Evolution of the Synthesizer

Submitted by Joseph B. Nassirian on Friday, 12/24/2010, at 8:22 PM

The synthesizer is an electronic instrument that combines simple waveforms to create complex sounds.  The synthesizer’s name derives from its’ exact purpose: it “synthetically” produces sounds of various other instruments and such as the electric guitar, the violin and the organ amongst many others.  The synthesizer can also produce different sound effects such as birds chirping or the horn of a car.  The synthesizer is an instrument that has revolutionized global sound.  Not only has this electronic instrument played an integral role in changing aspects of global sound that already existed and such as funk, rock and roll, jazz, hip-hop, and even classical music, the synthesizer has created new types of global sound like house music, synthpop, new wave, and techno.  Formerly, if an artist wanted to recreate a certain sound while performing he or she would need to use dated recording technology.  With the synthesizer technology available to us today, thousands of sounds and notes can be recreated instantly with the touch of a few buttons. 


The history of the synthesizer does not begin in the late twentieth century as most might think, but rather the nineteenth century with a man named Elisha Gray.  Though he is better known for his work on the telephone and the telegraph and by modern standards his instrument was primitive, Gray’s work paved the way for other inventors to come up with the advanced models for the synthesizers we have today.  After Gray’s invention people attempted to replicate the instrument with little twists of their own.  The synthesizer was not very successful until 1967 when Robert Moog, a man who had a Ph.D. in engineering with physics, created the Moog synthesizer.  The Moog synthesizer was unique from its predecessors in a few ways.  While previous synthesizer models used dials, buttons and levers, the Moog used the piano as its primary controller, which is why the synthesizer is often associated with the piano or keyboard (there are means by which one can synthesize sound without an electronic keyboard model i.e. a Guitar synthesizer).   Moog’s model was also innovative because it was easy to transport while preceding models were too large to take anywhere making it difficult to stage live performances featuring the synthesizer.  Though today’s synthesizer models are more complex than Moog’s, the changes Robert Moog made for the instrument proves to have a lasting effect on the way synths are made.


There are three main types of synthesizers used in music today: the Synth Pad, the Synth Lead and the Bass Synth.  The Synth Pad creates a sustained chord or tone usually used for background harmony and atmosphere.  Typically the Synth Pad holds the same note or uses a half or whole note while someone sings or plays the main musical phrase.   The sound of a Synth Pad is reminiscent of an organ or string.  The Synth Lead is used to play the main melody of the song.  It can also be used to create bass effects.  Though it used to be mainly for electronic dance music in the 1980s we begin to see the Synth Lead being used in hip-hop music.  The Bass Synth is used to create sounds in the bass range, from simulations of the electric bass to distorted artificial bass sounds.  Though a few notable artists used it, Stevie Wonder put this synthesizer on the map in the seventies with his songs “Boogie on Reggae Woman” and “Superstition(listen to 0:30 Stevie Wonder Boogie On Reggae Woman). 


            The synthesizer made a considerable impact on twentieth century music.  Micky Dolenz of the Monkees was one of the first people to buy the commercially available Moog Synthesizer.  In 1967 the Monkees released their album “Pieces, Aquarius, Capricorn, & Jones Ltd.”, which is one of the first albums featuring a Moog synthesizer (featured on the songs “Daily Nightly and “Star Collector”).  They used the synthesizer because of the unique, “outer-space” type sound.  This album reached number one on the charts.  A few months later, the Doors used the Moog on the title track of their new album “Strange Days”.  Eventually, the moog sound reached the mass market and was used by bands like The Beatles on their album “Abbey Road”, Simon and Garfunkel on their album “Bridge Over Troubled Water” and The Who on their album “Who’s Next”.  But rock and roll was not the only music being affected by the synthesizer phenomenon.  In 1968 Wendy Carlos’ album “Switched-On Bach” was recorded using moog synthesizers and is one of the most popular recordings of classical music ever (Carlos’ score to the movie “A Clockwork Orange” was also recorded using synthesizer technology and is another example of classical music using the synthesizer to record).  This Moog synthesizer craze led to the creation of Electronic music albums such as “An Electric Storm” by White Noise, “All Good Men” by Beaver and Krause and “Zero Time” by Tonto’s Expanding Head Band, which would influence rock musicians such as Pink Floyd’s Richard Wright and Yes’ Rick Wakeman to use the synthesizer more extensively on their albums.  Until these electronic music albums, the synthesizer was used as a background instrument that would provide the music with an intriguing new sound, not an instrument that was considered pivotal to a band’s existence.


The synthesizer was not an instrument exclusive to musicians from England and the United States.  The 70s saw a number of electronic music pioneers from around the world.  The creation of the synthpop genre is credited to the groundbreaking work of the German bands Kraftwerk and Tangerine Dream.  In the 1976 Jean Michael Jarre of France released his album “Oxygene”, an album he recorded in his homemade studio using various types of synthesizers and effects.  “Oxygene” sold an estimated 12 million copies.  He followed that album with “Equinoxe” in 1978.  In 1979 Jarre performed at the Place de la Concorde for a record-breaking audience of more than a million people, which shows how popular the synthpop sound was around the world.  Vangelis, a Greek composer, also did a lot of great work with synthesizer technology.  He is most famous for his Academy Award winning score for the movie “Chariots of Fire”.  Not only did he win an Academy Award for the score, he paved the way for other movies to use the synthesizers extensively when creating the music for their film.  As one can see the synthesizer has become a worldwide phenomenon.  Contemporary artists such as David Guetta (France), DJ Tiesto (Germany), and Benny Benassi (Italy) compose their music through heavy synthesizer use. 


Since its creation the synthesizer has increased its sphere of influence from rock to classical music, funk, jazz, hip-hop, and has even created new styles of music such as Techno, house music, and trance.  The synthesizer’s unique sound combined with its convenience for traveling and performing has spread the use of the synthesizer across music genres.  The synthesizer also makes sense economically.  Vangelis, the Greek composer mentioned earlier, was given a small budget to write the score for the movie “Chariots of Fire”.  Using synthesizer technology with the help from a piano and a few percussion instruments, he was able to win an Academy Award for the score and the feature song “Titles” hit the Hot 100 charts (the song “Titles” has become the quintessential inspirational music). The synthesizer has gradually become one of the most crucial technological advances in music around the world.  Though at first it was merely an instrument that could make obscure yet intriguing sounds in the background of rock and roll music, it is now one of the most important instruments in the music business.

Tracing the Real: Kid Cudi and the New Romantic Real

Submitted by Ernesto A. Alvarez on Thursday, 12/23/2010, at 5:27 PM

What is 'The Real'?

Hip-hop was born from the struggle of the streets. Emanating from the souls of the disenfranchised, hip-hop was the artistic medium the poor and underprivileged built to communicate and alleviate the daily pain, violence, inequity and strife faced by what seemed like a lesser category of American citizen. Whether through rap, breakdance, turntables, or graffiti, the hip-hop culture sprang from the hearts, souls and creative minds of those with quite limited means to the revelation of their condition. The 'Gangsta' of David Brooks' article, for instance, was largely the centerfold of hip-hop's early roots. However, the Gangsta was not some mere construed, illusory aspiration projected farcically onto the impressionable minds of urban youth. The Gangsta was real. He was male. He was African American. He was violent. He was criminal. And he demanded respect. As hip-hop's early centerfold, the Gangsta was an articulation of perhaps the only model for life and ascent in what was the lawless, overlooked and segregated street reality. The Gangsta existed before hip-hop. And as long as such pockets of curiously discrepant access to wealth, health and justice persist in our increasingly civilized world, the animalistic Gangsta will also unquestionably persist as a construction of what he is excluded from. However, when one narrows in on what the Gangsta meant and was for hip-hop origins, what emerges can be an immediate likening of Gangsta life, in general, to the substance of the early hip-hop genre.

A treatment of the Gangsta as substantive echoes the foremost and founding parameter for the recognition of 'the real,' or what Keeler refers to as the 'authentic', and its corollary in action of 'keeping it real.' In other words, one should always consider the content of rap and hip-hop as revelatory of the artist's situation, thoughts or environment. The extent to which the artist's content is real depends wholly on how effectively it communicates the truth of an artist's situation, be it external or internal, to others (but can also revolve only around the ability of communication alone; lyrical skill or rhyming capabilities, for instance). The truth must always relate to a listener. The following text prioritizes hip-hop's catchphrase of 'keeping it real' as its primitive and inherent purpose and definition. Briefly, it genealogically traces the shifting character of American hip-hop's 'keeping it real' in order to arrive at the eccentric and unique instance of the artist Kid Cudi. My short genealogy sets out, first, to identify the real in 'keeping it real' by offering three historical examples of its different substance in Grandmaster Flash, Common, and Lupe Fiasco. Second and finally, by exploring Kid Cudi, my genealogy provides an intimate analysis as to the characteristics of what should now be considered a new breed of 'keeping it real' in hip-hop—one which makes hip-hop and rap accessible and appealing, in a real way, to a far wider audience, by assimilating itself to an infamous philosophic movement of the past.

 The Gangsta Narrative

First, created in 1982, Grandmaster Flash's "The Message" epitomizes the substantive truths of the hip-hop environment from the aforementioned Gangsta perspective, while highlighting precisely the psyche behind such a frame of mind. "The Message" itself, literally, refers to the communication of such truths. Specifically, the line "It's like a jungle, sometimes it makes me wonder, how I keep from going under" reflects the actual animal and barbaric nature of street life (the "it" to which Flash refers). The content of this early hip-hop elucidates the goings-on of the ghetto and highlights the material longing, moral shortcoming and larger social unawareness that ran commonly throughout these environments. The Gangsta narrative becomes the first real that hip-hop has to offer given the nature of its origins. Therefore, contemporary American hip-hop artists whose content does not move past these archaic articulations of a Gangsta narrative and who continue to elevate the old crudities of materialism, sexism, violence and racism, in an America which has moved forward, instantiate notions of contrived artificiality.


Artistic Consciousness

Second, the city of Chicago's Common recorded the following track, "I Used to Love HER," in 1994 largely as a protest against the heightened materialism and artificiality which characterized hip-hop's apparent direction. Common's track was a call for hip-hop artists to abandon the discourse of original hip-hop specifically because it was increasingly less relevant. Common's consciousness about hip-hop itself bears testament to the changing nature of 'keeping it real'. In the track , the "HER" Common refers to is hip-hop itself. The track's nostalgia for an age when hip-hop was real reflects Common's understanding that hip-hop which is not revelatory violates its very essence—'keeping it real'.


Political Consciousness

 Last, Lupe Fiasco's "Conflict Diamonds" from 2007 takes up the highly political issue of the African diamond mining business and its exploitation of young labor. Taking up where Kanye West left off with his original "Diamonds" track, here, Lupe Fiasco brings to the forefront a globalized moral predicament. Taking to heart Common's 1994 plea, Lupe employs hip-hop as a medium to articulate to its audience the gravity of a contemporary problem. Lupe pushes hip-hop forward simply by his commitment to its original nature.


Romantic and Psychoanalytic Self Consciousness

Thus, we now arrive at Kid Cudi. What follows seeks not to provide a biography of the artist, nor to discuss his studio albums and mixtapes track-by-track. Instead, it brings forth the substance of his art, which is hip-hop, as quite simply, a new form of 'keeping it real' by centering on his first studio album, Man on the Moon: End of Day. That form? As one can experience by watching the video below, Kid Cudi injects the hip-hop genre with unadulterated emotional expression of his internal state-of-mind, wholly without explicit reference to unjust political and social forces. His form of the real brings hip-hop's primitive and inherent purpose, 'keeping it real', with what may seem like a wholly unrelated category, era and school of thought: the Romanticism of the second half of the 18th century in Europe.

The Romantic era was largely a time-period of the reactionary discovery and elevation of truths which stood apart from the scientific rationalization of nature, social and political takeover by the Industrial Revolution, and the rise of the aristocracy. The movement validated strong emotion as an authentic source of aesthetic experience, placing new emphasis on such emotions as trepidation, horror and terror and awe. In an effort to escape the confines of population growth, urban sprawl and industrialization, Romanticism embraced the exotic, unfamiliar, and distant authentically by utilizing the power of the imagination to envision and to escape. By localizing legitimacy in the realm of the individual imagination, Romanticism effected a freedom from classical notions of form in art. (Thank you to Wikipedia for help here)

So how is it, particularly, that Kid Cudi's work not only makes him a Romantic figure but also brings Romanticism into hip-hop? First, through the translation of internal affliction into a vibrant soundscape which combines guttural vocal projections, symbolically burdensome and heavy beats and penetrating introspective lyrics. And second, by the substance of that internal affliction—the nonconformist escape from reality through drugs and imagination. Watch the video below (*I recommend you turn off the lights and turn up the sound):

Man on the Moon: The End of Day, pervasively emanates a problematic mood of melancholy, longing and emptiness, which Kid Cudi triumphantly overcomes in the very same album. For instance, in his track "Solo Dolo (Nightmare)" Cudi elicits a familiar darkness through a subtle artillery of soulful cries, internal questioning and a mysteriously simple and repetitive beat—the end-product can give one goosebumps. Another example, "Cudi Zone" can be characterized as a triumphant overcoming of self-over-system, of the individual over his moral insecurities, all brought together by a humming sound of salvation. Cudi's translation of his psychological states into an adventurous narrative and, most importantly, an accessible soundscape facilitates a demographic-blind appeal to the artist, and even puts into question whether his art should even be considered hip-hop. Garnering listeners through solidarity, Kid Cudi's hyper-individualistic exploration of his own self along with his thoughtful but aching unwillingness to conform resounds with any listener, of any race and any economic class, who struggles, albeit perhaps without awareness, with the tension between, on one hand, disinterested authoritative prescriptions and, on another hand, the radical human freedom within us all. The 'Man on the Moon', as Cudi calls himself, authors the revelation of this very psychoanalytic tension between what Freud would refer to as the Superego, or the internal authorial demand for perfection, and the Id, or the hedonistic pleasure principle. It is because such a tension runs commonly in us all that Cudi's Romantic form of 'keeping it real' effectively knows no bounds.

Unsound Precedent: Musical Sampling in the Shadows of "Upright" and "Bridgeport"

Submitted by Adam E. Gerchick on Thursday, 12/23/2010, at 9:48 AM

Section I: The Grand Upright Precedent

In 1991, Biz Markie asked for a lift and got a lawsuit.  That year, Markie, the old-school New York City rapper less well known by his legal name, Marcel Theo Hall, and best known for his 1989 song “Just a Friend,” released his album I Need a Haircut to a lukewarm critical reception and modest sales.  Included in the album was the forgettable song “Alone Again,” in which Markie raps a litany of complaints about his lack of reliable and helpful friends, spending the first minute of his song focusing on an acquaintance’s unwillingness to give him a ride in a Harlem snow shower.  Pedantic as the song may be to most listeners, it did contain two musical component of interest to others in the entertainment industry: the looped piano melody and four-word refrain of Irish singer-pianist Gilbert O’Sullivan’s far more successful 1972 single “Alone Again (Naturally).”  Markie had sampled, or used a portion of, O’Sullivan’s recording despite O’Sullivan’s explicit refusal, as owner of the copyright to his own song’s composition, to grant Markie and his record label the rights to do so.  Seeking an immediate injunction against release of Markie’s record, the record label Grand Upright Records, Ltd. which had since obtained title to O’Sullivan’s copyright, sued Markie and his record label, Warner Bros. Records Inc. for copyright infringement in the United States District Court for the Southern District of New York.

In a blistering and at times blusterous decision issued on December 17, 1991, nearly four months after Haircut’s release, Federal Judge Kevin Thomas Duffy not only ruled for Grand Upright and ordered the defendants to cease distribution of the Markie’s album, but even referred the defendants to the district’s U.S. Attorney for criminal prosecution.  Beginning his succinct opinion with the damning statement, “Thou Shalt Not Steal,” Duffy accused Markie and Warner Bros. of “callous disregard for the law and for the rights of others[1].”  Though his opinion did not provide evidence to demonstrate that the defendants had acted with malicious intent, Duffy did observe that Markie and Warner Bros. willingly permitted the sale of his album, including the O’Sullivan samples, despite believing that they lacked the necessary authorization from O’Sullivan to include his protected work.  The judge also accused the defense council of incompetence, noting their failure to conduct standard discovery of the plaintiffs and their reliance on a long-obsolete technical statute regarding copyright transfer to win the case.  In the absence of any serious assertions by the defense that there existed an artistic right to sample others’ work, Duffy decided the case exclusively on the grounds that the plaintiffs owned O’Sullivan composition and that the defendants had used it without consent.

In the context of the particular matter before him, Judge Duffy’s ruling had a just effect.  Markie’s artistic contribution in “Alone Again” gave the impression of an amateur in a high-school lunch-break rap battle; verbally muddled, lyrically sloppy, and acoustical uninspired, “Alone Again” sounded like an afterthought included in the album to bring it to thirteen tracks.  As a matter of impression, Markie’s lyrics seemed almost to showcase O’Sullivan’s sampled work, with the latter providing the sole variation in lyrical pitch and the only actually music in the song.  However, as a matter of legal precedent, Duffy’s ruling was disastrous for the art of so-called “old school” hip hop, which relies upon intensive sampling both as a vehicle for its practitioners’ rhythmically spoken word and, at is best, to ameliorate an artist’s message or “message” in a particularly track.  In his decision, Duffy made two statements that bore heavily on the legal status of common sampling practices in the hip-hop community.  In the first section of the ruling, the judge laid out his framework for deciding the case, writing,

Defendants admit "that… ‘Alone Again’…uses three words from ‘Alone Again (Naturally),’ composed by Gilbert O'Sullivan and a portion of the music taken from the O'Sullivan recording.”… The only issue, therefore, seems to be who owns the copyright to the song  “Alone Again (Naturally)” and the master recording thereof made by Gilbert O'Sullivan. 

