I was asked to talk to some college freshmen about music on the world stage. I thought about what I wanted to cover with them. I wanted to make sure that I made some connections that made sense. I wanted to offer them some new information. I also wanted to use the opportunity to address Hip Hop and how far-reaching it is as both a culture and a genre of music.
When you talk about music on the world stage it is with the understanding that music has always been global. Almost every culture has music as a part of it. Music is used to tell stories, it is a part of rituals and celebrations, it is a part of important ceremonies, and it is used as praise and worship. Classical music, opera, and other forms of music have inspired people for centuries. Just take a look at cultural traditions in Africa, Japan, and across the Caribbean. Look at the impact of music in America (Spirituals, Blues, Jazz, Soul, Hip Hop). So when you talk about music on the world stage you are talking about popular music in these modern times. Because culture is a major commodity in the world market.
When we talk about pop music we are talking about music mediated for the masses. That means that there is an entity (TV station, radio, record label, corporation of some kind) that is presenting the music to the people.
One good case study of the global impact of popular music is Hip Hop. Mainly because it’s only 40 years old and has grown to be an important form of music to communities across the world.
What we see when we look at Hip Hop globally is that it plays a role as protest music and social commentary.
Before we get too deep into looking at Hip Hop let’s look at some foreign pop stars…
Aryana Sayeed (Afghanistan) is considered the first Afghani artist whose music was spread internationally. The sound of the music is much like American club music, but if you look at the images in the video you see some of Afghani culture blended with what we know of pop here in America.
Fernando and Sorocaba (Brazil) are country singers. They are the number 1 artists on Brazil’s top 40 chart above Lorde who sings the hit “Royals.” It can be unusual to think that a Brazilian group would sing country, but remember music is global.
Li Yuchun (China) is a pop singer that beat out Justin Beiber to win the MTV Europe Awards honor for best act. In the video you see a blend of Chinese and American pop culture.
Music as a unifying force, a bridge. It can help bring together cultures. It is a way of understanding that is often universal. The musical backdrop can help people find common ground regardless of the difference in the language of the lyrics. If we clap a simple measure (musical term) out together and count them (similar to counting bars, a songwriting term), you’ll see how quickly everyone finds the same pace and stays together. There may eventually be some improvisation, but not at the expense of the group unity.This is an activity I use in workshops. The results are almost always the same. People begin to communicate together in a new language that feels familiar, rhythm. If you start to add other sounds you’ll eventually get a reverie that is on beat and in pace. This is even in a room with no musicians.
It is this language of rhythm that is part of the foundation of Hip Hop.
Hip Hop started in the South Bronx of NY. Changes in immigration laws and urban renewal put caribbean immigrants, Puerto Ricans, and Blacks in the same community. Social conditions, political climate, and cultural traditions fused to spark a new movement.
There are three main DJs credited with building the culture that all have island roots (DJ Kool Herc, DJ Flash, Afrika Bambaataa). Bambaataa was the leader of the Black Spades, one of NY’s most notorious gangs. He turned gang members into artists and ambassadors through Hip Hop. He then took them around the world on tour with him spreading the culture. He gave them the name the Zulu Nation (a reference to an African Tribe) and later The Universal Zulu Nation.
Because of this there are UZN chapters thriving today all across the world.This is the universality of music. With music as a bridge, various cultures across the world can find common ground and common struggle and join together in solidarity. Members of UZN consider themselves as family no matter the difference in geography.
There are a number of artists using Hip Hop to speak to the conditions they face in their countries. This includes social conditions as well as political perspectives.
The Palestinian Rap Group DAM
DAM – I Fell In Love With A Jew http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Z3-v09TQOQE
There is also a recognition of Hip Hop as a tool for reaching out to other countries. The US State Department uses American artists at ambassadors to other countries.
Toni Blackman – Invisible Woman http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=coIkYlzQlNY
Hip Hop is a valuable tool for sharing the emotions, frustrations, and ideas that people have. This can also tie people together.
In this Washington Post article the possibilities of Hip Hop (which is still present in independent Hip Hop in American, but not in mainstream/commercial rap) as a tool for change is highlighted. The appeal of music worldwide is evident in this article as well.
Music is global. It always has been and always will be. Whatever type of music you listen to or like, you can find something like it in another country. Music is a universal language.