Filed under: South Korea
♬ 마음은 날개
I’ve recently come into a lot of free time… So, I’ve been catching up on some reading, finally delving into some books on the subject of world popular music. I decided to start with Peter Manuel’s Popular Musics of the Non-Western World: An Introductory Survey. And while it does remind me of why I never read the assigned text books when I was in college, it has made me question how I quantify what it is about the music that I like – and post here.
First, defining Pop Music is a pretty sticky subject. Manuel spends the first chapter establishing numerous definitions depending on all sorts of Social-Economical criteria. Here’s the first paragraph from Manuel’s book:
Much has been written about the distinctions between folk, classical, and more recently, popular musics. It is often easy to regard such discussions, whether justifiably or not, as gratuitous exercises in abstract taxonomy, and it is clear that they are generally of more import to musicologists than to performers or audiences. Nevertheless, world musics often do lend themselves to broad, if occasionally ambiguous taxonomies, the clarification of which helps us to understand the nature of these genres in terms of the attributes they share or do not share with others. Moreover, many cultures themselves do distinguish between folk, art, and popular music styles. Hence such categories often can and should be employed as “-emic” constructs in understanding ethnic music from the perspective of its own culture. What should be avoided is not the use of clearly defined classifications, but rather the tendency to attach ethnocentric, class-centric, or idiosyncratic values to such concepts. At the same time, in order to understand the relationship between these different kinds of music, one must define the underlying, generally unarticulated criteria which distinguish them.
Clear as mud, right? It seems like when dissect something to death, you take all of the fun out of it. What I came away with after reading the first chapter is that there is no real clear definition. And really, to me it seems almost pointless. I just know what I like.
For example, I love the raw Afro funk from Dahomey like Orchestre Super Jheevs des Paillotes and Orchestre Poly-Rythmo. The labels that released those records were similar to the small Punk and Indie of the 80s and 90s. They were putting out bands that recorded live to two track – sometimes recorded at someone’s house – and released as singles in limited quantities. I’m sure that the person who released the record expected to made some money – but nothing on the scale of the Bollywood music industry. And I really enjoy that stuff as well. But Bollywood music is probably the most commercial most ever created. And the Steel Guitar versions are practically the muzak of India.
So what is it? Well, I’ve narrowed it down to three major “rules”, for a lack of a better term. First is geography. This was just an arbitrary decision. At the time, I decided to leave out South America, mainly because I thought I had heard all that there was to hear from that region… And I was wrong. I keep debating whether or not to start adding music from South America, but then I’d have to redesign that map at the top of the page… And I really don’t need a reason to not buy more records.
Second is the use of electric instruments. This is not to say that I do not like songs with all acoustic instrumentation. It’s just that I tend to prefer songs with electric guitar or organ. Better yet, is when an instrument that usually is not electrified is hooked up to an amplifier – like an oud, saz or, of course sitar. This is usually the result of the Folk Tradition being mixed with urban development. And it seems like you rarely hear this in more modern music, due to new technologies.
Which brings us to rule number three, which is a bit harder to define. But due to synthesizers and groove boxes, I tend to stick to the “Pre-digital age” production. There is a narrow window of time between the introduction of the electric guitar and the onslaught of the synthesizer. It seems like in some regions – like say some parts of Northern Africa – where that was only a matter of four or five years.
But rules are made to be broken. The song that I posted by Mayada doesn’t have any electric instrument. And the song Rahbaniyat by Omar Khorshid has some kinda of crazy sequencer going on in the background. It all really boils down to just taste.