Musical Sharing

Submitted by Joseph W. Higgs on Saturday, 9/25/2010, at 12:29 PM

I feel like there is definite irony in that during colonial times, Westerners forced natives to incorporate many aspects of Western music into their own playing because we thought our music to be superior, but in popular music today some artists look to these formerly colonized countries for inspiration in their own music.

In addition, I feel like the idea of musical “sharing” has changed from a less imperial quest to a more productive, meaningful process. Sharing in this context means (for me) the use of a foreign instruments or musical qualities in one's native culture.

In Ghana, the initial exposure to Western music was very strict, as it only came about through military service. However, Ghanians eventually let the music evolve to their own as the Western instruments were able to play legitimate African music. Even though they had access, and were in fact only allowed to play the Western music, they preferred to play their own.

Now take George Harrison for example (I shouldn't have to explain this, but he was the guitarist for The Beatles). He very much was influenced by the Indian culture in many aspects of his life. He became fascinated with the sitar and sought out lessons from the sitar master Ravi Shankar. This influence in seen most famously in The Beatles' song “Norwegian Wood”

Here is a cover of the song that clearly illustrates the Sitar playing

The sitar can be heard playing the vocal melody after the verses but the instrumentation isn't the only Indian influence in this song. Norwegian is in the key of E, which is derived from the E mixolydian scale. Due to the descending nature of the riff, it follows the raga tradition of Indian music.

I find it interesting how the Ghanians had Western music forced upon them, yet they had no interest in playing. George Harrison, on the other hand, sought out classical indian music to incorporate it in his Western context.

The Beatles aren't the only band to incorporate foreign influences in their music. Ten year later, another super famous group Led Zeppelin, wrote the song “Kashmir”. While not exclusively Indian, the orchestral parts of the song are definitely taken from several Eastern influences. The song is considered by the band and critics alike to be one of their best works. In fact, Robert Plant (vocalist for Zep) considers the it to be the “definitive” Led Zeppelin song.

Here's Kashmir

The Eastern influences can be heard in the orchestra at :55 and onward.

Fifteen years after Kashmir, this foreign influence is still seen in Metallica's “Wherever I May Roam.” The song features a sitar in the beginning and the solo is in a Phrygian dominant scale, which is a popular scale in middle eastern music.

The sitar ends at :24, and the solo begins at 4:06

Three different bands, three different genres and three different eras, yet they still all look to the same region of the world for musical influence. Because these bands looked for these other influences, it suggests that they don't think that Western music is necessarily superior. These hybrid songs (unlike the English military bands in Ghana) are slowly but surely exposing people to this foreign sound, perhaps influencing future songwriters to use these influences in their songs.

Connections and Complexities in Brass Band Music

Submitted by Adam D. Ketchum on Friday, 9/24/2010, at 4:32 PM

The music of Brass Unbound was unique and a distinct pleasure to experience.  While listening, I was struck by the way various regions appropriated what was originally a strict European form of music for their own cultural purposes.  The regional influence was very apparent.  For example, the track “Gurans Ko Phool Siuri” conjures up the almost cartoonish image of a snake charmer playing in the streets of Mumbai.
    Two other tracks that struck me were those performed by The Peace Band of Ghana.  The brass bands infiltrated Ghanian culture primarily through missionary workers.  These missionaries saw the traditional African music was sinful.  What seems to be their primary complaint against the music was what they considered crude dancing, supposedly spurned on by so-called evil jungle beats (a concept which persists; even today, some sects of Christianity reject Rock music because of a pounding African originated rhythm which they suggest leads to sinful rhythmic physical activities).  In the two songs by The Peace Band we hear a clear divide between sounds deemed appropriate by European Christian missionaries (Se Yehowa Hyera Wo, which is more melodically driven and has almost repressed percussions), and a more traditional African based sound (Kpanlogo).  The later of which features the percussion in their full glory, and almost chant-like vocals.
    The track I enjoyed the most from the Brass Unbound CD was “Mini Mini” by TRIS-kapal from Surinam.  I was drawn to this track due to a familiarity with Mambo music.  Anyone who has listened to this Cuban Jazz will easily hear the sonic similarities between it and Surinamese brass band music.  The best way to demonstrate this, of course, is to allow you to listen to a song by a Mambo artist.

