Sample Cultural and Ethnic Studies Paper on Popular Music in Social context

Nature of the Relationship between popular music and the social and political context
Popular culture is term used to describe the distinctive ways of life a people, community, nation
or social group (Hall 1997). However, in this paper we focus on a useful distinction between
cultural practices such as drinking, eating, sports, fashion and religion. There are forms of
popular culture which are, in a specific sense of artistic cultural values composing of different
genres such as dance, visual arts, music and literature. Discussions of popular African culture
have for long revolved around the subject of authenticity. This is in regards to popular music and
the introduction of musical elements from Western musical styles to African music hence loss of
African values and traditions (Kirkegaard 2002). Artists of other genres in the field of popular
culture have been accused of imitating other peoples culture. During the second AEGIS
conference held in Leiden in July 2007 Daniela Waldburger led a panel titled “Popular culture
and politics – alternative channels of expression”. This was dedicated to the analysis of different
forms of popular culture such as music, video, theatre and dance. Research on music has
produced different theories that explore its meaning. A recurring theme in the early literature of a
community shows that particular cultural context that surrounds a distinct music practice
influences the music produced within those cultural boundaries (Lomax, 1976). Recently music
learning and teaching practices are influenced by socio-cultural characteristics and have
discussed how globalisation creates innovative music practices worldwide (Gaunt & Westerlund,
2013). In this paper, we will define the meaning of the relative terms in the topic such as; music,
social culture and political perspective. Popular music is the base of discussion in this article
therefore a lot of emphasis is on trending music or music that are listened widely. Music is
produced for distinct purposes; political, cultural, lifestyle and so on that are explained in this
paper. Music is also presented in political environments in regards to gaining popularity and
campaigning for a desired candidate or a specific subject matter. This is mostly experienced in
Africa therefore this paper will discuss the popular music and politics in Africa. This article will
also present comparison of the traditional music to the current digital world of music.

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Back in 1980, Hosbawm viewed culture as learned and shared behavior of something in which
feelings are expressed through many facets including language, art and religion. However, In
2000 Born and Hesmondhalgh revealed that such definitions illustrate western societies
misunderstand the concept and rather culture is an empty vessel waiting for people to fill it with
meaning. Culture may therefore affect musical behavior and music may also influence the
culture in which it is produced. Dunbar’s (2016) work, explores how music teachers in schools
can interprete how music is inherent in society and in turn that many aspects of society impact on
students’ lives. This he said will allow schools, students, communities to function more
effectively (Dunbar, 2009). Research in the field of ethnomusicology provides detailed analysis
that explains the interaction and the relationship that exists between music, society and culture.
Dunbar’s work, ethnopedagogy (2009) outlines the importance of cultural influence on music
traditions and notes the significance of this when exploring teaching and learning practices
(Dunbar, 2009). Furthermore, Dunbar believed that concepts and behaviours must be learned, for
culture as a whole is learned behaviour, and each culture teaches the learning process to accord
with its own ideals and values. Ethnomusicologist are aware of the diverse context of meanings
that musical rhythm elicits for members of the society concerned. Concepts, functions of social
and political dynamics and traditional trajectories of music are embodied in experience and
metaphorical accounts. Cultural factors interact in different ways with the stylistic and structural
features of music, to present music’s floating intention but often multi-layered and fluctuating
meanings. This meanings may be more precisely specified through channels other than the
musical sound , lyrics, body movement, ritual actions and visual symbols . The
ethnomusicologist Timothy Rice study of Bulgarian folk music revealed musical performance
practices to be rooted to political and social meanings. He admitted that music, as a highly
abstract, modeled practice with its own interior order and history, probably contains elements
which resist social and cultural determination at a given moment and thus in some sense have an
independent life of their own”. The other question is how far meaning is inherent in the style or
rhythm of music and performance. For example, in musical instruments of artifacts and in
musicians performance is meaning creation that is not complete until the end of the piece or
performance. The of Views of Hosbawm (1995) and Dunbar (2009) highlighted the extent to

