Writing about World Music

Davidson College, Fall 2015

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Ethnographic Research

As the deadline for the final paper is approaching, I’m having trouble applying a specific filter when putting my observations to paper, as some of my observations may offend those who I’m writing about.  This type of selective filtering may be applied to intergroup conflicts like disagreements with what to do to a song, who to give a solo to, or even things unrelated to music that may find their way into rehearsals.  I haven’t seen anything significantly troubling thus far that shouldn’t be published, however the selective wording and phrasing of ethnomusicologists such as Nettl and Waxer make me very cautious of how I should go about making a final conglomeration of my observations along with a claim that the group may or may not agree with.  Their specific wording and exclusion of minor detail can both accommodate for those they study and also elicit a meaning unreachable by only thin description of their observations.

In the final draft I hope to both get all of the vital information I’ve observed to support my claim, and that I don’t undermine the group that kindly let me observe them for the past several weeks.  It will be difficult, but my end goal is to disprove the notion that a cappella is always an easy venture for a given group’s members.

SadBoys 2001

The SadBoys crew consists of Yung Lean the rapper, and his two producers: Yung Sherman and Yung Gud.  They are a rap group based in Sweden and they are taking over the indie rap world.  Here is a little clip of a classic Yung Lean song to let you get the feel of their music.

[youtube https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=tMgkt9jdjTU&w=560&h=315]

The song is “Kyoto” and in the video it features the SadBoys Crew as well as their associates Gravity Boys.  Yung Lean offers lyrical anomalies that he considers “e m o t i o n a l” which gives inspiration to their crew name.  This is exemplified through lyrics like ” S A D B O Y S see me in the club with it tatted on my chest” which shows his devotion to his crew and his determination to succeed within the rap game.  Yung Gud and Yung Sherman produce unique tracks and beats that are quite underrated and often go unnoticed.  The intricacies of their beats often go unnoticed and it is a shame that such talented producers are not getting the attention that they deserve.  However, they have a huge internet following almost rivaling that of Lil B, praising their unique music style and swearing by them.  I personally am I fan of their music, as I feel that most of their songs involve putting in raw emotion into their tracks.  When you listen to Yung Lean, you are taken into the SadBoys world for the duration of the songs and you will feel the complete e m o t i o n a l developments of each line.  He has been quiet for the passed few months after his Unknown Memory tour, but has come back with a huge bang with his new song “Hoover.”

[youtube https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=9jDiAcqbO0c&w=560&h=315]

Music and Memory

One of the most fascinating aspects of music, in my opinion, is how it bring back memories. Sometimes this is a great thing because there are such happy memories associated with certain songs and other times, it’s not so great because perhaps I don’t want to remember something that is associated with that song. For example, I remember listening to “Blackbird” by The Beatles in the car with my dad in one summer when I was really young. I remember thinking that it was a lullaby and feeling so at peace. Because of this memory, “Blackbird” has been one of my favorite songs for my whole life. On the other hand, I remember listening to “100 Years” by Five for Fighting when I found out my uncle had died when I was in sixth grade. Even though I love the actual song, I can’t listen to it anymore because of the memories.


I also think having memories associated with music is so great sometimes because every song is a new opportunity. Every new song I listen to can have a new memory associated with it someday. And if I want to, I can associate certain feelings with certain songs. For example, two years I made a playlist called “Summer” and put only happy, warm songs on it. I would listen to this when I drove around in the summer or on beautiful days in the winter or whenever I was in a good mood, so those songs have a positive connotation to me. I’ll always find these associations so cool because, even though some memories and associations are uncontrollable, I can make any song the perfect song for certain moods.

Thoughts on my 3rd Project

In Friday’s peer review session, Jose mentioned that the focus of my project, which at the time was the assimilation of first year students into the jazz ensemble here at Davidson, was to narrow. What he meant by this was that there are not many people who would care about how first year students are assimilated into a jazz ensemble, besides maybe a few jazz ensemble directors. Taking Jose’s critique in mind, I tried to make my thick description apply to a broader audience.

