The ideas of appropriation and bastardization often weigh on my mind, as I do listen to a ton of music from outside my culture. It also is in part because my dad always made sure I knew the origins of songs and beats. To me, there seems to be this very fine line be appropriation and bastardization in music. The difference being that I view appropriation as an outside mainly using a culture to make money or headlines and bastardization is a step further, like in case of black face. There’s obviously no direct line in the sand for you to cross from one to another and I’m certainly not an expert on the matter.
The thought of appropriation often poses questions I struggle with. What would I do if I had a music career? Likely a sound more influenced by hip hop that Greek folk songs. Is that okay? How do you balance your influences and how you present yourself on stage? The combination of yes people and more money can corrupt people into creating an image to be trendy, so would that happen to me? If I were a musician, I could see myself getting the same criticism as Iggy Azalea does because I love my Timberland boots, use the word y’all as it’s more gender neutral and would be a supporter of legalized recreational marijuana (its stupid it’s not, especially with health benefits and alcohol being legal). I’m more obsessed with the idea of cultures and learning about each one than simply obsessing over one particular one. Sub cultures and underground scenes especially. How do you appreciate a culture and love it so much and not steal and bastardize it? Do you stay keep a distance and what’s the appropriate distance? Does that hurt or help this nation’s racism issue?
I don’t know if I’ll have answers in this post, but I want to touch the history, some current examples and give credit where it’s due. There will be a lot of text up front as we get through this sort of essay on the matter (just like college, ripping from Wikipedia), but I’ll be sharing links at the end and a few photos throughout. I’ll also break it up in sections according to the culture / time period being appropriated just to make it a little more readable. There’s a ton I’m going to leave out as well, but please do some research yourself or ask me in the comments! I’d love to hear from you and talk more.
In music, appropriation is the use of borrowed elements (aspects or techniques) in the creation of a new piece, and is an example of cultural appropriation (the adoption of elements of one culture by members of a different cultural group).
Since at least the Renaissance, musicians, composers, music publishers have been part of a wide-ranging and continuous process of cultural appropriation that developed in the wake of the European colonization of America, Africa, Asia and Oceania. By the time Bach and Händel were writing their great instrumental works during the late Baroque, the rhythms and timings of these dances had already been appropriated, formalized and incorporated into the structure of elite European ‘art’ music. This trend continued in 18th and 19th century with folk-dance crazes.
One well-known example of cultural appropriation into the European classical music genre arose from the 18th century fad known as “Orientalism”, in which music, architecture, costume and visual arts from “Oriental” cultures became highly fashionable. One of the most enduring artifacts of this fad is the third movement of Mozart’s popular Piano Sonata No. 11 in A major, K. 331, known as the Rondo alla turca (“rondo in the Turkish style”).
Late 1800s and Early 1900s
Beginning around the turn of the 20th century, the invention of sound recording and motion pictures enabled American mass-entertainment culture to begin to develop into a major global economic and cultural force.
Simultaneous with this process, two emerging streams of non-Western music—African-American music and Latin music—were discovered by American and European audiences, and they were rapidly appropriated by the mainstream music industry. Over the next hundred years these two broad genres were to have a massive transformative effect on the structure of popular music and the direction of the music industry.
In the 1890s working-class dancers, composers and musicians in the La Boca area of Buenos Aires in Argentina invented a daring and sensual new dance style which was dubbed the tango. It took Argentina by storm and after reaching New York during World War I it became an international sensation.
More or less simultaneous with the tango craze, a novel African-American style known as ragtime emerged in the United States. Ragtime introduced African-derived syncopated (“ragged”) rhythms into Western music and enjoyed a tremendous international vogue over the next twenty years, as well as exerted a huge influence on the subsequent development of jazz. Ragtime and then early jazz transformed American popular music—the work of songwriters like George Gershwin was crucially shaped by their appropriation of influences from African-American music—and these genres also strongly influenced many European classical composers.
Early America Appropriates Hawaiian Music That Appropriates Croatian Music
Alongside the emergence of jazz, beginning around 1915, Hawaiian music reached the mainstream pop market in the United States. The Hawaiian style (or, more often, Western imitations of it) became a major music fad, retaining a significant audience following from the 1930s to the 1950s.