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which culture can have on music and in cases music effects on cultural expression with the
authors concluding that music is culture and cannot be separated from life experience. Similarly
vein, Born and Hesmondhalgh (2000) noted that art produced is enjoyed by interested
individuals, those individuals are what they are in the content of their experience because of the
cultures in which they participate. This research asks how the concepts of music as culture and
culture as music reflected upon in contemporary learning environments. Durbar (2009) argued
that music can be an expression of the behavior of human groups, whether formal or informal.
Blacking’s use of the phrase ‘humanly organised sound’ denoted a sense of music beyond a
random sound event but as a process that is purposefully engaged in by the members of a
particular society albeit in ways which align with dominant or accepted socio-cultural norms.
Hosbawm (1995) earlier work also explored this opinion by suggesting that music functions
symbolically in several ways. These include; the context proper to a particular performance, the
listener’s way of perceiving the world in general, the standards of judgments to culture and, the
expectations of the performers and audience. The same conditions apply to music teaching in the
classroom since it relates to commonly held cultural determined expectations, perceptual
appreciations, standards and appropriate context. It is essential to recognise the cultural influence
and specific interplay between the many roles evident in the music learning and making process.
Dunbar (2009) supported this view, stating that “music is a product of man and has structure, but
its structure cannot have an existence of its own divorced from the behavior which produces it”.
Merriam believed that to conceive music as an organised sound, the behaviors involved in its
production and the meaning to these behaviors must be understood.
This idea embraces the view that music comprises various elements such as pitch, rhythm,
harmony, melody, and form (Dunbar, 2009).Crucial to understanding the notion of ‘organised’
sound is that several elements of music can be treated or used in certain ‘organised’ ways
(Hesbawm, 1995). Born and Hesmandhalgh (2000) and presented these elements as common to
all music cultures. Other authors perceive the common elemental approach to understanding
music useful to a point that they do not cite the social cultural perspective. The authors argued
that if elements of a given piece of music produced in another cultural context correspond with
the melodic composition, tonal patterns or rhythmic structures found in western art music, it does

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not give clear analysis since such observations rarely give rise to any meaningful understanding
of the social practices, and social meanings which entails the process of music in a given society.
Popular music and Politics in Africa
Western culture artwork has manipulated the preserved African culture that defined the African
ways hence contributing to the ruin of what their critics perceived as “true” African culture
(De Boeck et al 2005). However, we will focus and debate about the relationship between popular
music and politics in the African context. There is no accepted definition of popular culture in
the African context and some of the approaches offered in the literature are in fact quite
contradictory (De Boeck et al 2005). The liberalisation of radio and TV has facilitated the
emergence of new forms of popular culture which did not exist in the state-controlled media.
Hip- Hop inspired music which emerged in many African countries in the 1990s is an example
that illustrates the fruit of liberalisation. Since ‘mass’ aspect is of little use with regard to some
genres of popular culture, Newell proposes to re-settle the term ‘popular’ for the African context.
(De Boeck et al 2005). He presents conceiving of the “popular as the part of African creativity
which is non-elite, unofficial and urban”(Newell 2002). The concept of popular culture as a
venue of creativity by the non-elite means that the stakeholders involved in the creation of
popular culture need to be members of the so-called ‘masses’. There are marginalized majority
of the population who do not qualify to be called ‘popular artists’ since they are either few in a
country or they are forgot due to political reasons. Distiction of non-elite and elite has also
caused marginalization of a given group of people. The historian Eric Hobsbawm observed
education as the divisive factor that led to the disagreement among the consumers of popular
culture and high culture in Great Britain.“If one did not want to join the middle classes one did
not bother about seeing Shakespeare plays. Conversely, if one did the most obvious means being
to pass the requisite exams at secondary school, one could not avoid seeing them: they were the
subject of examinations” (Hobsbawm 1995). HipHop-inspired music in Senegal and Tanzania
was precisely young people from the small Tanzanian upper-class who had experienced the
privilege of higher education and access to popular culture from foreign countries who created
this new form of music. Creative and innovative forms of popular culture are “often the
exclusive” domain of the younger generation (ogude et al 2007). Youths are continuously

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adopting and incorporating global influences into their cultural products which are often viewed
as part of youth culture. Entrance barriers on the side of the production of popular music have
been relatively decreasing with the emergence of HipHop-inspired musical style which do not
require the performers to learn an instrument and new technologies hence make it relatively
cheap to produce. New forms of popular music in Ghana points at the positive effects of
“democratisation” of the music as the possibilities of cheap production enabled many youth who
had not been able to do so before to enter the music scene (Collins, 2002). However, the
conception of popular culture as a tool for political articulation of the oppressed was of course
not confined to Europe but also to Africa. Hobsbawm notes that in general, the role of artists
whether categorised as popular or not was different in countries with communist and regimes
such as the Apartheid-regime in South Africa because in these countries artists enjoyed the
“sense of being needed by the public” in the absence of real politics and practitioners of the arts
where they only spoke for what their people, or at least the educated among them, thought and
felt. In Latin America where the understanding of popular culture as the means of expression of
the marginalized masses was developed further, especially with regard to popular theatre where
activist and theorists such as Augusto Boal became influential far beyond the sub-continent
(Hobsbawm, 1994). In Africa this perception of popular culture as an empowering unity
certainly shaped the perspective of many scholars, to use character of popular culture was
sometimes taken as a defining characteristic of a problematic conception. Popular music also
help shape a country’s politics as was experienced in Kenya where the song Unbwogable played
a crucial role in the election campaign of the opposition in the 2002 elections (ogude et al 2007).
However, the fact that popular music can shape politics does not justify the assumption that it
necessarily has to work as the voice of the voiceless. An example of the role of music during the
era of apartheid in South Africa where music helped unite apartheid just as it helped take
apartheid apart. Songs which comment on social virtues or social ills, or songs which are in
praise of the political regime are much more frequent than political songs
(Olwage & Grant, 2008). Furthermore, it is often the same popular musicians who present political
praise songs at one occasion and songs in which they criticise aspects of the political attitudes of
the elites at another. This has made it difficult for the critics to gain awareness of bad or good
advocation. Most political regimes throughout Africa have fought against popular music which

