Writing about World Music

Section X, Fall 2016

Author: tionia

Authenticity in Disney’s Moana

My post is both a follow up from another post and based on this npr article


This article chronicles Disney’s production of the musical score of Moana, the most recent Disney princess movie about Oceania. The director Ron Clements has been working since 1970 with Disney, and has worked with Disney after their rut. Their hit The Little Mermaid included music, and the animation with music has been the framework for Disney films ever since. Alan Menken and Howard Ashman were working on Broadway, and Disney’s success on Broadway can be attributed to this.  This time around Disney has picked Lin-Manuel Miranda, the creator of broadway hit Hamilton. He hails from the Caribbean and is very focused on the authenticity of the music. The creators of the music have done lots of research and studying on the music of Oceania and some native artists even appear on the musical score of the new movie.  “The studio has taken flak in the past for appropriating other cultures in misguided — and sometimes insulting — ways” so this time around, they are working on the authenticity of their piece. The writer of the musical score Mike Mancina, who also wrote the score for The Lion King is also focused on the authenticity of the piece.

The problem is how authentic can they be? This time around they have put lots of work into the music making sure it is authentic, but are leery of making sure they appropriate the culture respectfully. They are working to make  the music authentic, but as we have seen with the Lion King, that is not always the case. I think Disney has gotten better with cultural sensitivity and is doing great work to make sure that the music that appears in the musical score of their new movies both represents the culture well and is a reasonable hit. I think that Disney is going to do great work in the future, and I think that although they have not done justice to the cultures in the past, they may be able to redeem themselves now.


Music and Studying

I often find myself “listening” to music while I study.

This goes back to a debate that we seem to have had throughout this course. While I study, I do not follow the model of ethical and responsible listening that we discussed. The type of music I listen to when I study is preferential and everyone has their own taste in music. For me, I generally do not know the music I listen to when I study. I use it as a tactic to be more engaged with my work as opposed to the music. The playlist I have formulated is called “Instrumental Study (TRANCE).” In this title it encompasses almost all of the songs that are on the playlist. They are songs, generally without words, that seem to put me into a sort of trance state when I study.

What is odd about the music, is that it somewhat resembles world music in the sense that almost all of them have distinct beats, and if they have words, the words are non-sensical. Everything is more along the line of sounds, and if you were to classify space as the world, this music would be world music. For me, this music is something that I can blast to drown out the noises around me, but the music is not distinct enough that I lose my focus on my work.

What is interesting to me is that each person has a different preference of music when they study. Some people like to listen to piano music, and some people just like to listen to their favorite tunes. This brings me back to what we talked about before in class. Are we really listening? In my opinion I think it is no. As I write this article, I have my playlist playing, and since I last checked, about eight songs have passed without me even knowing. If I try to listen to anything else, I easily lose focus and begin to sing along or think deeply about the music.  Perhaps this says something about music and its intentions. The songs I listen to are means of relaxing and focusing myself, while other songs are merely away to entertain and distract myself from everything.

Coming back to the thoughts of ethical listening, my question is do the artists who make music that do not have lyrics intend for their songs to be just background and ambient noise? Or do they intend for the listeners of the song to engage with what seems like a tune to put you to sleep?

What do you listen to when you study?

Sports and Music

The Cubs haven’t been to the world series in 71 years. The infamous billy goat curse is something that has haunted the cubs for years. They have not won a world series in over 100 years. The fans have continued to be loyal even after a crazy dry streak. That is until this year where the team made it to the world series. I have family from Chicago, and that is where my dad grew up. My Chicago family has been waiting for the day the Cubs will finally win again. The past few years the new team line up has given the team a fair amount of success. Today my dad was able to get tickets for game 5 of the series for my Grandmother, who has seen every other major Chicago team win titles including the ’85 Bears, the Blackhawks continued success in the past decade, the Bulls hot streak of the ’90s and even the White Sox’s world series win in ’05. With the cubs comes their Anthem which is known throughout the  Chicago Cubs fanbase. I found an article on NPR about the immortalization of the anthem:


This had me thinking about songs that are related to sports. Although my high school did not have a fight song, I know that many schools do. People will vivaciously chant and cheer for their school and join in unison to sing the school fight song. Sports can be family traditions as can songs. What is even better is when they are combined. One of the greatest sports associated songs I knew growing up was the ’85 Bears Super Bowl Shuffle. Come to think of it music is very important to a sports experience. Although I am not an avid international sports fan. It says something about sports when each sports network has a theme song and distinct tune that is recognizable to non-religious sports fans. The song screams victory or even strength. The World Cup even has a song, as we saw in one of our earlier classes.

