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On Cultural Appropriation

On Cultural Appropriation

I have done some looking about on google books. The earliest book defining the term “cultural appropriation” which I found is Borrowed Power: Essays on Cultural Appropriation by Bruce H. Ziff, Pratima V. Rao, Rutgers University Press, 1997.

They define cultural appropriation as “the taking–from a culture that is not one’s own–of intellectual property, cultural expressions or artifacts, history and ways of knowledge.”

They give eight specific examples, one of which is, “Jazz, blues, soul, rap, and other musical forms emanating out of the Black musical experience in America are adopted by white musicians and audiences as part of a mainstream musical tradition.”

In order to understand why cultural appropriation is in some ways a good thing, let’s talk about jazz.

Let’s assume along with the authors that jazz developed through “cultural appropriation.”

Let’s talk about jazz instruments, say for a group with drums, bass, guitar, saxophone and piano.

Where did these instruments come from and how?

The drum kit derives from military drums used by marching bands on occasions where they were seated and not marching. The double bass derives from the 16th century violone, an Italian instrument. The guitar derives from the oud, brought from North Africa to Spain, where frets were added and it became the lute (from Arabic “Al’ud”). The saxophone was invented by Belgian musical instrument designer Adophe Sax in 1846. It too, came via military marching bands. The pianoforte, today generally called a “piano,” was invented by Italian instrument maker Bartolomeo Cristofori di Francesco around 1700.

So what about jazz? What were the precursors of jazz, and how did these instruments come together to make a typical ensemble instrumentation?

Public festivals were held in New Orleans at Place Congo featuring African-style drumming and dance until 1843. The origin of folk blues isn’t well understood, but certainly it contains both African elements, such as polyphony, syncopation, and call-and-response, and the “blues scale” as well as European elements, such as church hymns, 4/4 time, and the 12 tone scale and triadic harmonies. The cakewalk derived from African-American versions of popular tunes combined with a dance derived from the Seminole Nation in the 1880’s. Ragtime derived from dancehall music provided by pianists both black such as William Hogan and white, such as William Krell.

How did these musical strains come together with those instruments to create jazz? What is now sometimes called Dixieland, or traditional jazz, started in New Orleans in the early 1900’s. One important event cited was the end of the Spanish-American War in 1898, when many military units were demobilized in New Orleans and military band members hocked their instruments. That’s one way military band instruments such as the tuba (replacing double bass) and saxophone (replacing clarinet) came into prominence in Dixieland.

I could go on but I hope you get the point. Jazz would not exist without “cultural appropriation” as defined by Ziff and Rao, and that it is in some ways a good thing when cultures interact and borrow from each other, even when the power dynamics are severely skewed, it helps to normalize the situation by bringing the two cultures together and creating shared cultural norms and values.

Copyright © 2015 Henry Edward Hardy

30 October, 2015 - Posted by | anthropology, cultural appropriation, history, jazz, music, scanlyze | , , , , ,

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