in class on Wednesday, I think MacMillen brings out an interesting idea about the definition of tourist in terms of music. Indeed, American and European are regarded as tourists because they travel thousands of miles to listen to a different type of music. However, Bulgarians can also count as tourists when they are listening to music from US in the Koprivshtitsa festival. “Foreigners, too, find themselves watched, heard, and perhaps even exoticized and eroticized, and so, as they take an active role as subjects in the festival, they may also find themselves passive and objectified under the gaze and audition of locals.” In this case, both Bulgarians and Ameircan are tourists because they both encounter something new in music. The Koprivshtitsa music festival serves an agent for both Bulgarians and American to listen and to be fascinated.

This function works significantly because it helps the two culture and two music styles merge together and imbricate. I think it is core value of music festival and also the core purpose of study world music­–to listen, to watch, to get fascinated and at last to learn from each other.

Fascination, Musical Tourism, and the Loss of the Balkan Village by Ian MacMillan

I thought it was interesting when MacMillan brought up the concept of Balkanites being fascinated by fascination itself. The fact that they are intrigued by their commitment to Balkan culture and not just simply the nature of Balkan culture is somewhat problematic because it implies they are just going through the motions of understanding the culture. It’s almost a facade of genuineness. I’m curious as to how this fascination with fascination hinders Balkanites ability to fully understand Balkan culture? Are they able to see the value, historical and modern, in Balkan music?

Hotline bling: copyright issues?

I’m sure many of you have seen Drakes music video for “Hotline Bling” featuring Drake dancing in a colorful changing box with silhouettes of woman dancing in the background. But what you may or may have not heard is that Drake admits to being influenced by James Turrell, a famous artist who has experimented with light and shape throughout his career. Drake said to a reporter, “I f*ck with Turrell” and has also been to see the Turrell exhibit in L.A. Then, Turrell’s lawyer came out and tweeted “While I am truly flattered to learn that Drake f*cks with me, I nevertheless wish to make clear that neither I nor any of my woes was involved in any way in the making of the “Hotline Bling” video.” To my knowledge, Turrell is not filing any suits against Drake and seems to only want to separate himself from the video. To make things even more complicated, Director X who collaborated with Drake claims that this has been his style all along. This case clearly demonstrates the blurred lines when it comes to music making and music video making. When does borrowing become a copyright issue and when is it just building off others ideas or just inspiration? This is a difficult question to answer. In the case of Drake, I do not believe it is a copyright issue but there are definitely different perspectives on this topic.




Modern Music’s Role of Demeaning Women

In our class on Monday, we discussed the objectification and sexualization of music in Albania.  More specifically, we discussed the sexualization of women’s bodies while dancing and performing alongside historical Ottoman music.  In the article we discussed, the author also briefly touches on the effects of traditions of music effects on modern music, especially regarding the demeaning of women in modern society.  One example involved an allusion to MTV advertisements of Cindy Crawford’s workouts in which women are eroticized.

This discussion reminded me of an article I read regarding the demeaning of women in modern music, particularly pop and hip hop.  The study shows how music degrades the status of women to the point of “sex objects” and “trophies”.   The author believes that since the target audience is the youth, especially adolescents, the idea has been in engrained in our population for quite some time.  At the same time, however, some female artists use the same ideas and words that are deemed demeaning to show themselves as symbols of power and importance.  I personally was amazed by this stark contradiction and irony presented.  I wasn’t particular sure which lens to look through and agree with.  I understand both but they cannot truly go hand in hand.

Appropriation at Music Festivals

What with speaking about music festivals abroad and appropriation of those styles in class, I thought it might be interesting to write about music festivals in the West and the appropriation present here. You don’t have to search hard to find examples of it. There are many articles and confessionals on how Native Americans and others are disappointed in people making a fashion statement of an important part of their heritage on these occasions:



The question I have is, why is it so common at these music festivals for these symbols to become costumes? Perhaps , festival goers feel the urge to try a new ‘trend’ that is more ‘exotic’ that they’ve seen on a celebrity at some point. Which then cycles back to the problem of cultural appropriation from celebrities acting as role models for ‘edgier’ styles that are significant symbols for a group of people who have faced oppression. Wherever the urge comes from, I believe people who appropriate need to have more interest in that culture before taking things from it, especially if it is simply to go to a festival.

Individual vs Communal Musical Interactions

In response to Yashi’s reflection, it is interesting to think about the interactions that we, as Americans, have with both music as well as the community around us. Like she said above, music has become a very individualistic environment in which people in the United States partake in. While there are many ceremonies, events, and communal gatherings that revolve around music, our culture operates particularly on the notion that music is created for the individual. Consequently, some of the most popular sources in which we have access to music- such as Spotify and SoundCloud-  are specifically designed for the needs and wants of a single person. Typically, these sites will be linked to a social media profile which further exaggerates the notion that the experience as a whole is personalized and exclusive to you and your world. Furthermore, on networks such as Spotify, one can create their own playlists and save specific music to create a library that is unique to their taste and desires. Consequently, as a population that has immediate access to musical sources such as these websites, the American culture is becoming increasingly more individualistic when it interacts with music. In other parts of the world in which isolation and economic issues prevent sites like these to become popular such as Guatemala, music resides in a increasingly more open/exterior sphere as it is typically shared with communities, families, and large gatherings as a source of unity and projection of the culture. With less focus on personal taste and enjoyment and rather that of a larger group, musical endeavors in other parts of the world can often be more communal and less individualistic than those in the United States.


Below is a link to a video that shows a typical musical performance in a more urbanized area of Guatemala. The musicians are dressed in traditional traje (Mayan garb) and are interacting with the passerby on the streets of Antigua.  Overall, their display of music exists to project a sound of their culture to foreigners.


Solitude in Music in the Western World

The Neuman and Torino readings we’ve read over the last few weeks told us how music is a very social activity in both Peru and North India. However, both creating and listening to music in America can be a much more solitary activity. For me personally, listening to music is one of my my favorite ways to decompress after a stressful day. I always try to take at least a few minutes during the day or before I go to bed to listen to some mellow music. Similarly, my roommate, who is very musically gifted, always takes some time to practice her singing in the relative solitude of our room. She has practice nearly every day with either Chorale or the Nuances, her A cappella group, but her time making music alone is an equally important part her her routine. For both of us, music is an important part of our time alone, and it’s interesting to consider how much of that is because of our uprising in the Western world.

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