Writing about World Music

Davidson College, Fall 2015

Category: Uncategorized (page 1 of 8)

Study Music

Finals week has arrived, which means that students are putting in tons of hours in the library in order to prepare for their exams. Over the course of the past week, I have noticed many students studying with their headphones in, and many others studying without their headphones. It seems like for some, listening to music is a focus aid during study time, and for others listening to music is a distraction. It would be interesting to hear student’s thoughts on why they use, or choses not to use, music in order to prepare for exams.

As for me, certain genres of music keep me focused, while other genres distract me from my work. Specifically, listening to classical music, especially classical piano music, helps me to stay focused. Whenever I listen to music for fun, it is usually in the soft rock or electronic genre, not classical music. However, when I try to listen to my leisure music as I study, I get distracted. I think that music has the potential to be a significant aid to students while they prepare for exams, so long as they find the right kind of music to listen to. I’d love to hear your opinion about study music and what specific genres work best for you as you study. Or, if you don’t like listening to music while you study, explain why.

CDs No More

Imagine a world without CDs. A few years back you would think that would be crazy and maybe you still do. However, as the world becomes more modern and advanced in technology, it is predictable that one day CDs will no longer be made like phonographs. Well once Starbucks used to have a relationship with record companies in selling artist CDs such as Carly Simon. This historical event was explained by Spencer Kornaber, a journalist for the Atlantic, in an article about how the Starbucks was a major disappointment to the increase of CD sales.

Believe it or not but Starbucks used to have relationships with record companies to sell and promote CDs in their coffee shop to their customers. Although it is quite difficult to remember if Starbucks ever did promote music in CD form, Kornaber explains that in 1994 Starbucks had began to sell CDs in their store and was seen as a record industry rebel. People from record labels such as Howard Schultz agreed that Starbucks would be a great place to have music sold and this brought large artist to take part in this business such as Paul McCartney. The reason for this was because Starbucks allowed artist to have more freedom to decided where to have chains of their music sold compared to the record stores which were regulated by companies such as Universal. However, all good things came to an end. Starbucks soon began to run into trouble. What Schultz saw as a prospering idea had been altered. Starbucks had soon tried to move towards a more digital spectrum in order to compete with other large brands. Thus, the modernity of Starbucks had allowed them to lack in advertising music in their stores and begin to stop selling physical CDs.

As we continue to move towards a more technological world, we might not see Starbucks selling CDs anymore. However, not only would we see Starbucks putting a stop to CD sells but also other companies as well. With large online companies that offer music such as Spotify and Pandora will lead to an extinction of CDs as everything will soon become digital.


Sources: Kornhaber, Spencer. “Starbucks’s Failed Music Revolution.” The Atlantic. Atlantic Media Company, 25 Feb. 2015. Web. 03 Oct. 2015. <http://www.theatlantic.com/entertainment/archive/2015/02/starbuckss-failed-music-revolution/385937/>.

The Tearful Public Sphere: Turkey’s “Sun of Art,” Zeki Müren

As we enter a decade of a more open-minded society, we have witnessed the acceptance and equality of many sexualities and races. This modern environment is closely related to Martin Stokes’ journal chapter titled “The Tearful Public Sphere: Turkey’s Sun of Art,” where he writes about the theme of gender roles in the country of Turkey.

Primarily, Stokes explicitly explains the history on how the Ottoman Empire tried to reach modernity. He explained that the empire had been identified as the “Sick Man of Europe” and had given it a bad reputation to the kingdom because they were reaching points of diversity within their location. Thus, the young individuals in Turkey tried to reform this. One of the many Turks was Zeki Müren who was a homosexual singer. The fact that Müren was homosexual had clearly caused multiple hardships in his life such as being criticized. His lack of masculinity allowed many to bash on his liking for men. Stoke explained that there was a culture norm in Turkey that if an individual did not fit in what society wanted, he or she would be unaccepted. This also made it difficult fro Müren to be able to perform as a singer because he needed a permit like the majority of women who performed publicly. This not only had Müren be identified as a female but also highlighted the idea that women had the least participation in being engaged in musical performance due to the fact that they needed to gain permission with a permit.