Mambo standardMaracaibo Oriental -_ Tojo _ Y Su Orquesta
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This is a standard of Mambo music and an enjoyable example.
    The fact that this song (which is a Cuban) features the name of a Venezuelan city (Maracaïbo), shouldn’t be a surprise.  After all, Cuba is very close geographically to Venezuela.  However, it is a good springing point from which we can jump into the complexities of the global nature of brass music.  In “Maracaïbo Oriental” song we have a Cuban brass band (whose instruments are European in origin) talking about a Venezuelan city, but this is only scratching the surface of the complexities.  If we return to TRIS-kapal we can see another example.
    A quick google search of “TRIS-kapal” and “Surinam” will net plenty of results in Dutch.  This makes sense.  Dutch is the official language of Surinam.  However a crude translation via google will reveal that the text found here is describing TRIS-kapal’s popularity in the Netherlands.  It came as quite a surprise to discover that Europeans were favoring music from a former colony, especially when the form originated in Europe.  You have to wonder what the Dutch think of this “fake” dutch music.
    “Fake” international music is always surprising.  An astute student in our class made the observation that the Brass Unbound contained a fake transnational band (“African Market Place” is the track being referred to).  It was ostensibly an African brass band, but in actuality it was recorded in Germany.  Another example “fake” transnational band that immediately sprung to my mind upon reading this discovery was the fake Mexican brass band Herb Alpert and the Tijuana Brass.  Herb Alpert was a major figure in American music (he’s the “A” in A&M Records).  At one point he visited Tijuana, Mexico and heard a brass band.  This inspired him to create his own.  Curiously, he didn’t recruit any actual Mexicans, or even anyone of Hispanic descent.  His band was completely Caucasian.  This creates an interesting regression of origin.  American Alpert took music from Mexico and made it his own.  However, Mexican brass bands themselves are examples of a local population which appropriated another cultures musical traditions and made it their own.  In this we we see the complexities of the globalization of brass music.  At the risk of sounding incredibly clichéd, things aren’t always what they seem, and it’s important for us to remember that when approaching unfamiliar territory (such as these brass bands).

    For those interested in listening to Herb Alpert’s band, here are several interesting selections to compare to each other, as well as other brass band music.

This was the first song by The Tijuana Brass, and sounds authentically Mexican.  Later the songs took on a more poppy sound, such as those found on the landmark album Whipped Cream & Other Delights. 

This may be familiar sounding as it is a pop standard. 

Later, on Whipped Cream you hear “Peanuts”.  This track features a distinct Oompah Band sound.  In fact, if one were to be introduced to The Tijuana Brass through this song, you’d probably find the bands name inaccurate.

Fusion vs. Force

Submitted by Taylor L. Heacock on Thursday, 9/23/2010, at 7:09 PM

The means by which countries in Brass Unbound – the colonized Ghana, Surinam, India and Minahana along with the heavily British influenced Nepal – were introduced to the music and instruments of the Europeans makes understanding the uniqueness and cultural identity embedded in post colonial brass bands difficult. Because these brass bands were influenced largely by the European instruments and sounds during colonization and missionary trips, one is inclined to think of the musical production from these bands as unoriginal or think that reproduction of European-like sounds is testament to their victimization through colonization.  However, music has for a long time and until present been a medium for globalization and as such its origins are varied and convoluted with end results in countries all over the world.

The argument may be that since the music was imposed on the colonies, it cannot be a reflection of  indigenous culture, but the flaws in this argument is that colonialism is indeed a part of the culture and like anywhere else the elements that make up the music are in part imported.After a little research, I discovered that the origins an instrument closely associated with western rock pop and music culture has origins in Asia and is closely related to the sitar. This find reminded me brass bands making their own versions of European brass instruments.

Switching our vantage point to that of one looking in on western music, it is discovered that western music is influenced by African and Asian cultures just as is true of the reverse. While the ways in which this influence has taken place differ greatly from the “forcing” of European music onto their colonists, with members of western society seeking the lure of the exotic, the exchange still has a similar impact in  that both result in musical hybrids.  

 For example, an artist that my sister discovered through Pandora Radio, Nitin Sawhney, incorporates the sounds of Indian music with the electronic synthesized sound of British electronica and jazz. His fusion of genres and life story reflects globalization and its role in the synthesis of sounds from different cultures today.

Here is a very brief bio of Nitin. Click.