When watching sports live, there are occasionally musical performances at halftimes or songs played during the game and breaks. There are even the famous songs that we know such as “Take me out to the ball game” that are tied to the sports experience. We must face that songs are inevitably a part of almost everything we do.


The Qur’an

After Thursday’s reading, “Hearing Modernity: Egypt, Islam, and the Pious Ear” I did an internet search on the  Qur’an. What I was particularly interested in was the way the Qur’an is recited, and how it is quite song like (but only according to our Western ontology).

I stumbled across this website entitled “The Noble Qur’an”.


What I found was quite interesting and goes along well with what we read in the Sardinian Chronicles. I found that there was a way that you could change the person who was reciting the verse. The verse did not change, however, each person who recited it had a different variation on how it was said and how it was performed.

What this reminded me of was the variations in the nasalization of each performer at fetes (sorry I didn’t know how to do the carrot ^) as well as the different styles of every person Lortat-Jacob followed. Like the performers in the Sardinian Chronicles, each person who recited the Qur’an enunciated differently, and had a different tempo and sound to their recording of the verse.

Something interesting to note is that in most non-Western cultures the recitation of the Qur’an is not considered music. Although it sounds like a chant and has various styles that mimic the stylings of a song, in most cases it is not considered one even if our Western ontology of music leads us to recognize it as that.

Upon further research I found that the way the Qur’an is recited is built into the writing. They have incantation marks and symbols that indicate how each consonant and vowel is meant to be spoken. I also found that it is in fact not meant to be sung to any tune, but it is supposed to be sung as a praise, and with regards to Allah. Another interesting thing I found about the Qur’an is the way it reveres those who recite it. It is a great honor to recite the Qur’an and it is thought to have some healing essence and spiritual relief when you recite specific verses. This reverence for those who recite the Qur’an are similar to the way that the Mbira performers are regarded in society. They all have a purpose in doing their recitation/ performance.

One of my biggest questions is how the recitation of the Qur’an adapted this music like aura to it. I understand that one of the reasons it is not considered music is because it is in a religious setting, but why is it so much like what we understand to be a song.  Feel free to comment 🙂

During the first class we discussed a widely known song “The Lion Sleeps Tonight” which is best known for its appearance in The Lion King. One of our more recent discussions about music in TV ads got me thinking about the authenticity of other songs that appear in Disney movies. Many of the older Disney movies are set in various world locations depicting different cultures and thus, include music to go along with it.

The first song that came to mind was Under the Sea from The Little Mermaid. 

Although The Little Mermaid takes place underwater, the song Under the Sea gives off a Caribbean vibe through the use of the steel drums that can be heard in the beginning of the song.

The next song that came to mind was the opening song of Aladdin, Arabian Nights, fits to the culture that Disney tries to portray. The screech of the music hint at not only the culture being portrayed but the  setting of the story.

Other examples that come to mind include Hawaiian Rollercoaster Ride  and Ho Mele No which both include Hawaiian words and background drumming to add the the “authenticity” of the song.

The final example I have is the Circle of Life from the Lion King. The beginning of the song goes:

Nants ingonyama bagithi baba (there comes a lion)
Sithi uhhmm ingonyama (oh yes, it’s a lion)
Nants ingonyama bagithi baba (there comes a lion)
Sithi uhhmm ingonyama (oh yes, it’s a lion)
Siyo nqoba (we’re going to conquer)
Ingonyama nengw’ enamabaal (it’s a lion and a tiger)
[repeats 5]

(Source: Google)

The lyrics originate from an african language and create the african  and sahara vibe that Disney wants you to feel while watching the movie.

