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Halloo! When I found out I could go to med school with a Humanities degree with an Ethnomusicology emphasis, I almost peed myself. Here's to me holding it in.

Friday, January 27, 2012

The World is Sound?

The World Is Sound? Geography, Musicology and British-Asian Soundscapes
Author(s): Tariq Jazeel
Source: Area, Vol. 37, No. 3 (Sep., 2005), pp. 233-241
Published by: Blackwell Publishing on behalf of The Royal Geographical Society (with the Institute of British Geographers)
Stable URL: http://www.jstor.org/stable/20004456 .
Accessed: 25/01/2012 19:44

Musical geography, while quickly growing as a field of study, hasn't made much foray into treating the production of and pure sonic qualities of music as they relate to place, nor have the politics of music vs. music and politics been adequately treated. This journal article by Tariq Jazeel seeks to begin to address this deficiency. The article has three main sections, and I describe the points that stuck with me from a first reading:

Reappraising the critique of exotica
     Exotica has been, by many scholars, dismissed as not truly representing any of the cultures from which it draws, and is criticized for catering to a middle-class white demographic by "sanitizing" itself. It becomes, in their eyes, artificial and superficial. Jazeel counters these arguments with the recognition that just because something is made for middle class consumption (as is the case for much British-Asian music, which fills the acoustic space of popular British dance clubs), it is not automatically shallow, and that tip-toeing, crisscrossing, and redefining cultural boundaries is something worth seriously examining. Also, British-Asian music, such as that made by Talvin Singh, deals seriously with post-colonial issues, syncretism, and racial dynamics. Artists like Singh, born and raised in Britain but steeped in their South Asian ancestry, float in limbo between being British and being Indian, their identity contested by internal conflict, by assertions of some Britons that people like Singh are "too brown to be British" and by counter assertions by some Indians that people like Singh are "too white to be Indian," using color literally and as a metaphor for cultural norms and boundaries.

Production and expression
     Musical analysis of several songs is undertaken in a qualitative way, detailing the mixing and cohesion of Western and Indian elements. It is interesting to me that not only are West and East mixed, but that Indian musics from different parts of the subcontinent are layered as well. This detail would not be noticed by most Western listeners, but to those with a knowledge of Indian classical music would be most salient.

Consumption and performativity
     The reaction of consumers to the music, particularly in a dance club setting, are explored and problematized. When dancing to a raga in a time signature unfamiliar to the club-goers, for example, the immediacy of expression through dance is challenged. At first, the dancers, used to a four-on-the-floor club rhythm, stutter and struggle to find the rhythm. The ways in which consumers and performers of British-Asian music negotiate and purposefully challenge cultural divides are instructive and tell more of the full story than even demographic survey information can.

VERY useful stuff. Thanks, Tariq.

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