Below are some of my favorite songs by Nitin Sawhney. 

"Tides" is more western/European fusion. The lack of vocals and prominent piano give it a very New Age sound. "Nadia"  sounds more Indian, with influences by the Indian sounds and the vocalist. "Falling Angels" is an interesting  fusion. The opening dialogue sounds like news/radio broadcasts, the harmony following sounds very Indian, and the rest of the song is a combination of western and Indian vocals and sounds.




New Zealand and Brass Unbound

Submitted by Charles A. Pratt on Wednesday, 9/22/2010, at 11:17 PM

After spending a semester studying abroad in New Zealand, I became a huge fan of a few artists whom I had the pleasure of hearing perform.  The isolated Pacific country provided a refreshing quality of music with a unique fusion of various styles.  Until now, I haven’t thought of New Zealand’s musical transformation on a global level.  Compared to Flaes’s Brass Unbound where his case studies primarily focus on third world countries, New Zealand presents a different situation seeing as it has endured a rich colonial history but now enjoys the resources of an advanced country. 

Currently, with access to high quality instruments and production techniques, the Maori population has largely impacted the national music scene.  One of Flaes’s key passages states that “in a number of cases however local experiments like this succeeded over the years in developing into genuine traditions.”  Although New Zealand’s case of cultural integration should not be viewed as an “experiment”, its results have yielded a unique blend of reggae/funk/dub performers.  One of New Zealand’s Maori artists, Tiki Taane, incorporated a couple of songs in his top selling album that stay very true to his cultural roots.  One of those songs, “Tangoroa”, is chanted in the Maori language.  This song widely differs from his other tracks, but it demonstrates the possibility of having intercultural influences while remaining true to one’s heritage.  It’s not as if he has lost touch with his cultural practices, but has instead chosen to practice contemporary styles of globalized music.  In his song “Always On My Mind”, Taane has created a reggae/pop song that has since become New Zealand’s top single.

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Always On My Mind by Tiki TaaneAlways On My Mind by Tiki Taane
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Another Maori band of tremendous influence is Katchafire.  They began as a Bob Marley tribute band but have since developed a unique style of roots/reggae music appreciated globally.  After discussing the idea of musical sameness pertaining to the end of the Brass Unbound film when bands in Ghana, Nepal, and Surinam play the same piece with inevitable deviation, I came to the conclusion that Katchafire is a prime example.  Although they started as a Bob Marley tribute band, their interpretation has resulted in a distinct style.  All in all, this week has reiterated the fact that no matter the influence, different cultures will adopt an individual style of performance.


 01 Say What You're Thinking01 Say What You're Thinking

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07 Hold On07 Hold On
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Brass Unbound and Eurovision

Submitted by Katherine W. Cole on Wednesday, 9/22/2010, at 8:15 PM

 Brass Unbound complicates the idea that the world has now become "flat." Cultural exchange, one of the signifiers of a flattening world, is nothing new. I think it's a two-way deal: it's not just that the colonial powers arrived with new, shiny instruments and imposed a different structure to music. The musicians of these different countries made the music and instruments their own, deviating from the West and becoming again relatively separate (i.e., reinforcing the unflatness of the world). And yet here we are, sitting in Amherst listening to it, talking about it, and learning from it. So the musical exchange here is a little more complicated than I think the colonialist/oppressed perspective allows for.

When we're talking about the Friedman "world is flat" idea, we have to remember that it's only flat for a certain segment of the population. Namely, I would argue, the upper-middle class, internet-connected, English-speaking segment. I've been thinking about cultural exchange, and despite what I argued in the last paragraph, I do think it can be pretty one-sided. Based on my reading and experience, it seems like these days those outside of America are intent on consuming our media much more than we are taking the initiative to consume theirs.

But sometimes these societies do take our "innovations" (using that term incredibly loosely) and make them their own in a  Brass Unbound-ish way. I'm thinking right now of Eurovision, the American Idol-esque festival of europop (and eurotrash). Eurovision takes the American Idol model of performances and audience voting, but through a more cultural/nationalistic lens. Each country selects one performer who will travel to the Eurovision host country to represent their nation. There's a lot to say about Eurovision and cultural hegemony, especially with regard to choices about singing in English, having distinct cultural instruments in the songs, even the costumes of the backup dancers. The contest takes place within an American structure but has completely different themes running through it, as the voting is often more political and ethnic than talent-based. The issues Europe struggles with, such as attempting to unify vastly different societies under one EU umbrella, emerge throughout the competition.