In effect, Duffy dismissed the notion that any amount of a copyrighted work could be incorporated by another artist without the permission of the copyright holder.  The judge made clear the implication of this assumption in the third section of the verdict, in which he states, “Each defendant who testified knew that it is necessary to obtain a license – sometimes called a ‘clearance’ – from the holder of a valid copyright before using the copyrighted work in another piece.”  The critical word in the sentence was “knew;” rather than observe that Markie and his agents believed that they had an obligation to obtain prior clearance for the use of a protected work, Duffy chose to affirm that belief, implying that it was true.  The judge’s statement had no qualifications; apparently oblivious to the gravity of the finding, Duffy was ruling that any use of copyrighted material, no matter the amount or the natural of the reproduction, by another artist or intellectual-property distributor without prior issuance of a license to do so from the legal owner of the given copyright, was illegal.


Section II: De Minimis and Fair Use Threatened

In his effort to project disapproval of what he termed “rampant [stealing] in the music business[2],” Judge Duffy himself submitted sloppy work, neglecting to exempt from his licensing requirement several forms of unauthorized use and reproduction of copyrighted work explicitly authorized by the Copyright Act of 1976, upon which Duffy’s decision was legally grounded.  However, even assuming that Duffy did not intend to overrule the statutory law, and that he or any other judge would certainly apply those legal exemptions should a relevant case present itself, his decision in Upright was irresponsibly broad and ill-conceived, both in its ignorance of the ambiguities of sampling law and in its unintentional establishment of a convoluted and counterproductive licensing regime. 

No doubt floored by the flagrancy of Markie’s act of infringement, Duffy did not think to consider two unsettled areas of the federal copyright statute that arguably permit hip-hop artists to engage in limited forms of sampling without ever obtaining a license: the de minimis defense and the doctrine of fair use.   The de minimis defense, from the Latin de minimis non curat lex (“The law does not concern itself with trifles”), derives from the notion that some violations of statutory law are too insubstantial to warrant the intervention of the courts.  A common defense in cases of copyright infringement, a valid de minimis claim generally requires that a sample of a copyrighted work be so minimal or so greatly altered as not retain a “substantial similarity” to the original composition[3].  Though the subjectivity of such a standard is immediately apparent, the primary methods that American courts have employed to determine substantial similarity only emphasize the difficulty and arbitrariness inherent in establishing the validity of the de minimis claim at trial.  In the context of music sampling, the most established method of de minimis adjudication is to ask an “ordinary observer” – a layperson with no technical knowledge of the work in question, and perhaps a jury collectively – whether he (or they) find the defendant’s work to have an “aesthetic appeal” apparently indistinguishable from that of an allegedly infringed-upon composition[4].  In other words, if an untrained ear recognizes the sample as clearly belonging to the longer original composition, the sample lacks de minimis exception from copyright-infringement law and the sampler may be held liable for restitution and penalties.

Owing to the unreliability intrinsic in the employment of a subjective layperson to make the technical judgments required for de minimis claims, musical copyright-infringement defendants tend to favor of the more statutorily recognized and less restrictive fair-use defense.  Comprising Section 107 of the Copyright Law of the United States,[5] the Copyright Law of 1976’s “Limitations on exclusive rights: Fair use” policy recognize the legal legitimacy of the fair use claim as a legal argument per se and attempts to provide a general framework for the judicial to use in judging the validity of a particular such claim by a musical-infringement defendant.  The body of the law states:

Notwithstanding the provisions sections 106 and 106A [which enumerate a copyright-owner’s exclusive rights to his protected work], the fair use of a copyrighted work, including such use by reproduction in copies or phonorecords or by any other means specified by that section, for purposes such as criticism, comment, news reporting, teaching (including multiple copies for classroom use), scholarship, or research, is not an infringement of copyright.[6]

Though some of the protected forms of fair use are generally clear – the nature of news reporting, classroom use, and scholarship seem general clear – others are sufficiently broad to encompass limited forms of musical sampling.  “Criticism” and “comment” of included samples both manifest themselves in many hip-hop tracks, even if in direct or subtle manners.  Some hip-hop artists may, in their songs, establish an imaginary dialogue with their samples, as Eminem does with brief recordings of two sanctimonious-sounding social commentators in his 2004 song “Yellow Brick Road.”  However, many more seem to use their samples to contribute to the positions or themes they discuss in their respective works, or to critically emphasize some cultural flaw or social inanity they find apparent in particular sampled works (this concept is more broadly discussed in Section IV).  Regardless of the specific nature of an artist’s sample-laden track, or “subsuming work,” the fair-use doctrine provides potentially extensive sanctuary for hip-hop artists engaged in musical social criticism who are seeking to sample relevant compositions without the costs and bureaucratic difficulties associated with negotiating sampling licenses.

Sampling artists whose work does not constitute criticism or commentary of a sample in the most literal senses have a friend in the clarification guidelines provided in Section 107 to aid the courts in applying the statute.  The four points of consideration provided in the Section are vague to the point of specious.  As Section 107 continues:

In determining whether the use made of a work in any particular case is a fair use the factors to be considered shall include—
(1)  the purpose and character of the use, including whether such use is of a commercial nature or is for nonprofit educational purposes;
(2)  the nature of the copyrighted work;
(3)  the amount and substantiality of the portion used in relation to the copyrighted work as a whole; and
(4)  the effect of the use upon the potential market for or value of the copyrighted work.

Like the prescriptive half of the section, this second half, apparently dedicated to clarifying the first, comprises a scale of clarity.  A judge could reasonably understand point (3) to be a general reflection of the de minimis principle and point (4) to reflect a desire by Congress to give lenience in the assessment of copyright infringement to uses of copyrighted works that would presumably pose little or no threat of commercial competition with the original composition.  In contrast, the first and especially second points are almost maddeningly vague as a matter of binding judicial procedure.  Judges are directed to consider “the purpose and character of the use, including” – but not, apparently, limited to the intention of the sampler or other appropriator to profit from the use.  The statute offers no guidance in how to weight the importance of those plans relative to the broader “purpose and character” of the use, and does not even clarify whether nonprofit or commercial use is to be preferred.  Of course, when compared to a directive to consider “the nature of the copyrighted work,” point (1)’s intentions are relatively clear.

Faced with the choice between the relatively clear but vulnerable de minimis method and the far broader yet more arbitrary and less reliable fair-use standard for determining the eligibility of a given sample for exemption from copyright-infringement action, many samplers specializing in extremely brief or highly altered samples might choose the devil they know better and argue a hypothetical infringement defense under the de minimis regime.  However, for the past three years, that option has become greatly less accessible to them, following the ruling of the Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit in the 2005 case of Bridgeport Music, Inc. v. Dimension Films.  In the case, Bridgeport, a one-man copyright-holdings firm,[7] sued the ghetto-rap group N.W.A., claiming copyright infringement because the group had altered and then five times looped a two-second guitar riff from Funkadelic’s “Get Off Your Ass and Jam,” to which Bridgeport claimed copyright.  In an example of the convolution of the contemporary American copyright-ownership regime, Funkadelic had given N.W.A. permission to use the sample, assuming that it held title to its own work.  The Appeals Court found Bridgeport to be the lawful owner of the Funkadelic song and ordered N.W.A. to pay Bridgeport damages.[8]

In its decision, the 6th Circuit, whose authority to set binding common-law precedent over federal district courts encompasses Michigan, Ohio, Kentucky, and Tennessee, ruled that the de minimis defense was invalid per se in the context of sample.[9]  The court first recognized a component of the copyright statute unique to musical compositions: when a song is composed and then recorded, distinct copyrights are issued to the composer of the composition, the arrangement of notes and sounds that define the song, and to the owner of the “master recording,” a particular disk or album designated as the official physical record of the song, serving a function similar to that of a master key.  To legally obtain the right to reproduce, distribute, or otherwise commercially use a song, the court noted, one must receive respective clearances from both the bearer of the composition copyright and the owner of the master recording.  The court observed that Section 114(b) of the Copyright Law states, “The exclusive right of the owner of copyright in a sound recording… is limited to the right to duplicate the sound recording in the form of phonorecords or copies that directly or indirectly recapture the actual sounds fixed in the recording.”[10]  Based on that standard, the court reasoned:

This means that the world at large is free to imitate or simulate the creative work fixed in the recording so long as an actual copy of the sound recording itself is not made.  That leads us directly to the issue in this case. If you cannot pirate the whole sound recording, can you "lift" or "sample" something less than the whole? Our answer to that question is in the negative.

The court continued:

Further, the rights of sound recording copyright holders… "do not extend to the making or duplication of another sound recording that consists entirely of an independent fixation of other sounds…." (17 U.S.C. § 114(b))  The significance of this provision is amplified by the fact that the Copyright Act of 1976 added the word "entirely" to this language…. In other words, a sound recording owner has the exclusive right to 'sample' his own recording.

Thus, the court regarded the addition of the word “entirely” into the statue in 1976 as deeply significant, arguing that it implies that the bearer of the master-recording copyright alone has the right to produce a recording or copy of any amount of the master recording without license.  Summarizing its line of reasoning, the Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals explained the impact of their decision with Duffy-esque clarity: “Get a license or do not sample.”[11]  The court had thus rejected the legitimacy of the de minimis defense by musical samplers, siding, albeit more thoughtfully, with Judge Duffy on the question of whether the copyright statute respects a sliding scale of liability.  While the court specifically did not rule on the validity of the fair-use defense, writing, “We express no opinion on [the defense’s] applicability to these facts,” it gave no hint that it would find such a defense compelling if confronted with it in the future, and, based on its refusal to acknowledge any overwhelming artistic justification for overriding what it regards as a settled statutory law prohibiting sampling, the court likely would be loath to permit sampling on vague free-expression grounds.

In the same paragraph ordering sample-seekers to obtain licenses for their desired works, the court argued that such an absolute approach was compatible with artistic expression and the culture of sampling.  The court first argued that, if one wished to sample a work without a license, they were free under Section 114(b) to record their own performance of the relevant notes in a studio, seeing as it did not violate the master-record bearer’s exclusive right to the actual original recording.   Second, the court posited, the free market would keep licensing fees reasonable, since artists would simply refuse to purchase licenses if the exceeded the cost of reproducing the song in a studio.  Finally, the court noted that there was no credible risk of inadvertent violation of the law because the act of sampling an actual recording requires such a deliberate and affirmative decision to do so. 

The court got its third justification right.  Owing to its apparently fundamental misunderstanding of the nature of sampling and of the functionality of the music industry, the court got its first two justifications wildly wrong.


Section III:  The Aftermath

The Sixth Circuit’s surprising reversal of the district court’s verdict in Bridgeport only reinforced a convoluted, inefficient, and otherwise dysfunctional sampling-license regime that had developed in large part in response to Judge Duffy’s insufficiently considered opinion in Grand Upright fourteen years earlier.  As a product of that and later decisions rejecting samplers’ appeals for recognition under fair use and de minimis statutes – many of those other cases apparently looking to Duffy’s established precedent on the matter in the entertainment-industry-heavy Southern District of New York – the American recording industry began to develop something akin to a private bureaucracy to handle sampling and other low-volume licensing requests.  Major record labels, particularly those representing successful hip-hop artists, began turning their attention to negotiating for legal clearance to use brief samples in their clients’ tracks. 

What the Sixth Circuit had not anticipated is that the process of negotiating licenses to produce or redistribute copies of a copyrighted recording was vastly less streamlined and standardized than the financial power and development of the American entertainment industry might suggest.  Even today, licensing negotiations for the use of songs in an ancillary context, for example, in a motion picture, are private and ad hoc, and do not follow and consistent pricing guidelines.  Transactions between major record labels or those labels and film or television studios may demonstrate a greater consistency due to the presumable skill and preparatory research of each side’s negotiators and the sizeable sales data and institutional knowledge retained by each side, allowing each party to better estimate the value of securing a deal.  However, as the terms of such deals are generally guarded to protect the labels’ and studios’ negotiating positions, aggregate data is virtually non-existent and wholly unreliable.  Among smaller entities lacking for negotiating teams and sophisticated financial models, the outcomes of negotiations over the right to license of song or album for public presentation or commercial remixing wary wildly.[12]

The effort required to obtain a license to commercial distribute copies of an already-released work to consumers for private use is significantly more streamlined as a product of federal compulsory licensing requirements in Section 115(a)(1) of the Copyright Law.  Per the statute:

When phonorecords of a nondramatic musical work have been distributed to the public in the United States under the authority of the copyright owner, any other person, including those who make phonorecords or digital phonorecord deliveries, may, by complying with the provisions of this section, obtain a compulsory license to make and distribute phonorecords of the work. A person may obtain a compulsory license only if his or her primary purpose in making phonorecords is to distribute them to the public for private use, including by means of a digital phonorecord delivery.

In other words, once a song has been released publicly, anyone may compel the master-recording owner to issue them a license to further distribute the work to private consumers for their personal use, all in exchange for royalties.  Section 115(c)(2) even specifies the exact royalties owed in exchange for a compulsory license, putting the fee at “either two and three-fourths cents, or one-half of one cent per minute of playing time or fraction thereof, whichever amount is larger.”  As a result, the system for full-song distribution is generally orderly and consistent.

Such is not the case in the sampling market.  Because the cost to sample a two- or three-second segment of a song would be negligible under the compulsory-licensing framework, because sampling often involves some manipulation of the segment, in violation of Section 115, and because the sampling market is relatively limited, volatile, and ad hoc, no common licensing regime exists for hip-hop artists looking to obtain the rights to use part of a particular song.  In its place is a sort of licensing Wild West in which copyright-holders are often arbitrary and inconsistent, legal ownership of a particular recording is often difficult if not impossible to establish, one must negotiate individually with the respective owners of the composition and master-recording copyrights, and the costs of sampling a well-known artist can be prohibitively expensive.

In an interview, Kathleen Merrill, President of the Parker Music Group in Los Angeles and an experienced representative of artists seeking to obtain and negotiate distribution of sampling licenses, described the state of the sampling licensing regime as “pretty non-existent,” saying there were “basically no standards” for what artists can expect to pay or extract in negotiations for a sampled work.  In many cases, established artists are willing to grant sampling licensing “for the cost of the paperwork,” regarding a young artist’s request for permission to use their work as flattering and respectable in an era of flagrant copyright infringement by consumers.  However, because the right sample a song also requires legal clearance with the owner of the master recording, the cost to obtain a sample is often control of the resulting work. 

Major labels or copyright accumulators, such as Bridgeport Music, have little interest in inspiring the creative spirit beyond its potential to reap future profits.  Because of a several precedent-setting court decisions on the nature of sampling law over the past two decades, and specifically Grand Upright and Bridgeport, prospective hip-hop artists have no choice but to negotiate, often with virtually no leverage, against experienced and unsympathetic industry executives or copyright hoarders.  According to Merrill, a new artist seeking to sample almost any established artist’s tracks can expect to cede at least fifty percent ownership of the final product to the bearer of the master recording, in addition to a negotiated advance with the label or copyright-holder of several thousand dollars and an assortment of legal fees to complete the licensing transaction.  Almost like selling one’s soul to the devil, the cost of popularizing one’s work may be the loss of it to Hollywood.  Merrill said that federal rulings on the legality of sampling had, despite the Sixth Circuit’s prediction, only “muddied the waters.”  “A lot of these decisions will be struck down,” she predicted.  The laws “conflict with each other and with the copyright law,” she added.  “It’s going to take years and we’ll have to look at the copyright statute itself.”[13]


Section IV: An Appeal for Fair Use

In its oblivion toward the nature of hip-hop, the Sixth Circuit in Bridgeport asserted that financially limited sampling artists could reject excessive licensing fees by simply creating their own renditions of their desired works.  The suggestion belied a fundamental misunderstanding not only of the musical nature of the genre but of its cultural roots and identity.  To suggest that the principle intention of a hip-hop sampler seeking a particular track was to obtain an acoustically appealing beat even demonstrates a degree of disrespect for the artistic legitimacy of hip-hop.

Many hip-hop artists satisfy themselves with appealing beats, and millions of their fans, many of them the wealthy concert-goers who lack any appreciation of the genre beyond the high-life image its biggest, and often most culturally isolated and distant, stars project.  For those rappers, the B.o.B.s and Drakes of the music industry, licensing fees are no object and the desire to sample an old-school or even more-historic track is often mitigated by the far more lucrative prospects of collaborating with one another, often resulting in another instantiation of the hip-pop marriage that dominates Top 40 stations and has consistently earned strong ratings over the past decade. 

In the midst of hip-hop’s movement away from its roots, are more traditional, and often more musically attentive, artists who recognize the capacity of a subsuming work to transform the nature of a sample, giving it new meaning in the context of a carefully constructed track. 

When a sampled clip is of a distinctly different genre, era, or mood than the sampler’s subsuming piece, tends to serve one of two roles: to identify the new piece, and often its artist, with the era or style of the sampled song, or to contrast ironically with the overall message or attitude of the subsuming work.  The 2003 Black Eyed Peas hit “Shut Up” provides a particularly clear example of the first intention.  The group loops the quintessentially funky beat of George Clinton’s 1979 song “(Not Just) Knee Deep), overlaying it with a minor-key violin melody and their own musical lyrics.  As if to emphasize the Peas’ determination to give their song a funky vibe, band member apl.de.ap (Allan Pineda Lindo, Jr.) opens the “Shut Up” music video by conducting the violinists while wearing an exaggerated top hat and the sort of large, colorful suit popular in the late 1970s and ‘80s with funk musicians.

In contrast to the Peas’ effort to identify with Clinton’s legendary funk sound through a sampling of his beat, contemporary mega-rapper Kanye West liberally samples from an earlier work to provide ironic contrast with his own message in his 2005 Grammy-winning song “Diamonds from Sierra Leone.”  West incorporates the 1971 Shirley Bassey song “Diamonds are Forever” in the track, several times repeating the eponymous chorus line without overlaying his own lyrics.  The result is a song in which he contrasts Bassey’s subject’s materialistic love of diamonds with his own protest against the global gem market’s complicity in the blood-diamond atrocities of Sierra Leone’s Charles Taylor era. 

Both roles for samples – as cultural homage and object of cynical contrast and derision – represent editorial commentary and artistic expression.  In associating their own works with older songs, generally those of historically black-dominated genres, sampling hip-hop artists give tribute to that historical legacy.   These samples become icons, representing their respective genres or affiliated subcultures.  Far beyond a simple effort to use an appealing beat, samplers often use such well-known or genre-representative jazz, blues, or funk songs to lay claim to the legacy of their own genre’s stylistic predecessors and to convey a sense of cultural continuity between past and present. 