Hawaiian music was itself a complex mixture of European, native Hawaiian and other Polynesian influences. This is well demonstrated by the work of one of the founders of the genre, Queen Lili’uokalani (1838–1917), the last Queen of Hawaii (pictured below) before the monarchy was overthrown. A musician and composer, she is credited as the composer of the unofficial Hawaiian anthem “Aloha ‘Oe”. She indeed wrote the lyrics and arranged the music but in fact she appropriated the tune from a Croatian folk song called “Sidi Mara na kamen studencu”.
Latin Music: Samba, Rumba and Jazz Have a Ménage à Trois
In the 1930s, the “Latin invasion” that had begun with the tango took off again when American jazz, dance music, and popular song were revolutionized by the “discovery” of other music forms of the Caribbean, Central and South America, a process that was triggered by a significant influx of migrants to the United States from Cuba, Puerto Rico and other Caribbean islands in the 1940s.
The blending of Latin rhythms and instrumental jazz was pioneered by established American musicians like Duke Ellington. Latin beats rapidly became an essential part of the rhythmical vocabulary of American popular music, providing composers and musicians with a vastly enhanced repertoire of beats and meters. During the 1930s and 1940s, newly appropriated Latin music genres created a series of music movements and dance crazes, including the merengue, the samba, and the rumba.
In 1944 The Andrews Sisters appropriated the song “Rum and Coca-Cola”, which had originally been recorded by Trinidadian musician Lord Invader in the 1930s. The Andrews Sisters’ version sparked a new fad for this infectious new style, calypso. The craze reached its apex of popularity in the mid-1950s with the release of the hugely successful Harry Belafonte single “Banana Boat Song”.
In the late 1950s, repeating the impact of the tango, a seductive new music style called bossa nova emerged from Brazil and it soon swept the world, exerting a huge effect over the course of Western pop and jazz over the next decade and beyond. Nothing better illustrates the lasting impact of this hugely popular genre than the archetypical bossa song, “The Girl From Ipanema”, written in 1962.
The Lion Doesn’t Sleep: Solomon Linda
One of the more controversial examples of cultural appropriation, the pop song “The Lion Sleeps Tonight”, came during the 1950s. “The Lion Sleeps Tonight” was actually an unacknowledged rewrite of the song “Mbube” by Solomon Linda.
A copy of Linda’s recording reached the American musicologist Alan Lomax; he passed it on to his friend Pete Seeger, who fell in love with it, and it was Seeger who was mainly responsible for popularizing the song in the West. Seeger recorded a version of the song with his noted folk group The Weavers in 1952, retitling it “Wimoweh” (an inaccurate transliteration of the song’s original Zulu refrain, “uyimbube”). They scored a US Top 20 hit with their studio version, and had further success with a live version, which led to it being covered by The Kingston Trio in 1959.
The Weavers’ Carnegie Hall version of “Wimoweh” became a favourite song of The Tokens—they used it as their audition piece when they were offered a contract with RCA Records—and this led to them recording it as their first RCA single. However, it was at this point that the lyrics were re-written by the band’s producers (who took full credit for the song) and it would be several decades more before the full story of the appropriation of Solomon Linda’s work became widely known. Sadly, by then Linda had long since died in poverty. Solomon Linda is shown below.
Civil Rights Helped By Appropriation?
Around the time folk was becoming popular, many performers and fans also came to acknowledge African-American music—especially blues and gospel—as a vital element of folk, ultimately contributing to the breakdown of entrenched industry prejudices that had for decades divided the record market into separate ‘pop’ (white) and ‘race’ (black) markets. This connection led to the folk music movement playing an important part in the accelerating civil rights movement of the 1950s and ’60s. On stage, many African American ‘folk’ performers were able for the first time to perform side-by-side and as equal attractions with white performers, as evidenced by the multiracial lineups at American folk scene’s peak annual peak event, the Newport Folk Festival.
Free Love Means Global Appropriation (But Especially Indian)
Western pop musicians first began to explore the music of other cultures in the mid-sixties, when they began to mix Western electric pop with influences taken from the traditional music of India and other North African / Middle Eastern / Asian countries. The interest in “ethnic” music by groups like The Beatles and The Rolling Stones, combined with their worldwide popularity, encouraged other performers and a growing number of record buyers to seek out recordings of non-Western music.
