Musical sound is a way that people the world over imagine, imitate, and engage with people different from themselves. In the US, genres like hip-hop and country are ways we deal with and imagine the lived experience of race and class. ‘World Music’ and associated sounds—like Peruvian panpipes, Afro-Cuban rhythmic components, and Celtic melodies—tell us musical stories about people beyond our borders. But what do we really know about others when we listen to “their” music? And how do musical sounds come to represent certain bodies and identities in the first place, or even to “belong to” certain groups? What is the difference between cultural appropriation and creating or consuming music as a means of identifying with or advocating for others? How do technology and capitalism play a part in the power of music to cause both good and harm?
This course explores the processes through which sounds come to index certain cultural categories (race, gender, class, nationality, age, religion, sexuality) or global locations, and how musical material can be repurposed for political means. Students will investigate terms such as hybridity, exoticization, cultural appropriation, revivalism, and embodiment. We will look at case studies including minstrelsy in the US, “non-Western” college music ensembles, racial identity among Asian-American jazz musicians, bluegrass in post-Communist Czech Republic, white rappers, the international hip hop scene, and corrido listenership in the transnational Mexican community. Students will also have the opportunity to examine their own listening practices and to create and share playlists with peers.