Stokes response

13 Apr
I appreciate Stokes bringing up the critical questions of globalization – who does it benefit, etc, and recognizing the problems with being too idealistic. This power struggle does not just apply to music, as Stokes acknowledges, but to all cultural and political aspects of a global society.

The idea of globalization in terms of music is an interesting one, and often in conflict, I feel, because music is so cultural. It’s defined culturally, and the emotions one feels is not universal – it is culturally specific.

The dichotomies Stokes brings up (on page 50) between top-down and bottom-up, system and agency, global and local, etc seems to be tensions that happen in culture in general. To me, it always seems to be a question or power and appropriation, of maintaining power or subverting that power. And Stokes acknowledges this. For example, the fact that we use the term “World Music” I think says volumes about how we look at music from non-Western cultures. World music used to be a term used for anything that was outside the genres of rock, classical, pop, and country (or something like that), and encompasses everything non-Western. It seems to be a term that throws a homogenizing blanket over all things Other.

The point Stokes brings up here: “European and North American rock and pop superstars are prominent in charts, music stores, and cassette stands across much of the third world; the reverse is not true,” (pg. 55) exemplifies the cultural imperialism, or power difference between the powerful West and others. It is an example I tend to use a lot while talking about the phenomenon of Asian kids playing classical music . Why, I tend to ask, are Asian kids playing music written by dead, white, European men? We don’t ever see Europeans or Americans playing classical Chinese music on Eastern instruments. We’d be hard-pressed to find an American who can name two or three traditional Chinese instruments.

It is infuriating, as well, how copyright law and the economics of the music industry exploit ethnic music, like the example of the Taiwanese aboriginal groups’s CD release in France. It seems as though the industry, the music, art, culture are forever framed in an economic box. Copyright law, the idea that ideas are possession and hence can be traded for economic gain, is a decidedly Western and capitalistic mentality, and yet non-Western societies need to play the capitalistic game in order to survive in a global society, get they continue to get screwed over. Copyright laws don’t protect those that it wasn’t written for.

I always feel like the idea of hybridity is just a way for cultures in power (read: Western, white) to feel like they’re diverse. Like eastern medicine being used in addition to Western medicine as hybrid treatment, if it’s explicitly NOT Western, it has almost this exoticism to it – exoticism that has the potential to sell — even when we steal things from non-Western cultures all the time (in music) and never allow those from whom we steal to benefit economically (like African beats that are transported to the West, then copyrighted by some Western artist, and Africa never sees a cent of royalty fees).

Stokes’ discussion of Monson brings to mind the fact that music is used differently in different cultures. Certain tribes in Africa use drumming as a form of communication across distances. Other cultures use songs to tell stories, in rituals. It seems like only in Western cultures is music so commercialized that every song, every musical note has a price tag attached to it. And the question becomes, then, in our capitalistic framework, how do we empower other cultures’ music as we incorporate or appropriate them, or bring visibility to them? Is that even possible, with the cultural hegemony of the West? Or is it better to keep music localized and hence, authentic, without losing its meaning by bringing it across cultural boundaries?

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Posted by on April 13, 2011 in Uncategorized


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