“Icon samplers” may seek to inspire a sense of nostalgia among their listeners, using iconic musical sounds to ground the new track, in listeners’ minds, in the sampled song’s home environment and era.  To sample a blues record might remind the listener of Renaissance Harlem, while the use of an N.W.A. rap would psychologically establish a sampler’s work in the context of the Los Angeles ghettos of the early ‘90s.  As a result, such “iconic sampling,” integrates not only the sampled song’s sound but also its theme and, to the extent one exists, artistic or political statement.  Merely by its inclusion in the new song, the iconic sample acts as the sampler’s endorsement of the sample’s original artist and as an efficient vehicle with which to convey an artistic statement, often without requiring a single lyric.  The sample becomes more a form of speech, even if light-hearted, than of auditory appeal; the artist fundamentally transforms the beat, melodic arrangement, or whole musical segment that comprises the sample into a second form of lyric. 

Artists whose samples of others’ work are carefully limited in content, represent a small minority of the sampler’s lyrics and melody, and demonstrably assist in communicating clearly apparent artistic, philosophical, or political expression deserve immunity from licensing requirements and royalties on fair-use grounds.  In their capacity to transform the character of a chosen sample by incorporating it into their own hip-hop, such artists turn it into a vehicle for comment and criticism as required under the fair-use provision of the Copyright Law.  Taking themselves with the seriousness demonstrated by musicians in many other genres, this socially conscious and artistically dedicated segment of the broader hip-hop community deserves to be regarded with equal seriousness by the law on the question of transformative fair use.

To that end, a proposal:

Congress should institute a “Sentence Standard,” permitted artist to use very limited samples of others’ copyrighted work without the bureaucratic difficulties and prohibitive costs associated with the contemporary sample-licensing regime.  Under the Sentence Standard, samples would be treated as artistic statements or commentary, in keeping with the fair-use standards of Section 107.  The term “Sentence Standard” derives both from the intended brevity of license-exempted samples and the succinctness of their artistic expression, implying that the sample’s expression be no longer or more complex than a single, simple sentence.  The lyrics of such license-exempted samples would be permitted, roughly, to express a single, brief, unsophisticated sentiment, such as Haddaway’s plea “Don’t hurt me” in Eminem’s “No Love” or Gilbert O’Sullivan’s “I’m alone again” in a more committed and developed version of Biz Markie’s eponymous rap.  Longer selections, like the extended sample of Bassey’s “Diamonds are Forever,” would not be eligible for license exemption, as their inclusion substantively effects not only the editorial but also the aesthetic nature of the subsuming product.  That distinction between editorial and aesthetic impact, coupled with firm restrictions on the length of an exempted sample, would be the key factor by which to determine the eligibility of a given sample. 

In light of judicial erosions of de minimis and fair-use exemptions under existing copyright statute, and of the dysfunctional nature of a sample-licensing regime that ultimately restricts the public’s access to others’ artistic contributions, it is apparent that sampling law must be reformed.  Given the distinct and inconsistent nature of the sample-licensing market, a compulsory licensing scheme would likely be economically inefficient, under-pricing extremely popular portfolios like George Clinton’s in a pay-by-the-second scheme while still potentially pricing the most earnest future hip-hop artists out of the market.  Given the time limits imposed by the Sentence Standard on license-exempt samples, the public distribution of an included sample taken from a particular song would pose no competitive threat to the original composition; replaying a two-second sample one hundred times cannot replicate the pleasure of a strong three-minute single.  If anything, a more liberal distribution of samples could help to draw public attention to those samples’ original works, with the samples functioning like teasers for their longer songs. 

The dual legacy of Grand Upright Records, Ltd. v. Warner Bros. Music Inc. and Bridgeport Music, Inc. v. Dimension Films, LLC has been one of needless complication and manipulation of the music industry at the cost of legitimate artistic expression and the public interest.  Each decision’s respective judges would be wise to reconsider not only the technical language of the copyright statue but also the language of the document that authorized it.  Per Article 1, Section 8 of the United States Constitution, “The Congress shall have the Power… To promote the Progress of Science and useful Arts, by securing for limited Times to Authors and Inventors the exclusive Right to their respective Writings and Discoveries.”  At its core, the purpose of the American copyright system is to promote human flourishing and intellectual development by creating strong incentives for intellectuals to contribute their ideas and efforts.  As it stands today, the American copyright system fails to achieve that ultimate end by denying even the original composers of a work the ability to fully and independently permit others to build upon their work.  Likewise, it denies access to a whole category of artistic and political expression, messages conveyed not always in words but also often in the context of music and general sound.  With so little cost to original composers and other owners of their work, it is time for the United States to recognize the legitimacy of limited and regulated sampling as a form of genuine artistic expression.


Works Cited

Bridgeport Music, Inc. v. Dimension Films, 410 F.3d 792 (6th Cir. 2005)

Crum, Joshua.  “The Day the (Digital) Music Died.”  Brigham Young University Law Rev.  Vol. 943.943-70 P. 953.  Sep. 2, 2008.  (Accessed December 16, 2010.)

Falstrom, Carl A. “Note: Thou Shalt Not Steal: Grand Upright Music Ltd. v. Warner Bros. Records, Inc. and the Future of Digital Sound Sampling in Popular Music.”  University of California, Hastings College of Law Hastings Law Journal, JANUARY, 1994, 45 Hastings L.J. 359.

Grand Upright Music, Ltd. v. Warner Bros. Records Inc., 780 F. Supp. 182 (S.D.N.Y. 1991)

“Grand Upright v. Warner.”  Copyright Infringement Project.  UCLA Law and Columbia Law School.  2005.  <http://cip.law.ucla.edu/cases/case_grandwarner.html>.  Accessed December 1, 2010.

Hall, Marcel Theo (a.k.a. “Biz Markie”).  “Alone Again.”  I Need A Haircut.  Song.  August 27, 1991.  YouTube.  Accessed December 2, 2010. 

Kaplice, Brett I.  “Note: Rap Music and De Minimis Copying: Applying the Ringgold and Sandoval Approach to Digital Samples.”  Yeshiva University Cardozo Arts & Entertainment Law Journal, 2000, 18 Cardozo Arts & Ent LJ 227.

Leach, Eric.  “Note and Comment: Safe Sound: Protecting Digital Sample-Based Products Through Copyright.” Whittier Law Review Whittier Law Review, Summer, 1998, 19 Whittier L. Rev. 805.

McCready, Michael.  “The Law Regarding Sampling Music.”  Copyright Law, Treaties, and Advice.  2007. <http://www.copynot.org/Pages/Music%20sampling.htm>.  (Accessed December 16, 2010.)

Merrill, Kathleen.  Telephone Interview.  December 21, 2010.

Min, Lisa B.  “Case Note and Comment: Clarity to Litigation Concerning Digitally Sampling Sound Recordings: Get a License or Do Not Sample – The Bridgeport Music Decision.”  DePaul University Journal of Art and Entertainment Law, Spring, 2005, 15 DePaul-LCA J. Art & Ent. L. 329.

O’Sullivan, Raymond Edward “Gilbert.”  “Alone Again (Naturally).”  Song.  February 1972.  YouTube.  Accessed December 2, 2010.

U.S. Code Title 17, Chapter 1, Section 107.  “Limitations on Exclusive Rights: Fair Use.”

U.S. Code Title 17, Chapter 1, Section 114: “Scope of Exclusive Rights in Sound Recordings.”

Wilson, Stephen R.  “Music Sampling Lawsuits: Does Looping Music Samples Defeat the De Minimis Defense?”  Journal of High Technology Law.  2002.  (Accessed December 21, 2010.)



[1] Grand Upright Music, Ltd. v. Warner Bros. Records Inc., 780 F. Supp. 182 (S.D.N.Y. 1991)

[2] Id., Preamble.

[3] Wilson, Stephen R.  “Music Sampling Lawsuits: Does Looping Music Samples Defeat the De Minimis Defense?”  Journal of High Technology Law.  2002.  (Accessed December 21, 2010.)

[4] Id.

[5] U.S. Code Title 17, Chapter 1, Section 107.  “Limitations on Exclusive Rights: Fair Use.”

[6] Id.

[7] Crum, Joshua.  “The Day the (Digital) Music Died.”  Brigham Young University Law Rev.  Vol. 943.943-70 P. 953.  Sep. 2, 2008.  (Accessed December 16, 2010.)

[8] Bridgeport Music, Inc. v. Dimension Films, 410 F.3d 792 (6th Cir. 2005)

[9] Id.

[10] U.S. Code Title 17, Chapter 1, Section 114: “Scope of Exclusive Rights in Sound Recordings.”

[11] See 8.

[12] McCready, Michael.  “The Law Regarding Sampling Music.”  Copyright Law, Treaties, and Advice.  2007. <http://www.copynot.org/Pages/Music%20sampling.htm>.  (Accessed December 16, 2010.)

[13] Merrill, Kathleen.  Telephone Interview.  December 21, 2010.

"1, 2, 3, 4!"

Submitted by Ashley Hogan on Wednesday, 12/22/2010, at 3:58 PM

Punk, like other subcultures, aims to collapse traditional forms of meaning: safety pins are stripped of their utilitarian status and worn as grotesque ornaments; swastikas, a taboo emblem, are disassociated from Naziism, rendered meaningless (aside from the shock they provoke) and sewn onto leather jackets. Similarly, punk music selects a common, proletariat language (a musical structure that is directly appropriated from pop music) and subverts it to create a new language of youthful dissent. A minute but profound instance of this is the deliberate use and transformation of count-ins in punk songs.

Count-ins generally appear before a song and are used to set the tempo and time signature in an ensemble. They began making their way into recorded music in the 1960’s with the rise of garage rock, a major precursor to punk. Garage bands were often made up of inexperienced young men and the count-in was essential in helping them start at the same time and keep tempo with each other in live performances, which were the only platform for these young bands. Once garage bands began releasing recorded music, the count-in made its auspicious debut, flouting the anti-ability and informality of their music. In “I Saw Her Standing There,” the opening song on The Beatles’ debut album, Paul McCartney (who can’t read music) rattles off a playful “1, 2, 3, 4!” which remained in the track because the producer wanted to create the immediacy of a live performance.

With the explosion of punk in 1977, the count-in revived its presence in recorded music as both an essential tool and purposeful signifier of inexperience. Johnny Ramone, albeit with more fervor, shouts out the same “1, 2, 3, 4!” heard in “I Saw Her Standing There.”

To begin to expand the use and eventual transformation of count-ins to a global context, Japan’s Guitar Wolf offers an excellent example of how easily musical phrases and styles are translated around the world.

Besides adopting Ramones-esque dress, stance, attitude and monikers (members include Guitar Wolf, Bass Wolf and Drum Wolf) (0:00-0:20), Guitar Wolf also utilizes the familiar “1, 2, 3, 4!” (at 4:25) that begins at least 80% of Ramones songs. What’s particularly interesting about this count-in is that Guitar Wolf, who conducts themselves mostly in Japanese, shouts the numbers in English. This can be seen as using a familiar language with a pre-defined meaning and re-applying it to communicate your own ideas, such as legitimizing yourself as “punk music” through the use of the count-in.

After the initial stale recycling of the predictable “1, 2, 3, 4!” count-in, punk bands began transforming the count-in through the misuse of language (a particularly offensive act), infusing them with a tone that reflected the spirit of punk, and eventually becoming playfully self-aware of their use of the count-in.

The earliest instances of the deconstruction of traditional count-ins are characterized by a jumbling of numbers and languages. Chainsaw shows this through their simple, nonsensical count-in of “1, 2, 5, 7, 8!” before their cover (in English!) of Velvet Underground’s “What Goes On.”

This stylization, like count-ins themselves, derive from the practices of punks’ pre-punk garage brethren, as heard in Sam the Sham and the Pharaohs’  “Wooly Bully,” which mixes English and Spanish numbers.

Similarly, an Italian band with a curiously German-derived name, Hitler SS starts their song “Slave” off by blending German and Japanese (“Eins, Zwei, Drei, Bonsai!”). This scrambling of geographic references is both unnerving and silly, which are usually two of the main goals of punk music.

This absurd misuse and transformation of the count-in was not always without purpose though, as seen in Joy Division’s “Warsaw.” The number shouted in the beginning (“3, 5, 0, 1, 2, 5, Go!”) is a prisoner of war serial number for Rudolph Hess, a Nazi officer with a controversial role in World War II. The song then goes on to give a (rough) biographical account of Hess’ life.

“Warsaw” begins the trend of punk count-ins, which had already strayed from their strictly utilitarian purpose in garage music, once again becoming functional, but in a more complicated, evocative way. Count-ins began to not even feature numbers, but instead words that allowed for infinitely more interpretations. Early incarnations of this idea can be heard in Wire’s “12XU,” which opens with a count-in baring the same name.

The incorporation of a song’s title in the count-in is, like the count-in itself, a holdover from punk’s reliance on live performances, as shouting the song title would cue the audience (and sometimes even the other band members)  into what song was about to be played. To show it’s persistence over the course of 30 years, Nobunny’s “Mess Me Up” is another great example of this:

Le Tigre takes this idea even further, not incorporating the song title at all, but instead proclaiming “He took the bomb,” before launching into a Devo-esque deadpan repetition of a few synthy chords.

It’s important to keep in mind though, that just as one giveth, one can taketh away; thought count-ins gained the ability to embody deeper meaning, they could very easily regress back into nonsense. The Offspring (who, after producing the highest-selling album on an independent label, became a little more mainstream in their sound, but not in their spirit) demonstrates this return to absurdity in their (mis)use of a phrase taken from the beginning of a Def Leppard song. “Pretty Fly (for a White Guy)” begins with a nasally, inane utterance of “Gunter glieben glauchen globen,” a German-inspired, nonsensical expression.

Besides the extensive mishandling of language in count-ins, punk bands also imbued count-ins with very distinct attitudes that embodied the boredom, frustration and rebellion of punk music. An early instance of this is in The Stooges’ (pre-punk pioneers) “Raw Power,” which begins with Iggy Pop foregoing the effort of shouting numbers or words and instead spitting out a guttural grunt.

This stylization carried directly over to punk, as heard in Blondie’s “Living in the Real World,” which bitterly criticizes conforming to an average life of marriage, kids and a 9-5 job. This fear is rampant in the punk community and is reflected perfectly in drummer Billy O’Conner’s screams that gradually build up to an explosive “1, 2, 3, 4!”

Reflecting some of punk's more visceral frustration is Big Black’s “Passing Complexion,” which starts with an abrasive “1, 2, 1, 2, FUCK YOU!” and then assaults the listener with a barrage of ting-y, repetitive riffs that is no doubt the soundtrack to falling on a bed of nails..repeatedly.

Most of the time however, punks aren’t as severe and serious in their offensiveness as Big Black’s Steve Albini. Since it’s mainly a youth subculture, punk is often playful and has the ability to take a good-humored approach to itself and its predecessors. This is also aptly reflected in punk count-ins as bands began to ironically self-reference the once-innocuous count-in. This further stylization can be heard in Flipper’s “Nothing,” which starts with “OK, 1..wait, everybody start at the same time, ok? 1, 2, 3, 4!”

Not only are punk bands including the count-in to reference their anti-ability, but they are now commenting on their use of the count-in as a hallmark of informality (meta, huh?). Even more puzzling and exciting is the exploitation of this self-irony by the Yeah Yeah Yeah’s, whose members are conservatory-trained in jazz (Brian Chase) and a self-proclaimed violin “child prodigy” (Nick Zinner). Punk bands that no longer feel the need to tout their anti-ability and are actually advanced musicians are still using the count-in, not for its utilitarian purposes, but to tie themselves to punks’ roots and legitimize their musical endeavors.

Once a self-referential language is adopted, one is able to advance the creative stylizations of their art and redefine what their language signifies. This can be seen in the abundance of genre-bending punk covers (Punkin Pie’s “Bone Digger,” which covers Paul Simon’s “You Can Call Me Al,” or Thee Headcoatees’ “Don’t Wanna Hold Your Hand,” which playfully distorts The Beatles’ “I Wanna Hold Your Hand”) or Black Flag’s bold re-working of what a “punk” looks like by growing their hair long and wearing Dockers. This same spirit of constantly redefining the sound, language and aesthetics of punk through referencing (and consequently tearing down) one’s idols and influences is also reflected in punk count-ins. The Discocks’ (Japanese) “Voice of Youth” (along with many other songs) shows this in their incorporation of the count-in into the chorus, transforming it into an agentive, rallying cry.

The most extreme and advanced incarnation of the count-in can be heard in Cornelius’ (also Japanese) “Count Five or Six,” a song whose backbone is created by the robotic repetition of “1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6” throughout the entire song. Near the middle though, effectively playing with our expectations, the numbers begin to stop before 6, get mixed up, repeated and sped up.

The fantastic evolution and continuous redefinition of why a count-in is used and what it signifies echoes the same transformations occurring throughout the trajectory of punk music. It’s amazing that something that takes up no more time than a few seconds can carry such heavy implications, but through the in-depth study of the intersection of music, sound and culture, it becomes more apparent that seemingly minute occurrences such as count-ins manage to cross borders of time and place and come to mean something truly astounding.

The Global Sound of Manu Chao

Submitted by Theresa L. Kelley on Wednesday, 12/22/2010, at 3:54 PM

Manu Chao is an anomaly. From his lifestyle to his musical style, he follows no rules, and is a destroyer of boundaries. His innovative manner of music making, and the way that he presents himself on an international level serve to make him one of the most sincere global musicians of this generation. Though his vagrant lifestyle and bohemian outlook could potentially limit his appeal to a certain progressive niche, part of why he is such a groundbreaking musician is that it is apparent that his popularity is nearly limitless. He attracts fans from every walk of life, from more countries than it is possible to keep track of and yet still displays an extremely unaffected outlook.

