Cultural Appropriation Cuts Both Ways

Last week, the focus was on cultural appropriation and society from the perspective of the majority raiding the non-material culture of minorities.  This week, the shoe is on the other foot as cultural appropriation isn’t a one way street.

The video from “The Midnight Special” from 1974 shows Redbone performing their hit song “Come And Get Your Love.”  It was a song that climbed the charts all the way to #5, and stayed on the charts long enough to be certified Gold (it sold over half a million copies) because it was catchy and fun.  The band members were Native American Indians, and the New York Smithsonian Institution accredited the group as being the first Native American Indian rock group to have an international hit.

https://youtu.be/Dj0drevGOgA

The song made its way back up the Billboard charts in 2014 when it was featured in the “Guardians of the Galaxy” movie.

https://youtu.be/x_jRQBGKPaA

The year after that, Netflix used the song as the intro theme for the cartoon series, “F is for Family.”

https://youtu.be/x9FocQK9L4Q

The song has legs obviously, with as much audience appeal forty years after its release as the day it first hit the airwaves.  But forty years later, there seems to be some cultural appropriation issues with the song.

Redbone’s song lyrics referenced Cajun and New Orleans culture but the founding brothers, Patrick and Lolly Vasquez-Vegas were a mix of Yaqui, Shoshone, and Mexican heritage.  The band was known for playing rock music, R&B, blue-eyed soul, funk, and country as well as tribal music.  There’s no denying that R&B and blue-eyed soul are definitely not from any Native American Indian culture.  And funk, rock, and country music is associated with cultures other than Indigenous cultures.

But wait a minute!  Guitars – acoustic or electric — aren’t traditional Native American Indian instruments!

The first acoustic guitar as we know it was built in 1850 by Spanish guitarist and luthier Antonio de Torres Jurado (13 June 1817 – 19 November 1892), based on a design by note Spanish guitar maker Joséf Pagés (1740 – 1822) and Spanish luthier Josef Sebastián Benedid Díaz (10 February 1760 – 20 October 1836).  The guitar had a body that was now able to hold its own with an orchestra without being lost in the other instruments.  Europeans went wild for guitars!

Electric guitars had their humble beginnings at the heart of electromagnetic induction which was discovered by English scientist Michael Faraday (22 September 1791 – 25 August 1867) on August 29, 1831.

By 1919, magazine ads began to appear, offering devices that would amplify instruments, and then came American jazz, country, and blues guitarist and songwriter Lester William Polsfuss, better known as Les Paul (9 June 1915 – 12 August 2009) and American inventor Clarence Leonidas “Leo” Fender (10 August 1909 – 21 March 1991) who created the electric guitar as we know it today.

Now Les Paul’s ancestry is German thanks to both parents, and Leo Fender’s family is American going back to his great-great-great-great-grandparents.  That being said, the generation before that was from Baden-Wuerttemberg (Germany) and Cumberland (England) and Bethnal Green, Stepney, County Middlesex (England).

The argument can be made that Redbone’s success was due in part to the cultural appropriation of guitars which are obviously part of the English, Spanish, and German cultures.

Some will argue that fiddles were instruments of the Inuit and the Apache however fiddles only appeared after Indigenous peoples had contact with Europeans so it would seem that this may be a case of cultural appropriation.  But even if it’s argued that fiddles are Indigenous instruments, they aren’t guitars, and they aren’t played the way guitars are played.  This means that guitars are definitely not Native American Indian instruments.

Since we know from last weeks’ essay that cultural appropriation happens when one culture’s dance, dress, music, language, folklore, cuisine, and more are used without permission of the culture from which it is taken, is it not fair to say that Native American Indians have also engaged in cultural appropriation?

And then there’s the Aboriginal rappers to consider.  Have they engaged in cultural appropriation?

What are your thoughts on the subject?

Elyse Bruce

The Conflict of Cultural Appropriation

Cultural appropriation is the use of elements from one culture by members of a different culture.  According to law professors and psychologists, social scientists and politicians, cultural appropriation happens when one culture’s dance, dress, music, language, folklore, cuisine, and more are used without permission of the culture from which it is taken.  It’s especially hurtful when the culture being appropriated is one that’s been exploited or oppressed by the culture doing the appropriating.

In other words, cultural appropriation promotes the power imbalance of the ruling class over those who have been historically marginalized.

There are two kinds of culture:  Material culture and non-material culture.  Non-material culture is what’s meant when speaking about cultural appropriation since non-material culture deals specifically with intangibles.  Beliefs.  Traditions.  Values.

