Rockin' the Boat: Mass Music and Mass Movements

Rockin' the Boat: Mass Music and Mass Movements

Rockin' the Boat: Mass Music and Mass Movements

Rockin' the Boat: Mass Music and Mass Movements

Synopsis

Rockin' the Boat is about the relationship between mass-mediated popular musics... and political struggles around the world. - from the introduction.

Excerpt

Reebee Garofalo

On the eve of Paul Simon's 1992 South African tour -- the first such tour by a major U.S. artist since the lifting of cultural sanctions -- the offices of the promoter and sound company were bombed by the Azanian National Liberation Army. While the tour was supported not only by the white minority government, but also two of South Africa's main black organizations -- the African National Congress and the Inkatha Freedom Party - other anti-apartheid tendencies held that the lifting of sanctions was premature. Simon was undoubtedly considered an appropriate target because of the controversy that surrounded the release of his 1986 Grammy Award-winning album, Graceland, which was based largely on South African musical styles and was recorded mostly in South Africa under questionable circumstances, in violation of the UNESCO cultural boycott. Just as the bombing incident can be seen as one indicator of the degree to which culture -- and popular music in particular -- is taken seriously as a force in political struggle, the controversy surrounding Gracelandraises a number of issues which must be confronted head-on in any analysis of the role of mass music in global political change.

Graceland was, in many ways, a pivotal album of the 1980s. It was released during the ascendancy of the so-called "charity-rock" phenomenon, and no doubt benefited from the unprecedented international focus on Africa created by "mega-events" such as Live Aid and Sun City. (Simon himself appeared as a soloist on We Are the World, but interestingly refused to participate in the more radical Sun City project, which directly opposed violating the cultural boycott.) Historically, the album has taken its place as one of the defining contributions to the amorphous category of "world beat" or "world music," and as such has been at the heart of highly politicized discussions concerning musical appropriation and ownership on the one hand and "cultural imperialism" on the other. Because such issues invariably accompany discussion of the global political role of mass culture, they will surely surface among the readers of this collection.

Rockin' the Boat is about the relationship between mass-mediated popular musics -- that is, musics which share an intimate relationship with mass communication technologies -- and political struggles around the world. From West African highlife to political cantopop in Hong Kong, from Hungarian punk to the Aboriginal rock styles of Australia, the collection focuses primarily on musics which have combined mass cultural elements -- primarily Anglo-American and African-American -- with indige-

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