This theme of women have little to none musical impact in a society reminds me of the role of women in the book, Sardinia Chronicles by Bernard Lortat-Jacob. Jacob writes in his book on how women had the role of being a homemaker. In other words, women had the traditional life of staying at home to provide for the husband when he arrived and having little to none involvement with men responsibilities. One of the major “responsibilities” that men had in the book was to play music and make a living out of playing music. Therefore, the fact that men were more probable to play music allowed this to be a gender custom. Jacob explains that the majority of people who made music in Sardinia. Specifically, one explain of this is how the men would usually gather together and play music while the women would not interfere with the men gathered together.

So the theme that Stokes presents us about gender roles has been a large impact throughout music history. The gender roles that have been established in society have not only been identified with employment opportunities but also hobbies such as music.


Sources: “Zeki Müren.” Cultural Intimacy in Turkish Popular Music The Republic of Love (2010): 35-72. Web. 25 Sept. 2015.

Music Improves Intelligence and Memory

Do you want to be smarter and have a higher IQ? Well here is the trick. Find a way to engage in musical training. Yes, it only takes a few practice sessions on reading musical notes and playing an instrument. According to the The Conversation’s journalist Amy Spray, music is has been a mind-pounding topic to researchers based on its ability to effectively have people complete task swiftly.

Spray explains that music training has provide results that demonstrated how individuals tend to improve in skill areas such as memorization, verbal communication, literacy, and verbal intelligence. Although it is weird to find that learning music will make one better in a skillset area, Spray is right. She explains that the brain often responds quicker when it is put through exercises such as memory. She proves this by explaining an experiment that was done in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. Researchers had experimented with students who had underdeveloped brains because of their young ages and found that the students that were put in musical training compared to those who were in officer training performed better in an accelerated course. Spray explains that the fact that the students in musical training were exposed to exercise that demanded accuracy and speed allowed them to react at quicker times which lead to a faster time of remembering information. Therefore, Spray suggested that if more students were exposed to musical training, they could improve on their skills and do well in school.

Thus, listening to music and remember the lyrics will not suite this situation. One must take the time to engage in more demanding musical training in order to challenge one’s brain to think at a faster rate.


Sources: “Musical Training Can Accelerate Brain Development and Help with Literacy Skills.” The Conversation. N.p., n.d. Web. 20 Sep. 2015. <http://theconversation.com/musical-training-can-accelerate-brain-development-and-help-with-literacy-skills-44946>.

Lyrics Altered for the World Cup

Where were you during the FIFA World Cup in South Africa 2010? Where you with friends watching your nation play? Or were you at home sitting on the couch without even having a clue about what was going on? Regardless if you were involved in being part of the World Cup in some form or not having an idea of it existing, K’Naan’s song titled “Waving Flag” was a potential song to be the tournament’s anthem. Also, if you have heard the song, you know its has a very upbeat rhythm that highlights the idea of unity within nations. K’Naan specifically states in his song “celebration it surrounds us, every nation, all around us.” These lyrics are one of the many in his verses that emphasize the theme of unification. However, what if I told you that this song initially was about poverty and struggle? It’s hard to believe but it’s true.

When K’Naan wrote the song, he intentionally wrote it based on the lives of people in Somalia. He used it as an inspiration for the people to be optimistic about the opportunities and freedoms to come in the near future. Since K’Naan has a dual nationality with both Canada and Somalia, he recognizes the hardships of the people who live in Somalia. It is evident that his life of living in both countries allowed him to compare two countries and emphasize the adversities of Somalia to a first world nation. Specifically, the lyrics to one of his verse states, “so we struggling, fighting to eat and we wondering when we’ll be free, so we patiently wait, for that fateful day, it’s not far away, so for now we say…” This is well written from the artist because not only does it summarize the major difficulties that Somalia people face but also it gives him and the people a motivation to continue to fight through the pain and oppression.

Despite the original song, the celebration remix made for the world cup also has positive intentions, yet it does not expose the poverty and oppression of a country. Rather it maintains a clean version of demonstrating unity within a group of people, specifically the countries playing in the world cup.


Sources: “”Wavin’ Flag” Lyrics.” K’NAAN LYRICS. N.p., n.d. Web. 013 Sep. 2015. <http://www.azlyrics.com/lyrics/knaan/wavinflag.html>.

