Writing about World Music

Davidson College, Fall 2015

Author: coxu

Music and Math

I find an educated video online about the relationship between music and math. Beethoven was able to convey emotion and creativity using the certainty of mathematics. The simple pattern of triplets actually follows a sophisticated mathematical rule. It is surprising that there is rational mathematical reason for why we are moved by the Moonlight Sonata by Beethoven. To relate to what we learned in class, this evidence also proves music is universal since all music are constituted by existed keys on the scale and combinations of different chords. By combining different chords together and putting them into different tempo, we have different styles of music. However, all music is made of the same elements and follows the similar rules.


Soweto Gospel Choir Takes Choir Performance to Another Level

Last week I went to see the Soweto Gospel Choir performance in Duke performance hall. Performed by a a group of musicians in South Africa, the songs have a great combination of traditional African music and American popular music. Although the choir reflects the religious value in South Africa, I think it also reveals a lot of other important value through their unique way of performance. The choir have 21 people and on director who signals the group when to start and end. Besides that, the arrangement of the choir is really loose, everyone move casually with the rhythm while singing and sometimes the singer even giggles when other musicians do some funny dance move. Moreover, there is an amazing combination with dance and singing in the performance. To put it in another way, dancing is part of the performance. The traditional African dance moves help singers to synchronize better with their peers and have a more dramatic stage effect for the performance. The audience are deeply imbued by the performance and some of them even stand up and dance along with the singers.


As a member in Davidson singer, I can not help to compare the Davidson Choir with Soweto Gospel choir and find out that Davidson choir, or the traditional western choir, is more restricted and disciplined than that in South Africa. The choir requires divine and respect more than enthusiasm. However, the Soweto Gospel Choir amazingly combines the value of divine and enthusiasm together that even when musicians sings and dance casually along the song, the audience still feel the religious conception conveyed throughout every note in the song.

International or pop? – Discourse on music style in Melodemics

Recently, as I am observing Melodemics, an international music band on campus, I found that there is particularly one song that every member is enthusiastic to rehearse. Usually, the band will pull out a list of songs that represent the international notion: Indian song, Chinese song or Greek song, etc. However, not everyone seems to be passionate with every song they rehearse. For example, when we rehearse the Japanese song “Howl’s moving castle”, I can feel that not everyone connects to the song: some of the members who have no part involved in the song will leave the room temporarily when other people are still rehearsing the song. However, when they are rehearsing the song Fishes, originally created by an Australian band called The Cat Empire, everyone seems to involve into it passionately. I wonder why musicians in Melodemics react to a song from different nationalities differently. I think one of the reason is the language. For instance, the Indian or Greek song are both sung in their original language, which means that if musicians don’t understand the language, it will be much harder for them to establish the connection with the song. The other reason is that even though the band is trying to promote the international style of music, they have to admit that there are certain international styles of music are relatively more popular that others. For example, the song fishes combine Jazz, Ska and funk together with a heavy Latin influence. It makes the song both has potential popular elements to attract people–Jazz and funk which usually has a catching melody and rhythm–and has Latin style which contributes to the exotic feeling of the song. So although the song is technically an international style song, it has many potential popular elements lie in it so that musicians are easier to make connection with the music. For other songs they rehearse, they are either in a different language or have a distinct music pattern that musicians who are not familiar with the music styles will have a hard time relating themselves to the song. That’s why the song “Fishes” is so popular in the group. After listening to the song, what do you think about the song? Do you think it is an international style song or a popular song or both?


Music from a Broken Guitar

The documentary, Jupiter’s dance, we saw in class reminds me this video I watched before. Brushy one string is a Jamaican musician found by a filmmake Lucian Blotta who spent five years in Jamaica, filming three young Jamaican musicians’ lives and portraying their struggles to find success and recognition. Brushy did not have an easy life: Orphaned at an early age, the thoughtful singer-songwriter did not learn to read until adulthood. But he came by his musical abilities honestly. Lived in a musical family, Brushy got influenced from his parents and never lost faith in his music if when life is extremely hard. Music, for him, is a way to express but a way to perform. “I didn’t really know how to play, and I played so hard, all the strings broke,” he recalls. “So the guitar just went under the bed.”

This story resonates a lot of with Jupiter’s dance in the way that it reflects the struggle of musicians in those regions suffering poverty. The video of Chicken in core almost shows an uttered strength of the musician. He is holding a broken a guitar but his strength and will is not broken. The suffering of life makes him stronger and it is through music he expresses himself and his opinions about life. So do the musicians in Jupiter’s dance. The musicians in Congo are talented and diligent. They want to make a difference by producing music and they are promoting their traditional music to the world.