            Manu Chao has lived much of his life on the move, and this trend began from his birth. He was born in Paris, in1961 to a Basque mother and Galician father, who were fleeing the fascist dictatorship of Franco in Spain after his grandfather was sentenced to death. He grew up outside of Paris with very politically active parents, and was constantly surrounded by artists and intellectuals throughout his childhood. Coming from a situation where political involvement was so significant played a central role in creating a foundation for Chao to develop his political tendencies. His diverse background also served as a basis for the amalgamation of cultures that he includes in his music. He sings in Spanish, French, English, Galician, Arabic, Portuguese, and the Senegalese language of Wolof. Trying to define the genre in which Chao performs is difficult in that he has been influenced and incorporates aspects of so many different types and classifications of music, including; ska, punk, jazz, reggae, latin, rock, alternative, Cuban beats, salsa, and possibly many more. This global sonic fusion has led the music industry to pigeonhole Chao as a creator of “World Music,” which he refutes and describes as a “neo-colonial” label for songs that are not sung in English. The concept of “world music” poses many problems in that it is a completely unrealistic and naïve misnomer. Obviously it is a concept manifested in the United States for the purpose of generating a simplified solution for music that is deemed “ethnic” or that contains traditional aspects. From one broad classification to another, this categorizing does not fit the music of Manu Chao in the slightest. This perhaps contributes reason to the fact that though he is relatively well known in the United States, he is no where near as popular there in comparison to European and Latin American countries. This reality does not seem to bother Chao however, because his views on the policies of the United States are not necessarily positive, and gaining success in a superficial and label oriented manner do not enter into his motives.

            Manu Chao first had musical success with his band, “Mano Negra” in 1987. As they gained fame in Europe, their record company encouraged them to tour in America. In true Chao fashion, he interpreted that to mean any part of “the Americas” that he wanted, and chose to tour South America. This venture marked a very important and influential journey in his life. The band toured in various nomadic-like ways, and even ended up traveling and performing on both a ship and a purchased train. Mano Negra disbanded in 1995, and this was the beginning of Chao’s individually and externally moving solo career. Chao traveled around Latin America, gaining many ideas and influential aspects for his music, as well as insights and views regarding the political happenings and social struggles of this part of the world. He became friend with Subcomandante Marcos, who is the spokesperson for Zapatistas, a group that champions the rights of the indigenous people in the Mexican state of Chiapas. While traveling in this itinerant manner, Chao recorded his first solo album, Clandestino, with a portable eight track recorder that he carried with him. Chao draws on his surroundings and on what he learned and garnered from his travels in this album, and touches on very heavily political issues. His stance on immigration is made very clear by a banner that he displayed at many of his shows that reads, “Immigrants are not Criminals.” Chao also highlights his stance on other political issues, including his involvement in the anti-globalization movement.

            To emphasize the political awareness that Manu Chao displays through his music and actions, it is important to note that he was asked by the Italian government to represent the Anti-globalization protest, not to mention his reaction to this request. He refused the offer and told them “there is nothing so corrupt as being a leader.” His declination of this role highlights further his attitudes towards power, politicians, and money, which he sees as all being very inherently and negatively connected. After releasing Clandestino, Chao began working on his subsequent album, Proxima Estación: Esperanza, which was a very successful album as well. After this release, his travels led him to Senegal, where he produced an album for the duo, Amadou and Mariam and where he absorbed various cultural and even spiritual aspects. His most recent album, Politik Kills is an obvious commentary on the corruption of politicians. Though his music is ridden with many political messages, Manu Chao manages to keep his music very lighthearted and interesting, and it does not make you feel as though he is trying to enforce his views on you. Many times, political music tends to be very heavy and cannot have the desired effect on a listener, because it takes a certain type of audience to be able to digest and endure what is generally very dispirited music. This is not to say that he makes light of a situation that merits very serious thought, it just draws attention to his ability to create awareness in a way that does not overwhelm listeners.

            The way that Manu Chao has gone about becoming a global sensation is different from any other musician. He has managed to be extremely successful by living in the exact manner that he desires. He has traveled all over the world and has found a way to incorporate the sounds of other cultures into his music in a way that is not contrived and is not striving to be pleasing to anyone besides himself. It can be argued that the fan base that he has acquired in a place like the United States consists mostly of those who would see his music and bohemian lifestyle as a desirable addition to their eclectic collection of artists, and though they might have embraced him, they are not the target audience that he has conspired to entrap with his unconventional way of living. His appeal is so large, and the concept of marketing enters into his actions very minutely. This highlights the fact that the idea of a target audience, which is so important to many artists, holds very little significance to Chao because though he has the ability to play for an audience of over 100,000, he can also find great fulfillment in busking on the streets or playing for a group of “guerillas, peasants, and drug traffickers.” Manu Chao has had a large impact on a an international scale and can be seen as the epitome of a “global musician” and at the same time, is still just one man playing music for himself because that is what gives him fulfillment. 

Spanglish Rap: Code-Switching Nyoricans

Submitted by Ofori-Kwafo Yaw Amponsah on Wednesday, 12/22/2010, at 3:49 PM


Spanglish Rap:  Code-switching Nyoricans


Hip-hop is one of the few cultural phenomena that has been translated and re-appropriated within hundreds of varying cultures. Although American hip-hop often sets the tone for what appears globally within hip-hop culture, hip-hop is no longer solely attached to its American roots. Hundreds of countries have copied and transformed hip-hop culture into their own unique versions. Graffiti, break dancing, rapping and DJing are each a unique and integral part of hip-hop culture. Of these four main hip-hop arts only one significantly shows the breath and depth of the cultural re-appropriation hip-hop has experienced around the world.

Rapping if one of the few musical phenomena that has a truly global presence. Rap can be heard in almost every language and seen on every continent. Rap is so ubiquitous throughout the world due to its accessibility, ease of creation and ease of adaptation.  American rap music is widely circulated throughout the world.  Rappers such as The Notorious B.I.G, Tupac Shakur, and the Wu-Tang Clan are widely recognized in countries ranging from Cuba to Pakistan.  Furthermore rapping is so prevalent because it is the easiest form of hip-hop to come to learn and embrace. Rap in its most basic form does not require any specialized equipment, art supplies, or lessons.  People can simply begin writing rhymes over simple beats that they hear or make. In addition, the lyrical content of a rap song is totally up to its creator. This is the foremost reason for rap music’s global popularity. Rap music can be adapted to fit within the constraints of various religious affiliations, languages, socioeconomic classes and cultural norms. For example, rappers in Muslim countries do not rap about drugs, exploiting women or Allah out of observance of their religion. The lyrics, methodology and style of a rap song are highly reflective of an artist’s experience.

In recent years the culture and content of American rap music has been seemingly streamlined due to the popularity of mainstream artists. It is often forgotten that like American culture, rap music is still growing.   In the past twenty to thirty years’ multilingual rappers have carved out a small niche in the American rap music scene. The concurrent use of multiple languages is often referred to as code-switching.[1] Many multilingual rap artists in America rap in both Spanish and English.  At first glance, multilingual rap may be viewed simply as a way to appeal to a wider audience.  But after much exploration I have found that multilingual rap is much more than this. Multilingual rap is a shining example of a recent cultural re-appropriation of rap music within America.

DJ Tony Touch is a Puerto-Rican American rapper; break dancer and hip-hop DJ hailing from Brooklyn, New York. Born Joseph Anthony Hernandez in 1969[2], DJ Tony Touch began his career in hip-hop as a break-dancer. In the late 1980’s DJ Tony Touch performed with a local hip-hop coalition named the Rock Steady Crew. The Rock Steady crew is a consortium of rappers and break-dancers originally from New York City. Towards the mid 1990’s DJ Tony Touch soon moved his way into DJing and turntablism.  DJ Tony Touch rose to fame producing a myriad of rap mixtapes that included many famous artists such as The Wu-Tang Clan, Mos Def, KRS-One, Big Daddy Kane and Wyclef Jean. In the late 1990’s, DJ Tony Touch began rapping himself. His music is quite unique given the fact that DJ Tony Touch raps in both Spanish and English. The language he uses within his raps is often referred to as Spanglish. Furthermore his music mixes traditional Latin musical elements with more general hip-hop aesthetics.  

One of DJ Tony Touch’s most famous song is entitled Dimelo. Dimelo is a Spanish slang meaning, “tell me” or “What’s up?”  In the song, “Dimelo” is used in the chorus of the song, in a call and responses format. The background singer chants “Que tu quiere huh? Dimelo!”.


This song begins with a waning trumpet and a simple conga beat very reminiscent of traditional salsa music.  The following example shows the similarities this song has with more traditional Latin music.  This song is entitled Amor Para mi by Ramon Orlando and its opening sequence showcases the congas and horns DJ Tony Touch was obviously influenced by.


In his song, DJ Tony Touch can be heard switching effortlessly between Spanish and English. About halfway through his first verse, he inserts a Spanish phrase that works effortlessly in this song.  


“They hardly got their feet wet

 me I get respect

 east west, they be like he's fresh           


 aqui esta tú papo me muelve yo

 im knockin' crews out they shoes

 oh gee homes pay lots of dues”[3]



 DJ Tony Touch’s use of Spanish in this song fits the metrical scheme of the lyrics.  The intonation and cadence of his Spanish doesn’t seem to throw off the flow of the song. Furthermore, the underlying beat of the song is an obvious nod to his Latin heritage.

            The following track is another example of DJ Tony Touch’s multilingual rapping style. This song is entitled Spanish Harlem by the Cocoa Brovaz.  On this track DJ Tony Touch makes a guest appearance in the intro as well as the 1st verse.


This song is a more traditional hip-hop track and lacks the underlying Latin music influences. This is due in large part because DJ Tony Touch is only guest starring on this track made by the Cocoa Brovaz. During DJ Tony Touches verse, you can clearly hear him interjecting various Spanish words and colloquialisms.   This track stands in opposition to my first example in regards to the amount of Spanish used. In the 1st track, DJ Tony Touch raps mostly in English but interjects a complete Spanish sentence. While in the second track, he merely sparingly inserts Spanish words almost as lyrical accents.  A transcription of his verse from Spanish Harlem can be seen below.


It's Tony Toca, the one that's got you screaming "Esta loca"

dalle juevo Is my mic Leggo my Eggo

Spanish Harlem all the way to San Diego

make it happen

you know, like movin yayo

i set my product, that shit's far from narcotics

mantequilla not manteco oh senso mia

cocoa brovaz, hurricane, mida mida

ton touch sound doofy eatin fajitas

chillin in the b-boy stance “

in my Adidas

while senoritas be screaming Buenos Dias

rock steady by now you know the steelo

mi correo still gets down on the leelo

tahino indians welcome to my teepi.[4] 



The overarching questions I sought answers to in my research of this cultural re-appropriation of hip-hop in America were how and why. How did multilingual rappers such as DJ Tony Touch rap in Spanish? And why did they choose to do so? Rapping in Spanish is actually much easier than rapping in English. The lexicon available to Spanish speakers is actually much larger than English speakers. Spanish is a non-monotonic language.  A monotonic language lacks intonation when spoken. Many languages are monotonic and this greatly inhibits artists’ ability to rap in them. For example, Japanese is a strictly monotonic language. Japanese’ rappers have come to create a new language of words containing stresses and varying intonations.  Spanish words are often stressed in specific places denoted by a stress mark, but the language allows for that stress to be placed wherever need be.  This is due in large part to the variety of Spanish accents there are. Spanish spoken by a native of Spain sounds much different than that spoken by a native of Mexico.

Spanish is also an inflected language. Inflection is the changing of a word’s ending to indicate a change in grammatical usage.[5] The Spanish language also contains many words with similar cadences and endings. This allows for a great deal of flexibility in rhyming and word choice when rapping in Spanish. For example in the beginning of his first verse in Dimelo, DJ Tony Touch says “ Prendelo”.  The word prendelo actually has three different meanings in Spanish depending on its context and endings.  Prendelo can mean to turn something off or on, (i.e. the lights), to carry something or to be arrested by the police. In these lyrics it means to turn something on.  In addition, the lack of steadfast grammatical syntax allows for people rapping in Spanish to arrange their lyrics in a manner that best fits the beat. For example in English, the subject has to come first in a sentence, while in Spanish the subject of the sentence is subsequently understood in the verb ending and can come much later. The grammar and syntax of Spanish makes it a language that is very easy to rap in.  This is why multilingual rapper such as DJ Tony Touch finds it so easy to switch back and forth between English and Spanish.

DJ Tony Touch’s multilingual rap style is reflective of his bi-lingual upbringing in New York City. Most 2nd and 3rd generation Puerto-Rican Americans in New York City speak both Spanish and English. As of 2000 an estimated 2 million Puerto-Ricans live in New York City and the adjoining burrows.[6] This is said to be the largest population of Puerto-Rican Americans outside of Puerto Rico. This large concentration of Puerto-Rican American in New York City is largely attributed to the passage of the Jones-Shafroth Act. The Jones-Shafroth act was passed on March 2nd, 1917 and made all Puerto Ricans US citizens.[7] This lead to a large and steady influx of Puerto-Ricans into New York City and the surrounding areas during the 1940’s, 50’s and 60’s.   Many Puerto-Ricans from New York City refer to themselves a Nyoricans, in order to distinguish themselves from actually natives of Puerto Rico. [8]There is a strong Puerto-Rican community throughout New York City and DJ Tony Touch’s music is reflective of that.  DJ Tony Touch’s effortless code-switching can be greatly attributed to his bi-lingual upbringing and desire to represent the experience of Puerto-Rican Americans in New York City.


             In conclusion, Spanish English code-switching is a great example of cultural re-appropriation of rap music within America. Rap can be transformed to tell a variety of stories in myriad of manners. In addition, the adaptation of the Spanish language so that its rhythmic pattern and intonation and general flow fit within the mainstream aesthetic of rap music is the driving force behind rap music creativity and evolution today. Rappers such as DJ Tony Touch, often discover new ways to portray their culture and experience through rap. Though the process is not as always easy as with multilingual rappers, the final product is sonically and lyrically beautiful nonetheless.



[1] Coffey, Heather. “Code-Switching”. LearnNC. “n.d “Web. 22 December 2010. < http://www.virtualsalt.com/mla.htm>

[2] Touch,  Tony. “Biography”. Tony Touch international. “n.d”. 22 December 2010. < http://www.tonytouch.com/bio.html>

[3] “Dimelo”. Sweet Lyrics. “n.d” 22 December 2010. < http://www.sweetslyrics.com/566440.TONY%20TOUCH%20-%20Dimelo%20.html>

[4] “Cocoa Brovas: Spanish Harlem”. Metrolyrics. “n.d” 22 December 2010. < http://www.virtualsalt.com/mla.htm>


[6] “Census 2000 Data for the State of New York.” Census.gov. 12 August, 2010. 22 December 2010. < http://www.census.gov/census2000/states/ny.html>

[7] “The Jones-Shafroth Act”. Suite 101. “n.d” 22 December 2010. < http://www.suite101.com/content/the-jones-shafroth-act-a299530>

[8] Roman, Miriam. “Boricuas vs. Nuyoricans-Indeed!” David Rockefeller Center for Latin American studies. “n.d”. 22 December 2010. < http://www.drclas.harvard.edu/revista/articles/view/1063>

Is Hip-Hop American?

Submitted by Matthew H. Hartzler on Wednesday, 12/22/2010, at 12:50 PM

All the big names are American. Jay-Z is from Brooklyn. Kanye West is from Chicago. Eminem is from Detroit. 1990s legends Notorious BIG and Tupac Shakur were both born and raised in the States. The hip-hop genre thrives in America. Created in the United States and establishing itself within the culture, the genre could be considered by many to be uniquely American, despite the face that it exists and flourishes in other parts of the globe. This assumption would be a mistake. Bounding the style to a singular location in the modern era of increasing globalization would be a mistake.

American Re-Invasion?

For example, truly how British was the British invasion? The 1960s and 1970s move of rock groups like the Beatles and others to adoring fans in the States dominated the scene. Beatlemania and the surrounding groups were a huge part of the music produced in that genre’s era, but that does not mean the genre’s music in that timeframe could be called British intrinsically. Bands like Led Zeppelin and the Rolling Stones were greatly influenced by the American blues artists out from earlier in the century. The Rolling Stones were even named after the 1942 song “Rollin’ Stone” by delta blues musician Muddy Waters. There is a clear and distinct back-and-forth that transcends national borders. Calling the British rock uniquely British would be disregarding its American influences and heritage. Can the British invasion be truly called an invasion, if many were simply playing songs that had already been in America decades earlier by blues musicians? Led Zepplin’s “When the Levee Breaks” was a cover of a song written in America in response to the 1929 Mississippi River flood, which is blatantly and definitively not British. Deep down at the movements’ roots, the British invasion is not necessarily all that British.

Even more so than the Brits in the 1970s, hip-hop is a hodge-podge of foreign influences. By calling the genre American, we risk excluding the valuable origins of hip-hop and artists in the field. Hip-hop is not inherently American.

Foreign Origins

From the beginning, hip-hop has been a global music genre. The proclaimed grandfather of hip-hop is a man named DJ Kool Herc out of the South Bronx of New York City. Herc, with his sound system, turntables, and a finely tuned ear, rented out community spaces at the various projects in the area and throw parties. He would charge admission and with his music sense try to play the songs that kept the party hopping. His acute observations with music invented hip-hop. He started to notice that the dancers at these parties would wait and listen for certain sections of the songs he would play. Whether it be a James Brown track or something less renowned, the dancers waited for these sections of the song where the melody would drop out, leaving exclusively the bass line or drums in the foreground. They got excited when these sections would come on and would perform a special dance they’ve been working on or let especially loose. Herc noted this, and this spawned turntablism. He hoped that by looping these sections by playing the ‘break’ – as it became to be known – in a looping manner, the crowds at his parties could be provoked and get more energized. The rest is history of course. This style of sampling ‘breaks’ grew in the South Bronx and as rapping was added, the style of hip-hop grew. The looping that Herc crafted at his parties turned into the foundation for entire recorded songs. Herc’s importance as the father of hip-hop is vital in this discussion because of his nationality. While Lil Wayne and DMX might be from America, the original founder of the genre is from Jamaica.

            Not only is Herc not American, but many of the core elements in hip-hop that Herc and other used are distinctly foreign. The large sound systems that were a hit at the local block parties were brought to the US from Jamaica. These systems with turntables and speakers were popular because of the inability of poor Jamaicans to buy and listen to records on their own. The systems immigrated with the Jamaicans over to the States. Another transition over from Jamaica was the rappers themselves. Popular in Jamaica was toasting, a more poetry-based spoken word. By speaking over the DJs playing various tunes, the toasting, which became later known as MCing, helped hype the crowds for the DJ playing his tracks. It spawned from African traditional storytellers talking over music, which was traditions brought over by slaves to Jamaica, then to the United States. Over time, the MCs took over and became marketable centerpieces in hip-hop, but at its roots, rapping is foreign designed.