In order to do this, I focused on the jazz ensemble’s performance during parents’ weekend. During this performance, the jazz ensemble’s director, Dr. Bill Lawing, emphasized that first years were an important part of the show. Several first year musicians were even given solos. This was significant not only for the first years, but also for the members of the audience, who were mostly parents of children here at Davidson. The assimilation of first years into the performance showed the parents in the audience that Davidson is a welcoming community where students are treated like members of a family and given new opportunities to thrive. If I focus research on what the jazz ensemble’s performances mean to the audience, do you think it would broaden the scope of my project?

Music, Tragedy, and National Identity


By now, all of us have heard about the coordinated attacks through France’s capitol, Paris, that left 129 people dead. Though little is known about the individual motivations of the attackers, information about some of the assailants’ nationalities sparked fear throughout Europe. One attacker is a confirmed French citizen and one is a refugee from Syria.  While home grown terror is concerning, considering refugees as terrorist threats adds a new complexity to the already tense discussion over the European refugee crisis.

Since the attacks, Polish officials have announced that Poland will stop taking in refugees.  Given that 8,000 individuals try to enter the European Union per day, if other nations follow Poland’s lead, it is easy to predict an increase in human rights violations as refugees become more desperate for the services of human traffickers, become increasingly willing to enter EU nations under unsafe conditions, and, once there, feel pressure to stay in Europe under any means necessary.  For refugees, especially Syrian refugees who have been relocated by fighting continuously over the past four years, “going home” is not an option.  So although President Hollande may have closed France’s borders and despite Poland’s pledge not to accept any more dislocated people, the reality is that they are more than likely still coming.

The question is, what are the dynamics of the society the refugees are coming to? In Paris on Friday night, football fans sang France’s national anthem as they walked out of the stadium. Media sources globally took this as a signal of French unity, pride, and defiance to terrorists. The Sydney Morning Herald compared the event to the spontaneous singing of the French National Anthem in the French Parliament after the Charlie Hebdo attacks in January of this year. Without knowing anything about the attackers, and indeed the French citizens singing the anthem did not know anything about the attackers while they were singing, the song suggests that protecting France comes from within France. The national anthem prioritizes nation’s borders as a meaningful construct for defining social inclusion.

Except as the French were rallying around being French for support, one of the attackers (if not more) was a home grown extremist. He would have known the French national anthem. The song indicates that he should be included in the acknowledgement of suffering and resilience because he is french. The refugees and non-citizens are not included in this song. We might see that a different criteria for social inclusion is appropriate and then, perhaps, a different choice of song to reflect strength and dignity of people following tragedy.

What does it tell us that in the wake of tragedy, we turn inward towards our own nation and find solace in things that differentiate us from the world ( in songs unique to our country for instance) rather than things that unite us with people globally? Is this instinct, which seems to be knee-jerk (I can’t imagine there was much thought or debate over what song to sing in response to this tragedy) a problem, a neutral fact about how people function within nations, or something to take pride in? What does singing the national anthem signify to refugees and non-citizens impacted by the attacks?



Favorite Artist

My new favorite artist at the moment is Lil Dicky. My younger sister texted me and told me to listen to one of his songs a month ago, but I was hesitant and did not. Then one of my friends showed me one of his music videos and I became hooked on listening to him. I listen to him while doing homework, working out, or if I just need a break from everything. I would describe his genre as rap, but he also has many other different dimensions to his music. When he raps his lyrics are almost comical. He talks about funny subjects, and the way he presents these subjects is funny. His music videos are also humorous. In one of his songs he raps about where he came from and his background compared to that of other rappers. His background is different from that of typical rappers, as many rappers talk about the “struggles” they had to go through in order to get where they are now. Lil Dicky was raised in a suburb and went to the University of Richmond, where he graduated and had an office job. However, he was not happy working this job so he decided to quit his job and take up rapping, which I think is admirable. He is definitely an up and coming rapper who I believe has a lot of potential. My favorite song by him is $ave dat Money, so attached is the music video.