What is significant is that in Jupiter’s dance, musicians mentioned that there is a lack of equipment and studio in Congo that stop them from pursuing their music career. However, the power of social media has altered this situation. Just like Brushy, he now can produce his own music in studio and make his own impact on the Internet.



rockpaperscissors, 04/30/13. Web. 11/09/15.


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.

Instruments in Advertisement


To resonate with the interesting discussion we had on music in the advertisements, I find this fascinating video about the instruments used in commercials. As we have talked about the idea that world music is presented in the advertisement to show a notion of global  information capital, instruments used in the commercials can also be a way to show this notion. Even the genre of the music is not necessarily world music, the instruments one company chooses can still reflect their attention on globalization. When I watched the video,  on one hand, I was surprised by the diversity of instruments used in advertisements, on the other hand, I was not surprised to see the great ratio of electronic instruments used in advertisements.  Because of the rapid development of technology, electronic device starts to dominate the composition process among other instruments. Is it a good thing for world music? Is it helpful for world music be more accessible to the public? Or it is the way to broaden the definition of music?

The Sentiment in Queer and Transgendered Music

In “The tearful Public Sphere: Turkey’s ‘Sun of Art,’ Zeki Müren”, Martin Stokes brings the idea of “the sentiment in the wrong place” (307) into light. According to Stokes, the modernists criticizes the sentiment and intimacy present in music, especially present by male singers, as problematic and in wrong place. “This is to say, intimacy and sentiment expressed by men, as opposed to women, and in public, as opposed to in private.” (307). However, Stokes later refuses this idea by saying that modernist misrecognizes “the sentimental.” (309).  In order to prove his point, Stokes introduces Zeki Müren, a famous singer in Turkey, in the later paragraphs and examines the reasons of his successful career and his both outstanding and controversy personality and musical features. His openly homosexuality and androgynous clothes provoke a sense of “dramas.” (321). Stokes addresses that sentiment in music should not be criticized as a feature only in female domain because of its significance in provoking resonation from the audience and bring music with more social and secular context.  In other words, there is no gender distinction in terms of the sentiment of music. Later on he uses Müren’s success in music as an example to support his claim and stresses the significant role of sentiment plays in his music. Müren smartly connects himself with the audience through the sentiment he expresses in his songs. “His awareness of and sensitivity to women’s religious practice, a complex and contradictory field during this period of aggressive secularization and Islamist reaction, allowed him to cultivate a female audience at matinee performances as no other nightclub singer had previously succeeded in doing.” (311). Stokes uses Müren’s example to represent all the singers who is struggling with the sentiment and dramas in their music as public media, like modernists, usually criticize with. “Sentimental culture bears the marks of, and struggles with, this contradiction, though in various and complex ways. The Turkish case, as we shall see, is peculiarly revealing.” (309). Along with other themes such as Abrabesk and marginal, the theme of the sentiment of music connects each parts of the essay together and allows Stokes to examine the relationship between Turkish singers and the society. As Martin analyses the social significance of Müren, he simultaneously proves the claim that sentiment and intimacy prevent by male singers are misplaced is wrong.

We can also find the similar idea in World Music a Very Short Introduction. In the chapter of diaspora, Bohlman examines the functions of diaspora music for outcast people.On one hand, some people view Müren and his music as marginal, just as diaspora music which always have the disconnection with the society they belong. On the other hand, like many diaspora music which brings different music genres together, Müren’s music has a dynamic aesthetic and connects to the secular society as close as possible. As Stokes demonstrates in the article, “Any effort to understand Zeki Müren as ‘marginal’, pure and simple, will thus not only lack historical and sociological acuity, but also fail to grasp an important aesthetic dynamic at work in his vocal style.” (316).


Taylor, Timothy. “World Music in Television Ads.” American Music. Vol. 18. U of Illinois, 2000. 162-192. Print.





26-Genre Song

I guess maybe some of you already watched this video before but still I want to post it on the blog to share with you guys. It seems like a funny video introducing 26 types of music alphabetically. I am amazed by the fact that there are so many music styles in the world and I actually came to know some of the music styles through this video. It is interesting to see how people regard music differently through out the world. They even include “noise” in the video, which is normally viewed as non-music in most of the cultures.

Now as the world becomes more and more internationally connected,  the frontier between music and non-music is wider and vaguer. The questions of “what is music?” and “what is world music?” are still unsolved and I guess the answers of them will definitely evolve throughout the time.