Key early establishers of the genre other than Herc are trans-national actors as well. Hip-hop pioneer Grandmaster Flash is from Barbados. Afrika Bambaataa is from America, but only dove into hip-hop after visiting Africa and starting the Africa-centered Zulu nation. His inspiration to enter the genre was uniquely foreign. His song “Planet Rock” is an odd study in the national borders it crosses as well. Despite the lack of critical success of the track, it influenced a wide audience of hip-hop artists and laid groundwork for the future acts.



This song samples a techno track named “Numbers” from the electro group Kraftwerk. The group out of Dusseldorf, Germany is quite possibly as removed from American music as possible. In an era when soul, funk, and disco reigned king in the US, this style of music is certainly non-American. The founders and kick starters of hip-hop embraced other nation’s musical input into hip-hop, and it seems illogical to go back on those establishing traits.

Contemporary Artists

Despite all of this focus on the foundations of hip-hop, the contemporary version of the genre exudes similar global attitudes. While many rappers and artists like Nelly and Ludacris are homegrown, the medium is still influenced by foreign innovators as well. Constantly improving and pushing the boundaries of the genre is M.I.A., who is Sri Lankan and British. The foreign connections are well established. New comers like Drake – from Canada – or Nicki Minaj – from Trinidad and Tobago – have distinct styles that have not been seen or hear by American audiences, but merge well into the already established hip-hop style. Haitian hip-hop has been in production since the 1980s, and the Fugees with Wycelf Jean, who even petitioned to become president of Haiti in 2010, provide excellent examples of foreigners deeply entrenched in the hip-hop scene along with producer and artist collaborator DJ Khaled with Palestinian roots and Somali-Canadian lyricist K’naan. The top big names may come from America, but the volume of artists from a myriad of countries proves its abilities as a global language.

The hydribity and globality of hip-hop is manifested in the artist Akon. Not only is Akon a combination rapper and singer as well as hip-hop, R&B, and pop artist, but he achieved success in America after coming from Senegal. Akon’s song “Don’t Matter” only emphasizes this point.



The song samples Jamaican reggae superstar Bob Marley’s “Zimbabwe” in its chorus, using the “because we goin’ fight” lyrics as a base for the repeating refrain. Plus, the music video for the song plays out in a clearly Caribbean location with a cameo from the Cuban and Miami-base rapper Pitbull. Overall, the combination this piece employs is indicative of the genre as a whole. An African rapper/R&B/pop star’s song samples a Jamaican reggae artist’s track about Africa with its video in the Caribbean with a Cuban rapper that makes a cameo. This amalgamation of nationalities, styles, and influences is what hip-hop is truly about.


            Its global nature is to some degree hip-hop’s greatest influencing force. While it could be argued that the laissez-faire economy of the United States leads to innovations in hip-hop because of the monetary driving force, that methodology simply does not prove accurate. DJ Kool Herc did not start looping ‘breaks’ to sign a major record deal. He did so because he enjoys the music and the satisfaction he gets from playing to a crowd. The reason America is the center of this cultural re-combining is because of its melting pot attitude with the influx of Jamaican and other foreigners being the perfect storm for its creation.

Overall, hip-hop cannot be bound by national borders. It does not matter that many of the mainstream artists are domestic products, calling the hip-hop genre American does not do the foreign artists or even the founders of the movement justice. Hip-hop may flourish in America because of our melting-pot values, but these international members of the genre’s community are too potent to be overlooked. Hip-hop was created through a global effort.

NIgeria; Taking Back the Music

Submitted by (inactive) on Wednesday, 12/22/2010, at 12:24 PM

It is no surprise that western music has influenced many countries, but we must dig deeper to find the global influences on western music. My particular interest, Nigeria, influenced much of America’s music. But this was something learned. Before my research, I was under the impression that Nigeria’s music was completely influenced by the west. I came across artist such as Nigerian Timaya (Who Born You,) Gerald Pino and Fela Kuti (legendary Nigerian music artist)

Tamaya’s Who Born You appears as a direct reflection on T-Pain with his use of auto-tune throughout the entire song.


Gerald Pino and the Heart Beats (excellent artist) song Let Them Talk is a direct reflection of James brown.

Fela Kuti as well as many other Nigerian artists speak of people such as James Brown and Elvis Presley as inspirations. It was not until I learned the history of the rhythms and instruments of Nigeria that I learned of its mutual music influence with America.

The songs of Yoruba will begin Nigeria’s musical journey. Traditional Yoruba music could usually be found in work and praise songs. These songs often exhibit call and response musical styles

The shekere (gourd covered with beads) and talking drum (dun Dun) were popular instruments used in traditional Yoruba music and continued to play a role in Yoruba’s musical advancement. The talking drum was used in many of the Yoruba’s advanced drumming ceremonies. The talking drums is part of Nigeria's sophisticated drumming genre. The talking drum has the ability to replicate the Yoruba’s tonal language.  Artist such as Erykah Badu have been known to use the talking drum in their music.


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            After western contact, Nigerian artist discovered ways to replicate Yoruba rhythms using western instruments.    Juju music emerged from Yoruba traditional music. Western instruments were introduced through the military and sailors that came to West Africa, churches that emerged from missionary work and European trading companies. Instruments such as the electric guitar, the accordion, steel pedal guitar, bass synthesizer, banjo and tambourine were all introduced with western contact. I.K. Dairo the introducer of Juju  introduced Juju with the accordion and the tenor guitar. The rhythms of Juju were directly borrowed from the advanced drumming of Yoruba. The guitars short interlocking patterns replicate the traditional drumming of Yoruba. This use of western instruments replacing the rhythms of the African drums were produced and distributed, and Juju music eventually replaced Highlife music in popularity.

King Sunny Ade was one of the most popular performers in Juju, and definitely one of the most influential. He was the first to introduce the steel pedal guitar, tenor guitar, vibraphone and synthesizers within the use of Juju rhythms. He accompanies the talking drum alongside these instruments. In King Sunny Ade’s Mori Keke Kan both the talking drum and the western drum set are used.


We can now see America’s part in Nigerian music, but what is Nigeria’s role in America’s music scene? I will back track to the year of 1510- the beginning of the slave trade. Not only did the abrupt kidnapping of people affect the lives of millions, but it also changed music in America forever.

 The people that were captured for enslavement in 1510 lived in West Africa. Most of the slaves were from Nigeria; many from the tribes of Yoruba. Many people from this tribe were enslaved in New Orleans, the Caribbean and South America.

The musical result of slavery Brazil led to music styles such as Macumba singing style and the Samba genre which uses many African styles: call and response, polyrhythm and cross rhythmic patterns and a prominent percussion section. Macumba, was a word used to describe witch craft in Brazil (the juju means witchcraft as well).

The musical result of slavery in New Orleans led to the emergence of Jazz music. When black musicians eventually learned to read, they were introduced to European rhythms styles harmonies and instruments.  Through work songs in the field,  folklore and religious music from the descendants of the Yoruba tribe, Jazz was created. The short staccato sounds found in Jazz through the saxophone and trumpet resemble the use of the dun dun.  (talking drum) in Yoruba music.

The musical result of slavery in the Caribbean led to the  Caribbean steel bands which also used drums of various sizes (just as the U.S.) In Trinidad, Calypso (music) emerged in result of the slave trade. Calypso also uses steel drums and involves the polyrhythms found in African music. The steel drums emerged from the banning of percussion instruments in Trinidad. After this ban on percussion, the Trinidadians assembled pans, oil cans and other steel objects that could be used for drumming. Dizzy Gillespie’s Jambo Caribe was inspired from Calypso.

The Caribbean steel bands were eventually recycled back to Africa as Highlife music. One of most remarkable composers who was influenced by Highlife music was Fela Kuti.

Fela Kuti, created his own genre known as Afro beat. Afro beat is a combination of Yoruba sounds, highlife and Jazz music and Funk. It contains and endless groove that has the ability to loop around forever (most of Fela’s songs last ten minutes or longer), a large horn section, and vocals. Some of his music exhibits call and response pattern. Fela Kuti’s music thrashed the government over remarkable saxophone and drum ensembles. Fela’s confrontational music enabledFela’s success.   Fela’s music still exhibits the talking drum and shekere as well as Jazz instruments. His music resembles Funk while using syncopated guitar bass lines. Fela, inspired by James Brown, John Coltrane, Malcolm X and the Black Panthers was relentless and wanted change. He saw the rebellion exhibited in American and wanted the same for his country.



It is intriguing how artist such as Fela Kuti, King Sunny Ade and Gerald Pino speak of artist such as James Brown as their inspirations. These artists speak of their love Jazz and Funk of America. In reality, these sounds of Jazz and Funk and the sounds of James Brown were recycled from their ancestors. It is only natural to love the polyrhythmic sounds of the saxophone and guitar, and the syncopation of the drums.

My initial assumption was that Nigeria, like most countries took  and copied western sounds. This is not the case. Nigeria did not only take the sounds of the West, but recycled the sounds and rhythms back into their culture. Geraldo Pino’s direct reflection of James Brown is not an act of copying, but an act of reusing.


Gender Preference in Hip-Hop Music

Submitted by Risa Nakamura on Wednesday, 12/22/2010, at 12:06 PM

I was in the fourth grade when I started directing the Vienna Philharmonic. Although I loved their works, I made up my mind to move to the U.S. and direct the New York Philharmonic Orchestra the next month. It seems like a radical change, but it would be quite an easy adjustment for me. Why? Because everything took place in front of a CD player in the living room. My parents’ chopstick turned into a colourful baton, and I, the conductor with no knowledge of music theory, would conduct the world famous orchestras perfectly. Back then, I was too busy conducting to play Pokemon on GameBoy, like most other elementary school kids.

A few years later, on a Sunday afternoon, I accidentally saw a TV documentary program featuring Tomomi Nishimoto, a female conductor from Osaka, Japan. It was that moment when I first saw gender bias in the world of conductors. Until then, I did not think about it even for a moment: “Why are most conductors men?”

That moment came back to me again this year after ten years: “Why are most Hip-Hop music artists men?” I see a lot of men playing Hip-Hop all over the world, but not women. Why is that? Everybody plays, listens to and feels music no matter how old you are, what your skin color is, how much money you have, what country you live in, and no matter what sex you belong to. Why does Hip-Hop tend to be played by men?

Hip-Hop music was created by males. One of the most important figures who highly influenced the creation of Hip-Hop music is a male DJ, Clive Campbell, also known as Kool Herc, who performed his music in the Bronx, New York, back in the 1970s. Other important figures who should be on the list of pioneers of Hip-Hop music, such as Grand Wizzard Theodore, Grandmaster Flash, Jazzy Jay, Afrika Bambaataa and Melvin Glover, are also all males.

Men created Hip-Hop, and dominate Hip-Hop. Looking at Hip-Hop music ranking charts prove this as a fact. ‘The 100 Greatest Rap/Hip-Hop Artists’ on the Digital Dream Door website reveals how much Hip-Hop music has been dominated by male artists (http://www.digitaldreamdoor.com/pages/best_rap-artists.html, November 16, 2010). The chart covers artists of various ages from Public Enemy to 50 Cent. Let’s take a look at the top twenties. We see no female artists there yet. The first female artist you see in the chart is MC Lyte who ranked in the top twenty-seventh. The female population in this chart of ‘The 100 Greatest Rap/Hip-hop Artists’ is only 9.5% (Groups consisted by both sexes are counted as 0.5). This dominance of male artists in Hip-Hop can be seen on most Hip-Hop ranking charts.

Does this tendency of male artists dominating Hip-Hop music apply to the international Hip-Hop scene? ‘Best of International Hip Hop’, the CD album which features Hip-Hop songs of artists from various countries (Best of International Hip Hop. ASIN: B00004WF5D, 2008), gives us insights into the world of Hip-Hop music outside the U.S. The CD album covers fourteen tracks in total, and the countries it features are Argentina, Algeria, Switzerland, Israel, Romania, Greece Austria, France, Greenland, Japan, Croatia, Australia, Portugal and South Africa (in order of the track list). The female population of this CD album is 3.5%. This small population of female Hip-Hop artists can be seen in each country as well. It seems this male-dominated Hip-Hop also takes roots in other countries.

Why is it so? It is impossible to know why Hip-Hop was created by men. It just happened to be. However, it is worth investigating the reasons why the male dominance remains, and why the gender preference travels to other places in the world. As mentioned earlier, Hip-Hop as a music genre was started by males, such as DJ Kool Herc and Afrika Baambaata. In the process of the music taking root in, I expect to see female artists coming into the world of Hip-Hop, as if I expected to see both males and females using the computers even if they were created by those of one sex.

In Hip-Hop, however, little numbers of female artists came and remained due to the masculinity of Hip-Hop music. Hip-Hop cannot be Hip-Hop only with rapping. It needs to be accompanied by certain components which characterize Hip-Hop as a music genre. The artists’ outfits, hand-gestures and use of language are good examples of those.

Since Hip-Hop emerged from men, there was no example of outfits for female Hip-Hop artists. She could start her trend as a female Hip-Hop artist, but it would be difficult to do so, because there was already ‘definition’ existed to be defined as Hip-Hop. The easiest way to dress like a Hip-Hop artist is to dress like a male Hip-Hop artist. Let’s take a look at an example of male-like outfit in the video by Da Brat.

(Da Brat- Give It 2 You 1994)

The masculinity of her outfit in the video stands even more with comparison to the other females in dresses.


Hand-gestures and other body movements in Hip-Hop are also more masculine than feminine. Here’s a music video of Queen Latifah. Not only Queen Latifah, but also the guys in the video who compose most of the people in the video does this video show masculinity.

 (Queen Latifah- U.N.I.T.Y. 1993)

These characteristics of Hip-Hop music do not fit in ideal female figures that the American society expects females to fit. In the U.S., social code stipulates males are usually masculine, and females are usually feminine.

However, as time went by, we can see some changes in outfits of female Hip-Hop artists. Here’s a video of Queen Latifah released nine years after the video you just saw above. Notice the increased femininity in her outfit.

(Queen Latifah- Go Head 2002)

Variations of female Hip-Hop artists’ outfits increased as more and more females played their parts in the world of Hip-Hop music. Why, then, the population of female artists still remains small even thirty years after the emergence of Hip-Hop? The language use can be a key to this question. In the following video, you will see Missy Elliot rapping in rather feminine outfits. However, if you pay attention to the lyrics, you will notice aggressive use of language: shit, goddamn, ass, etc. Even if there was no single politically incorrect words in the lyrics, one of Hip-Hop distinctive words, ‘yo’ is used for a daily use more by males than females. Aggressiveness of words is one of characteristics, if not a requirement, of Hip-Hop music.

(Eve- Tambourine 2007)

 Masculinity, the nature of Hip-Hop music, does not fit the social code of the U.S., and thus not too many females come and remain in the world of Hip-Hop. This social code that says males are masculine and females are feminine exists in many places in the world. That is one of reasons why Hip-Hop, the masculine music, is dominated by males even when it is imported to other places.

Visual images also play a big role in keeping the masculinity in Hip-Hop music when being traveled to other places. Visual images on CD jackets, posters and music videos from the U.S. give a great impact on international artists that Hip-Hop is of males, because 1) U.S. Hip-Hop is literally dominated by male artists, and 2) females are in more masculine outfits, using non-feminine gestures (both in the U.S. and international contexts). Hip-Hop is not defined only by sounds.

Let’s take a look at an example of Diam’s from France. Her clothes and body movements are more masculine than feminine.

(Diam’s- Jeune Demoiselle 2006)

 Hime, a Japanese Hip-Hop artist, uses aggressive words in her song called Himehajime. Although her outfit is completely feminine, the way she uses the language is very aggressive or even sounds rude, which does leave a bad impression on men, but even worse on women.

(Hime- Himehajime 2003)

In the video, you hear:




Holding a microphone

Maiku niginzo

Maiku nigiru(yo/wa/ne)

Listen well

Yoku kike

Yoku kiite




Hip-Hop is dominated by male artists because of the social norm that characterizes gender differences, which does not let females fit in the masculinity of Hip-Hop music. That male dominance travels to other places and remain there since they also have similar social norms towards gender in the society. In addition to the fundamental that helps male-dominance to be carried over, visual images of U.S. Hip-Hop help international artists maintain the masculinity even in their home-ground.

Pentonic Scale as Global Sound

Submitted by Joseph W. Higgs on Wednesday, 12/22/2010, at 11:21 AM

I love listening to songs that are considered great for the first time. Not just songs like “Stairway To Heaven” and “Hey Jude” but also pieces like “Fur Elise” and “Clair de Lune.” I always wonder why these songs become so popular and widely regarded. Is it because they are catchy, they have relatable lyrics, cool riffs, were they innovative or do they possess some musical quality that appeals to people's ears in some universal way. The fact that artists can synthesize sound in that way suggests some things about people and why they like music. Analogously, the use of the pentatonic scales in music across the world suggests that there is something special about that scale in particular that has a universal appeal. I plan to analyze how that scale is used in several select cultures to determine how the scale is used similarly or differently. From these uses I then plan to apply any common uses of the scale to music as a whole to see if these similarities are grounds for anything to determine what qualities, if any, are necessary for something to have universal appeal.  

The pentatonic scale is a selection of five notes used to compose music. In the western tradition, which uses diatonic scales, composers will have seven notes to work with. All pentatonic scales will have five notes, but there are two further classifications of the scale: hemitonic and anhemitonic. This distinction refers to whether the particular pentatonic scale will or will not include half steps. Different cultures will use different scales and some cultures will even use both, but the anhemitonic scales are the ones of the most interest for me. This is because the anhemitonic scales lack dissonance between their notes, meaning any note can be played with any other and they will not clash sonically. Other scales, such as diatonic scales, typically feature tritones, which when played together or in succession are a classic example of dissonance.

My first example of a culture using an anhemitonic pentatonic scale is the gagaku tradition of Japanese classical music. Gagaku music refers to ancient court music played for religious reasons or for folk song and dance. “It appeared in Japan in the 5th century and was established as court tradition by the 8th.” Unfortunately, the tradition is largely lost, but enough notation survives so that people are able to recreate some pieces. This clip is a representation of what the music would have sounded like and in what context it would have been played.   Gagaku


These dances would have been preformed at religious ceremonies and in royal courts. Gagaku music implements the Yo scale which is pentatonic and expressed in western notation would have looked like this.  