Childish Gambino: Because the Internet

Donald Glover is a jack of all trades when it comes to the entertainment business. He is an actor, writer, voice actor, comedian, rapper/singer/, song writer, and record producer. He preforms under the name Childish Gambino which he got from a Wu-Tang Clan name generator.

Unlike most artists, Childish Gambino really understands and embraces all of what internet has to offer. The idea of an “internet rapper” is still relatively new and not a very successful route for a vast majority of people trying to make a name for themselves. Childish Gambino has managed to moved beyond the “internet rapper” state, mainly due to his internet presence and mobility. His persona on the internet helps fuel the sharing of his music and content. He allows his fans to speculate about a lot of what he says and does. In the music videos for songs from his album, Because the Internet, there are hints at a monster that keep appearing at the end of each video. Fans went crazy trying to uncover the meaning behind the monster but Childish Gambino never explained the reason behind it. The internet is at the core of Childish Gambino’s success because it shaped who he is as a person, not just how his music reaches an audience.


Suicide Saturday-Favorite Song

Needless to say, everyone has a favorite song.  This song may not be listened to every day or even once a week, simply because if one listened to it too much they’d start to hate it.  My favorite song is relatively new, however.  I’ve known about it for nearly a year now, and still when I listen to it I like it just as much as I did the first time I heard it.  It immediately puts me into a good mood, despite whatever the name “Suicide Saturday” may imply.  I can drive down the beach listening to this song, do homework to it, or listen to it in times of stress and regardless of my present situation it will put me in a good mood and remind me why one has to appreciate music so much.

This song itself is relatively unique to the “genre” it may fall under.  The band, Hippo Campus, is a pretty new band, being active since 2013, and their prevalence is rising as they are releasing more songs.  In my opinion, Suicide Saturday is quite hard to top in terms of a precedent.  But, for being one of their first songs, they’ve done a pretty good job of living up to such a good standard of music production.  I definitely recommend giving this band a listen if one’s looking for new music.  Who knows, you may find your favorite song.

Music is for Everyone!

I found this amazingly interesting article about how music is for everyone, even the deaf! The Indie pop band Walk the Moon released a new music video designed so even those who can’t hear can enjoy music. They did this by using vibrations alongside a music video. This amazed me as coming to thing about music can easily be “heard” through the feeling of vibration yet I had never thought about his before. It really makes me believe even more that everyone should have access to music as for me it is so important.


Two Steps from Hell

Two Steps from Hell is an American Production Music Company that is responsible for the composition of a large quantity of music that is used today in trailers, television series, and even video games. Although often unnoticed, the group led by Thomas Bergersen and Nick Phoenix have been a part of some of the most iconic franchises in movie history to date. I recently took notice of them as I was watching a movie trailer and my friend pointed out the music that was used to make the trailer so powerful was by them. Immediately, I started looking up more of their work and was amazed to see just how much of their work I already knew but just didn’t notice. If you have never heard of the group, I highly recommend that you look up some of their stuff, for I am almost certain that most people have heard a part of their work in some capacity, and it is nearly always some of the most powerful music one could ever listen to. My fascination with the group has grown, as I have come to appreciate the modern usage of classical music which I often thought to be dying. For I was dead wrong in my analysis that classical music was dying. In fact, classical music is actually growing, just not in the places we originally expected. The specialty of classical music today is to make something else seem more powerful as opposed to mainstream music that often stands on its own. Nevertheless, Two Steps from Hell has provided music that in my opinion is so tremendous that it should be able to stand on its own and get the credit and respect that it deserves. Below I’ve included some videos of their music. One features a compilation of movies where their music was present, and the other features one of their most powerful compositions. I hope you all enjoy.

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