Music's Cultural Diffusion

08/04/2017

 After spending most of the summer dancing and nodding my head to Despacito, by Luis Fonsi and Daddy Yankee and Aserejé by Las Ketchup I was intrigued by an NPR article about music’s crossover culture written by Jessica Diaz Hurtado. Music has been influencing many cultures and has seen many changes throughout time. It's the very nature itself to emulate, influence, innovate, and it has been a way to share language, culture, dance, history, and happiness with different parts of the world. For some, it has been a huge challenge to break into the international entertainment industry without some sort of interaction to or from the western world. Some western performers have actually done the opposite and went abroad in order to strike it big back at home. According to Japan Times, Cheap Trick marketed themselves to Japan and received a lot of fame and clout from their concerts in Japan. The album Live at Budokan was essential toward their big break in the U.S. Many artists have done similar attempts to break into the international music realm and receive acclaim. Some of them have been marketing themselves through the use of the incorporation of western icons, English lyrics, emulating other cultures, or flat out plagiarizing it word for word. Some of these have been done in appropriate ways and some have not.

 

The song Despacito was originally performed by Luis Fonsi, Daddy Yankee, and is now featured with English lyrics accompanied with Justin Bieber. This song received a lot of success since its release in January. The original version was well received on its own, but after having added Justin Bieber, the audience grew from its inclusion of English lyrics as well as Justin Bieber's following. Some people will always say the original is better and other fans would argue that the one featuring Bieber is better. 

 

Music's cross-culture diffusion is not limited to Latin America. I remember hearing a song back in 2011 where a man named Dhanush sang a song named Kolaveri. This song is a soup song, which means guys supposedly sing this after they get dumped. Dhanush and his friends coined this term when he made the song. When I first heard I could have sworn he was singing in Hindi or something, but he wasn’t. The song opens with him acknowledging that this song was an experiment. He even says it’s a “...flop song.” After hearing it and reading the lyrics, I realized he sang in English almost the entire time. This song has over one hundred twenty million views on YouTube. This is quite significant for being a joke and a flop song. The reason why this song was so successful is that it bridged gaps between generations. The older Indian generation wasn’t in love with it, but they liked the back beat and the singer’s Indian sound, even if he was just speaking English with an Indian accent. The younger Indian-Americans like myself liked the fact that there was a middle ground where we could see our culture emerging in a medium that other people would also like.

 

Another cross-cultural song example that could resonate with more American audiences is Major Lazer & DJ Snake’s song Lean On because of its popularity. I think the cinematography was great, the song was catchy, but I can’t help be critical of MØ’s dancing in the video. I grew up listening and watching Bollywood music videos, with variations of fusion, and the incorporation of English lyrics. I am not partial to any type of Indian music, but she ruins the video for me. I don’t have a problem with what MØ was wearing, or with people of different ethnicities dancing in Bollywood music videos or movies, but I don’t like it when they do it poorly. If one tries to learn Bollywood dancing styles or routines, one may find easy to learn sequences that aren't difficult. She seems out of place, while her other counterparts Diplo, Walshy Fire, and DJ Snake looked OK with their triple-sequenced movements.

 

I was discussing this topic with Jessie Thorpe. While the topic was about cultural diffusion and how it should be spread, I found similarities between that and how the diffusion of music across cultures should be facilitated. She posted an article about how a mom was getting criticized on Tumblr for hosting a Japanese Tea-Ceremony themed party for her daughter. While I understand how people can say that it was racist because the daughter was wearing a kimono with make shift Geisha make-up, it does not seem certain that the intention was to make fun of Japanese culture. Rather the mother seemed to take the time to research different components, placement, clothes, and procedures of this tea ceremony. Someone posted a comment, which red "Earnest imitation isn't appropriation. Reducing a culture to a marketable stereotype is." I like this quote from a user. Yes, the make-up was kind of a red flag for me, but I believe that the parents intended for educating and spreading Japanese culture in a fun way. If I were the parents though I probably wouldn't have put on the geisha face on my kids, but I do see why supporters of this mother are saying that she did nothing wrong. Not to say there is a clear cut way to learn about or represent culture correctly, but if you watch the video or take a look at the photo you’ll see why I explain each side of the argument. I’ll move on to another one of my favorite Latin songs.

 

Maria, Mariaaaaaaaa! This hit came out back in 99’. Blast from the past. Whenever this song is on, you can’t help but sing along, dance, air guitar, or all three. The beat is a classic and it’s so catchy. Being tucked away in South Korea, I don’t get a lot of the western advertisements in a timely manner because most of the advertisements are geared towards eastern audiences; specifically the 50,000,000 inhabitants of Korea. The other week, I finally heard DJ Khaled, Rhianna, & Bryson Tiller’s Wild Thoughts. What? That had to be Santana’s beat and guitar riff. Wait...did Carlos sign off on this? I did some research and yes he did. They collaborated together to create a new age version of Maria Maria. Carlos is a fan of creating music as well as innovation. With his riffs and beats, he brought back an old classic in today’s music. I like it. Normally I don’t like it when artists sample another’s work without giving credit. The newer generation is ignorant of the origin and claims it to be the product of a modern day genius. Sometimes songs are blatantly copied and it takes someone who is familiar with the genre to educate them.

 

I work at an after-school English academy and during the break time in between each hour, sometimes my students make YouTube song requests. Two years ago one of them wanted to hear Orange Caramel’s ‘까탈레나 (Catallena). Sure. A K-pop band that made a sushi video with a Latin name that samples Indian music? What? After watching the video I liked it because it was catchy and made me crave some sushi, however none of my students realized that there were so many Indian influences. Some of the lyrics were full on taken as is and converted in to Hangul letters. It sounds the same. The original song is called Jutti Meri Jaandi e Pahaarhiye de Naal. I’m not absolutely sure, but I believe the song is about a girl losing her shoes. See for yourself by using these time markers for Catallena. If you are curious about the blatant samples, check out the time stamps at 0:27-0:30 Juti Meri, 0:46-0:50 Lal Lalala Lal Lalala, 0:54-1:00 Juti Meri Hoi Hoi Hoi, Palo Mera Hoi Hoi Hoi, 1:13-1:16). The original is below.

 

 After being a little upset from nobody knowing the original song, it dawned on me that these students liked the song with Indian elements without knowing it. Could this be a way for them to slowly start learning about Indian culture? It sure can. So on that note, I used it as an opportunity to teach them about different Indian languages, clothing, and of course anything and everything that had to do with Bollywood.

 

While I usually side with originals, one of my favorite artists is Daft Punk. Once I realized that Daft Punk took samples of music that was decades apart, I felt sad. Then I learned that Daft punk sampled people because they had a huge respect for disco, hip hop, jazz, reggae, electro, and French House. They were able to rekindle my love for disco and jazz rhythms and beats through their samples and loops from their Discovery album. The very group that I had grown to worship have also used samples and innovated them. Music's diffusion through cultures is inevitable and there will always be critics to whether it is legitimate or appropriate, but at the same time people can benefit from it. Giving credit where it's due is important, but musical art will never be free of imitation, emulation, and recreation.  Recognizing where elements come from as well as learning to enjoy the innovated product will lead to accepting and appreciating new variations of music. I look forward to seeing who will cover or remix my favorite artists' classic songs. 

 

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