Academic journal article Yearbook for Traditional Music

Gospel Music in Japan: Transplantation and Localization of African American Religious Singing

Academic journal article Yearbook for Traditional Music

Gospel Music in Japan: Transplantation and Localization of African American Religious Singing

Article excerpt

Introduction

Gospel music is a type of Protestant Christian music in both white and black American traditions. White gospel or European American gospel music dates back to the late-nineteenth-century revival movement and has developed within three identifiable traditions: northern urban gospel, southern gospel, and country and bluegrass gospel. Black gospel or African American gospel music emerged in the 1930s in northern industrial cities, drawing on spirituals, jubilee singing, the blues, and hymnody from various traditions, then developed and flourished throughout North America. Today the influence of gospel music, particularly from the African American and northern urban white traditions, extends across many cultures (Shearon et al. 2012). In Japan, African American gospel music has become very popular since the early 1990s, and its popularity continues to the present day. This paper examines the way that African American gospel music took root and was localized in Japan in its social, cultural, and historical contexts.

Gospel music is one of many globalized genres of American musical tradition. Globalization goes hand-in-hand with localization, and there is growing academic interest in local variations on globally circulated popular-music genres (Kimoto 2009:2, 4). For example, both Japanese and non-Japanese scholars and authors have written extensively about the adaptation in Japan of such musical genres as jazz (Atkins 2001; Segawa and Ootani 2009; Mouri 2010), hip hop (Condry 2006; Kimoto 2009; Hosokawa 2002), Hawaiian music (Hayatsu 2007; Kurokawa 2004), rock (Inoue 2009), rumba (Hosokawa 1999), and tango (Savigliano 1994). Japanese adaptation of these musical genres has been explained using various terms, including Japanization, localization, appropriation, authentication, and indigenization. Nevertheless, the explanations consistently note that the Japanese practice in transplanting musical genres is "neither shabby reproduction nor a cheap imitation ... but an interpretation of the Other ... fused with the Japanese vernacular culture" (Hosokawa 1999:4). The dissemination of a musical genre from its birthplace to other parts of the world involves "the detachment of sound from its original context and from the ethnic, religious, familial, racial, linguistic and social implications underlying the (original) sound" (ibid.:3). Consequently, the process also involves the production of new meanings and functions of the music in accordance with its new environment. These phenomena are equivalent to what Anthony Giddens called "disembedding" (1990:21) and "reembedding" (ibid.:79-80), and are also compatible with the concept of the "evolving form-content relation" addressed by Ingrid Monson in her study of African American music (1990). Monson argues that the relationship between musical sound (form) and the cultural meaning attached to it (content) changes over time through cultural interaction. It is important to examine this process of cultural dissemination, adaptation, re-interpretation, and production of new meanings in relation to the discourse, history, and material contexts that enable and also condition individual and collective musical experiences (Hosokawa 2002:200). In so doing, one is able to reveal and understand-at a microscopic level-the nature of the multifaceted phenomena of cultural globalization/localization, which constitute contemporary cultural complexity.

One might question, then, the significance of studying gospel music in Japan if it is just another example of cultural globalization/localization. My response is that gospel music in Japan shows at least four unique characteristics. First, unlike many other world musical cultures introduced to Japan, gospel music is widely performed among amateurs. For its Japanese aficionados, gospel is music to be performed, rather than for just listened to. Second, although gospel music is a genre of Christian music, the majority of its practitioners in Japan are non-Christians-Christians constitute less than 1% of the total population of the country. …

Search by... Author
Show... All Results Primary Sources Peer-reviewed

Oops!

An unknown error has occurred. Please click the button below to reload the page. If the problem persists, please try again in a little while.