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they regarded as containing criticism, fearing that the music would otherwise form a site for
resistance. Such a case was witnessed in apartheid South Africa as demonstrated by Anne
Schuhmann in this issue. Popular music is not only about censorship but also to interpretations.
The song Unbwogable by the Kenyan duo Gidi Gidi Maji, was originally not intended to be
political by the artists but was read by politicians whose reaction censored the public to interpret
the song to the regime of these days (Ogude et al 2007). The other strategy used by artists to
escape forms of resistance such as censorship is to frame their criticism in more subtle ways,
using means of language such as metaphors, slang and irony (Ogude et al 2007). Examples of
Songs in Relation to there Popular Culture
This type of song originates from Northern India. In that tradition, it is held that rāgas, melodic
schemas that form the basis of composed songs and improvised performances are meaningful
entities, whose meanings are commonly discussed by performers in terms of visual images and
affective responses (Leante, 2009). Performers, especially vocalists, mostly gesture with one or
both hands, when performing, and when describing the images and meanings that they attribute
to a rāga. Leante suggests that both musical and physical gestures express embodied meanings,
and that similar meanings also emerge in the visual images that performers describe verbally.
Performance depicts Śrī as a person with authority and high status such as a prince, a king, a hero
or a saint. The association with a sense of being in a high location illustrates a feeling of
devotion and surrendering and the idea of reaching out for something.
This is an aboriginal song in North-west Australia (Marett, 2005). It is a ceremonial dance-song
of the genre wangga which relates to significant cultural beliefs about ancestral spirits and the
ancestral lands that such spirits live in. Performance of such songs is a jealously guarded
privilege of the cultural members because the cult of their ancestors defines their social identity.
But the performance of this song invokes two such identities, and doing so creates a tension and
reconciliation that is precisely the meaning of the performance. The song refers through its lyrics
to the ancestors of the Marri-tjevin people who form the dominant Aboriginal population in the

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region where the song was. However, the singer belongs to a different clan, the Marri-ammu,
who enjoy close social and ritual relations with the Marri-tjevin, but have different ancestors,
language, and musical styles. The singer, Maurice Ngulkur, starts his performance by singing the
Marri-tjevin words in the style of a Marri-ammu song, in Marri-ammu rhythmic mode framed
by the rhythmic clapping of the clapstick players. Marett shows how the singer blends Marri-
ammu and Marri-tjevin principles of composition in this performance.
This is an urban folk music in the town of Bhaktapur, in the Kathmandu Valley, Nepal (Widdess
2006). It is a percussion piece played on the drum known as dhā̃ accompanied by a stick-dance
called ghẽtā̃giśi. This dance is performed only once annually as part of a seasonal festival that
combines elements of post-funerary ritual with satire and burlesque. The group of dancers and
musicians surround a tall bamboo pyramidal structure representing a family’s deceased relative,
which is paraded around the whole town along a circular processional route for about three
The argument put forward in this discussion concludes that to discuss music as phenomena is not
possible without acknowledging the ways in which the political, cultural context and society
impact on music practices. Music traditions have been noted to be dynamic and therefore can
shift and change over time. This has increased immensely due to global movements of people but
also due to the widespread access to other people’s music cultures contributed by technology.
One can only understand meanings associated with the music if they explore the notion of how
culture and society are reflected in a song. This view should be applied to a range of music
presentation around the world and increasing peoples understanding of such practices has the
potential to improve the ways in which we learn music. The other factor to reconsider is the
preservation of peoples tradition through music. Artists in Africa have tremendously moved to
Hiphop music of the western style hence Africa is loosing its sovereignty. Each culture of a
people have ways in which they express certain issues, ceremony, norms and tradition and this
should never be lost for a particular community. I would suggest the upcoming generation should

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be taught their traditions and sensitized to preserve it in their songs. However, technology to
some extend has helped us in understanding other people’s lifestyle and in uniting members of
different popular culture to collaborate and live together. Politics in music has contributed to
division and marginalization of particular cultural groups in a country. Political campaigns in
choosing of leaders tend to even divide artists who choose different sides for the candidates they
present praise songs to. However, there are political campaigns against subjects such as racism,
marginalization and other topics to raise awareness which presentations in music help sensitise
and change the society we inhabit. Music is therefore a fundamental tool in expressing people’s
way of life.

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