Of course, that’s making something that’s incredibly fluffy and shallow into evidence for a more substantial argument relating Eurovision (which largely promotes Western culture and ideas), Brass Unbound, and globalization. Let’s face it, the Eurovision music is terrible and the lyrics are insipid. Although I do listen to “Lejla,” the Bosnian entry for 2006, for pleasure because it reminds me of a Bosnian friend named Lejla, and “Ovo Je Balkan,” Serbia 2010, because it’s fun to sing to.

Here’s a New Yorker article about Eurovision (, and here’s “Ovo Je Balkan,” in all its Europop glory:


EDIT: I just reread this post, and I made it sound like Eurovision came after American Idol, which isn't true. Eurovision has been going on for decades, but the format has changed recently to be more Idol-like. To the many readers of this post, I apologize for any confusion.

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Global Punk Rock

Submitted by Gaju E. Muhigi on Wednesday, 9/22/2010, at 4:29 PM

           To give credit where credit is due, this blog was heavily inspired by Phoebe's post about the Navajo punk rock band Blackfire. I've had a love for punk music ever since the 8th grade, and over the years I've been lucky enough to come across several punk bands originated outside of the U.S. and U.K., the two prime countries people argue where punk began.

           It is extremely hard to pinpoint where exactly punk music began to take form. Certainly punk as most people know it - spiky hair, safety pins, leather, power chords, lyrics about anarchy - first became a huge cultural fad in Britain during the mid to late 1970s. Bands such as The Sex Pistols, The Clash, and Sham '69 became hugely popular among working class youth. However, at the same time this was happening in Britain, bands such as The Ramones were playing shows in New York City, making it difficult to say exactly where punk originated. Punk has its roots in garage rock bands of the 1960s(a simplistic and brash form of rock music) and artists such as Iggy Pop and Patti Smith, who have come to be known as "proto-punk" artists.

           The reason I'm giving you this (very) brief history of punk music is to show the inherent versatility of this style of music. In my eyes, no nation or ethnic group can really claim punk as "theirs", because its origins are spread so vastly across the world. Taking Global Sound has caused me to think a lot about the bands that blend punk and traditional genres of music (I will give examples soon), and question whether these bands came about as a result of imperialism, such as the brass bands in Brass Unbound, or of a "nostalgia" for '70s British pop culture, such as in Appadurai's article. Ultimately, I have decided upon neither. The former option makes little sense, as I doubt invading countries would think to expose natives to punk rock, a form of music encouraging rebellion, nihilism, and anti-establishment. The latter option is much too simplistic. Punk has long existed as a form of underground music, suggesting that people connect with it on a deeper level than merely liking what is popular. Many bands have taken punk and "made it their own" by blending it with other genres.

          For instance, The Pogues were a band of mixed English and Irish background, playing a blend of traditional Irish folk music and punk. They used traditional Irish instruments such as the tin whistle, cittern, accordion, and mandolin.

           Another example would be the Bad Brains, a group formed in Washington D.C. that played a "Jekyll-and-Hyde" arrangement of songs of both reggae and hardcore punk music. All of the band members were staunch followers of the Rastafarian religion, and wrote several songs about it.

Binding Brass Across the World

Submitted by Wangene Hall on Wednesday, 9/22/2010, at 11:52 AM

Globalization is a phenomena typically related to commerce and trade. Music is also a valid pathway for this spread of ideas and values. In "Brass Unbound" by Robert Flaes, colonialism's effect on indigenous peoples' music is explored. The colonialist powers brought brass band music to parts of Africa and Asia, using the music as a culturally dominating force, a bargaining tool, and a symbol of cultural difference. The narrative is not so simple as the Big Bad Western powers taking advantage of the Poor Defenseless Natives, the exchange of music was oftentimes regarded as a welcome gift. The cultures receiving the music had the final right to decide if they wanted to incorporate and re-interpret the music they were presented with. Thus, brass bands became an evolving representation of cultural shift.

