Many cultures on Earth developed music independently of each other. Other cultures adopted the music of a neighboring people and as they played it, it evolved into something distinctly their own. There was a richness to the sounds that came from every corner of the globe. Here in the beginning of the 21st century though, we’re losing that. We’re losing it fast.
With the invention of the internet, cultures have spread and so have ideas. At any given time, we can learn about the music from countless different regions and time periods. Since I’m such a music junkie, I primarily use the internet to discover new artists. What I’ve found lately is that there are many musicians from all over the world that have a distinctly Western sound. There are all of these bands from countries like India that have scales, rhythmic patterns and languages specific to their homeland but they instead choose to sing in English and use Western principles in writing music.
Just after I noticed this, I read an article online that talked about all of these pop groups in South Korea that are trying to make it big in the US. They’re fantastically popular in Korea, but they want to crack into the US charts and into the booming profits that our recording industry is known for. They discussed that the main problem with getting Americans to listen to K-pop is the language barrier so they’re now writing songs in English. Heads up America, K-pop is on its way.
Now, I realize that this all sounds xenophobic. I assure you that it isn’t. I wholeheartedly welcome the music from any culture into my hometown. What troubles me is that since our brand of music is so popular worldwide, other nations have been adopting its characteristics so that they can achieve that same level of success. In doing this, the young musicians are rejecting the traditional motifs of their people in favor of what is popular. Yes, music changes just like everything else, but this change is only pushing the global music scene towards global monotony. Imagine taking a beautiful painting and swirling all of the colors together until you have a big grey mess.
I now find myself in a conundrum. I want to hear musicians from other countries embrace the sounds of their culture, but I also want them to experience the same degree of success that Western musicians can achieve. American audiences aren’t going to suddenly develop a taste for traditional Ghanaian rhythmic patterns or Balinese Gamelan. That’s easier said than done. So where does that leave us? What do we need to do?
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Jeff Higgins is the founder of Groove Sandwich. He encourages you to embrace the noise.