“”Wavin’ Flag (The Celebration Mix)” Lyrics.” K’NAAN LYRICS. N.p., n.d. Web. 13 Sep. 2015. <http://www.azlyrics.com/lyrics/knaan/wavinflagthecelebrationmix.html>.

Wikipedia. Wikimedia Foundation, n.d. Web. 13 Sep. 2015. <https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Wavin%27_Flag>.

Finals Music

Tis’ the season for the library to be annoyingly overcrowded with people who aren’t actually working but feel too guilty to go back to their rooms and go to sleep. Their “five minute study break” has been going on for over half an hour, and you have a paper due in two hours. There are no rooms left in Chambers that aren’t covered with signs saying “DO NOT DISTURB.” Is there anywhere quiet on campus? No. Do you have to focus? Yes. It’s time to listen to a lot of low key, instrumental music.

The best places to find study playlists ranked in preference:

  1. www.8tracks.com

On 8 tracks, you can search by genre, band, mood, or tag. The playlists are sorted by new, trending, or popular (always pick popular). If you can stomach the overly cutesy pictures next to the mixes, you’ll find great, long playlists to keep you going for hours.

Here’s one to get you going:


2. Youtube playlist feature.

[youtube https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=videoseries?list=PL3FB4CE844FDD381C&w=560&h=315]

Okay, this one isn’t as exciting, but it is incredibly underutilized.  Search “your favorite band, playlist” and you’re set. This is also a great way to find up and coming people who don’t have albums out yet (or on Spotify yet).

3. Spotify

This is self-explanatory. If you don’t know what this is, how have you been doing your W101 assignments? I understand if you have loyalty to Pandora (but if you are exclusively a Pandora person: does “Sound of Silence” by Simon and Garfunkel come up on every single one of your playlists, too? I understand the link between Elliott Smith, sure, but I can’t see the music preference algorthim going from Ke$ha to Sound of Silence. Life is a mystery.).

4. http://www.npr.org/music/

Their live stream is great 80% of the time, especially at night. It’s finals, you’re up at night. If you want to find new stuff, this is great. Plus, you feel kind of pretentious listening to NPR and death glaring the people talking too loudly at the table next to you, and in these trying times of academic uncertainty, we all need a little bit of a superiority complex.

Take what you will of this post in jest, but do check out some new music while you’re studying. If you’re attached to your computer, it’s a great excuse to hear something new.

Observations and Analysis

When conducting “field work” during ethnographic research, interviews with musicians are a vital part of “data collection” that ethnomusicologists must conduct.  It provides insight on what we observe from an outsider’s perspective.  These interviews answer the questions that pop up in our minds when observing the culture and music in front of us.  It is a social interaction between the researcher and the practitioner, an exchange of ideas that results in the recording of the researchers findings.  This is a limitation that researchers of ethnomusicology must consider.  We are limited by what we observe and what we interpret and analyze in the “thick descriptions” that we write.  Of course, this limitation is acknowledged but it is that very acknowledgement of uncertainty in the findings of researchers that is the basis of the difficulty of building up from the ideas of others.  This uncertainty is circumvented through the extensive observations made by researchers, usually culminating in years worth of observations about a certain ethnomusicological topic.   It is through this extensive and well-documented process that provides the validity of any assumptions, connections, generalizations made by ethnomusicological writers.  Through experience, proximity, and social relationships, ethnomusicologists provide the observations and analysis that convey knowledge on to those  that seek to unravel the cultures of music.

Televised Singing Contests

Every Sunday night a televised singing contest makes its appearance on one of the main channels. Shows like American Idol, The Voice, X Factor, and many, many more come on to show the U.S. who some of the best singers in the country are. Other countries have their own versions of these competitions, but the U.S. has the most televised singing contests.

The shows range in different variations of competitions. Some allow private auditions, others public. The size of the crowd varies, and even the audition itself can vary. A fairly recent show called Killer Karaoke even features singers who have to compete while accomplishing their fears. All of the competitions feature famous guest judges, normally singers, who can help the competitors learn how to better their voices. Although some of these singing shows are fun to watch, I often ponder the rules of the competition.

