Writing about World Music

Davidson College, Fall 2015

Author: julebek

Straight Outta Compton

After watching the movie, Straight Outta Compton (2015), last night, my mind was really opened to the world of “old school rap.” The movie, based on a true story, is set in the city of Compton, California in the year 1987, an area ridden with gang violence, drug dealers, and police brutality. It follows the rise of the famous rap group, N.W.A., comprised of rappers Ice Cube, Eazy-E, Arabian prince, and Dr. Dre. The group was one of the original “gangsta rap” groups and received both love and criticism for its explicit songs about women, drugs, violence, and speaking out against the police. The group’s biggest hits are “Straight Outta Compton,” “F*** the Police,” and “Express Yourself,” all with various messages depicting life in Compton as African-Americans and their continuous struggle dealing with gang violence and oppression from the police. Their first album, “Straight Outta Compton,” went double-platinum in the United States, and once split up, the rappers continued to see success pursuing their individual music careers.

I had heard many N.W.A songs prior to watching the movie; however, I never truly appreciated the meaning of these songs until I was able to visualize what life was like for these rappers. I had previously believed their songs to simply be about demeaning women, drug abuse, and violence, just like much of today’s rap music; however, the movie really opened my eyes to the more substantive message their music really attempts to portray. Seeing the intense and very real police brutality the movie portrays, such as the abuse of taxi driver Rodney King, their music seems far more justified in its harsh and explicit criticism against police brutality. Here is an example of a scene from the movie depicting the police’s unfair treatment of the young rappers (Video contains NSFW language):

In addtion, every day in Compton for these rappers could be their last, as violence and gang activity was constantly present, so their music that makes repeated references to drugs, guns, and violence is not simply to sound like tough thugs, but rather accurately depicts the harsh lifestyle they were born and raised in.

Overall, I thought the movie was a great success in its attempt to open people’s eyes to the true meaning of N.W.A’s music, and I would certainly recommend watching Straight Outta Compton, whether you want to learn more about the culture of Compton in the 80’s and 90’s, or simply just need an entertaining movie to kill some time.

The Rise of A Cappella

In spending time with and writing about the on campus a cappella group, the Nuances, I have certainly gained a greater appreciation for a cappella music. As I dove into research about the a cappella culture of today’s world, I was surprised with how little media that even the most popular a cappella groups receive. Obviously the hit TV show Glee and the Pitch Perfect movies have put a cappella on the map a bit more; however, there is still a distinct lack of media coverage on a cappella groups in the music world of today. One group that I did find who is quite popular is the five-person a cappella group, Pentatonix, who creates an incredible, and almost unreal a cappella sound. Here is an example of one of their more popular cover songs:

As you can hear, it sounds as if there is no chance the music was created solely by vocals and sounds created by mouth; however, it truly is 100% a cappella. Using a bass singer as well as a beatboxer, the group creates a pop/electronic sound that draws listeners in in utter disbelief. This form of a cappella has certainly come a long way since the original barbershop quartets, and I believe with this new sound and added publicity from Hollywood, a cappella could certainly make a huge splash in national media and mainstream music in coming years.

Gender Roles in World Music

In Martin Stokes’ chapter, “The Tearful Public Sphere: Turkey’s ‘Sun of Art’ Zeki Müren,” he touches a lot on the point of “gender deceny,” as he puts it, and talks about how Zeki Müren was able to grow his female fan base because of his sensitivity and awareness of women’s religious practice (311). Müren’s approach to his music and performances, as Stokes describes, “mechanisms at work,” really highlight the thought process that many musicians go through before creating their music, performing for fans, and simply going out into the public eye (311). Because Müren was so focused on creating a persona that was sensitive to women and their practices, he saw in return great success in winning over females of all ages to enjoy his music. The music industry as a whole for Müren was a constant “game,” as Stokes describes, where Müren was “an active player in a world of spectacular competitive rivalry” (311). Stokes describes careers in the music industry in this way almost as a game, where it is a full time commitment to not only creating music and performing for fans, but also manufacturing your own image and maintaining that image throughout you career. This “female-friendly image” Müren so effectively created was looked upon as controversial to some, as Stokes describes, due to the “tradition of cultural dirigisme” and the belittling of women’s social roles in Turkey (309).

This struggle for gender equality is very similar to that of those described by Lortat-Jacob in his piece “Sardinian Chronicles.” The women play a very belittling role in the novel, and there is no mention of women participating in the musical culture of Sardinia. They were only described in the light of “servant” when mentioned in the book, and did nothing more than simply cater to the wishes and desires of their male counterparts. This problem is not often mentioned in modern day America, as our music industry has significant female participation on all levels, but in both Stokes’ chapter and “Sardinian Chronicles,” the belittling of women to a subservient position is still a problem in many countries around the world.

Lortat-Jacob, Bernard. Sardinian Chronicles. Chicago: U of Chicago, 1995. Print.