An example of the Rolling Stones’ influence by ethnic music comes in 1968. Guitarist Brian Jones recorded the Master Musicians of Jajouka in the village of Jajouka in northern Morocco. Although there was some criticism of the electronic treatments Jones applied to the recordings in post-production, the LP was one of the first recordings released in the pop market that showcased traditional Moroccan music.
In early 1965, during a tour of America, David Crosby of The Byrds introduced George Harrison to the sitar and the traditional classical music of India. George was captivated by the sound of the instrument; he soon developed a profound interested in Indian music, culture and spirituality, and sparked a trend by taking sitar lessons from Indian sitar virtuoso Ravi Shankar. In October 1965 Harrison made pop history when he played a sitar on the Beatles’ recording of the John Lennon song “Norwegian Wood (This Bird Has Flown)”.
Other musicians were attempting similar fusions at the time. Brian Wilson, for example, used a koto on one of the songs on The Beach Boys’ classic Pet Sounds LP, but arguably no other single recording had the instant and worldwide impact of “Norwegian Wood”. Another early use of the sitar in pop was on The Rolling Stones’ hit single “Paint It, Black”, released in May 1966.
Another world/pop crossover style that emerged in the 1960s was Jamaican ska. It gained a considerable following in the United Kingdom, especially in the mod and skinhead subcultures, thanks to artists such as Prince Buster and Desmond Dekker. An example of a song influenced by Jamaican ska you probably know would be the ska-influenced “Ob-La-Di, Ob-La-Da” by the Beatles. At the same time, Desmond Dekker became the first Jamaican musician to score a number 1 hit in the UK with the 1968 reggae song “Israelites”.
Reggae was a distinctive local style that evolved in Jamaica, although its development had been strongly influenced by earlier American soul and R&B. Reggae became widely popular in the UK mostly thanks to Jamaican-born singer-songwriter Bob Marley, who was one of the genre’s main founders and one of its most prolific and consistent songwriters. Reggae’s popularity in Britain was greatly assisted by the fact that a large number of black immigrants from the Caribbean had settled in England since the end of World War II.
In 1972, Johnny Nash scored a major international hit with the reggae-styled “I Can See Clearly Now” (with The Wailers as his backup band). His follow-up single “Stir It Up” was penned by Bob Marley. The style gained wider popularity that year with the cult success of the Jamaican movie The Harder They Come, which starred reggae musician Jimmy Cliff, who also wrote and performed much of the soundtrack album.
Internationally, the most successful appropriators of reggae for mainstream pop audiences were the British band The Police, who scored a string of hit singles and hit LPs in the late 1970s and early 1980s, with pop songs played in a reggae style, such as “Walking on the Moon”.
South American Music Is “Discovered”
Another important landmark in the growth of the world music genre, and one which is often overlooked, came in 1970 with the popular Simon & Garfunkel single “El Cóndor Pasa”, taken from their multi-platinum selling Bridge Over Troubled Water LP. Like Harrison’s use of sitar, Paul Simon’s use of Andean folk instruments (including the pan flute) was a pop music “first”. His evocative English-language adaptation of a traditional 18th-century Peruvian folk melody by Jorge Michelberg gave many listeners their first taste of the flavor of Peruvian folk music.
Paul Simon Strikes Again
In 1986, Paul Simon re-emerged as a catalytic figure when he revisited the world music / pop fusion concept he had first used on “El Cóndor Pasa” in 1970. His influential, multi-million-selling Graceland album bore the unmistakable stamp of Simon’s recent discovery of South African township music, and he recorded the album with leading South African session musicians and the vocal group Ladysmith Black Mambazo. These musicians performed on the subsequent concert tours, as did two other special guests, exiled South African music legends Miriam Makeba and Hugh Masekela. Simon received some criticism for his decision to record in South Africa (which was being economically boycotted by most Western nations for its Apartheid policies).
Hip Hop Sparks More Debate
Hip hop music began as an underground urban phenomenon in the 1970s, achieved mass popular success by the late 1980s and early 1990s, and by the end of the century it had become dominant over rock as the largest selling style of pop music and the primary musical export of the United States.