For the majority of the people who audition, I believe they sound amazing. All the competitors sing their hearts out, and almost all of them sound amazing. I find it difficult on how the judges decide who continues onto the next round and who goes home. In the competitions, it eventually reaches a point where they let “America” decide who continues onto the next round. People can vote on their favorite singers to continue, and eventually, the person with the most votes wins the competition.

Although few people who end up winning become internationally famous and AMA winners, the competitions aren’t futile. It is an experience where you can learn how to sing better and interact on stage during performance. Many people who get kicked off the show during the earlier stages of the competition come back the next season to retest their luck. Many famous singers have come out of the competitions and, obviously, become successful. Some performers include One Direction from the X Factor, Jennifer Hudson from American Idol, Miranda Lambert from Nashville Star, Kelly Clarkson from American Idol, Susan Boyle from Britain’s Got Talent, Carrie Underwood from American Idol, Pentatonix from The Sing-Off, and Adam Lambert from American Idol. (Just to name a few.) A USA Today article discussed the failure of singing shows to create famous performers.


The singing competitions have gained success in televised views. You can go on youtube and look up the competitions auditions and there will be tons of views. Also, many people put together compilations of the best and the worst auditions. Whichever program had the first televised singing competition started a trend that continues even today; still, new contests are popping up but with different rules and concepts.

How Much Does My Opinion Matter?

This idea of weighing the value of my opinion on certain matters has become something that is incredibly important and difficult to comprehend concerning my ethnographic research. In my ethnographic research, I am studying the chorale, of which I am also a member. Having the insider knowledge of being a member of the chorale, gives me tremendous insight into being able to detail certain things. However, since I want to reflect the views of the chorale as a whole, and not just my own, it becomes very difficult to find the line where I should stop riding my own analysis that is a result of insider interpretation, and instead switch to focusing on the ideas of others. This is one of those areas, where although I desperately would want a clear-cut answer, I do not believe there actually is one. It’s interesting to think about the conflict feel regarding the issue, for I sometimes find myself thinking that since I’m an insider I should be able to tell my own opinions on things and not need to worry about asking others, but then I also simultaneously think that I need to ask others for their own interpretation on things that to me seem plainly obvious.

A perfect example of this is simple warm-up routines. If I were to briefly write about some of the warm-up routines we do as part of the chorale, I wouldn’t feel the need to ask others for their interpretation of the warm-up, for I feel that being part of the chorale, I already have a solid understanding of its meaning. This seems logical, but I still do not feel certain that it’s the right move, and thus why I am posting in the blog about this issue. If anyone has any insight for me that they think could help, please let me know, as I would be glad to hear somebody else’s thoughts on this dilemma.

Christmas Music

It’s getting to be about that time of year when all year almost everywhere is Christmas Music. I personally sometimes have mixed feelings about it. On one hand, I love the cheer and joy that stems from hearing classic songs about love, friendship, family, and general merriment, but on the other hand, they do often get very repetitive. I understand that the classics are well… classic… but the next time I hear Jingle Bells will probably be about 5,000th time I’ve heard the song throughout my lifetime, and after hearing it another several hundred times throughout the Holiday season (often the same version), it gets a tad annoying. I’m not trying to be the Grinch or anything like that. I rather enjoy the Holiday spirit, but sometimes I wish more people would try to increase the range of Christmas Music that they listen to.

That being said, this year I’m on a quest to find “the other” Christmas Music. I want to find the music that yo won’t every hear on the radio, but still carries every little bit of the Holiday Spirit and sounds refreshingly new. Also as a Christian, I find myself often looking for songs that have deep meaning to the roots of what Christmas is all about to me. After already having done some searching this Holiday season, I have been pleasantly surprised with some of the results I’ve had. I’ve found many songs through YouTube that I’ve never heard before, but sound wonderful and powerful nonetheless. It has helped bring new meaning to the Christmas season for me, as well as personalized the joy and spirit that this season brings. Feel free to post in the comments any Christmas songs that you know that don’t necessarily see endless play on the radio that you feel still deserves attention. I would love to listen. Here’s one of the songs that I’ve found in my search.

Older posts