Writing about World Music

Davidson College, Fall 2015

Author: dasmith

Musical Geniuses: Are They Really That?

In class last week, we briefly touched on the career of the famous classical composer, Ludwig van Beethoven.  We discussed on his widely celebrated musical genius and how he is recognized as possibly the greatest musical mind of all time.  We also discussed the possibility that his widely praised career was only the result of his social connections as opposed to sheer possession of musical talent.  We find his compositions to be heavenly in terms of music and almost untouchable.  But are they really?  I personally am not sure.  I am most impressed by the fact that he create music while nearly to completely deaf.  The problem is we have no viable evidence that his music was so popular even during his lifetime.

I personally began to think about this later.  What if his music was actually just carried on because of his association with social elites?  The world would be turned totally upside down if this fact was found true.  I began to think about who possibly could be thought of as one during our time.  Some would argue Justin Bieber, Drake, etc.  I couldn’t logically agree because none of their music can be viewed as original.  All modern artists seem to copy each others’ music in some way and if not, then they have unknowingly taken from an older musician/ artist.  I think a musician/ artist’s ability to be a musical genius involves not only impressive musical control but also originality and creativity, which I don’t see in modern artists unfortunately.  They too are also boosted musically by fan bases and not strictly musical talent.

Rap Music: A Political Act

Recalling the article by Bohemian that we discussed a week ago in class, “Musicology as a Political Act”, it really got me thinking about rap music as a genre.  As I read the introduction, I nodded in approval as it seemed to coincide directly with the topic of my ethnomusical final paper.  Through a Davidson student and rap artist, I plan to disprove the stasis that rap music is intended to just please the ear and not to inform or have purpose.  At its beginning, rap was not socially accepted because of its explicit content and obnoxious, violent and sexual influences.  Yet still, its message was clearly intended to inform (ex. N.W.A., Mos Def, Nas, etc.).  Modernly, rap is viewed as ignorant, harmful, and intolerable.

I beg to differ.  Modern rap is actually evolving back to its roots.  Many rappers are viewing their roles less as entertainer and more as the voice of the people.  For example, in Kendrick Lamar’s album “To Pimp a Butterfly”, he reveals some of his experiences growing up as an impoverished, African American in one of the most dangerous cities in America.  He blatantly speaks about social and political issues.  Many do not see rap music as a means to do so, but in modern times, rap has become a platform for all Americans and even all humans to voice their opinions and concerns.  I, along with many others, believe this to be rap m

Diaspora: New Orleans Second Line Dancing

Earlier this week, I read a post discussing the nature of New Orleans jazz.  Immediately, I couldn’t help but read it because of how connected I am to the city and its culture.  My mother is a New Orleans native and when spending time with her family, I can’t help but to be awed by the city’s mystical air.  I’ve visited very few times but every time is a new experience.  One in particular occurred this summer.

After freshly graduating high school, my family took me to New Orleans, Louisiana to sight-see and to eat (truly).  I was amazed at the city’s antique architecture and flowery design.  The food was spectacular but the people were truly the spectacle. On every avenue, music can be heard (especially jazz music or some form of it).  But one day, we decided to take a trip down Bourbon street and that’s where I saw it.  I heard the loud, obnoxious New Orleans brass band and immediately captivated.  They give a certain soul to any song that cannot be compared to almost anything I’ve ever heard.  But that wasn’t even the most intriguing part.  The dance that went with it truly amazed me.

Called second-lining, people traditionally form lines and dance in a circular pattern to the tune of the brass band.  It is a true example of diaspora (which we’ve discussed in class) because the style of music and dance is thought to have come directly from African styles brought to America by the slave trade.  It looks simple enough, yet, I consider myself a pretty good dancer and it frustrates me to say that it took me a while to master second-lining.  It is a dance that truly cannot be explained, only witnessed.  So here it is.

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.

“Sabali”: Patience by Nas and Damian Marley

I found this song a few years ago.  I’ve always liked rap music, but after a while of listening to the same repetitive styles, I branched out and tried to listen to other genres.  Then, I happened upon reggae, especially the music created by Bob Marley’s sons.  One in particular, Damian Marley, created a song with the notorious rapper, Nas, called Patience.  This was truly the perfect blend of music and cultures for me.  I instantly fell in love with this song from its smooth beat and transitions to its exotically beautiful chorus.  The chorus is a sample of the song, “Sabali”, by the Malian group, Amadou and Mariam, sung in their native language of Bambara.  Fortunately in this case, the group was credited for their work unlike the case we discussed in class from the article written by Steven Feld.  After recently listening closer to the song, I realized the deeper meaning of the lyrics and was truly struck.  Their words are very powerful.  Throughout the song, the two artists question the structure of our world’s social, political, racial, and economic structures and issues.  If you are a natural-born skeptic like me, I suggest you read the lyrics and explanation of them in the link below and also watch their controversial music video for this song.


Hearing Modernity: Egypt, Islam, the Pious Ear, and the Poisoned Tongue

In his article, “Hearing Modernity”, Charles Hirschkind, he explains the development of the transfer of Muslim religious knowledge from the pulpit to its followers.  In the beginning, Hirschkind recounts the duty of the average Muslim to seize their own salvation.  According to older customs and ways of thought, Muslim believers have the responsibility to understand the sermons.  Also according to past Muslim thought, if a Muslim believer doesn’t agree with the sermon put before them, it is their fault and is the result of fault in their “organ of reception, the human heart” (134).

Later on and until modern times, the responsibility of Muslim salvation flipped.  The preacher’s use of rhetoric and ability to persuade his flock is his duty, and as a result, so are the religious prosperity of his followers. Soon, however, their words and stance on society would be influenced by political and social groups and movements that supported them.  Obviously with economic and other favors, it is clear to see how their sermons could be swayed from traditional positions of piety and Muslim logic to ones that favor the particular their patron’s causes.

The reoccurring theme I found in this article involved human flaws and error.  Regardless of the side of the Muslim transference of truth (whether the speaker or listener), some type of human error is involved.  The same is true in other realms of our world.  Actually, even though it involves a different culture and religion, my own personal experience as a Christian believer.  I’ve personally seen the proper use and misuse of the “infallible word of God”.

I’ve been to a church where the pastor clearly is “doing well”.  He has a nice car, nice clothes, and the church is near to pristine.  His sermon is very generic and he promises futures of prosperity, blessings, and things his followers want to hear.  The pastor’s flock smiles, nods, agrees, and encourages him to continue sheepishly.  He understands that by appealing to their positive attitudes, the pastor can collect more money from them and supporters in return.

On the contrary, I have been to a church where the pastor is not concerned with the views of his followers.  He is more concerned with the outcome of the souls of his followers.  He delivers sermons involving how a Christian should live, how they should think, etc.  His sermon may cause disagreement and squeamishness but all understand that what he says is the truth.  In all cases, I understand that in regards to anything, the ability of the minds of men to be swayed and the importance of motives and rhetorical effectiveness.