BCM 111

First Things First I’m The Realest

Cultural appropriation VS cultural appreciation is a pretty fine line in today’s era of ever-evolving music and media, especially with the amount of nonconformity and variance of genres around the world. Music is a quintessentially nonrepresentational medium so how do we, as individuals, define what can be classed as appropriating? 

Cultural appropriation is nothing new to the music industry. For years, people of varying descent have been accused of misrepresenting the art-forms of different cultural groups and attempting to make them their own. Whether it’s Beyonce dressing as a Hindi woman or Iggy Azalea utilising the hip hop genre to gain in her career whilst contributing nothing to the African- American movement, cultural appropriation is a transnational issue that has been around since the early 20th century.  African-American music has been judged and stereotyped since its beginnings. While this level of criticism has always existed, there has also been a level of attraction to the culture surrounding, found in white American listeners. This is recognised to be extremely challenging and problematic, especially when it comes to modern-day music. Recalling the mention of Australian-born rapper Iggy Azalea, the ideoscopes and ethnoscopes (Turnbull, 2019) surrounding her tend to point towards the appropriation of African-American culture. Eberhardt (2015, p 1) recognises this when stating “it is the appropriation of language, along with discourses of race and the content of her music, in which she subscribes to stereotyped notions of blackness”. This is a particularly rich example of a white dominance that views cultural resources as ripe for the picking. Iggy Azalea as a rapper has ‘glocalised’ (Turnbull, 2019) hip-hop in Australia, but has done so in a way that does not give back to the true meaning of the genre. 

Turnbull S, 2019, Lecture 3, ‘Global Music’, University of Wollongong,

In contrast, Paul Simon’s album ‘Graceland’ acts as a catalyst for the appreciation of cultural difference. Studying the underlying factors of Azalea’s music, we can see the difference between the two.  Authenticity.  Graceland was largely critiqued for ‘exploiting ‘ South African folk music in order to potentially further his Simon’s career. However, Simon was interested in the sounds of South African music and took the time to educate himself on the cultural differences. Even South African tribal leaders and certain musicians took the chance to celebrate this and saw it as an opportunity for the world to hear this music due to the respect that was shown in the process.  A quote from Simon states “Culture flows like water, It isn’t something that can just be cut off.” (Taylor, 2014 p 23) Simon understands that his “culture” isn’t his to own: it is intellectual property of the Southern African musical genre. 

Taylor, T, 2014, p23 ‘Global Pop: World Music, World Markets, Routledge, NY

We can see the problems that arise when it comes to transnational media flows and the challenges that accompany them. However, one thing will always be certain:  authenticity is will always be a pure force driving a musical genre. It is constructed as outside the purview of such ideas as appropriation. However, cultural forms are open to the construction of impurity when they are not respecting or valuing this work, or even worse, claiming this culture as their own.

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