Genre-specific Identities in Music

Our class discussion about the appropriation of cultures or musical genres raises many interesting considerations.  I couldn’t help but notice that many of the points and questions raised only encompass identity based on lyrical content and artist behaviors.  I feel that addressing the topic by considering that these sub-genres are products of interwoven styles, based on sound and arrangement, may lead to a different opinion of identity.

Many of us fall victim to a narrow mindset regarding artist identity, which simply recalls upon the familiar.  Why do we not contest a white man playing the banjo, which originated in Africa, but find the relationship between black performers and “Bluegrass” instruments puzzling?

Through my reading of various articles related to the inter-relationships between music, identity, and genres, I have encountered ideas that speak to a troublesome approach that we often take in categorizing music and judging performers.  A major problem rests in the fact that we, too often, categorize and identify artists regardless of the “type,” “style,” or “genre” of music that they play.  We identity performers based on race, ethnicity, geographic background, economic status, and more.  The result is numerous generalizations and limitations.  Rather than identifying these individuals based on the music that they perform, we anticipate a certain product based on our preconceived notions about what they “should” associate with and produce.  This idea is conveyed in the following quote:

“All these acts of labelling suggest the process of standing outside a group and looking in to see what sort of music is to be found.  Suppose the group is really the product of its musical activities and the cultural values bound to them?  What if excessive concern with the musical text deflects one from seeing the formation of diverse groups and music histories.”

These words bring to mind the many sub-genres that we discussed in class.  When we limit artists to genres based on their human traits, we subsequently confine people to certain possibilities and dictate what performers should and should not do.

Attributed to the idea that identity is “a process not a thing, a becoming not a being,” the author argues that “what makes [music] special for identity…is that it defines a space without boundaries (a game without frontiers).  Music is thus the cultural form best able both to cross borders-sounds carry across fences and walls and oceans, across classes, races and nations-and to define places…we are only where the music takes us.”  When we look at genres as non-race, culture, etc.-specific, then we will no longer reduce artists to stagnant identities that cannot be altered.



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