Hybridity and Postcolonial Music

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Ethnomusicology

Bruno Nettl, a music and anthropology professor at the University of Illinois, lists some of the various definitions for “ethnomusicology.” Meanings, in terms of the material that is studied, range from “folk and what used to be called “primitive,” i.e. tribal or possibly ancient music,to “all human music” (The Study of Ethnomusicology, 2-3). Definitions that categorize by type of activity involve denotations that include “a comparative study (of musical systems and cultures).” Nettl states that all musicologists, “at some level of conceptualization, they regard all musics as equal. Each music, they believe, is equally an expression of culture, and while cultures may differ in quality, they are bound to believe in the fundamental humanity, hence goodness, of all peoples” (The Study of Ethnomusicology, 10).

Colonialism and the Production of Hybrid Culture

Colonialism affected the people who were colonized economically, socially, and politically (see Colonial Education). In addition, cultural changes manifested themselves in literature, art, and music. When elements are brought, coerced, or drawn together, they may either repel, mingle, or do a bit of both. Examples of musical hybrids abound as the post-colonial period of history reigns (see Mimicry, Ambivalence and Hybridity). The colonized and the colonists affected and influenced one another. The diaspora of migrants contribute to the fusion of different cultures’ musical instruments, structure, and sound. The result of the hybrid musical forms demonstrates a new world sound, one that can not be compartmentalized according to land, language, and political borders.

Responses to Western Influences

Nettl cites three types or groups of motivation for non-Western societies in relation to their experience of colonization or the formation of cultural hybridity as expressed in their musical behavior in an essay entitled “Cultural Grey-Out” (The Study of Ethnomusicology, 347-48). The first is “the desire to leave traditional culture intact, survival without change” (Study, 347 ). The second is complete Westernization, “that is, simple incorporation of a society into the Western cultural system” (Study, 347). The third is moderate compared to the first two and is the motivation of “modernization,” a term which Nettl defines as “the adoption and adaptation of Western technology and other products of Western culture, as needed, simultaneously with an insistence that the core of cultural values will not change greatly and does not match those of the West” (Study, 348).

Hybrid Music Forms

In addition to Westernization, one must also consider the influence that the colonies have had on Western culture. Since the 1960s, the promulgation of hybridity constitutes a large facet of music.

The band Yothu-Yindi derives its moniker from Aboriginal Australian identity as expressed by the mother-child or yothu-yindi link which is an organizational feature of traditional ritual song and popular music (Stokes,136 ). Aboriginal pop music groups formed in the 1970s and were powered by the business of the music industry, so that bands such as “the Galiwin’ku pop group, Soft Sands … accommodated familiar Western music styles by playing a mixture of Country and Western and Gospel songs” (Stokes, 146). Yothu-Yindi was part of a shift in the nature of Aboriginal pop as the group applied Yolngu worldview in their second album in 1991, entitled Tribal Voice. This album incorporated traditional songs with their original form and words. The “restructuring of song texts by incorporating a mixture of ritual symbolism and concern with colonial hegemony builds further resistance against European musical values” (Stokes, 147).

Miho Hatori, vocalist for the band Cibo Matto/CC Licensed

Miho Hatori, vocalist for the band Cibo Matto/CC Licensed

On the opposite end of the spectrum, a band such as Cibo Matto exemplifies the assimilation of Western culture and the band displays the effects of Westernization with extreme and indulgent lyrics. “White pepper ice cream / It’s like a line drawing / It’s snipped my heart / White pepper ice cream / In my mouth / It stings my lips, / It’s like an eclipse / As if I’m in the crossword puzzle / But I can’t fill in the blank… C’est ma égal.” The band also makes the most of the technology developed by Westerners and the suave style of the beat-poets, applying it to the Japanese group’s own purposes. All of the lyrics on the album Viva! La Woman, a hybrid combination of inter-Western language and motto, are in English (see also Postcolonial Performance and Installation Art).

The distance between the two ends of the spectrum of hybridity abounds with smart rhythms and fresh sounds that demonstrate the movement of people as they migrate and circulate across the man-made boundaries between land and sea. Ravi Shankar has been instrumental in fusing classical Indian music with Western sounds since the 1960′s, when he began collaborating with The Beatles, specifically, George Harrison. DJ and producer Talvin Singh released a compilation of dance tracks called Soundz of the Asian Underground, ranging from trip hop to jungle beats to ambient, created by Asian musicians and features instruments indigenous to their culture.

