Academic journal article Cross / Cultures

Track Studies - Popular Music and Postcolonial Analysis

Academic journal article Cross / Cultures

Track Studies - Popular Music and Postcolonial Analysis

Article excerpt

To reflect on "Postcolonial Studies Across the Disciplines" with respect to music and musicology is nothing new. It would be wrong to assume that with this text deconstructivist theories and critical theories of culture and eurocentrism are being applied to (popular) music or musicology for the first time. On the contrary, the turn to more dynamic concepts of culture in postcolonial studies has not emerged independently from (popular) music. In fact, music and music theory have been crucial to shaping and inspiring postcolonial criticism and knowledge, as the work of some of tiie most prominent representatives of postcolonial studies makes clear: Paul Gilroy develops his thoughts on The Black Atlantic1 closely alongside the music of James Brown, Jimi Hendrix, George Clinton, and Felá Kuti. Stuart Hall repeatedly refers to the developments of Reggae, for example, to explain the dynamics of terms such as 'diaspora', 'cultural identity', or 'imagined communities'.2 Edward Said's idea of "contrapuntal readings"3 as a strategy surely springs from his profound engagement with so-called 'classical' music from Europe.

Musical phenomena often serve as illustrations of world-views in postcolonial studies. In the following, I wish to propose a different focus on this rela- tionship between music and postcolonial studies. Popular music should not merely illustrate knowledge about the world but should be understood as an epistemological system of its own. The following outline emphasizes the modes distinctive to music. I raise the question of how and to what extent popular music and postcolonial theories correspond to utopie understandings of culture.

Based on the empirical analyses in my study tracks'n'treks: Populäre Musik und Postkoloniale Analyse,4 the following article summarizes my hypotheses and motivations for developing an analytical approach that considers postcolonial theory, popular music, and its practice as a theoretical and political project.

Identifying popular music as postcolonial music is the starting point of my analysis. What does popular music have to do with colonialism? In what ways is contemporary music intertwined with excessive colonialist desires and compulsions to categorize and represent? In the second and third section of my analysis, I attempt to shake off the burden of representation in music by pointing to the potentials of music as sensation: i.e. - to use Susan Sontag's words - becoming aware of the "erotics of art"5 or the erotics of sound. Based on musical forms, their dynamics and contemporary modes of production, I propose an alternative understanding of and listening to the world that is decolonial in motivation.

Part 1

Postcolonial Sonic Training

The Topophilia of the Agents of Popular Music: How Popular Music is Categorized

References to places, regions, countries, nations, or continents provide a central classification system for popular music. In fact, spatial references appear to be the most significant category for popular music besides references to sex and gender. References to origin are pointers to musical forms and 'typical' styles - and of highly varying quality for cultural representation: disco and club music (places of listening), 'Detroit House' and 'Hamburger Schule' (cities), 'Mali Blues' and 'Britpop' (countries). There are prefixes such as 'Afro-' or 'Latin-' which correlate music with entire continents; and there are even localizations determined according to geographical altitude or vegetation such as music from the 'Alps' or 'Jungle'. The attempt to compile a list of spatial references in artists' names, on album covers, and in songs would be doomed to fail due to its tremendous length: countless indicators of location could be found from Africando to the Zulu Nation, from 'Living in America' to 'Tales of Zimbabwe'. Apart from explicit references to places, we also associate many styles with particular areas: with salsa we immediately think of Cuba or New York; with tango, Argentina comes to mind; with banghra we see ourselves in the Punjab, London or Birmingham. …

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