Music is typically thought of as a universal language, one that transcends culture, race and class. After reading “Brass Unbound”, I came to think of music as a cultural force that interacts with our social dynamics in interesting ways. Like commerce and trade, music is a force of globalization, transferred by people in past ages through warfare and religious conversion, but transferred by people recently by digital technology and information flow. Some of the most interesting music nowadays is a blend of different traditions, as cross-over in music leads to innovation. (Hip-hop samples diverse styles, jazz blended classical and African rhythms, rock took blues across the new platform known as the electric guitar) 

One of the biggest global pop stars, Shakira, exemplifies how blending musical traditions makes more effective music. Shakira uses influences that are distinctively cultural, from Middle Eastern scales, Latin rhythms and African stylistic choices, imbuing her pop structures with worldly influences. Much like the Native people presented with a new idiom, Shakira chooses what sounds and ideas will inform the presentation of her work, while grounding her music in a Western sense of tonality and musical structure.

NYT Review: Shakira's Madison Square Garden Concert 

In this way, music shifts away from being this utopian global peace pipe and towards being a valid representation of cultural perceptions and history. Shakira is spreading her message (in this case, the pop star mantra: “I am here to please you”) using musical forms that are more-or-less universally understood, with influences that convey experiences her audience can vicariously share.

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Submitted by Katharine J. Planson on Wednesday, 9/22/2010, at 10:36 AM

         Global Sound is the first class I have been able to take on music in college.   Unfortunately, there are very few opportunities for one to study music without having vast experience with creating and playing music.  Although not everyone can play an instrument or read music, music is a part of everyone’s life.  Their experience with music is entirely personal and influential even if they do not exactly understand how the music was created.  I consider myself a musician even though I’ve never written my own music.  I’m really enjoying being able to further my knowledge of music without being forced to practice scales on the piano over and over again or repeating a line in a song until it is sung perfectly. 

         I’ve taken many history, politics , and international relations courses in which we have discussed imperialism and colonization but, I’d never thought about the effect of imperialism has on the colonized nation and people. Brass Unbound by Rob Boonzajer Flaes offers a unique and thought provoking concept, musical imperialism.  “All over the world the foundation was laid for a standard form of music; it was the brightly polished expression of a Western sense of beauty and order, and the resounding proof of Western military, religious and cultural superiority.  The effect was devastating - in many places indigenous forms of music were deliberately blasted into extinction by the colonial fanfares” (pg 10) I think this passage omits many aspects of this situation but, it is effective in that it makes you feel for the people who were persecuted, the people whose music was “blasted into extinction.”  Although, I think the Brass Unbound film and this passage contradict one another. If you consider what the priest says in his speech, he states that after 50 years of drilling the locals with his music, they still like their music better.  I don’t believe this passage does justice to the entire picture of this situation.  Good and bad came from musical imperialism and while some indigenous music may have been “blasted into extinction”, some music was strengthened and new forms of music were created through the combination of many types of music.

Music as Weapon

Submitted by Theresa L. Kelley on Wednesday, 9/22/2010, at 10:23 AM

There is no question that music in so many different ways can be extremely powerful, but it was not until I read the opening pages of Brass Unbound that I saw that music had the ability to be a weapon. Brass Unbound describes the role that military brass bands played in instilling fear in the opposing army, and giving hope to their side. It is strange for me to fathom, given the way that our military operates nowadays, that having a strong, upbeat, but very intimidating march could be the factor that pushes a conquest forward, and stifles an adversary. Though this phenomenon does not directly transfer to the actions of modern military conquest, they idea of music as a weapon has been in the back of my mind for quite some time now. 

If we assume that sports, are like smaller, exponentially less serious mini wars, then music in sports can be viewed in a similar light as music in battle, after all, every game is a certainly a small battle. Particularly in my sport, softball, and in its male counterpart of baseball. If you've ever been to a major league game, or even a collegiate game, you know that as every batter comes up to the plate, "their" song plays. It's only a snippet of the song, maybe 8 seconds long, but that song, if chosen correctly, will pump up the batter, and try it's best to instill a little fear in the opponent. I will always remember watching Dodger's reliever Eric Gagne (prior to public knowledge about his juice usage) making the familiar trek to the pitching mound from the bullpen with "Welcome to the Jungle" blasting throughout the entire stadium. You could feel the fear in everyone around you, and we were rooting for him, so I can't even imagine how the other team felt. That is music used as a weapon. 

