Writing about World Music

Davidson College, Fall 2015

Author: chdiaz

The Year in Music

As the year closes, among the large variety of Christmas playlists are Top Songs of the Year playlists. Here is a link to the top 20 in the year by harpersbazaar: http://www.harpersbazaar.com/culture/art-books-music/a13255/best-songs-of-2015/ Most of the songs are about love or sex. But more than that, a lot of the songs are classified as RnB or hiphop which I found interesting. Last year I remember the trend being more Indie and Electronic and now this change. I speculate that it’s most likely to do with the movements that have taken place this year about Black visibility. However, only one song on that list, King Kunta by Kendrick Lamar, speaks to anything related to it.

With this in mind, I think that it’s fair to say that people don’t care so much about music with strong messages, they listen to it for fun and to get away from the tough realities in mind. The singing Grandmas group posted about earlier aren’t of interest to most people, I would say, because of this face. These songs wouldn’t be the same if people listen to music through a more socially conscience lens, which is somewhat upsetting. I do like many of the songs, and don’t wish to undermine their success, but it would be nice to see songs with good messages up at the top of these lists sometimes.

Observing Friends

When going through the process of observing my music group and interviewing people, I connected with some individuals in the group. In interviewing a member over coffee, it felt more like chatting, catching up with a friend than conducting research for a paper. This undoubtedly made for great responses to my questions (you divulge more to an acquaintance than a stranger) but now that I am writing about this encounter, it has become harder to separate the concrete observances and the emotions that are attached to them. This presents less of a problem for the interview than for the band rehearsals and performances. When taking a break during rehearsal, the band started interacting with me more, though I was very much trying to observe them as they were without me making myself a presence. We spent some time speaking in class about how it is more difficult to discuss, and to remove ourselves from the audience, and I felt as though by the last performance, I had become  too much a presence, with band members looking and performing for me. Hopefully, the practice with thick description and other authors we’ve read will help to clarify some of these issues.


I recently received an email about a site and music app I use, Rdio, similar to Spotify with streaming music, playlists, and downloadable tracks. It is going out of service. More than I am upset about the site itself, I’ve found myself more disappointed in the playlists I’ve worked on that will be lost. I don’t think I’m alone in the time and effort I give my playlists. It takes months to really pick out songs from my library with the right feel and vibe I’m looking for, for that particular playlist. Even past those initial months, I add songs along the way and change and edit through the year to make sure its up to date.

Through this practice, I have songs I heard three years ago that I loved and can relive a time in my life when I was first introduced to it. My playlists are triggers for memories and losing them feels like loosing great friends. In this, I see the point Waxer makes in A City of Musical Memory, recorded music transcends through space and time and encase memories in unexpected ways, leading to me being upset over an recreate-able electronic collection. Music is definitely a lifelong friend to me.

Davidson Rap

When considering a Davidson music group to observe for the research, I found myself trying to understand the music scene on Davidson. If you go out at night, you hear a lot of the same music; rap but only mainstream music similar to what is played on a radio station. It’s not uncommon to hear a song more than once when out for more than an hour, and new albums are only heard at least three weeks after being released even when the artist is famous (ex: Drake and Future). The issue is, radio stations have a lot of money at stake to play new music. Why do Davidson students not take the risk. I think the answer lies in the fact that because rap specifically is considered more racy as a genre (because it is historically performed by black people), the public as a whole decides what is “too ghetto” versus the right amount of “hood” and as an institution of higher learning, there are boundaries to how black we can be.

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.

Transformative Sounds

Charles Hirchkind in his “Hearing Modernity: Egypt, Islam and the Pious Ear” speaks of the relationship within the reading of the Qur’an between the performer and the listener but also perhaps more importantly, between the sounds and the listener’s heart. Of course the person delivering the readings is important, but specifically the sermon audition is essential in making the practice transcend to the heart. Listeners are carefully sensitive to the “affective-volitional dispositions” that will turn one’s heart to God’s word and move the body to moral ways (Hirchkind 132).

This audition now is impacted by social and political contexts, and because of this, the responsiveness is honed through listening. Sermon has changed because of innovations in Egypt’s systems of Islamic authority to reform the public sphere to be more modern resulting in the practices, languages and techniques of listening overlapping and competing. ­ They tried to change the sermon and “rendered an instrument of state-guided social and individual discipline” (Hirchkind 139). New set of assumptions that an emphasis was placed on the role of the person performing the sermon and the khatib as opposed to the audience that makes it easier for the government to mold the more sought after group of people.

“Muslim scholars of language never rigorously pursued a concern for the civic function of speech- for the techniques by which an orator might move an audience to action as had been elaborated by roman and medieval Christian rhetors” (Hirchkind 133). The message of God is received by the human heart and is told through the most perfect of possible forms in the Qur’an. Thus, listening is an action itself which requires the listener’s heart to be felt through the reading. In that same way, sin can be removed from the heart with repetition of sermons on God.

In the same way Hirchkind speaks of the connection between the sermon and one’s heart, it seems Timothy Taylor in his “World Music in Television Ads” speaks of the aspect of spirituality in Songs of Sanctuary by Adiemus. He writes “this music’s signification of a vague kind of spirituality or mysticism is in harmony with most of these ads’ clear mission of taking views away from the here and now and toward an exoticized elsewhere” just as the recitation of the Qur’an is made to take listeners away from sin (Taylor 172). This transformative property of ethnic listening should be an interesting topic of research to anyone interested in the sounds of the world.


Charles Hirschkind, “Hearing Modernity: Egypt, Islam, and the Pious Ear.”

Timothy Taylor, “World Music in Television Ads”

Printing Instruments

With new demands for creativity in sound development in the music industry, new artists seem to be using more than the classic instruments to produce sounds in the midst of the technological revolution. Artists use common objects to make interesting sounds in order to spark new interest in their music.  With the development of 3D printing, however, some researchers are trying to create classic instruments usually made with wood and metal, instead with plastic. It would allow for people with 3D printers to print out costly instruments that are often difficult to maintain.

This blog post speaks of how to make one of these instruments with the claim that “3d printing will change music. It allows to easily make parts on demand, we can make whole instruments without being an experienced craftsman and even go beyond what is possible with wood or metal!”:  http://www.instructables.com/id/3d-Printing-Musical-Instruments/ . Though this development is quite extraordinary and may change the way we produce sounds, I believe the cost of the 3D printer itself and the programs and information to make these instruments may not change the people who receive the instruments. As a research opportunity it serves as a great tool to learn about sounds themselves, but as for accessibility to this form of sound production, I do not see many benefits for the general population.