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Culture in Music

Sting - Desert Rose with Cheb Mami (Image credit: A&M Records/YouTube)
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In music, cultural mobility is fairly common. Many songs have artists attempting to convey a small piece of another culture through their music.

Culture is a very broad topic. According to “United Cultures”:

There are countless cultures and subcultures in the world: each rich in its own way, with its language and religion, literature, art and music, poetry and philosophy.

Unfortunately, there are attempts in music that are not culturally appropriate. For example, “Lean On” by Major Lazer & DJ Snake. Although there is nothing wrong with the music itself, there are some elements in the music video that may be offensive to some people, particularly those from Indian cultures.

Challenges with culture in music

Music producers frequently make the mistake of assuming that some music sounds like music from a particular culture, and then deciding that making a music video out of it is a smart idea.

According to Amanda Gernentz Hanson, who wrote an article titled “The Success of ‘Lean On’ Shows that Cultural Appropriation is Alive and Well in 2015”:

We are hypersexualized in the United States, and this music video is a perfect example of that.

There are a lot of prejudices that people form when thinking, “Oh, this sounds like…” but in the end, that music has nothing to do with the culture people sometimes think they hear.

Culture is stereotyped in many ways, not just in the music industry, thus we need to modify these preconceptions in many other ways as well.

Artists are attempting to make their songs in numerous languages so that more people may understand them and feel as if they are their own. They can also use different instruments and rhythms, different styles of drums and undertones. This is an example of cultural fluidity in music.

Having a song in various languages, or even numerous languages in one song, can help boost the song’s marketing because it will be heard by a lot more people.

Sting’s ‘Desert Rose’

Sting’s “Desert Rose” is one of the best examples of cultural fluidity in music. Cheb Mami, the Algerian singer who sings in Arabic under the English lyrics gives the song a very catchy melody and vibe. However, Sting later said of Cheb Mami:

The amazing thing is, he didn’t understand a word I was singing. But the lyric he improvised was almost the same as mine – it had to do with lost love and longing – which goes to show how the music suggested the exact same emotion to us individually. Whether you’re Arabic or Western European or Japanese or African, music is the universal tongue.

Tim Peacock, “‘Desert Rose’: The Story Behind Sting’s Genre-Defying Hit.”

To summarize, there are many distinct types of cultures on the planet, and as time passes, many more will form, even if it means merging two cultures or starting a new one.

People must, however, be cautious about how they approach music and stereotypes in all cultures.

Music and Culture -- Sting - Desert Rose with Cheb Mami (Image credit: A&M Records/YouTube)
Sting – Desert Rose with Cheb Mami (Image credit: A&M Records/YouTube)
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