Now I have the daunting task to choose a song that will be my pump up song, and though there are probably a million songs that could do the job of getting me ready to step up to the plate, after reading about the power that music can potentially have as a weapon, I'm really going to try to make my song have a statement. Of course, I need to have the bat to back it up as well, or my song will fall on deaf ears. 

Who's Running the Place?

Submitted by Rohan Mazumdar on Wednesday, 9/22/2010, at 2:21 AM

As a member of the Internet generation, I am tempted to buy into Thomas Friedman’s idea of a completely flat world. One where traditional social and institutional hierarchies are broken down, and where each individual possesses enormous power to create change. What with access to numerous outlets of self-expression, I would imagine that, at the very least, cultural if not political messages could potentially be transmitted instantaneously and shared.

I’m relatively certain that the world isn’t quite that flat yet. That there are very distinct power dynamics is evident. What I’m very interested in, though, is how this plays out differently between the cultural and the geo-political spheres. Through our reading and watching of Brass Unbound, we have seen the influence of power on music, but I would like to believe that the two don’t always run parallel. Whether it is the direct usage of artistic expression as a mode of dissent, or simply the intangibility of sound that allows it to circumvent standard laws of power, there’s something about it that doesn’t really play by the rules.

To better address the question I posed at the very top, I’d like to pluck an example striking at the heart of Brass Unbound – Colonialism. In an atmosphere of clear military and authoritative subjugation, how much of the music belongs to the people, and how much is forced upon them? More importantly, what does the post-colonial cultural equilibrium look like? There has been a wide spectrum of societal responses to colonial powers leaving. While the political economy of Ghana may still not be as advanced as its people would have hoped, the fact that Highlife is so embedded in daily life is an example of the dichotomy in what ‘Power’ can and cannot affect.

To be my own Devil’s advocate, I doubt that most cultural phenomena influence the power relationships in the world rather than the other way around. As much as viewing Kutiman and his ilk may inspire others to seek collaborators throughout the world, and create an alternate ‘sound/creative’ universe of sorts, our lives – what we see, hear and experience - will continue to be delineated and defined by the magic hands that craft the human condition, at least for the knowable future.

My Oh-So-Biased Ears

Submitted by Jenna Iden on Wednesday, 9/22/2010, at 1:47 AM

After reading, I started to jump around the Brass Unbound CD, figuring I would find some compelling song and could blog to my heart's content. Blindly clicking around, I hit Track 14, one of the longer songs on the CD. I immediately found myself liking the intricate drum beat. The horns sounded like animal cries, and my head started bubbling over with philosophical cheese about "art imitating life" and vice versa. Here was the triumph of the brass band; they played in tune, without sticking to traditional Western forms. Glory, glory, huzzah.

This is wonderful, expect Track 14 is "African Market Place." And it was recorded in Germany. And composed by a man with the last name Ibrahim, a Judeo-Christian family moniker if ever I heard one. My taste in African music is probably shaped more by Disney's "The Lion King," than any pure African influences.

I was duped by the fake transnational brass band. I (and, as much as I'll take the blame for this, I know that I can't be alone) admire the polish of Western forms of brass music. The melodies can take as many liberties as they'd like, but my blood curdles when I listen to some of the just-barely-in-the-right-key instruments on the Brass Unbound CD. I can't shake the feeling that I'm listening to my predominantly Jewish middle school's beginning band play a terrible medley of Christmas songs. Something's just too out of place.

My point here is not argumentative. I'm glad brass instruments forced their way all over the world; I truly love some of the new styles formed by Western instruments in non-Western worlds. Yet Brass Unbound grants a glimpse into the initial contact (the Tarzan meet Jane years, if I continue acknowledging how Disney has corrupted my view of transnationalism). It's unnerving seeing/hearing such an obvious Western imposition onto traditional musical styles. It's almost heart-wrenching to think "what if those styles remained pure?" I just wish we could skip ahead to today when The Roots have a sousaphonist and my colonial white guilt isn't quite so painful (well, for musical reasons).  