Of course, within material and non-material cultures are other constructs such as subculture (beliefs or behaviors that are contrary to the majority of the culture’s community) and counterculture (active rejection of aspects that are dominant in the culture’s community).  For the purposes of this essay, the focus is on mainstream non-material culture.

Now psychologists will tell you that culture and the people of a culture have a symbiotic relationship.  Each culture has its unique societal norms by which to live, and members of each culture live by shared expectations and rules that guide and determine their place in that culture.  To this end, people define and refine what their culture is, and culture defines and refines its people.

These days, there’s a lot being said about cultural appropriation.  Some of it is warranted such as the outcry against sports teams using names that are offensive to Indigenous peoples in the Americas.  But is it possible to create art without any cultural appropriation?

Was it cultural appropriation when the Bangles sang about walking like an Egyptian?

Was it cultural appropriation when Carl Douglas let us know that everyone was kung fu fighting?

Was it cultural appropriation when the Vapors thought they were turning Japanese?

Was it cultural appropriation when Steven Tyler and Aerosmith announced that dude looked like a lady?

How about when Toto decided to take on the entire continent of Africa?

This is where the waters are muddy.  If those songs and other art, literature, music, and more is cultural appropriation, where do we draw the line when it comes to enjoying past creative endeavors?  If we’re told to turn our backs on pop culture that draws on other cultures to exist, is it also time to boycott the classics whether it’s literature, art, or music?

Do we turn our backs on Béla Bartók’s Romanian Dances seeing he was from Hungary and not Romania?  Is it time to refuse to attend concerts where Brahm’s “Ballade Edward” is performed because it was based on a Scottish ballad and Johannes wasn’t Scottish?  How about Beethoven’s music based on Welsh, Irish, and Scottish folk songs?  After all Ludwig was German, was he not?

How about all those musicians who aren’t English but who have recorded “Scarborough Fair” or “Greensleeves?”   Should they be forced to make reparations for daring to sing something they obviously appropriated from another culture?

Should “Swing Low, Sweet Chariot” and “Go Tell It On The Mountain” be sung only by those of African-American heritage?  And next New Year’s Eve, should the traditional “Auld Lang Syne” only be sung only by those who can prove their Scottish ancestry?

Do we stop children and their grandparents from enjoying a rousing rendition of “Oh Dear, What Can The Matter Be?” if they haven’t an ounce of English blood anywhere in their background — or going back at least eight generations?

Where no offense is meant, is any harm done?  Some say yes while others say no.  But if we are to say harm is done, where does this leave the English language which is an amalgam of several languages?  Is it time to dismantle the language to create a language that English-language speakers can safely call their own that doesn’t steal from other languages and cultures?

There’s no easy solution, and this is why we need to speak openly about what is, and is not, harmful cultural appropriation.  Certainly there are ways to draw upon cultures that are not our own without causing insult and injury.  It begins with mutual respect, and this means both sides must be willing to hear each other out before jumping to conclusions.  What are your thoughts on the subject?

Elyse Bruce

Amazingly Talented

People often talk about how remarkable or talented someone is when that person has mastered a skill or art, and without a doubt, such people are absolutely remarkable or talented.  And every once in a while, you hear or read about someone who take remarkable and talented to the next level.  Today’s entry is one that is sparse on words because the video speaks for itself.  Feel free to share this video with others on  your social media accounts because it truly is worth sharing.

Fly Like An Eagle

Those of us who grew up in the 1970s recognize “Hotel California” by The Eagles.  It was a haunting song that stalked the radio waves, and more than a few discussions erupted about what the lyrics meant and what the references were. The song was, in a word, hypnotic, both musically and lyrically.

The band burned bright and then burned out with members going their own way.  But the music continued to be an important legacy for musicians who followed in their footsteps.

Over the years, artists took to creating their own renditions of “Hotel California.”  Some were traditional while others were more adventurous.

NOTE:  This video is misattributed to Bob Marley.  The vocalist is actually Majek Fashek.

Recording artist TQ grabbed the song and pulled it into the 2010s with his version of “Hotel California” that still had The Eagle’s signature sound stamped all over it.

Musicians from Cuba and South America decided to infuse the song with their own arrangements.  The Gipsy Kings brought an energetic, spicy passion to their version in Spanish.

The Cubans Acapella brought vocal heat with their version in English.

Even Marc Anthony did homage to The Eagles with his rendition.

