Writing about World Music

Davidson College, Fall 2015

Author: jakemp

Gender in Ethnomusicology

A reoccurring topic in our posts and in class has been the lack of female musicians in ethnography’s. However, we haven’t focused as much on the lack of female ethnographers. In the recent Society for Ethnomusicology, one of the panels addressed this issue with 4 female ethnographers talking about their experience in the field. My favorite speaker was Ellen Koskoff from the Eastman School of Music. Her talk was called “Plus two and minus two: Being white, heterosexual, Jewish and female in ethnomusicology”.

In her talk, she explained the reason for her title was a speaker came to talk at Eastman School and listed traits of a Dominant Group and a Subordinate Group. Her traits in the Dominant Group were white and heterosexual and in the Subordinate Group were Jewish and Female. The speaker also noted that people with traits in the Dominant Group were normally the ones who committed micro-agressions due to their status.

Ellen Koskoff then traced how the situations she found herself in when in the field, reflected this idea. She researched in two very different parts of the world: Brooklyn, NY with ultra-orthodox Jews and Bali with a small ensemble. What she found was that depending on where she was researching, her “pluses” and “minus’s” were different. For example in Brooklyn, she found that being heterosexual and female were her “minus’s” because men thought she was there to find a husband(even though she definitely was not), which got in the way of her studies. This makes complete sense that “plus’s and minus’s” would change from society to society, yet this is not something that I would recognize right away without having experience like Dr. Koskoff did or hearing about it from someone else. I find this to be very interesting to see what causes these “plus’s and minus’s” and how this could be changed.



In high school, I used to debate with my friend who was very into classic rock. I would argue that there isn’t nearly as much good music made any more. He would argue the opposite. By good music I mean music that isn’t completely digitized with tampering of voices and electric beats that is so commonly heard on popular radio stations. He “good” music is still being made, you just need to look deeper then popular radio stations. Now, I see that he was right, but still, I don’t have the time to look up my own music. What I listen to tends to be what is on popular radio stations and this is not exactly the music I like. I feel like music, or at least popular music in the U.S. has converged to be almost exclusively modified, pop songs. While I do see that there is other music with authentic artists and bands being made, it annoys me that there is not more of this on mainstream stations. What do you think the cause of this is? Is it really that people prefer this pop or is it that this is what radio stations “think” people enjoy?

Ethiopian music vs. United States Music

The family of one of my best friends from home adopted a brother and sister from Ethiopia about 6 years ago and their relationship with music has changed significantly while they have been here in their new home. When they came to the U.S. they were 5 and 6 years old and did not speak any english. Both however, loved to sing. They started off by only singing in their native language and would do so many times during the day. As they both became more accustomed to the U.S. their taste in music changed and the brothers favorite artist became Kid Cudi. He easily memorized the lyrics to tons of songs and loved to sing them. Now that both are older, they still do love music, but their singing has definitely slowed down. I would be very interested in studying the reasons for this. Is it because music in the United States serves a different role? I would imagine it does but it would be hard to understand the specifics without visiting their further home. This is where the importance of on site ethnomusicology plays a role and why it is so important that ethnomusicology changed from just studying musical pieces, to actually visiting places and studying the whole process.

Sugar Man

I’m not sure if any of you are familiar with Sixto Rodriguez but if you’re not, I wanted to bring your attention to his music. Junior year in my english class, my teacher had us watch a documentary called Searching for Sugar Man. At the time I wasn’t very excited to watch this, considering documentaries aren’t my favorite, but afterwards I was very happy I watched this. Sixto Rodriguez is now one of my favorite artists and I love listening to his music. If any of you have time, I would highly recommend watching this documentary. Rodriguez not only has great music, but also encompasses everything I value in an artist. He is humble, modest, talented, and most importantly focused on creating great music.

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?

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.




Music Sensitivity

When reading about Zeki Muren in “The Tearful Public Sphere” by Martin Stokes, I could not help but notice the irony of Muren’s sensitivity to his audiences and the lack of sensitivity of Muren’s personal life from media. Stokes acknowledges Zeki Muren has a “a capacity for sensitivity to the rival demands of Christian and Islamic calendars” (Stokes 311). In addition, Zeki Muren has a “sensitivity to women’s religious practice” despite women’s religious practice being “complex and contradictory” at the time (Stokes 311). Stokes does not specify the form of this sensitivity but nonetheless it is there.  This could be interpreted as a strategic because his sensitivity to the religious practices of these two groups brought about both controversy and respect, which in turn made him a “compelling public persona” (Stokes 311). But for Zeki Muren there was no way of knowing his genuineness would bring about this attention before hand.

This sensitivity Zeki Muren gives his audience is contrasted by the lack of sensitivity from the media. Stokes notes that Muren’s sexuality was “obvious” and “complex topic of discussion”. Mere discussion of the topic of the homosexuality because of a new homosexual figure is in no way insensitive. But Stokes also acknowledges that there are some who “sought to heterosexualize the memory” of him with ridiculous stories of sleeping with many women (Stokes 312) and this is where the insensitivity lays. Furthermore,  Zeki Muren and Bulent Esroy were “not often compared as musicians”, which is a shame that their would be less focus on their music because of their sexuality (Stokes 319). This is not to say that the Turkish people as a whole did not except these artists, because they did.

Although we have not talked about sensitivity to audiences and musicians much in class, I thought it would be an interesting connection to make to the “World Music” we read about World Music in Television Ads by Timothy Taylor. The music in television ads is made up of a combination of ethnic sounds from different cultures like drums with a woman singing or with children singing in unison (Taylor 162). Thinking in about sensitivity in the case of Zeki Muren made me think about whether or not people in the cultures where these musical elements are taken from would be offended when hearing this blend of music, used to target upper class travelers. Is there anything wrong with using these sounds? Should groups that make this “world music” be more sensitive?

 Stokes, The Tearful Public Sphere

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

Take a Minute

My junior year of high school, in my AP Language and Composition class, we were asked to write a short paper on our favorite song. Junior year, my favorite song was Take a Minute by K’naan. I’m not sure how many people are familiar with K’naan or this song, but K’naan is a rapper from Somalia. He fled war torn areas all over Africa with his mother until he was 13, when he moved to Harlem. The reason Take a Minute was my favorite song was basically because it had an incredibly uplifting message and because it was sung by K’naan who had an extremely unique and difficult childhood.

However, in my paper, I did not talk about K’naan’s song in a World Music context, mainly because I was unfamiliar with the topic. Going back and looking at my paper is extremely interesting to me and I like relating it to what we have talked about in class. In the modern age, K’naan was able to familiarize himself with rap music, even while traveling Africa at a young age, because his father was sending him rap music from the U.S. Furthermore, I find it interesting that K’naan does not incorporate any musical aspects from his home country of Somalia into his music (to the best of my knowledge). But he does choose to sing/rap about his childhood and how it has affected him. I have copied the link below! (I’m sorry I forget how to imbed the video…)