Mapping the Meanings of Dance Music

By Melville, Caspar | UNESCO Courier, July 2000 | Go to article overview

Mapping the Meanings of Dance Music


Melville, Caspar, UNESCO Courier


Caspar Melville [*]

By adapting global music trends, are young people dancing on the graves of their cultures or building new hybrid identities?

In the black townships around Johannesburg, South Africa, a new music culture is taking hold among youth. In the small clubs and storefront shebeens of these impoverished dormitory towns, young people are eschewing the government-sanctioned "authentic" music of Afro-jazz bands in favour of recorded sound. Just as Jamaican sound system operators back in the 1950s or South Bronx hip-hop DJs in the mid-1970s discovered, two turntables, a mixer and a microphone (made in Japan), a supply of vinyl records (pressed in Europe or the U.S.) and a competent DJ are all that is required to get the party rockin' until dawn.

Local eruptions of globalised "club culture" frustrate simplistic notions of authenticity (shouldn't Africans listen to African music?) or attempts to wrest a definitive meaning from youth culture (linked so often to music). The township kids have punctured and deflated the over-simplified analysis often surrounding Afro-diasporic music. In many cases, paths are traced from African origin--the music's "authentic roots" -- through to its re-articulation ("whitening") or commodification ("sell out") by greedy corporations based in the modern Western metropolis. That argument falls apart in places like the townships, where youth adopt music with Afro-diasporic roots (house music was born in the black-latino urban gay clubs of the U.S.) but routed through the cities of northern Europe. For these young people, it represents a highly valued link to the West--much as their heavily logoed jeans and baseball caps function as status symbols. But is their rejection of Afro-jazz for Euro-house a subtle form of reverse a ppropriation (whereby kids have adopted the music as their own) or merely bad faith (a rejection of their culture)? Music scenes like these are far too sophisticated to fit into the cramped confines of binary (either/or) analysis.

Instead of delivering easy answers, these music scenes raise critical questions: is globalisation a sign of the world's unification or cultural imperialism? Is this embryonic youth culture just another example of one-way globalisation--vinyl singles being exported from the First World to the Third along with Coca-Cola, designer jeans and other markers of conspicuous consumption, in the endless cycle of seduction and exploitation? Or is this the story of creative adaptation--youth as cultural bricoleur, mixing and matching symbols of prestige to create their own, autonomous subculture? Township DJs play house records at around 90 beats per minute (bpm), far slower than the 130 bpm pace preferred by the European audience. The reduced speed turns the propulsive, hectic "banging" into a glutinous and out-of-focus funkdub, more in keeping with the drinking culture of South Africa than the drug-induced speed of European scenes. With a flick of a pitch control, black youth resignify and re-claim a Europeanised form of "black" (Afro-American) music.

Replacing rock

Are these young South Africans building new hybrid identities or dancing at the funeral of their own cultural traditions? As Jeff Chang notes in his assessment of hip-hop (see p.23), it is never clear whether youth music cultures "reflect a hybrid youth rebellion or capitulation to global capitalism."

Therein lies the great promise, as well as the central dilemma, for academic analyses of youthmusic cultures, particularly "dance" or electronic music (house music and its derivatives), which has arguably replaced rock as the most globally significant popular form. Whether it is Detroit techno in Birmingham, trance in Goa (see p.51) or funk in Rio de Janeiro, there is no single theory to explain the meaning of dance music scenes. We simply cannot resolve the youth rebellion/commercial co-optation couplet once and for all.

Caribbean social theorist Stuart Hall reminds us (taking as a given the unequal distribution of wealth in a world "structured in dominance") that the basic principle of popular culture is contradiction, and that there can be no guarantee that the "meanings" encoded into cultural products (TV ads or records) will be those "decoded" by the audience. …

The rest of this article is only available to active members of Questia

Already a member? Log in now.

Notes for this article

Add a new note
If you are trying to select text to create highlights or citations, remember that you must now click or tap on the first word, and then click or tap on the last word.
One moment ...
Default project is now your active project.
Project items
Notes
Cite this article

Cited article

Style
Citations are available only to our active members.
Buy instant access to cite pages or passages in MLA 8, MLA 7, APA and Chicago citation styles.

(Einhorn, 1992, p. 25)

(Einhorn 25)

(Einhorn 25)

1. Lois J. Einhorn, Abraham Lincoln, the Orator: Penetrating the Lincoln Legend (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1992), 25, http://www.questia.com/read/27419298.

Note: primary sources have slightly different requirements for citation. Please see these guidelines for more information.

Cited article

Mapping the Meanings of Dance Music
Settings

Settings

Typeface
Text size Smaller Larger Reset View mode
Search within

Search within this article

Look up

Look up a word

  • Dictionary
  • Thesaurus
Please submit a word or phrase above.
Print this page

Print this page

Why can't I print more than one page at a time?

Help
Full screen
Items saved from this article
  • Highlights & Notes
  • Citations
Some of your highlights are legacy items.

Highlights saved before July 30, 2012 will not be displayed on their respective source pages.

You can easily re-create the highlights by opening the book page or article, selecting the text, and clicking “Highlight.”

matching results for page

    Questia reader help

    How to highlight and cite specific passages

    1. Click or tap the first word you want to select.
    2. Click or tap the last word you want to select, and you’ll see everything in between get selected.
    3. You’ll then get a menu of options like creating a highlight or a citation from that passage of text.

    OK, got it!

    Cited passage

    Style
    Citations are available only to our active members.
    Buy instant access to cite pages or passages in MLA 8, MLA 7, APA and Chicago citation styles.

    "Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences." (Einhorn, 1992, p. 25).

    "Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences." (Einhorn 25)

    "Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences." (Einhorn 25)

    "Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences."1

    1. Lois J. Einhorn, Abraham Lincoln, the Orator: Penetrating the Lincoln Legend (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1992), 25, http://www.questia.com/read/27419298.

    Cited passage

    Thanks for trying Questia!

    Please continue trying out our research tools, but please note, full functionality is available only to our active members.

    Your work will be lost once you leave this Web page.

    Buy instant access to save your work.

    Already a member? Log in now.

    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.