That Music You Like – What Brand Is It?

8 11 2007

Brand of Music

By Derek Beres

The long history of relationships between music and corporate entities (or politics) did not start with the Age of Technology, but it may well reach its culmination here. Of all the yin-yang pairs that present themselves for contemplation, that of music and politics—while seeming to represent irreconcilable differences—does not need to manifest as opposition. (Taoists relate the symphony of bubbling springs to the internal politics of self-governance, poetically to boot.) Yet the story of these odd bedfellows is getting stranger, and harder to discern.

In the 1960s and 70s, the president of Guinea, Sékou Touré, funded an initiative to stir public pride, launching a system of national orchestras to play the folk music of Africa. He needed the support of the artistic community and wanted indigenous peoples of his homeland to be culturally courageous, especially as he was cutting off ties with the colonizing French, a move that injured his status among African leaders. Touré exhibited plenty of dictatorial prowess; his campaigns were not always popular. For many musicians, however, this movement became payday—sometimes the only prosperous gig around for artistically inclined hopefuls.

Touré’s initiative is only one example of that double-edged sword known as political music. The music itself wasn’t necessarily political, and much good came of it. The incredible Bembeya Jazz is still going strong after a decade-plus hiatus, as is the legendary Orchestra Baobab, formed in Senegal in 1970 under a similar political stratagem. They were not forced to play specific songs, but free to develop a plentiful catalog, as folk-based as it was progressive. The bands infused Cuban elements so tastefully that one hears the Afro-Latin mix with every guitar strum and percussive tap. One might also think of the similar fusion of military music along the Balkan trails, where Macedonian and Serbian troops picked up Middle Eastern percussion and carried the sounds north. Once used to signal battles and testosterone-fueled national pride, today some of the most unique music in the world is played in Southeastern Europe. Artists did what they always do: take the best aspects of any given situation, and make music from it.

Click here to read full column on Reality Sandwich.

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