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ethnic components of music

Discussion in 'Miscellaneous [BG]' started by nonsqtr, May 21, 2004.

  1. nonsqtr

    nonsqtr The emperor has no clothes!

    Aug 29, 2003
    Burbank CA USA
    Hi all, I got interested in this topic after reading several threads on TB and on another bass-related forum. I'll say in advance, that this question has nothing to do with racism, and please don't even go there. (Moderators, if you see anything ugly in this thread, feel free to delete it).

    Here's the question. Several of the threads I've been reading have been discussing the "ethnic experience" or "ethnic milieu" that seems to be an important component of certain kinds of music, for instance salsa, or reggae. Several people commented that white bands (and specifically bands with white lead singers) don't usually do very well playing these styles of music.

    The gist of the comment is that it's somewhat laughable seeing white people trying to salsa, or something incongruous about a white boy singing about Trenchtown with a faux Jamaican accent. And I gotta say, I get some of that same gut reaction when I see that stuff.

    Now, I'm the farthest thing from a racist there ever was, but I do have a lot of respect for the ethnic origin of music. As a bass player, I like all different kinds of music, and I love playing salsa and reggae. I've even gone way off into ancient Japanese scales and stuff like that. In my opinion, the ethnic component and ethnic origin of some of these flavors of music is a central component of the style.

    My own viewpoint is, that I can best respect the music by not trying to do covers of songs that I know aren't going to come off well on stage. For instance, I would never try to sing a Bob Marley tune on stage, especially for a black audience. I couldn't do it very well, and for that reason it would be somewhat disrespectful to try (the logic being, that Bob's kind of special when it comes to reggae in general, with the honesty and the strong spiritual content that's evident in his music). I'll play "anything" in the privacy of my own home, or jamming with friends, but in a professional setting I want to try and respect the music as much as possible.

    But that's just me. I was wondering how other people feel about this. Do any of you cross ethnic boundaries in your cover bands? What's the audience reaction, and does it change according to the audience?

    I'm mainly asking about cover bands, 'cause I'm totally hip to people doing recordings. Recordings usually put some mental distance between the performer and the audience, and allow the audience to focus on the music instead of the performer. On stage it's different. At least that's my take.

    Are any of you white folks in reggae or salsa cover bands? Any of you black folks doing death metal or punk rock?
  2. ONYX


    Apr 14, 2000
    I'm not in a Salsa (mmmmmmmm.......Salsa....) band or a Reggae band, but, I see your point. I like to use so-called "ethnic" music as a spice in my playing style. I might reggae-ize a blues line or salsa-fy a jazz run, but I wouldn't make any pretense to be actually playing that style music.

    As far as I'm concerned, music is music. It should be taken for what it is. However, I do raise my eyebrows when I see rich white kids singing about how hard life is on the streets of the inner city........
  3. bmc


    Nov 15, 2003
    Interesting thread, particularly since you mention reggae.

    I went to Jamaica about 20 years ago on vacation. I love music. I love reggae. While dancing to reggae with local Jamaicans on the floor, I quickly realized that they were interpreting the music totally differently than I was. I had to stop and watch. There was such a groove/feel that I never and still don't feel like the locals do. It drove me nuts, and stil drives me nuts. As for playing it, I do lazy open reggae version of Knockin on Heaven's Door that has lots of room for big fat notes and open spaces. I just know in the back of my head that Robbie Shakespear would be laughing his head off at me for doing it all wrong. It works in our context and I know it sounds just fine. That expereince from back then gained a lot respect and envy for hearing it the way they do. Yeah mon!
  4. Bruce Lindfield

    Bruce Lindfield Unprofessional TalkBass Contributor Gold Supporting Member

    I play in a Salsa band and last week we had a storming sold-out gig - we had a lot of people dancing - many of whom were of Brazillian, Spanish etc. origin. So I was impressed with one guy's dancing - incredibly athletic - he's a friend of our singer's sister, who is a professional dancer and Brazilian; but anyway, he came up to me after and said how well we played and how much he liked it.

    There was no mention of the ethnicity of our band - mostly white middel-aged guys like me although, as I say we have people of Brazilian, African and even Indian origin....
  5. Woodchuck


    Apr 21, 2000
    Atlanta (Grant Park!)
    Gallien Krueger for the last 12 years!
    Whenever I play in a freeform jam, I always go into a stacato style Bossa. No matter what genre you're playing, it always adds some ooomph! Of course you have to suit to taste.
  6. cowsgomoo

    cowsgomoo gone to Longstanton Spice Museum

    Feb 8, 2003
    I think the easiest way to challenge a contention of the 'white people can't play XXX, black people can't play XXX' variety, is to challenge the person claiming this, to listen blindfold to a selection of music that you choose, and ask them whether they're prepared to guess the ethnicity of guitarist A, cellist B etc...

    I don't think it can be done - I think any 'lack of authenticity' in playing a particular style music is anyways down to lack of skill or familarity with the genre, not because of anything in your genes

    we need to separate the musical aspect of this from the 'cultural authenticity' discussion, which is less about whether you have the ability to play a style, but whether you have a 'moral right' to play a certain style...
  7. Against Will

    Against Will Supporting Member

    Dec 10, 2003
    Big Sound Central
    I don't think its so much a racial thing. If someone grew up listening to metal and punk, they'll be able to replicate that sound much more faithfully and on a deeper level than someone whose just doing it as a gimmick or a cover. Similarly with reggae, salsa, bossa nova and klezmer etc.