File:D Yo scale.svg

  My second example of a musical tradition using the pentatonic scale is negro spirituals. Spirituals were typically sung by enslaved African Americans to express their religious faith. Typically these songs would be sung in either a religious service or while in the fields working. The most famous negro spiritual is arguably “Amazing Grace.” While actually written by an English captain of a slave ship, it is widely held that he took the melody from slaves that were singing on their way to America. Here is an example of the vocal melody. 


The scale used in Amazing Grace implements the same relative pitches as the scale used in 8th century Japan. Two cultures with no contact and musically very different still have the same note selection.  

My third example is how the pentatonic scale is used in Western classical music. The most prolific composer to use the pentatonic scales in pieces is Claude Debussy. His use of the pentatonic scales comes from his exposure to Javanese gamelan music. His works that were inspired by the Javanese would not be considered “French gamelan music,” rather Debussy was able to authentically translate the gamelan aesthetic into his own compositions.

Gamelan Music



In addition, another classical composer that was influenced to use the pentatonic scale because of his exposure to a different culture was Dvorak. When he visited America he heard negro spirituals and decided to make similar melodies in his classical pieces.

Again, in listening to the piece Dvorak is able to emulate the way African Americans used the scale without sounding derivative. These two instances of inspiration suggest that the pentatonic scale is translatable across countries, cultures and genres of music.  

My final example is the pentatonic scale being used in blues and rock. While the blues evolved out of negro spirituals the use of the pentatonic scale in blues and rock did not remain the same. In spirituals the vocal lines were pentatonic whereas in rock the melodic guitar lines are overwhelmingly pentatonic. Jimi Hendrix, B.B. King, Jimi Page, and Eric Clapton all used a pentatonic scale in their solos. The scale is still the same as in the gagaku music and the negro spirituals, yet these artists' use of the scale sounds distinct. Whether playing lightning fast runs or bending a string to the breaking point, rock and blues artists are able to use the scale for their own ends.  

My first two examples reflected how two cultures that are totally distinct could independently choose the same intervals with which to make music. The next two show how the use of the scale can be translated or adapted from different cultures or within the same. The first pair of examples demonstrates that there is an inherent quality in humans to value harmony and stay away from dissonance. If what sounded “good” was an experience totally relative to the environment you grew up in then it would seem like the concept of music going global would make no sense. The possibility that anything can go global rests on the fact that Beethoven's symphony No. 5 will be just as aesthetically pleasing to someone in Singapore as in Germany and Moroccan teenagers will want to checkout Kanye's new album as fast as Americans. The pentatonic scale is universal because people everywhere appreciate when two notes sound good together.

Another factor contributing to the scale's ubiquity is accessibility. In the first two examples the scale was used in community circumstances, giving the scale a popular quality. On a deeper level, however, its accessibility is due the fact that one can not “own” a scale. There are no economic, political, or societal prerequisites for using the scale like there might be if someone wanted to participate in certain musical genres. If to play rock one needs a guitar, a bass, a drum set, a vocal mic, three amps and electricity to power them, then those items become an obstacle for the kid in rural China to play rock and roll and inhibits the rock's potential to go global.

Another trait that reflects the scale's global appeal is translatability. In listening to any of these examples, I am sure that no one thought that they were listening to pentatonic music in rock or classical or Japanese folk. They were listening to rock, classical, gagaku or gamelan music that uses pentatonic scales. Translatability seems to be the make or break factor in whether or not something can be universal. Inherently, if something can not break the bounds of its own culture then it is clear that it could not be considered to be universal. The pentatonic scale breaks all barriers and has been seamlessly implemented across country, culture and era because it possesses qualities that are relatable to people on a very basic level and therefore easier to translate. 


ps. the article in "edit" mode and the html code seem to suggest that I have embedded videos, but they're not showing up on the blog, which is why I hyperlinked everything


Submitted by Kyrha Lever Ruff on Wednesday, 12/22/2010, at 9:46 AM

The Hasidic Jewish-American reggae singer, Matisyahu is recognized as one of the most successful Jewish American artists to cross over into mainstream music. As such, he is an artist that successfully establishes a point of sonic compatibility between religion and culture that makes his music authentic and real at its root.

            Born in 1979 as Matthew Miller, Matisyahu grew up in White Plains New York as a Reconstructionist Jew. He attended Hebrew School a couple times a week while also finding time to organize Jam sessions with his friends where he would beat box and explore his creative limits among various genres. A trip to Israel and a stay at the Alexandra Muss High School when he was 16, inspired him to become more dedicated to Judaism. It was this trip in fact, that influenced his decision to become a Hasidic Jew in 2001. To this day, he keeps his religious dedication intact while simultaneously pursuing his passion for music, more often than not, by combining the two. “Before I was religious, to me music was soul.” He said, “I looked at the world through the lens of whatever CD I was listening to. In Judaism, there's another type of food for the soul, another type of spiritual sustenance that comes through the mitzvahs and Torah learning. In Judaism, praying and learning what you love to learn changes the lens that you have without using something external.” (Rohr Chabad House Stanford)

The world of music is somewhat shrinking due to the vast number mediascapes propelling music across cultural and national boarders. As a result, artists from different cultures are given the opportunity to dip their toe into several genres of music and create an innovative sound by way of fusion. Matisyahu is an artist that adapted the use of cultural fusion in music. The two most prominent sonic and stylistic elements of Matisyahu’s music come from Rastafarian and Jewish influences. Matisyahu fuses the contemporary styles of rap, beat-boxing and hip-hop, with the more traditional vocal disciplines of jazz's scat singing and Judaism's hazzan style of soulful prayer—more often than not rolling it all into a dominant background of reggae music with its signature Dem bow beat.

This track, Ancient Lullaby, was released in 2006 on his album “Youth”. Listen to the Reggae melodic plays, the Dem Bow beat and Matisyahu’s Jamaican inflected accent.

At 3:05 the song becomes strictly percussion, drum element, melodic style/guitar drops out.

Matisyahu credits his music to influences by Bob Marley, Phish, God Street Wine, Rabbi Shiomo Carlebach. And book: Toward a Meaningful Life by Rabbi Simon Jacobson for the lyrical inspiration to Youth’s title track. 


With its heavy rock beat and the absence of an accent this song, “So High, So Low” (2009) shows a different side of Matisyahu’s versatility.

Listen to the vocal discrepancy between the beginning and the middle (around 1:20) when his accent comes back in…also notice that in this more recent album, the Jewish/religious aspect is not there.



With so much versatility in his music, even among individual tracks themselves, his music can sound a bit synthetic and sampled at times. However I believe his music is authentic in the way he structures and layers the Dem bow bass, rap lyrics and melodic Reggae fragments in his tracks.

“Escape” (2009)

Signature Reggae beat.image

After listening to the tracks, one has to wonder, why the reggae component? Why combine Reggae with the Jewish religion? Matisyahu's rise to fame raises a series of questions about the visual and sonic influence of race, religion and cultural appropriation in music. Essentially, his music is judgment of authenticity. Mark Fink from Paste Magazine claims, “much of the controversy I know of stems from the traditional Jewish community who question the authenticity of his observance level, or if he became more religious as a way to legitimize and market his music.”(2) With this in mind, a lot of artists who become popular have the habit of becoming lost and conforming to a more mainstream sound in order to stay in the limelight. Fame and notoriety can sometimes limit an artists ability to year off the sound that they became famous for and their music can become too safe and consistent. However, Matisyahu was not and still is not into following the mainstream and going with the flow. For he refuses to be a slave to a genre or a sound….to be confined to a category of music. “Breaking out of slavery is definitely a theme in my music. We are so busy being influenced by money, by society, by external pressures, that our true identity and abilities can be hidden.”(3) With the garb-black hat, tzitzis and beard that accompany his Jamaican-inflected accent, he combines elements of Reggae with religious references of Judaism in his music that creates sonic and cultural tension. It is this tension that sets him apart from other mainstream artists who create a more generic, sampled, commercial ‘sounds exactly like this other song’ sound.

 From a religious standpoint, his music truly is authentic. Both Rastafarianism and Judaism claim figures from the Old Testament as their forefathers, both speak of Zion, both send a message of truth and love to their followers. Rastafarians even claim to be descended from the children of Israel. Rastafarianism is a religious movement that came out of Jamaica. It is not a highly organized religion; it is a movement and an ideology. Many Rastas say that it is not a "religion" at all, but a "Way of Life". Today, awareness of the Rastafari movement has spread throughout much of the world, largely through interest generated by reggae music; the sonic backbone of Matisyahu’s music. And from a melodic standpoint, the minor-key melodies of reggae aren't so far removed from the melodies Matisyahu would have heard, and sung, when he attended the Carlebach Shul, on the Upper West Side of Manhattan. On the whole, Matisyahu’s music draws from two very concrete and compatible religious sources.


  I think the vast majority of people that respect what he does are in it for the message or the idea expressed through almost every song in his albums. Matisyahu himself has claimed something similar when, in a recent interview with Rolling Stone, he said, "In any Bob Marley song, you hear lots of powerful quotes from the Torah,"(6) and added that it was reggae's recurring references to Jewish symbols that first attracted him to the genre. The message of “truth” and “love” that reggae music sends to its followers are echoed throughout the majority of Matisyahu’s lyrics and even in his track names, “Motivate”, “Youth”, “One Day”, “Dispatch the Troops”.

Matisyahu also incorporates elements of hip hoop into his music, primarily in rhythmic and lyrical plays. This nature of incorporating various message oriented subgenres into music as means to deliver a message reminds me a lot of how Mot de Passe in “I love hip-hop in Morocco” incorporated French into her rap even though most of the people listening to her spoke Arabic. She built her own path of rap and veered off of mainstream Moroccan rap so she could “make it” and place herself in her own category. Matisyahu used hip-hop and reggae to do the same and incorporate religion into his music. As such, he liberates himself from being a “phony” copycat in a genre.


This interview draws on Matisyahu’s social consciousness what kind of music he provides for his fans and why it can be unique for them.


His music gives us an opportunity to explore how fusion influences fan base. How is it that he is so successful when his music is so controversial, who resonates with his music? How does the culturally layered quality of his music influence his fan base? Matisyahu’s fan base spans an extraordinary spectrum of cross-generational multi-faith fans: “girls in trashy spaghetti strap tank tops; yeshiva boys with their tzitzit (ritual fringes), a goodly sprinkling of middle aged hippies”(4)…etc. His music is sonically familiar to many different types of people who may recognize the broken Jamaican accent and the various “foreign” sounding instruments that are associated with various genre stereotypes. The fans can find something about his music that resonates with them even if they do not understand the cultural significance behind it. Seeing as his music is not strictly reggae nor is it strictly religious, it is easy for people from different cultural and religious backgrounds to relate to it…to find a part of it that resonates with them. It also relates back to the desire fans have to experience something exotic…to be a part of a religious ecstasy that issues through his music.

            I think it's because they see that he is “doing his thing”. While many artists have gotten sonically lazy, with exceeding samples and auto-tuning every pitch Matisyahu wins a personal space for himself in the industry by "doing you," like the hip hop phrase "do you do you." It's really about doing you.




(1) http://chabadstanford.org/article.htm?MM_on_Hassidic_Reggae_Superstar-101

- Rohr Chabad House at Stanford, Jewish Student center


(2) http://www.pastemagazine.com/articles/2009/08/matisyahu-light.html

(3) http://www.chabad.org/library/article_cdo/aid/376771/jewish/Matisyahus-Passover.htm

(4)http://www.ou.org/index.php/shabbat_shalom/article/4204/: OU.org

(5) http://www.scaruffi.com/history/reggae.html

(6) http://blog.horizonrecords.net/2009/10/17/matisyahu-plays-here-live-thursday-nov-12-at-6pm/

The Global Sounds of Estradasphere

Submitted by Eve T. Ketchum on Wednesday, 12/22/2010, at 6:18 AM

California Meets...

Estradasphere is an eclectic rock band which draws on various global sounds to create their music.  They describe their music through invented genres such as “Bulgarian Surf”, “Romanian Gypsy-Metal” and “Spaghetti Eastern”.  However, at its core is a “Gypsy Jazz” ensemble, consisting of a guitarist, violinist, and bassist, with a drummer and saxophonist adding additional layers to songs.  The members are all graduates of California’s university system where they met, and display an educated awareness of the issues involved with global sounds and their transmission.  This is best demonstrated through their respect of origins of their global sound sources.

...France or Romania?

    Since the core of the band is a Gypsy Jazz ensemble, this is the most obvious global sound that Estradasphere draws on in the creation of their music.  Gypsy Jazz arose in Paris in the 1930‘s.  It was started by Romanian immigrants to France who played in the French capital.  Not only does Estradasphere draw on a global sound to create their music, but the source itself is a result of the shifting ethnoscapes which characterize and create global sounds.

    No one is more associated with Gypsy Jazz than Django Reinhardt.  Despite the fact that his left hand was crippled in a fire, rendering his pinkie and ring finger useless, Reinhardt is a guitar virtuoso.  Since Reinhardt is the best known performer of, and often credited with starting, the Gypsy Jazz style of music, he is the best example of what that style is.  As such, he is useful for comparing to Estradasphere in demonstrating their respecting of origins.

Gypsy Jazz pioneer and all around classy guy, Django Reinhardt.  Note the large burn scar on his left hand.

    Reinhardt’s “Minor Swing” is characterized sonically by a violin over rhythmic guitar chords.  This combination is reproduced in Estradasphere’s song “The Return (Unplugged)”.  Both have the guitar setting the rhythm with a violin leading over it interspersed with virtuoso caliber finger work on the guitar.  This similarity shows that Estradasphere is aware of and respects the origins from which it draws sound.  While the comparison is most obvious in this particular set of songs, it is very common to hear strains of Gypsy Jazz throughout the entire Estradasphere catalog.


    Gypsy Jazz is one of the major components of Estradasphere’s global sound, but there are other sources of inspiration which play as important of a role in their overall sound.  Like Gypsy Jazz, most of these sources can be traced back to Eastern Europe.  One of the finest examples of Estradasphere drawing on Eastern European musical styles, is their song “Hora Bucharestu vs Narodno Kolo”.

    “Hora Bucharestu vs. Narodno Kolo” in addition to providing an excellent example of Estradasphere’s global sound sources, is also a commentary on mash-ups.  Mash-ups take two or more songs and overlay them in a coherent manner to create a new piece of music.  Typically this involves popular songs which have already proven appealing in the mass media market.  However, in Estradasphere’s case, a majority of the song is composed of two pieces of traditional Eastern European music.

    While there is slight tweaking of the traditional music’s spelling in Estradasphere’s song title, it is not a significant enough of a change prevent anyone curious enough to investigate from discovering the origins of the source material.   A Hora is a  traditional dance and the associated music which originated in the Balkans.  It is especially common in Romania and Bulgaria and also is the national dance of Israel.  Since Bucharestu follows Hora in the title, it is clear that the specific Hora that Estradasphere is drawing on originated in Romania.  Like a traditional Hora, this song is performed with guitars, violins, saxophones, and contrabasses.  Estradasphere once again respects the origins of its source material by performing this folk music with traditional instruments, though it does lack an accordion which is a staple instrument of Romanian Horas.


    Narodna muzika means folk music in the Bosnian, Bulgarian, Serbian and Macedonian languages.  It is a traditional music originating in the Balkans as well.  Likewise for Kolo, which is a folk music and dance native to Bosnia, Croatia and Serbia.


Pop and Ethnomusicology?  Gotta Keep 'em Seperated!

      Oddly enough, sandwiched between these two pieces of folk music is a brief interlude featuring two pop songs: “Walk Like An Egyptian” by The Bangles, and “Come Out And Play” by The Offspring.  While the pop songs seem quite out of place at first, it seems as to be that Estradasphere is using the juxtaposition to provide a commentary on mash-ups.  To understand what that commentary is, it is useful to examine their choice of pop songs more closely.

    “Walk Like An Egyptian” was a hit in 1986 in the United States and had a gimmicky dance associated with it.  The song and dance relies upon the cliché of how humans are depicted on ancient Egyptian monuments.  This stands in stark contrast to Estradasphere’s nuanced approach to drawing on global sources when composing their music.

The Bangles show us how Egyptians walk with this cover art

    The inclusion of The Offspring’s “Come Out And Play” includes the only lyrics in the mash-up: “You gotta keep ‘em separated”.  The inclusion of these lyrics and only these lyrics is significant.  It can be read as a commentary by Estradasphere.  The band is stating that in order to have successful pop music, one has to separate global sounds from their origins, and in the process reduce it to a cliché.  Estradasphere does not do this themselves and in doing so have chosen to reduce their chances for fame and commercial success to that of a cult following.  In this way, not only does Estradasphere respect the origins of the global sounds they draw on, but use a pop song to provide a clever comment on those who do not.

    If there are any doubts to listeners that Estradasphere is providing a commentary on those who use global sounds without respecting origins, they would be removed with a close listening of the song “Spreading the Disease”.  This song is poking fun at the World Music genre.  It contains all the clichés of a New Age World Music song such as something the World Music band Deep Forest would perform.  The song has the effect of lulling a listener into a state of relaxation, only to blast their ear drums with heavy distorted guitar and thundering drums.  The entire song is very tongue in cheek.  They lyrics and the inflection the vocalist takes on demonstrates the mocking tone of the song.  However, it is Estradasphere’s title that is perhaps the best evidence of the tongue in cheek nature.  By including a New Age World Music song on their album and naming it “Spreading the Disease” they are saying that World Music is a disease and their performance helps it spread (this however is another tongue in cheek comment.  The performance is mocking the disease not spreading it).

California Meets Romania Meets Japan

    In addition to Eastern Europe, Japan has also strongly influenced the band, especially through video games.  Two excellent examples of this influence are the songs “Cloud Land” and “Super Buck II”.  They demonstrate how Japan is another global sound source for Estradasphere.

    “Cloud Land” emulates the sonic qualities of an 8-bit video game such as those found on the Nintendo Entertainment System.  The flat electronic music would sound right at home on any cartridge based video game.  The title itself is a reference to the popular Super Mario Bros. series of games, which often featured a cloud based levels.