The multi-talented Ashwin Batish joins “contemporary rock rhythms with Sitar melodies and solos as the lead voice” (Sitar Power #2) in his 1986 album named Sitar Power. This album was followed up by Sitar Power #2, which blends tablas and sitar with synthesisers and guitars. Started by two brothers, the band Cornershop hails from England and composes songs that have evolved drastically over the course of their career. The band began with outspoken political views, most emblematically related to their denouncement of music icon Morrissey for his alleged racism. They were featured burning his photo at a concert. This activism was considered by many to compensate for what was thought to be less than proficient musical skill. This reputation was largely dispelled with the release of their album, When I Was Born for the Seventh Time. The album marks the group as a fore-running example of the possibilities of mixing Eastern and Western instruments (dholki, sitars, and tamboura work alongside keyboards, samples, and fuzzy guitar) as well as languages (Tjinder Singh sings lyrics in English, Punjabi, and some French).

Another example of musical hybridity is the album Lambarena: Bach to Africa. This album is a tribute to physician, musician, and Bach scholar, Albert Schweizer ( 1875-1965), who spent a large part of his life in Gabon. African rhythms and the sound of the Western classical compositions of J.S. Bach meet and engage in an aural cross-cultural dance. A sample of a work with the sounds of consolidated cultures is the simplest way to demonstrate the aural fecundity that exists at this time in the history of music. On this page is a clip from track #2 of Lambarena. The piece is “Sankanda+Lasset uns den nicht zerteilen.” Against the rhythm of the Ndjobi dance from Haut-Ogooué, Bach’s horn part is blended with the sounds of the antelope horn, “an instrument which is used in both hunting as well as for invoking the spirits during ritual ceremonies” (Lambarena, liner notes).

Selected Bibliography

  • Banco de Gaia. Last Train to Lhasa. Mammoth, 1995. CD
  • —. Maya. Planet Dog, 1994. CD.
  • Batish, Ashwin. Star Power #2. Batish Records, 1994. CD.
  • Baumann, Max Peter, ed. Music in the Dialogue of Cultures: Traditional Music and Cultural Policy. Wilhelmshaven: Floren Noetzel Verlag, 1991.
  • Blacking, John. Music, Culture, & Experience: Selected Papers of John Blacking. Ed. Reginald Byron and Bruno Nettl. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1995.
  • Chamberlain, M.E. Decolonization: The Fall of the European Empires. Oxford: Basil Blackwell, 1985.
  • Cibo Matto. Viva! La Woman. Warner Bros., 1996. CD.
  • Cornershop. When I Was Born for the Seventh Time. Luaka Bop, 1997. CD.
  • de Courson, Hughes, and Pierre Akendengué. Lambarena: Bach to Africa: An Homage to Abert Schweitzer. Sony, 1995. CD.
  • Godement, François. The New Asian Renaissance: From Colonialism to the Post-Cold War. Trans. Elisabeth J. Parcell. London: Routledge, 1997.
  • Goonatilake, Susantha. Crippled Minds: An Exploration into Colonial Culture. New Delhi: Vikas Publishing House, 1982.
  • Harrison, Klisala and Elizabeth Mackinlay and Svanibor Pettan. Applied ethnomusicology : historical and contemporary approaches. ed. Klisala Harrison, Elizabeth Mackinlay, and Svanibor Pettan. International Council for Traditional Music. Study Group on Applied Ethnomusicology. Newcastle upon Tyne, UK : Cambridge Scholars, 2010.
  • Healy, Chris. From the Ruins of Colonialism: History as Social Memory. Cambridge: University Press, 1997.
  • de Jong, Nanette. Tambú : Curaçao’s African-Caribbean ritual and the politics of memory / Nanette de Jong. Bloomington : Indiana University Press, 2012.
  • Leftfield. Leftism. Sony, 1995. CD.
  • Marx, Karl, and Frederick Engels. On Colonialism: Articles from the”New York Tribune” and Other Writings. New York: International Publishers, 1972.
  • Nettl, Bruno. The Study of Ethnomusicology: Twenty-nine Issues and Concepts. Urbana: University of Illinois Press, 1983.
  • comp. The Western Impact on World Music: Change, Adaptation, and Survival. New York: Schirmer Books, 1985.
  • Nettl’s elephant : on the history of ethnomusicology.Urbana : University of Illinois Press, 2010.
  • Post, Jennifer C. Ethnomusicology : a contemporary reader. ed by Jennifer C. Post. New York : Routledge, 2006.
  • Price, A. Grenfell. The Western Invasions of the Pacific and Its Continents: A Study of Moving Frontiers and Changing Landscapes, 1513-1958 .Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1963.
  • Shankar, Ravi. In Celebration Highlights. Anourag Music Ltd.,1995. CD.
  • Singh, Talvin. Presents: Soundz of the Asian Underground. OmniLtd., 1997. CD.
  • Stokes, Martin, ed. Ethnicity, Identity and Music: The Musical Construction of Place. Oxford: Berg, 1994.
  • Walker, Eric A. Colonies. Cambridge: University Press, 1944.

Author: Yim Tan Lisa Wong, Fall 1997
Last edited: October 2017

2 Responses to "Hybridity and Postcolonial Music"
  1. garza1988 says:

    I disagree.

    – Carolina

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