    If you grew up in Trenchtown, you'll probably have a better understanding of Reggae than someone who didn't, and can probably convey the experience much more faithfully that someone who hasn't.
  8. jazzbo


    Aug 25, 2000
    San Francisco, CA
    Music related.
  9. Wrong Robot

    Wrong Robot Guest

    Apr 8, 2002
    I was in the car with a friend, and we were listening to the latest hip hop and R&B hits on the radio, discussing their merits. I pointed out that current hip hop has really heavy syncopation and anticipation to the beat, there is a lot of weird rhythms going on to. He noted that syncopation is a pretty "black" thing, in that, western music didn't really have any syncopation until black people started playing it.

    Personally, I've been really getting into African music lately, fortunately iTunes has a pretty good selection.
  10. Bob Lee (QSC)

    Bob Lee (QSC) In case you missed it, I work for QSC Audio! Gold Supporting Member Commercial User

    Jul 3, 2001
    Costa Mesa, Calif.
    Technical Communications Developer, QSC Audio
    Traditional Irish music has a lot of syncopation.
  11. BustinJustin

    BustinJustin banned

    Sep 12, 2003
    NYC, LI too
  12. Against Will

    Against Will Supporting Member

    Dec 10, 2003
    Big Sound Central

    Bhangra and traditional Southern Asian (India, Pakistan) music has a lot of syncopation as well. It's been morphed into club hits pretty well in England by Asian Dub Foundation, Fun^Da^Mental and Punjabi MC. If you ever get a chance, see "Mutiny:Asians invade British Music", it's kind of an underground film, but the guy who directed it is trying to get it onto the indie theater circuit.
  13. Check out Prince Nico M'barga's Aki Special. One of my favorites.
    Fela Kuti is great stuff. Africa 70, his band, also has some sans-Kuti stuff that kills.
    Afrobeat is a great compilation with one of the coolest covers EVER.
  14. hibeam


    Oct 16, 2002
    This is a interesting point. I play in a reggae band that does some covers as well as originals. We're all white. We've played for audiences of varying ethnicities and have never had a problem while doing Bob Marley covers. Furthermore, I don't think we lack some 'moral right' (that somebody brought up) to play his music, because even though I don't sound like Aston Barrett, and the singer sure as hell isn't Bob Marley, we convey at the very least his message of peace and love, which IMO are his most powerful and timeless. Granted, the singer in my band is South African, but you'd never know that by looking at him.
  15. Wrong Robot

    Wrong Robot Guest

    Apr 8, 2002
  16. BustinJustin

    BustinJustin banned

    Sep 12, 2003
    NYC, LI too
    Richard Bona is fantazmic!

    check him out on-
    Mike Stern's "These Times"
    and get all his solo stuff... great singer too. he puts me on an island!

    that victor pooten too, he's on there.. :ninja:
  17. Wrong Robot

    Wrong Robot Guest

    Apr 8, 2002
    I know, I made a thread about htese times when it came out ;)
  18. Bob Lee (QSC)

    Bob Lee (QSC) In case you missed it, I work for QSC Audio! Gold Supporting Member Commercial User

    Jul 3, 2001
    Costa Mesa, Calif.
    Technical Communications Developer, QSC Audio
    You can't play well what you don't have a good feel for. Developing a good feel depends on what you're exposed to and can immerse yourself in. Musical style isn't genetic.

    That's why, for example, kids in London and Liverpool could listen to American blues and "race" music records and launch their own British invasion of blues-based rock and roll. Listen to their singing--they weren't using their native accents, either.

    Any neophyte to a certain style might take a while to learn the techniques and nuances. Depending on how quickly he or she picks it up, it might be twenty minutes or twenty years.
  19. Like others have said I just think it depends on how much you're exposed to something. I always tell people who ask me about playing jazz that you'll never learn to play jazz unless you listen to jazz.

    I don't think it really matters as far as cover songs though. I like to think my audience is there to have a good time and not worry about whether I'm playing a "black" song or a "white" song.
  20. nonsqtr

    nonsqtr The emperor has no clothes!

    Aug 29, 2003
    Burbank CA USA
    Excellent input, thanks everyone. Good point about the separation of the musical aspect from whatever moral issue there may be (or not be). Personally I'm inclined to agree with hibeam, that the authenicity (or call it "integrity") of the music has everything to do with the way it's received. And, I was kinda hoping for additional input on the "reception" part. I god the part about the influence of what you've been exposed to, and I'm inclined to agree that musical style (both the playing and appreciation thereof) has relatively little to do with genetics. However, my observation over the years has been that bands that cross those boundaries are taking a risk. They're often not well received. Depending on the crowd and the venue sometimes. My take has been that experiences like Bruce Lindfield and hibeam related are the exception rather than the rule. Is this because the world is still a screwed up place and there's still a lot of social/cultural/racial prejudices and preconceptions, or is there possibly something more to it from a musical standpoint? I guess I can use an example to amplify the question. Let's say you hear a white reggae band and the lead singer is doing a Bob Marley tune with a faux Jamaican accent. Some people might say, "hey, that sounds pretty authentic, that guy's doing a pretty good job, or at least he's trying", and other people might say, "that's incredibly pretentious, I'll bet you a dollar that guy's never even been to Jamaica". See what I mean? Is that a cultural thing, or a musical thing? Is this a case of cultural factors affecting musical appreciation? (I don't know the answer, and even if I did I wouldn't know what to do about it, maybe y'all have some add'l input).