    Not only do they emulate the sound of older video games, but on their album “Buck Fever”, they take an easily recognizable video game song and reimagine it thought the lens of a distinctly American style of music: jazz.

    The song “Super Buck II” is a jazz arrangement of the main theme from the popular 1988 video game Super Mario Bros. II.  The song title is very similar to the video game’s title, except “Mario Bros.” has been replaced with “Buck”, a reference to the Estradasphere album it appears  on, “Buck Fever”.  Here Estradasphere takes the theme music and gives it their own uniquely American spin.  Jazz has been called one of the few original American art forms, and it provides an interesting juxtaposition when placed into the context of global sounds.  The results not only show Estradasphere’s Japanese influence, but also show their ability to mix cultures to produce a truly global sound.

So What?

        So what do all these examples that Estradasphere provides tell us about global sounds?  It shows us that there is a right way and a wrong way to make music which draws on global sounds.  The wrong way is exemplified by groups like Deep Forest and The Bangles, who respectively appropriate various global sounds and mash them together without respecting origins to form a World Music paste, or who only draw from stereotypes and cultural clichés.  It is irresponsible in the sense that they are not presenting authentic representations of cultures and lead people into accepting stereotypes and clichés as authentic.

    Conversely, Estradasphere exemplifies a more responsible use of global sounds.  When they use traditional music, they pay attention to origins and display a high degree of artistic integrity by not only faithfully reproducing global sounds, but by producing music which is conscientious of the issues surrounding global sounds.  They mock those who create inauthentic world music.

    With world music in the Deep Forest and Bangles camp, listeners are exposed to various ethnic representations which are clichéd or inauthentic.  This is done in an attempt to appeal to all tastes and produce a commercially successful product.  The result is a product which is inauthentic and perpetuates the stereotypes.

    Estradasphere style world music on the other hand, proudly displays its origins and respects them in the performance of their music.  There is also an obvious element of artistic commentary present.  When Estradasphere juxtaposes Eastern European folk music with a cliché based “ethnic” song like “Walk Like an Egyptian”, they are showing the absurdity of cultural clichés like the laughable Hieroglyphic inspired dance.

    Listeners who still have doubts about the global nature of Estradasphere’s sound are encouraged to consider the label a majority of their albums have been released on, Web of Mimicry.  Web of Mimicry was started by guitarist Trey Spruance.  Spruance’s own band, Secret Chiefs 3 is an American band with music inspired by Sufi mysticism and contains elements of Middle Eastern musical modes combined with American styles such as surf rock and heavy metal.  A great example of this can be sound in their song "Jabalqa" which uses a musical scale native to the middle east combined with technoesque drums.  As the record label’s name suggests, Spruance is interested in bands that mimic regional sounds.

    Another example of a Web of Mimicry band who utilizes global sounds would be Dengue Fever, an American band with a lead vocalist who sings in Khmer.  Dengue Fever is named after a disease which is found only in tropical regions such as Southeast Asia.  They draw on Southeast Asian sounds in the composition of their music.  They also have at one point covered an Ethiopian Jazz musician’s composition, further demonstrating the global sources of not only Dengue Fever’s sound, but that of the Web of Mimicry label as a whole.


    To summarize, Estradasphere, and the Web of Mimicry label as a whole represent the responsible use of global sounds.  This stands in contrast to the way pop bands or “World Music” bands use global sounds, which is typically irresponsible and full of cultural stereotypes.  The respect of origins, along with the artistic criticism of those who don’t, demonstrate Estradasphere’s responsible use of global sounds.

Sonic Incorporation and Translation Without Sonic Destruction

Submitted by Timothy F. Clark on Wednesday, 12/22/2010, at 2:54 AM


“My musical journeys have reminded me

that the interactions brought about by globalization

don’t just destroy culture; they can create new culture

and invigorate and spread traditions that have existed for ages.”


            The word “globalization” often elicits two very different reactions. Some embrace its ability to facilitate both world-wide access to different cultures and ideas and opportunities for innovation resulting from this openness. Others decry globalization as a malicious force that destroys civilizations by relabeling everything and everyone in a single (Western) guise. Cellist Yo-Yo Ma and the Silk Road Ensemble (founded in 1998), have tried to bypass these two extremes through exploring musical traditions from along the famed Silk Road, the trading route that spanned the Eurasian continent for nearly two millennia and an example of globalization before our time. The Ensemble’s vision is to strike a careful balance between combining different musical cultures to create interesting new works while still remaining faithful—musically and otherwise—to original traditions (“The Silk Road at a Glance”). One way in which the Ensemble seeks to accomplish this goal is through commissioning pieces, such as Shane Shanahan’s Night at the Caravanserai.[1] The main melody of Shanahan’s work utilizes modal and melodic concepts from Persian classical music as a sonic building block to provide this melody with a clear modal and melodic structure, while the numinous flute section references the mystic musical traditions and styles of the ney and shakuhachi to establish the registers in which both instruments perform and their respective rhythms. In both parts of the song, the arrangement of Persian melodic ideas and instrumentation and the creation of new themes for the flutes evidence Shanahan’s own compositional stamp on this music. These new elements, however, neither overwhelm nor show Shanahan straying far from the musical principles and histories he employs. The percussion section lends the song much unity with its constant presence, preventing listeners from getting lost throughout most of the piece. However, the biggest problem with Night lies in one particular transition section, which does not adequately link two very distinct parts of the piece, and, therefore, the musical traditions within them, thus failing to give the song as much unity as it could have had.  

            The various sounds that Shanahan draws upon originated in countries along the Silk Road, a trade route that developed as early as 138 B.C., when the Chinese first started producing silk and then distributing it westward. The route came to be used for trading other goods as well as religions, ideas, and music between modern-day Turkey and modern-day Japan. The railroad made the route effectively obsolete but not until the beginning of the 20th century. Thus, when discussing the Silk Road, we are dealing with an enormous historical, geographic, political, and religious context, nearly two thousand years of history in which Rome would fall, Islam would rise, and a plethora of empires and states would come and go, as the map in Fig I below evidences (“The Silk Road”; "Maps of the Silk Road") . The Silk Road itself was obviously not the only trade route crisscrossing Eurasia for 1800 years. Rather, it become integrated into a much broader “single international trade system” that comprised both land and sea routes (Beckwith XX). Dotted along this system were caravanserais, small roadside inns that provided shelter and food for travelers and their animals between towns. These generally consisted of square buildings with a central courtyard for camels and others beasts to rest in, with baths and housing for the human travelers around the courtyard. The choice of title for our song, Night at the Caravanserai, references these structures as location where people from many different places would have gathered, if only for a night. The caravanserais thus symbolizes the Silk Road Ensemble’s goals, as places “[w]here strangers meet,” to quote one of their album titles, where ideas and musics were traded, though the extent to which the kind of cross-cultural exchange actually occurred in the inns is debatable (Consider”).  

            Let’s now examine more specifically those musical traditions from along the Silk Road that feature most prominently in the sections of Night we will analyze later. The first of these musics is that of Persia, modern-day Iran. Music that can be called “classical Persian” was first developed during the reign of the Sassanian dynasty, from the second to the seventh century A.D. The Islamic conquest in the seventh century ushered in new influences from Arabic music but Persian musicians were still widely popular in courts across the Islamic empire. During the Abbasid dynasty, shortly after the Islamic conquest, a more relaxed and more “secular” government allowed for scholars like Abu Nasr Farabi to conduct much scholarship on musical theory and performers to develop the Persian tradition more fully (Harmoz 3-4). As Shiite—a more stringent branch of Islam—control over the government increased, or decreased, hostility toward music-making and theorizing increased or waned (Harmoz 3-7). Out of this history, emerged complex and still highly debated (about whether they were actually “Persian” or not) musical ideas and concepts. One of the more standard and accepted of these was the mode, a configuration of pitches and intervals similar to but not the same as the Western scale. Each mode had a sahed, a note that any given song would return to often and that an improviser would emphasize. Each mode contained its own set of foruds, standard ways of ending sections of a certain part of the song or the song itself (see Figs III and IV). These are similar to the radifs, “melody models upon which extemporization takes place…[where] certain elemental melodic features remain which g[a]ve the piece its identity” (21, 23, 25). These three elements became combined during the Qajar dynasty (18th to 20th centuries) into a more complex system that Shanahan, interestingly, does not really use in his piece. At this time, various modes were grouped into dastgahs, “a set of pieces [radifs], traditionally grouped together, most of which have their own individual modes….” (18). Shanahan seems to have made a conscious decision to use only a single individual mode, the mahur, (see Figure II) for Night, not a complete dastgah, thus choosing to bypass a later development in Persian theory, perhaps seeking a more “authentically” Persian sound, before Western influences of the Qajar reign had made their impact on Persian culture (6-7).

An example of the mahur as played on the santur to get a sense of the notes Shanahan is working with.

            Shanahan also employs the music of two flutes from two mystical religious sects that were producing their own unique sounds at the same time as Persia was developing its own tradition. In Japan, Fuke Zen Buddhism was one example of a great infusion of Chinese culture that came to the home islands in the seventh century A.D (McQueen and Hughes 5-6; Tzuneko 14-5). At the same time as the religion came to Japan, the shakuhachi, what would become its primary instrument, also arrived, a bamboo, end-blown flute that Fuke monks used in performing suizen, “blowing Zen,” where the very act of playing the flute was a form of meditation. The shakuhachi became a symbol of privilege and power when in the seventh century, the Japanese shogunate formally established Fuke as an officially sanctioned order, conferring on it special rights and privileges. The shakuhachi could only be used either in temple services or during takuhatsu, when the monks went house to house asking for alms. Shanahan references in Night the famed honkyoku melodies the monks played during this period of prominence, before the shogunate, for unclear reasons, revoked the decree granting them their exclusive prerogatives in 1847. These songs are characterized by slow tempos that gradually gather speed, with no set time signature to establish a constant beat. Instead, the flutist plays free form, using “short melodic units each played in a single breath” (Tzuneko 145-60). The melodies of the shakuhachi generally try to emulate sounds in nature, such as bird calls or waterfalls ("Shakuhachi").

An example of the traditional shakuhachi style.

Another example, with some Zen philosophical ideas at the end.

 Another meditative bamboo flute was also in use at this time, across the Silk Road region but in particular in the western Muslim countries, like the Ottoman Empire. The Sufi Islamic mystics employed the ney in their rituals for the purpose of achieving zikr, “the ritual event…[and/or] act of fulfilling” Sufis’ core principle: “‘Remember God as often as possible!’” Zikr was thus intended as communion or union with the divine Himself (Hammarlund 1).  The ney was one of the most important instruments for achieving zikr. It was, and still is, “a symbol of the human soul that has to be totally void so that it can resonate. This reed…carries a very important symbol through its emptiness: for the human soul to approach and connect to the Divine, it must be empty and pure….” (“Sufi Music”). As a result of this desire to connect with God, the ney employs more abstract “heavenly” melodies, that often appear in low registers and sound “horse and fiery,” even “sensual….” ("Ney, or Nay"; Hammarlund 2).  In one section of Night, both the shakuhachi and the ney feature prominently in a mystical conversation, with both flutes and their rich traditions brought directly into contact as the instruments trade melodies back and forth.

Example 1 of traditional ney music, with the the notes displayed to follow along with.

Example 2 of traditional ney music, also with displayed sheet music.

            The other critical instruments in Shanahan’s work are those in the percussion section. The riq, the dumbek, and the hand cymbal are very commonly to Middle Eastern music. The riq (the name is apparently only used in Egypt) is a tambourine, while the dumbek is one of the most frequently used drums in the Middle East. It generally emits two distinct sounds. Bass tones are called “doums” while higher notes are known as “teks” and the drummer will go back and forth between the two and their variations, as the drummer in Night does throughout the song. The shaker drum is also heard here. All of these percussion elements are found throughout much of Night, creating a rhythmic backbone (Donald).

           In the main theme to Night, (such as when it appears at 1:38) the Persian musical concepts we discussed above function as a crucial sonic foundation upon which the entirety of this section is structured and built. The mode used, mahur, supplies Shanahan’s notes here so that our ears are thus not confused or jarred by non-modal notes that would not only sound bad but also mar the faithfulness with which Shanahan has brought the mahur into this song (Shanahan). As the melody descends and ascends, the ensemble keeps returning to a single note, which is likely the mahur’s sahed, its most widely used note. Persian theory is also referenced with melodies. As we noted before, Persian music is composed of certain “pieces” or melodic tropes that reoccur often, known as radifs. The ascending and descending line that reoccurs in each iteration of the main theme likely references or even copies one or several Persian radifs. There is a chance, given the similarity of these riffs to the different forud assigned to the mahur mode (See Figures III and IV) that Shanahan is utilizing foruds here. However, this is unlikely, since it appears that the foruds were more of a development connected to the later paradigm of the dastgah, which Shanahan does not reference much if at all in this song. Moreover, the accomponyning booklet for Night's CD only mentions the mahur, and one would think that, given their self-proclaimed attention to maintain musical traditions, the Ensemble would be inclined to indicate explicitly that the dastgah idea was being utilized in this song (Accompanying Booklet).

             Another key element of this section is instrumentation, since non-Persian instruments are employed, such as Western strings and the Chinese sheng and pipa (Accompanying Booklet; "The Silk Road"). Yet, because all of these instruments are in the same modal context, playing largely in unison, there is no sense of any one instrument (and thus any one culture or tradition) sticking out or overpowering everything else. The tenor of the instruments causes them to speak with a very similar (though not uniform) voice. The constant drumming of the dumbek and riq, providing a steady beat underneath this melody, offers the listener some sonic guide posts to latch onto and follow over the course of the song, so that he does not get lost or confused but has something familiar to guide his listening. The main melody thus accomplishes well the goals of the ensemble. It maintains several key elements of Persian music—the mahur, the sahed, and the radif—while using them to maintain a certain harmonic consistency. This is complimented by similar-sounding instruments whose individual personalities still come out at spots. Underlying everything is the constant beat of the percussion section. In the midst of all this reference to traditions, new ideas, new arrangements of instruments, and new arrangements of melodies— even the creation of new ones—evidence Shanahan’s own creative thinking and guiding hand. But the composer’s presence does not overwhelm the other parts of the piece. The new melodies and the instruments do not overpower the mahur or the radifs but rather build off of the melodic and rhythmic guidelines that these have established.

            When the melody ends, Shanahan transitions nicely to the next portion of the piece, when the shakuhachi and ney emerge as the melodic focus (2:48). First, only the percussion plays a slower doum-tek rhythm to set the scene, joined by the Western string instruments on a similar sounding ostinato. This lead-in prepares us to move from the very lively main melody to a mysterious, almost meditative section. Shanahan maintains the percussion beat and string ostinato throughout this section, a feature that guides listeners through this much more free-flowing part, where both the shakuhachi and the ney do not follow a constant beat. The ney enters first, in a manner reminiscent of its typical use in Sufi rituals, with low, deep, rasping tones, while it largely stays in this range, making music on much longer breaths than the shakuhachi. The Japanese flute at first goes back and forth with the ney, but then emerges as the more dominant voice, playing quicker, short melodic bursts. The CD booklet states that Shanahan himself composed this “countermelodies” for the two flutes (Accompanying Booklet). Still, although the specific arrangement of rhythms and ideas are his, by keeping the ney in its lower, earthier register, and assigning the shakuhachi shorter riffs that probably are only intended for a single, short breath, Shanahan has still made some reference to the musical traditions from which these instruments have come. The generally mystical and meditative atmosphere also alludes to the original contexts in which Fuke monks and Sufi mystics would have used these instruments. Shanahan, therefore, uses them to create his own melodies, but he largely only does so within the sonic and musical parameters their original uses have set for him.

         However, when we have accounted for the successful uses of the two flutes, this section is not totally well-executed. There is still some sense (though by no means a major or overwhelming one) that this part of Night is a little bit too mystical or free-flowing, even a little confusing to follow. The percussion helps to ameliorate this problem but not completely. There are some points when it is unclear what is going on melodically in the interplay between the ney and shakuhachi or what musical idea Shanahan is exactly trying to get across. Perhaps, a counter to this criticism is that this is exactly the composer’s point—to make this section referencing Islamic and Buddhist mysticism as numinous and spiritual as possible. Maybe this is the case, but, there is still a sense in this section that we don’t know where we are—that we are not even in some heavenly realm.

            Aside from this relatively small problem, the piece’s weakest section comes right after the flutes finish their dialogue, in Shanahan’s transition to when the percussion take center stage.  As the shakuhachi becomes more agitated and the strings become more vocal and emerge from the background, eventually all of the instruments accelerate until they rapidly merge together and devolve into a single mass of sound, like a bunch of different leaves being crunched up into a big ball. It is very unclear what Shanahan is trying to accomplish here. At other parts of the song, like between the main melody and the beginning of the flute section, Shanahan links the two parts well. We are lead surprisingly seamlessly not only between musical ideas but between countries and musical transitions. But here, we are lead from a place where we have some (though not a complete idea) of where we are into another space where things are completely confused, where we have lost our sense of where the piece is going. Shanahan, therefore, muddles the links between his adept treatment of Middle Eastern and Japanese flute traditions and a section using Middle Eastern drums.