But when all is said and done, one of the most beautiful renditions is the acoustic version by The Eagles from 1994 with new ideas woven into the well-known arrangement we’ve loved over the years.

Nearly thirty years after the song was first released, the song still inspires and fires up audiences around the world, proving once again that a well-crafted song is a song that speaks to music lovers across the generations as it is embraced the world over.

Elyse Bruce

More Than Just A Jukebox King

Louis Jordan.  The man hailed as a jukebox king was delightfully irreverent, socially relevant, and downright hilarious.  And I wasn’t very old when I first heard some of his most popular songs.  In fact, I wasn’t even a pre-schooler when I first heard some of his most famous songs although I didn’t hear them from any of his recordings until I was older.

When I was a child, my father would occasionally sing snippets of songs popular from his younger days, and these snippets usually sent his children into fits of laughter.  My father could be wildly politically incorrect in today’s terms, but back when I was growing up, being politically incorrect had its moments, and singing these songs were part of those moments.

Were it not for the silliness of that song, I might not have told myself it was important to remember the name of the singer, and as it happens, I found the singer’s name to be as memorable as the first line of that song.  It’s also where my love of dark chord progressions and happy lyrics began.

Another Louis Jordan favorite that I loved to pieces (and was happy to hear re-recorded by Doug and the Slugs in the 80s) was “Ain’t Nobody Here But Us Chickens.”  I loved that song so much that I took to using that line as my default answer when my mother would try to find her brood.  While the line always seemed to work for Louis Jordan and his orchestra, it never seemed to work for me as I was always the first child found in the house.

Now romance is something that I’ve always seen from an interesting comic perspective.  This song with its dark lyrics and uptempo music quickly became one of my favorites, and as a child, I thought it would be lots of fun to meet Jack from the song — just so I could find out why he had such bad luck in the love and romance department.  And every time my father got to the final refrain of this song, well, it was the cat’s meow!  Or the bees knees.  Or whatever other funny phrase came to mind at the time.

I suppose my love of writing lyrics that added another level to words was as a direct result of listening to songs like this one.  At the time, I was far too young to understand the many layered meanings to this song, but I loved how n-n-n-nuts made me think that this is how squirrels would probably say the word if they spoke English.

One thing I never understood (never have, and probably never will) is what it was about this song that would stick in my mother’s craw every single time my father launched into singing it.  Whenever she had terse words for my father (and we were the built-in audience for the drama during such times), there came a point where he would laugh heartily and start in with this Louis Jordan hit.

As a teenager, I uncovered a lot more Louis Jordan songs that made my day any day I listened to them.  In some ways, they were an extension of those fun days I’d known as a child, but they were also a chance to express myself without being chided for being insolent.  And trust me, on days when my older brother stuck his nose into my life, it was songs like this that helped me sidestep his nosey parker ways.

Then there was this riotously inappropriate murder-promoting song that really let a person vent thanks to a number of very popular musicians of the day including Louis Armstrong, Bing Crosby, and Ella Fitzgerald.

These days, everyone as an opinion on everything including how to fix the national debt (even though they may be up to their own ears in debt) and how everyone else should run their business.  Of course, in some cases if you don’t give them time on their virtual soapbox, you’ll never hear the end of how close-minded you are.  In cases such as those, you might want to learn this song so you can sing it silently to yourself while the lecture is proceeding.

Finally, while this Louis Jordan song isn’t one I heard as a child or a teen or even a young adult, it seems oddly appropriate as the American election looms large on the horizon.

Until next time, take care, be well, and let music guide you through the rough times as well as the tough times, and to spice up the fun times along the way.

Elyse Bruce

Canadian Style Shorts

Just to be clear, the shorts I’m talking about aren’t fashion but rather art related.  They aren’t name brand clothing shorts but rather animated shorts, and those I’ve been most fond of since childhood are those from the National Film Board of Canada.  Maybe it’s because Canadian humor is quirky at best with unexpected commentary and subtle nods to real life.  Maybe it’s because inherently insightful in a comic, tongue-in-cheek way that’s not seen in other cultures.  Or maybe it’s just because Canadian humor is outright hilarious.

Rather than write a lot about the selections I’ve chosen for today, I’ll let these animated shorts speak for themselves.  The first one is “Cactus Swing” with music by the Great Western Orchestra from Alberta (Canada).  It was released in 1995 to the amusement of a great many people, but most especially to the delight of musicians who knew the members of the band as well as fans of the band.

On to a very well-known song, this animated short gives a decidedly Canadian touch to “The Cat Came Back.”  I’m sure you’ll enjoy watching this one as well … and particularly so if you’ve ever been owned by a cat.

