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11.1.13

peer to peer music

Happy New Year, y'all!

I hope the start of your year has been smooth and delicious.

I haven't seene too much in the way of visual arts in the first 10 days of the year, yet, but I did go to a music performance thing earlier in the week that managed to elicit a series of complex responses that I feel like querying.





On Monday night, I was invited to an open mic/jam session by a new friend. I usually hate those things because I get ridiculously self-conscious and I have no idea why. It's the same with public karaoke and quite a lot of busking. It's inexplicable and I just do my best to ride it out.

It turns out I was deeply affected by a few of the acts and my reactions were curious enough to keep me thinking more broadly about music and sharing culture.

The white english hippy guy playing the fake digeridoo
Curiously, I heard the sound of the didge before i even knew what I was hearing. I was like a dog that pricks up its ears at a car a mile away. I knew it was in the room before I was. Almost.

Anyway, the guy playing it was just barely playing it - lots of hi-hop hand punches, mostly rhythms and some basic inflection, but no story-telling, no animal calls, nothing about the land at all and certainly no traditional connection - not really playing it how it's intended. No true understanding. It was the sound version of doing a dot painting without any understanding of its symbols and meaning.

And, like a similar reaction to fake or appropriated aboriginal paintings, I found myself getting incredibly angry at this guy. I wanted to get up on my soapbox and shout about colonialism and the foreign whiteman's complete ignorance of the culture, in using sound for sounds' sake; about disrespect for the underlying purpose of the instrument, its traditional significance and how offensive he was being.

There were a couple of things that stopped me from taking this guy down:

1. My complicit position in that relationship
2. A desire to not embarass myself in front of my friend and 'make a scene'.

The second is hardly a mature reason and, for me, an unusually 'Australian' response - aw, c'mon just have a good night, ey -  but I was there as a guest and the complexity of the issue made it a less obvious place for a takedown.

I did start a conversation with him, asking him about where he got the piece and, when he asked if I'd like to play it, I was incredibly restrained. I didn't ignore the issue - I let him know that it's an instrument that traditionally only men play- and he acknowledged that he was probably being offensive. I agreed. He proceeded to talk about his 'spiritual experiences' in India with it and i nodded politely, wishing that I knew the best thing to say.



The first point is the uncomfortable bit in this whole scenario:
Who am I to say?
I'm not aboriginal.
I know a little, but don't know enough about Australian indigenous culture and history to take a well-informed position. And, although I am passionate, supportive and aware of what's inaappropriate a lot of the time, as a white ghel from the burbs, I'm becoming aware that my yardstick of what is 'appropriate' is still way out of the park. Colonial habits die hard, it seems.
But if I say nothing, then i continue to perpetuate the problem, despite all of that.


And then there's the business of my relationship to african music that highlights that colonial habit of mine.


The moroccan band playing the hajhuj
These guys were legit. Playing together since they were kids, their music was based around this square stringed instrument, accompanied by a western drum kit, some toms and other percussion instruments - shaky bell things. It was quite a bass-driven sounds, deep and loose, almost like early banjo music. And the vocals were ulalational (did i just make up a word?) and atonal. It was furious in parts and reminded me of secret videos of whirling dirvishes.

Now, I ended up really enjoying these guys - they got the crowd really moving: dancing up a storm, participating in the call/answer situation (the type that I often cringe at, even when it's a completely justifiable 'heyyyy/hooooo'). I danced in a West-African style, a style that I have picked up over the years from dancing to African music and going to African cultural events.

And yet, again, I'm a white girl with no direct links to any African people. What gives ME the right to take those movements and use them for my own, to feel like I have the right to participate in these actions - likely poor substitutes for ones handed down through generations and culturally significant to a stack of people not my own.

Aren't I doing exactly the same as that hapless hippies with his plastic didge? Probably.



So what are the lines of sharing, then? And what are the lines of sacred?

Is music to be sequestered away to each small territory and solely for the bearers of its origin?
I really hope not (especially because I really love azonto and want to keep dancing to it). Musical style and form has been snipped and stolen, influenced and traded for centuries - and not just by white european overlords.

But it's also not a free-for-all, there for the rape and pillage by those who have the privilege of access.

Knowledge and respect are a huge part of it - understanding of the codes of culture linked to specific times/places and there to guide use. However, as a whitey, I feel like I don't actually know what those boundaries are and that perhaps what I have been raised to think of as 'respect' is often justification.

And above all of that, what is more important in a bar in Kingston on a Monday night? Abiding by culturally appropriate forms of musical culture, or just smiling and having a good time?


Postscript
There isn't time to make the link in this post, but I am seeing the correlation between cultural appropriation vs sharing influence of music (style) and proprietry vs peer-to-peer sharing of music (content) - something I would like to investigate further.

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