Sunday, December 10, 2006

American Musical Invasion???

One concern I have cross culturally from my recent time in Juarez is the proliferation of American music on the market there. I know American music tends to dominate everywhere but the artists I hear, especially in Christian music, are clearly imitating musicians in the country to the north. You don't hear a lot of Christian Norte music, cumbia, or Mariachi, at least that I found or heard about. Even my favorite Mexican rock band, Mana, which is quite popular all over Latin America, is clearly modelling itself after U2 and other groups.

I find this disappointing because Mexico has a rich cultural heritage all its own, musically, artistically, architecturally, etc. So why do they feel like the American sound is the most valid expression? I was similarly shocked in Brazil when I found that most churches there sing American worship songs and hymns translated into Portuguese, with the same arrangements we hear in the U.S. Vineyard even set up Vineyard Brasil music using the background tracks from the U.S. versions with new Portuguese lyrics sung by Brazilian singers. Oh sure, I like some of these songs. But I liked them in English. My like for them says nothing for any appreciation of Brazilian culture. And Brazilian music has influence the world over. Bossa nova, samba, afoxe, etc. all heavy influences on American and other Western artists.

So I am wondering where are the artists who are truly attempting to write indigenous music in Mexico? Emphasized by their cultural heritage? Is the Mexican public truly so out of touch that those artists quickly fall into bankruptcy because none of their work sells? If so, I may have to work hard to teach cultural appreciation to my students there. And, as a foreigner, that will be a real challenge.

I like American music. I am an American musician. I am proud when people enjoy my music, whatever culture they are from. In fact, it works out nicely because I play like an American musician so if they didn't like American music, well, I'd have a hard time finding an overseas audience. But I take great joy in discovering the unique musical traditions of the areas where I travel -- buying and listening to CDs, live music, etc. Reading about it. Studying it. I even love to let it influence my own style and approach as much as I can. I love to learn songs in different languages and have my own translated to sing. So I am not against American music. I just feel that music is a unique language at the heart of any cultural system, and when a people are more focused on another culture's musical language than their own, I think they are missing something.

Maybe you don't agree. But I sure wish I understood why this is happening. Even in a place like Brazil where Americans are so often badmouthed and hated these days. It is amazing how people can pick and choose aspects of a culture while disliking others. The unfairness of their hate because of their dislike of the President aside, isn't there irony or even hipocrasy in despising a people but enjoying the fruits of their culture at the same time? I sure think there is.

Anyway, I hope to discover why this is the case and encourage a reevaluation and renewed appreciate of their own culture with whomever I work because part of what I gain most in going there is the result of appreciating, discovering and studying the cultural richness of their cultural milieu. I would hate to think that I left them appreciating their own culture more than they do.

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