If you remember the music of the 50s and 60s, and you remember K-Tel Records, then this next animated short is definitely going to resonate with you.  If you know any young adults who are currently unemployed, this should take the edge off the situation.  *wink*

Any creative  person knows what it’s like to wrestle with procrastination from time to time.  What’s particularly delightful about this animated short is that it’s the unexpected reality of the situation that’s dead bang on accurate.  Yes, we’ve all been there and some time in the future, we’ll all be there again.  Until then, we can chuckle at what procrastination looks like to outsiders.

And finally, the famous short “The Sweater” (a true Canadian treat) based on a short story by Canadian author Roch Carrier (born 13 May 1937).   The story was originally published as “Une abominable feuille d’érable sur la glace” and was so well received, that a year after it was first published, it was translated and published in English.

The short story was one that Roch Carrier is surprised still resonates with Canadians to this day (you can read this article from 2014 where he talks about how the story came to be written).   Truth be told, whether you’ve ever played hockey or just watched others play hockey, the story is one that most people love to pieces.

What a great way to start off your Sunday … especially because today also happens to be National Ice Cream Day.  So grab a scoop of your favorite flavor and treat yourself to a great day all the way around.

Elyse Bruce

 

Pirates Have Allies

The issue of copyrights and copyright infringements have been discussed on this blog in earlier entries.  The problem isn’t going to go away any time soon either as long as some people are feel that copyright owners have no right to their copyrights.  The excuses range from being too poor to be able to buy what copyright owners  have created to doing copyright owners a great service by providing them with more exposure.

Recently this screenshot has been circulating on social media.  It shows the degree to which thieves will go to justify their criminal activities.

STEALING BOOKS
Even more recently in a Facebook discussion in an author group, there was a discussion about book launches and ways to make the event memorable for attendees.  One self-published author stated that creating a music CD that contained music associated with various scenarios in the book and giving one CD away with every book purchased would be a great promotion.

Except that it’s not a great promotion.  It’s illegal to breach copyright (in this case, via unlawful distribution of copyright materials) as proposed by the self-published author.

What’s worse, the self-published author who made the suggestion claimed to know, and understand, the law, and berated others who dared to point out that she was proposing copyright infringement.   In the end, the author who asked the question decided that the self-published author who proposed copyright infringement was more knowledgeable than those authors who advised against copyright infringement.

So why would an author suggest copyright infringement as a great promotion when the author herself is a copyright owner?  That’s something only the self-published author in question can answer.  Suffice it to say, however, that sometimes copyright owners think of others in the industry as competitors to knock off, and if advising illegal activity knocks off the competition, some have no problem going with that approach.

Know Who Supports You and WhyUsed with permission from the artist.

SPECIAL NOTE:  Check out Jimmy S. Craig’s website, TheyCanTalk.com where you can purchase prints of this and other hilarious cartoons at amazingly reasonable prices.  Click HERE or copy and paste http://theycantalk.com/prints into your browser to visit his site.

If you’re a copyright owner, remember this:  If you want others to respect your copyrights, you have a responsibility to respect other people’s copyrights.

Elyse Bruce

SUGGESTED READING

BREAKING DOWN THE (DMCA) TAKEDOWN
https://elysebruce.wordpress.com/2015/05/12/breaking-down-the-dmca-takedown/

THE CONFUSING WORLD OF COPYRIGHT (PART 1)
https://elysebruce.wordpress.com/2014/09/23/the-confusing-world-of-copyright-part-1/

THE CONFUSING WORLD OF COPYRIGHT (PART 2)
https://elysebruce.wordpress.com/2014/09/30/the-confusing-world-of-copyright-part-2/

COPYRIGHT TROLLING: DON’T BE A VICTIM
http://shaunkaufmanlaw.com/2015/06/14/copyright-trolling-dont-be-a-victim-by-denver-lawyer-shaun-kaufman/

ILLEGAL DOWNLOADING DOESN’T HURT ANYONE
https://elysebruce.wordpress.com/2013/12/17/illegal-downloading-doesnt-hurt-anyone/

AN OPEN LETTER TO COPYRIGHT INFRINGERS, PIRACY ADVOCATES, AND THIEVES
https://elysebruce.wordpress.com/2015/06/01/an-open-letter-to-copyright-infringers-piracy-advocates-and-thieves/

STEALING IS GOOD
https://elysebruce.wordpress.com/2012/09/24/stealing-is-good/

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