            Our examination of these three sections of Night at the Caravanserai illustrates one possible way to creatively combine and reshape musical traditions without ruining them in the process. In trying to strike this delicate balance, Shanahan had to decide both how much he would draw on the Silk Road’s musical traditions versus his own musical ideas for composing this piece, as well as exactly how he would actually incorporate all those ideas into the new song so that they worked together. For the main melody, he integrated Persian music theory as both an overall structure that provided the notes from which the melody would be drawn, and as a source for some very specific melodies—the radifs we discussed before. The arrangement of those radifs and the instrumentation as well as the percussion parts were not taken from Persian music, but rather were Shanahan’s own ideas. Yet they did not feature so prominent a role that they overwhelmed the Persian aspects of the main theme nor so little of one that they were nonexistent. They were built on top of and out from the foundation the notes of the mahur and (primarily) the rhythms of the radifs provided them. Similarly, the musical traditions of the ney and shakuhachi serve as a sort of guide for the composition of that part of the song. Shanahan has chosen two instruments from similar musical traditions that were used for similar purposes. He has composed music for the two flutes that references those traditions. Though they perform Shanahan’s own melodies, each instrument stays in the same register it typically used during a religious ceremony, while the ney plays its traditional longing, earthy notes and the shakuhachi flitters above somewhat like a bird might. He perhaps takes his fascination with the atmosphere of Zen and Sufi mysticism too far, however, verging on creating confusion for the listener about what he intends as the function of this part of the piece. Underlying both of these sections, the percussion maintain a constant sound that underlies almost the entire piece and keeps us situated. Even here the dumbek maintains its characteristic dum-bek beat. This effort at continuity falls apart at one point, in the transition noted above, when melodies and traditions converge into one large mass of confusion, a noticeable detractor from Night’s success. Still, in the context of the entire song, this is one relatively small complaint. For Night at the Caravanserai instructs musicians and commentators in this global world, when re-appropriating musical traditions from other places, and combining them together, to seek to use those traditions as a guide to set the parameters—in terms of rhythm, pitch, and melody—in which to compose a new piece. Once those boundaries are clearly set, a comfortable space within them for composing one’s own musical ideas opens up. one possible way in which the gap between innovation and authenticity might be achieved.


Works Cited

Accompanying booklet in Silk Road journeys: Beyond the Horizon / Yo-Yo Ma & the Silk Road Ensemble.  Sony Classical, 2004.

Beckwith, Christopher I. Empires of the Silk Road : a History of Central Eurasia from the Bronze Age to the Present. Princeton: Princeton University Press, 2009. 

Donald, Mary Ellen. "Middle Eastern Percussion Instruments." Mary Ellen Donald . Mary Ellen Donald , 2009. Web. 20 Dec 2010. <http://www.maryellendonald.com/MEPercussionInstruments.htm>.

Hormoz, Farhat. The Dastgah concept in Persian Music. New York: Cambridge University Press, 1990.

Lahlou, Dina . "Sufi Music." MidEast Web. N.p., n.d. Web. 20 Dec 2010. <http://www.mideastweb.org/culture/sufi_music.htm>.

"Maps of the Silk Road." The Silk Road Project. The Silk Road Project, 2010. Oct-Nov 2010. <http://www.silkroadproject.org/Education/TheSilkRoad/SilkRoadMaps/tabid/177/Default.aspx>.

McQueen Tokita and Hughes. "Context  and change in Japanese Music." The Ashgate Research Companion to Japanese Music. Ed. Alison M. Tokita and David W. Hughes. Aldershot, England : Ashgate Publishing Limited, 2008. Print.

“Ney, or Nay." The Silk Road Project. The Silk Road Project, 2010. Nov-Dec 2010. <http://www.silkroadproject.org/MusicArtists/Instruments/Ney/tabid/320/Default.aspx>.  

Schimmel, Annemarie. "The Role of Music in Islamic Mysticism." Sufism Music And Society in Turkey and the Middle East. Anders Hammarlund, Tord Olsson [and] Elisabeth Ozdalga : Istanbul, Turkey, The Economic and Social History Foundation of Turkey. 2001. Print.  

"Shakuhachi." The Silk Road Project. The Silk Road Project, 2010. Nov-Dec. 2010. <http://www.silkroadproject.org/MusicArtists/Instruments/Shakuhachi/tabid/327/Default.aspx>

Shanahan, Shane. “Night at the Caravanserai.” Silk Road journeys: Beyond the Horizon / Yo-Yo Ma & the Silk Road Ensemble. New York: Sony Classical 2004.

"The Silk Road." The Silk Road. N.p., n.d. Web. 21 Dec 2010. <http://virtuallabs.stanford.edu/silkroad/SilkRoad.html>.

 “The Silk Road Project At A Glance.” The Silk Road Project. The Silk Road Project, 2010. Web. 21 Dec 2010.  http://www.silkroadproject.org/Portals/0/Uploads/Documents/Public/SRP_Factsheet.pdf

Tsuneko , Tsukitani. "The shakuhachi and its music." The Ashgate Research Companion to Japanese Music. Ed. Alison M. Tokita and David W. Hughes. Aldershot, England : Ashgate Publishing Limited, 2008. Print.

"What is a Caravanserai." Consider at Caravanserai. N.p., n.d. Web. Oct-Dec 2010. <http://www.consideratcaravanserai.net/Caravanserai/Caravanserai.html>.


[1] While I will refer to Shanahan as its sole composer for the sake of simplicity, keep in mind that Night at the Caravanserai was composed at a so-called commissioning workshop, where Shanahan collaborated with other musicians in composing this piece. Their ideas are undoubtedly included in the finished song.

Attachment Size
Figure I:The Silk Road 89.03 KB
Figure II: The Mahur Mode 25.01 KB
Figure III:One forud from the mahur mode, going up. 21.4 KB
Figure IV: Another forud, this one going down. 16.81 KB
"Night At The Caravanserai." 16.23 MB

Raperas de Cuba

Submitted by (inactive) on Wednesday, 12/22/2010, at 12:01 AM

Hip-hop is a musical genre and culture that has within it the ability to wreak dramatic social and political change.   These abilities come from its appealing roots in rejecting repression and the captivating power of its sound.  "Hip-hop in the United States started out as a voice of protest, an alternative voice for urban, inner-city youth to voice their grievances, to talk about their living conditions, their hopes and aspirations." (Abiodun) Hip-hop has within it courageous rejection of unfair treatment.  “Art has the ability to articulate truths not communicable in any other language, because it expresses life’s consistencies that are in need of a resolution.” (Marcus).   People across the world love music, especially young people.  They love to party to it, they love to dance to it, they love to work out to it, they love to drive to it etc. 

Music has within it this almost indescribable power to make you move, think, and feel. The lyrics come in through your ears, the bass and beats rumble through your body, the effect is captivating. Hip-hop has huge appeal to many young people whether they are growing up in the ghettos of New York City, the barrios of Cuba, or the war strewn territory of Palestine Young people have within them a thriving energy and often some sort of fuel lit by emotion.  Yet, while they often don’t know what they want to do with their lives, they know they want to influence the world and change the aspects they don’t like.  They see hip-hop artists talking about change, coming from nothing and making a name for themselves.  Hip-hop has the ability to captivate and direct this energy, emotion, and drive.  I think this ability comes from the fact that hip-hop isn’t just a genre of music; it’s a culture, a way of life.  And while hip-hop can sound rough with its growling raps, heavy beats, and explicit lyrics, at its heart is the desire for change.  When you listen to hip-hop you can hear and feel the fervid passion in it.  People see, hear, and feel the hip-hop way of life and they want to be a part of it. 

            In Cuba hip-hop has become a forum for political and social revolution. Cuban hip-hop was influenced heavily by hip-hop in Miami.  Hip-hop enthusiasts in the coastal town of Alamar, dubbed “the city of rap”, rigged homemade antenna to the roofs of tall building in order to receive radio signals from Miami. (Guerilla Radio) Underground hip-hop developed into a revolution that has inspired young people to promote expression for the increase of the rights of Cuban citizens under socialist rule.  Cuban citizens can’t protest under free speech as we can in the United States, they turned to other means of expression and other means of fueling a revolution, hip-hop

“This new generation is composed of alternative community actors and organic intellectuals seeking to advance the ideals of the Revolution by contextualizing themselves within a critical understanding of contemporary Cuban realities such as racism, sexism, homophobia, and increasing material inequality” (Saunders 1)

Underground Hip-hop has become their vehicle for revolutionary change in the face of Castro’s repression. 

The major problem with hip-hop is that is it extremely male dominated.  Men were at the fore front of the development of hip-hop and at the fore front they remain.  As a female hip-hop fan I really struggle with this.  Women either use their sexuality to break into the business or they discard their femininity in order to fit in with the men.  Very few female artists exist without doing either.  Where are the rest of the Mot de Passe-like women?! I can’t get the scene out of head of Fati Show at the I love Hip Hop in Morocco festival.  Well to answer my question, they’re in Cuba.  In Cuba there is a revolution within a revolution; three women are at the fore front of a feminist hip-hop revolution.  They recognize the inspirational ability of hip-hop and they use hip-hop as a social forum for changing the role of women in Cuba.  They are called Las Krudas, meaning “the crude ones” or “raw women”, Olivia Prendes (Pelusa Mc), Odaymara Cuesta (Pasa Kruda) and Odalys Cuesta (Wanda). Las Krudas have “developed an emergent discourse that blends Revolutionary, Afro-Cuban and Feminist discourses into Underground Hip Hop”. (Saunders 1).  The women of Las Krudas are strengthening the role of women in Cuba and the world while at the same time strengthening hip-hop but challenging and changing its misogynistic presence.

“Through connecting with audiences at the level of feeling Krudas link lived experience to discourse; they reject the generalized, abstract universalism imbedded in most theoretical frameworks concerning social life. Krudas are more concerned about what happens at the level of lived experiences, as it is life at the level of feeling that has been ignored or sacrificed in defense of the nation.” (Saunders)

Las Krudas are able to connect to the feelings and sentiments of Cuban women through hip-hop.

Please play the video below to get a feel for hip-hop in Cuba and the female presence.

Although many people of academia and ethnomusicologists have written about and studied Las Krudas very few relate their success back to sound. The focus is mostly analyzing the content of their lyrics.  I argue that their sound is the origin of their success and without their distinct sound they would not have a successful revolution.  No one in the hip-hop community would listen to what they say in their lyrics if they didn’t have any respect for their flow.  Otherwise they would likely be leading a feminist Cuban poetry revolution. 

Las Krudas sound is a blend of African and Cuban traditional sounds with poetic lyrics, clever rhyming, tonal play, and hip-hop beats.  To get a feel for their sound, please play the video below of their song Kandela.  (candela means candle, they seem to play with the spelling of Spanish language in order to make it more feminine or to use the gender of the words as part of their message)

The song starts off like a speech with an attention grabbing spoken portion.  A lot of their songs start in this way. Then the layered group sung chorus comes in and repeats between raps.  The individual tones and sounds of their three voices keep your attention throughout the song.  The combination of individual sections and unified sections is a representation of the uniqueness in every woman and the unity of women as a whole.  You can hear the anger, drive, and determination in their voices without evening listening to the words.

Next let’s listen to their song Reinas Kilay. Click here. (Song: Reinas Kilay )

It starts off very similar to Kandela but the background music while it has a DIY feel to it.  This is very common to Cuban hip-hop because of the severe lack of resources for fancy beats and background.  Nonetheless, the music has a steady beat that attunes your attention and ears to their voices.  There are African sounding shakers at times as well.  Around the 3:20 mark they begin a portion of call and response that has a follow the leader style.  The call and response is an incorporation of their traditional roots and also a way to interact with an audience.

The next song on the myspace link, Madre Natura has a much more tribal feel with group humming, chanting, and more shaker sounds.  It is definitely a different kind of hip-hop due to its incorporation of differing musical traditions.


Basta 500 años starts off with a shaker and an intriguing tribal story telling tone. Then the hip-hop beat comes in around 0:14 with some typical hip-hop gunshot sounds and dogs barking.  These aspects are descriptive of the DIY manner of production.  We saw this kind of usage in our study of global ghettotech as well.  The first rapper has a kind of growl to her voice but she hasn’t lost her female tone.  This exemplifies that she can growl like the men in hip-hop but she can still growl as a women.  Each rapera has changed their tone of voice in this song and they finish the song in unison.  Again, through the music they emphasize individuality and unity.

 The raperas of Las Krudas have an ability to send messages through their sounds without words. The combination of their group singing/rapping dynamics, their use of traditional African and Cuban sounds, and the powerful messages they send makes their music unique, appealing, and thought provoking.  This is the kind of hip-hop sounds that fuel revolutions. Las Krudas have been able to use their sounds to captivate audiences, change the male domination of hip-hop, and inspire women to work to change their situations.

You can hear more of their flowing music on their myspace page. 

How To Play a Pop Star

Submitted by Wangene Hall on Tuesday, 12/21/2010, at 10:38 PM


With her 360 deal, Lady Gaga doesn’t own as much of Lady Gaga as one would think. Essentially, this is a joint venture among Iovine, Universal Music CEO Doug Morris, and Sony/ATV publishing head Marty Bandier. It’s a good formula for the business: Hot looks and hot singles are the new monster albums. – “Growing Up Gaga” by Vanessa Grigoriadis

“Oooh-oh-ooh-oooh-ooh-oh, caught in a bad romance” goes the very beginning of the song whose title and tune has become part of pop culture. As I queue the video, I see a small advertisement on the bottom of the screen reading ‘are a moshing, poppin’ rockstar’. This is an advertisement for the HTC Surround Windows Phone, whose motto is ‘Quietly brilliant’. I thought this kind of banner advertising especially welcome, because as a fan of Lady Gaga, I want nothing to stand between me and my video-watching experience. However, critical analysis mandated that I think about the clever marketing involved in having a rockstar-related catchphrase underneath a Lady Gaga video. The actual ad contained similarly “rocking” lingo. 



Despite the slightly contradictory message inherent in selling me quiet brilliance, when I am all about sparkle and shine, I clearly understand that my fame-hungry little monster self is supposed to want this phone. Curiosity results in me clicking through the official videos for all of Gaga’s singles, after which I realized that her videos are largely free of the 30-second commercials because they all display the HTC banner ad. Lady Gaga is a franchise and she knows how to market herself in the most consumer-friendly way possible. Like the banner ad that tells me to buy now, Gaga designs herself so magically you want to buy her, if only to taste a little bit of her magic. 



One could almost forget that Lady Gaga (nee Stefani Joanne Germanotta) was born to upper middle class parents on Manhattan’s Upper West Side. One could almost forget that Gaga works because she is self-created legend. Much of the struggling she claims she went through was not entirely validated by those who saw her rise to fame. It is unclear whether she actually struggled with a cocaine addiction, or whether she actually paid the rent on the apartment she stayed in during the year that she was allowed to drop out of school and pursue music. Did anyone of importance not believe in her, as she claims? Or at least, was their skepticism anything different than the normal response to one who expresses a desire to be a pop star? However much the veracity of her rise to fame might be contested, her fans use her story as a talisman to cope with their own difficulties, they adopt her philosophy and use her legend to add a little magic to their own lives; she is the ultimate empowerment. 




Lady Gaga is a franchise, as much as she is a mythology; she is the product of a profit-centered music industry. She lives in a bubble world and her fierce determination to see her vision fulfilled is what allows us to live there with her. At the end of the day, Lady Gaga was successful because music industry insiders saw that she could fill a niche an increasingly globalized market, and thus pop the bubble of disparate consumer expectations. At the end of the day, Lady Gaga creates electronic dance music inspired pop and it is her image, and thus her message, that distinguishes her. In this case, the medium is the message. She allows us all to believe that we can be a little more beautiful, confident, and interesting if we are fearless and if we love ourselves. It’s a shareable fame. 



Despite all of Lady Gaga’s talk about universal dancefloor experience based on love and shared fame, she still also exists in a male-dominated world of music marketing in which gender roles and stereotypes play a role in the presentation of the artist. She had to play the expectations of a pop star as being outrageously sexual, vapid and consumable, but she alters our response by refusing to subscribe to standards of heteronormativity.  The critical observer would wonder whether her success is due in part to selling an image of fetishized non-heteronormativity, especially considering the number of similarly talented artists who cannot market through such mainstream avenues of consumption. 


An interesting note on the hybridity of global music: Angelique Kidjo, an Afro-pop artist from Benin, and Akon, Lady Gaga’s co-producer and first celebrity supporter, were pictured with the president of Senegal at the World Festival of Black Arts and Cultures



One such talented female artist is Angelique Kidjo. Hailed as ‘Africa’s premier diva’ by Time magazine and referred to as ‘one of Africa’s most globally successful performers’ by Billboard magazine, Angelique Kidjo plays to updated Afro-pop sensibilities, blending world music traditions with Western pop and rock song structures. 



A cursory glance over the difference in media presence between these two artists reveals that Angelique Kidjo’s success is more rooted in the listener’s ability to identify with her cultural history and her outreach, as an African peace ambassador. Instead of using her music as a platform for product placement, Angelique Kidjo uses her music as a platform to support humanitarianism. Although the focus of her concerts is experiencing the freedom that comes from dancing and experiencing joy with others, as an artist, she asks more of her fans than self-love. She asks that they consider the larger world. Coincidentally, her fan base is in the demographic that cares about the issues she highlights. The tacitly accepted post-Colonial notions of African identity support her role as a do-good, ethnocentric world music star. 


This begs the question of whether Kidjo could be as globally successful as Gaga—or whether she would be limited by the cultural expectations she would face. Before this problem is reduced into a debate about racial profiling along black and white color lines, one must consider the levels of accessibility both of these artists choose to adopt. Naturally, an artist singing English lyrics to music that is engineered to be as universal as possible will have significantly more success on a global platform than one who utilizes a blend of African languages and more complicated musical forms. Instead of making the easy assumption that the white artist is more successful because she is white, one must consider that Gaga, as a Grammy-winning pop artist is enjoying the type of career path that only select musicians, particularly those in the American pop music industry, enjoy. One must also bring into consideration that Kidjo cultivates a kind of success that ensures quality of life, while still pleasing her fans. 


The conclusions from my research were decisive; global success for a woman in the music industry requires mediating gender roles and cultural differences in a way that, above all, connects the artist to her fans. Because so much of a woman’s appeal if her image and her story, with a particular emphasis on empowerment, the artist must present her narrative of liberation. Whether a diva is confronting the realities of post-Colonialist identity or equal rights for the LQBT community, she must present a persona that causes the audience to ignore the logistical imperfections and rational implausibility of her art; they must believe in the freedom she offers. At the end of the day, both of these ladies dominate the spaces they inhabit.



Their success would undeniably be less significant if they tried to market across their respective genres, i.e. if they chose to explore each other’s musical niches. Do music industry standards pigeonhole these female artists into genre by look and appeal? Perhaps, but the obvious ease with which they navigate their sounds and images suggests that their ambitions and agency are absolutely essential to understanding their presentation. Both of these pop divas have found ways to transcend easy categorization and speak directly to their listeners, which, in their respective opinions, and mine as well, makes their success more impacting than any glitter-covered Grammy with red carpet flavor. 

Global Pop Divas: Imagery and SoundGlobal Pop Divas: Imagery and Sound 


Happy Holidays Everyone!! =D