The importance of musical appropriation to hip hop culture has often been controversial, with many legal challenges to uncredited samples, and heavy criticism for instances where paid samples simply copied the sound of the original song (for example, Puff Daddy’s sampling of a hit by The Police); however, many hip hop musicians and others have argued that sampling in hip hop is no different from the often uncredited appropriation white classical and rock musicians made of earlier black music styles such as jazz and blues, and that the DJ’s creativity, as well as that of the rapper, allows the song to depart significantly from the original sources.
Samples in hip hop are typically only brief snippets of the original, though they often utilize the most recognizable riff or hook of the song. Many hip hop songs sample other forms of African American music, as well. Hank Shocklee of the influential hip hop group Public Enemy has publicly debated the practice with funk bandleader George Clinton, who sued Public Enemy for sampling one of his songs without permission.
As of the 2000s, sampling has become a common form of appropriation in pop music, which has drawn increased influence from hip hop. For example, Barbadian dancehall/pop singer Rihanna’s 2006 hit “SOS” drew directly from the song “Tainted Love” by 1980s English synthpop band Soft Cell. Although both were successful on the Western pop charts, the two acts may have been seen to reflect very different cultures before the appropriation.
At this point, you’d think we would have moved past appropriation as music has become this melting pot, especially with the help of the internet. Access to music is easier than ever but that’s another subject. It seems that appropriation has become more apparent in our pop stars these days. I’m going to focus on some links about our leading pop ladies so you can get more than one opinion.
8 Most Cringe Worthy Acts of 2014: Some of these artists will pop up again, but I did like this list for including a man, although I don’t believe it’s the best example. I thought I had read somewhere that Pharrell actually had a tiny, tiny amount of Native American heritage but I could be wrong on that “fact”. The headdress is also an unfortunate common incident among young, white Hollywood so to single him out is a bit unfair. It’s also a really relevant list, being from just last year.
Bust.com Breaks Down Appropriation In Pop Music: This is fantastically and passionately written. It made me uncomfortable at times, but at times, talks on race can be. You gotta get your big girl pants on and read through, listening to the words as you read. The body part does leave me with some mixed feelings.
Obviously, big back sides have been glorified on black women and I don’t think we should glorify one body forever now but as a white girl that’s all booty, I do love kind of love that we can openly admit to loving a good rump. I’ve always been bottom heavy and used to get teased about it so having role models that embrace their curves, no matter their skin color has helped me get over and self conscious issues. Also, I get to sing about myself with Kanye lyrics so who wouldn’t feel better about themselves after that?
She got a ass that’ll swallow up a g-string
And up top, unh…
Two bee stings
I do think the promoting of overly unrealistic and uniform body types is unhealthy though so I guess I come at it from a more general body image acceptance side.
Katy Perry: Top Offender: Here’s things you’ll never see me do: corn rows (I did as a kid, sorry!), don any sort of tint to my skin, or anything Katy Perry does. Her tunes are catchy, sure, but she just trend hops with her videos ripping off a culture each time. A friend is getting married in Jamaica next year and I do keep threatening to crash her wedding dressed as a typical white tourist with vacation rows. Yes, she’s compared me to Riff Raff. She also prematurely made fun of me for the sunburn I’d get.
BigThink.com: Quicker read than this post, but I think everything is at this point. Definitely dig the focus on male artists as these links are mostly focused on female artists.
The Daily Dot: I appreciate that this one gives examples of white artists successfully not crossing the line. Sometimes, I do agree with the Iggy criticism and sometimes I don’t. I know I wouldn’t rock a culture’s traditional wear unless requested by a gracious host or required in a holy area, but sometimes I feel like she comes from a true place and is just a bit misguided. I think they want to brand her as a rapper, but she skirts the genres in a fast flow pop sound. It also seems like the focus on her appearance is more than other white rappers or hip hop artists because she’s female and it is a pretty male dominated genre.
That’s it everyone! I do hope y’all stuck through the post and enjoyed learning more about the history of music. I know it was a doozy but I feel it’s important to try and open the discussion and work with one another. If you have anything to add, let me know in the comments!