I know there are more examples of this in Disney movies like Pocahontas which includes the use of flutes and drums in the background in order to

I think overall, one must question the authenticity of these songs overall. In some ways, they do include elements that add to their authenticity, and in other ways, they are simply taken and repurposed as we have found with The Lion Sleeps Tonight. I think it calls in to question what if these songs even accurately depict the music of that region, or if in watching these movies growing up, we have created the idea that the music that appears in Disney movies is an accurate portrayal or depiction of the actual music in these movies. Have we grown up in a lie because of these songs that we have come to know an love? I think it is interesting to think about how this aspect of Disney movies had deeply and subconsciously affected the way we think about world music. I think revives  an interesting point from our discussion this week about how the way songs affect the way we perceive the visual stimuli that goes along with the music. The music is meant to make us feel a certain way, and see certain things that they want us to see.


A War on Music


This post is based on thoughts I have after listening to this podcast from npr.

When I think of culture, the first things that usually comes to mind are the artifacts, monuments and rituals associated with a community. During war (especially in more recent cultural and religious wars), a way to break the  spirit of the community is to destroy the aspects of their life  that make them a community: their culture. Usually the first things to go are the artifacts, monuments and their sacred (usually religious) buildings, however what we often don’t see is the destruction of music. The music can be much more resilient, because music does not always spread in a physical form. Often times a song is spread verbally.

However, when spread verbally, it changes over time. They are a lot like folk stories, they change ever so slightly every time they are passed on. We saw this with our discussion of the song “The Lion Sleeps Tonight.” With every adaptation of the song it changed.  Many songs have been passed down for decades or even centuries. It is a way to connect with one’s culture and history. One of my earliest memories were singing songs in church, and listening to the cultural music associated with traditional dances.Another area where song shows prominence in Islamic religion. The recitation of the Quran is intertwined with song. You can not have one without the other. The verses are recited in very distinct tones and enunciations that add to its beauty and sanctity. Song is very important in any given culture around the world.

I think it is both horrifying yet interesting to thing about the resilience of music throughout the world. Songs that are unrecorded can die simply with the death of  a person. This is seen through the article above where the songwriter was assassinated, but his music which reflected his community was kept alive through his family and his fans. We see that music is a way to connect, and when it is taken away, it is a lot like destroying a sacred building. Although with advancements in recording technology, the destruction of music is a lot more difficult, war between people destroys spirits and morphs the music. In the Sardinian Chronicles a large aspect of culture and community was their connection through music. If the music was taken away, it takes away a lot of the communal identity.

If you want to read more on cultural destruction, I posted an informative article on the destruction of cultural heritage below.


My Musical Self

How’s it going everyone?

My name is Tiffany Onia and I am from Charlotte, North Carolina. From a young age I was exposed to music, but never grew to love it. I have played all sorts of instruments throughout the years including the piano, violin, flute, and guitar; however, I was never inclined to practice so I never improved. This was a consistent pattern in my young life. Every few years I would pick up an instrument, play it for a while, and then quit. This was the beginning to the long road of finding my musical self.

My earliest memories of music come from the weekly piano lessons I had growing up. Of the many piano instructors I had, the most memorable one was Mrs. Miller, a Czechoslovakian woman with a heavy accent. Mrs. Miller used to teach at my old school, so I would come in come into school very early to have piano lessons until she resigned from her position as music teacher to open up her own piano studio. I still remember the way she tapped her pencil to the  tempo of the classical pieces she made me play.  My musical repertoire included lots of Beethoven and Mozart with the occasional Bach and Chopin. I dreaded every Tuesday for years because I had to go to piano lessons, only for my teachers to find that I hadn’t practiced for yet another week in a row. This was the daunting routine I went through week after week after week, and the routine did not cease until I stopped playing instruments altogether.

The hardest part about about finding my musical self was getting access to music. When I turned 7 years old, my mom bought me a light blue CD player. I remember listening to Disney songs and Jessie McCartney all the time. From there, I was never able to upgrade. I begged my mom and dad to get me the new iPod nano, but I failed, and my parents would not let up. So for my prime middle school grungy days, I was deprived of access to music. The only music I would listen to is the top 20 on the car radio, or the classical music that I played on various instruments.

My complete musical self came out of a brief discovery of Spotify in the 8th grade and jam sessions I had with my sister in her car. Only recently have I come to appreciate all kinds of music (even country) with my re-discovery of Spotify this summer and constantly being surrounded by music while working at a camp this summer. I hope that I can come to appreciate all music, and I am always open to listening to new music if anyone has any suggestions.

Below is link to one of my favorite songs, Secrets by One Republic (Live).