Wilhelmus & Islam

Submitted by Timothy F. Clark on Wednesday, 9/22/2010, at 12:17 AM


The discussion we had in class on Monday brought back to mind, though in a slightly different guise, a problem that I had wrestled with last semester in my history course on women in the Middle East. This question—of to what extent the brass band music is, in Flaes' words, "transcultural music, a musical 'creole,'" or merely a regurgitation of the old Western marches—is very similar to a problem raised in The Politics of Piety. In this book, Saba Mahmood traces Muslim women in Egypt who have decided to take upon themselves more intense study of the Quran and the Hadith, the foundations of Islamic law, for a variety of reasons. The problem with these women wax whether they were doing anything new in devoting themselves more to their religion or merely re-learning, even re-enforcing, the same patriarchal ideals that restricted their movement in Muslim society in the first place. A part of the answer to this question I came up with was that these women, while they were not overtly challenging societal norms, were agents of their own actions in the sense that the women themselves were the ones teaching each other the Quran and the Hadith, and, in most cases, for very personal reasons. The agency of the movement was almost entirely with them.

I think there is a similar solution for the brass band music. To be sure, as Flaes points out, the music came originally as "a gift…thrust upon the receivers…with detailed and mandatory instructions for use" (130). Thus, at first agency was entirely with the Western colonialists. But from this beginning emerged music that each individual culture shaped to its own devices, an idea that we started to examine in class. A very good example of this idea comes from what is probably the most problematic culture Brass Unbound dealt with--the bands of Minahasa, who, more than any other, remain faithful to the Western original music and at least seem to be almost entirely Western copies.

Compare this version of the Dutch national anthem, as played by the Minahasan band,

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with the same anthem played by a European brass band:

Het Wilhelmus

The most obvious difference, sonically, is the timbre of the instruments. The bamboo and zinc sound quite different--softer, more lighthearted--than the booming chorus of brass-made instruments in the European version. There is still some of the grandeur and weighty aura of the European brass but not nearly as heavy. That these instruments were handmade in Minahasa is also important to keep in mind. The notes are also much shorter than the drawn out European phrases—long notes in the background are now just simple flourishes. The fact that this piece--a national anthem--is coupled in the same track with what sounds like a different piece, full of lively, local improvisation, is another stark difference between these two works. A Dutch band would never even think of such a coupling but of the anthem as isolated, even sacred.  All of these changes, it came be safely assumed, were done at the hands of the Minahasa themselves, who used their own agency to mould the music to their own devices. We still very much have Het Wilhelmus, but in an appreciably different guise. Thus, to the extent that the agency of creating, fashioning the music was with the local peoples, to that extent we can consider the music not merely a regurgitation of Western sound but more of a local creation.


'Play Me, I'm Yours'

Submitted by Kyrha Lever Ruff on Tuesday, 9/21/2010, at 10:05 PM

The various videos we have viewed, particularly “Stand By Me”, that have encouraged musical projects as a means towards peace or as a way of connecting people within local communities or between countries reminded me of the project, ‘Play Me, I’m Yours’ that I saw on a special on ABC a couple of months ago. ‘Play Me, I’m Yours’ is an artwork by British artist Luke Jerram that has been distributed internationally since 2008. 

In this project, Luke placed dozens of street pianos in cities across the world. Located in parks, squares, bus shelters and train stations, outside galleries, markets and on bridges and ferries, the pianos are for any member of the public to enjoy and claim “ownership” of. Reaching an audience of over 1,000,000 people worldwide, Jerram has installed over 300 pianos in 16 different cities so far.

Sing For Hope

The instrument was globalized for no other means than for enjoyment. Creator Luke Jerram claimed he did not start this project for money (even though a few of the musicians have used the novelty of the pianos to make a few bucks from appreciative onlookers).Who plays them and how long they remain is up to each community. Each piano acts as sculptural, musical, blank canvas that reflects the urban environment it is embedded into. Many of the pianos are even personalized and decorated. This made me consider one of the statements we brought up in class when viewing ‘Playing for Change’ clips in regards to Globalization as a utopian project, an idea I was a bit skeptical about. In this project however, I felt that Mr. Jerram had come closest to making music global for the people wherever and whoever they might be.

Pianos In NYC - people begin performing at about 45 seconds in.

It was a worldly project musically and not culturally, although people were free to express themselves through their music and by decorating the piano as they pleased. The people who view and use this artwork are their own self-empowered, creative agents. I find it interesting how the circulation of a particular instrument can encourage this globalization of music. Musicians that follow the project have even benefited from it by promoting themselves and their music. A few even planned marathon performance routes around their respective cities. They've worked their way into TV news footage and mustered their own video teams. And after each display, the pianos are donated to schools and community groups in the area.

Navajo Punk Rock!

Submitted by Phoebe Smolin on Tuesday, 9/21/2010, at 7:40 PM

This summer, I had the pleasure of working in Arizona with a band called Blackfire. This band, which recently celebrated their 20th anniversary, is something that most western listeners would call punk rock-- fierce powerchords, shouting, and fiery lyrics that voice resistance and frustration. This is not your usual angsty punk band, however. 

Blackfire is made up of three siblings, all of them raised in the Navajo Nation, which has experienced innumerable amounts of exploitation over the last century by corporations who chase after their resources. Blackfire's music devotes itself to spreading strong messages regarding political oppression, genocide, domestic violence, racism, human rights, native relocation, and environmental degradation. Since the 1980s, the band has gained worldwide popularity, and has even been reviewed by Johnny Ramone (of The Ramones). 

The content of class has so far has made me think critically about Blackfire's position in the world and in global music. Something that's interesting about Blackfire is the fact that they're using a type of music that was created in the U.K. in the 70's to voice their resistance to the world. In this way, they're using globalization as a tool to promote the preservation of their own, local, culture, which has been constantly overlooked since the time of colonization. Seeing as they've been invited to play all over the world, it seems like whatever they're doing is working.

Blackfire also gives us an interesting hybrid-- their songs contain elements of modern punk rock (the musical arrangements, the heavy amplification, the song structure) and yet they are always sure to implement traditional elements into their songs, be it a specific chant or verses in the Diné (Navajo) language. Over the summer, I saw them live several times and they would often bring their father on stage with them, an old Diné medicine man who has long braided hair and wears traditional clothing. Their father would first do a hoop dance and then he would come back later and chant loudly over one of Blackfire’s songs. It was both beautiful and confusing to see this—three people dressed in average clothing and playing electric instruments and an old man, wearing a feather headdress and traditional Navajo clothing, chanting into a microphone. The contrast between them was a powerful thing to see. It represented the passage of time and globalization has done to the indigenous traditions in the southwest, and possibly around the world.

Here's one of Blackfire's music videos for a song called "Overwhelming," which is about environmental degradation.

The content of Blackfire’s music is also powerful, and they make it extremely accessible. They’re doing something that I particularly respect—they are using music to open the world’s eyes to their culture and to engage their listeners in important issues that they are genuinely concerned about, as I know from getting to talk to them.

So, even if punk rock’s not your thing, I think Blackfire is an important example of one of the interesting directions that globalization can take music. Instead of being completely overtaken by a larger, more powerful force, they use the global stage to bring awareness to important issues and aspects of the world that may easily be overlooked.

Guerrilla Marching Band

Submitted by Nikki M. Takemori on Tuesday, 9/21/2010, at 5:34 PM

My mother sent me a video yesterday about a random marching band picking up attention in the streets of Detroit. They are probably the most un-uniform marching band, since the band members change from here and there, the instruments are not newly-bought quality, and the uniforms that are worn are not very uniform, as Donna Terek from the Detroit News remarks. The band's speciality is to "crash" occasions; in the video there are many pictures of the band invading resturants and bars. And the suprised audiences seem to like the sudden fanfare.

Watching this video with the band playing their music reminded me of the Brass Bands that Flaes studied. I saw similarities in that the guerrilla marching band and the brass bands play for the fun of music rather than for some religious events or prepared concerts. John Notarianni, the ringleader for the Detroit Party Marching Band claims that guerrilla bands are "able to just walk into a room and start playing." They both play "dancable" music as well; the Mayor of Hamtramck was showing off her moves in the middle of the streets of Detroit, where I jumped out of my seat listening to the Ghanaian band's music whipping out my interpretive dance skills (of which I have none...) If I were to categorize these two band's music, I would say that the music is energizing.


John talks about how he came with the idea of this guerrilla band. He was inspired by the street bands during Mardi Gras in New Orleans. Mardi Gras (literally "Fat Tuesday" in French) celebrates the practice of eating rich, fatty foods before the season Lent (starting on Ash Wednesday.) It is interesting to see that even to this day music is spreading and inspiring new ideas through religion, something I thought was unpopular since it seemed as though music has reached every little corner of the world already; I guess I am wrong. Globalization of music is still happening!

Here is the link to the article from The Detroit News