Posted by: Reginald Cyntje | September 26, 2013

Cultural Bias in Music

I remember a composer in Boston spending considerable time exploring rhythmic ideas from West African drumming. He then composed a song based on the ideas. Each musician was assigned a part. We had a difficult time reading and performing the music. The rhythms were complex and worth extensive cultural/musical study. My Caribbean upbringing made me familiar with some rhythms but further study was needed.

My study was personal because most western school systems value one culture over the next. Some musicians, in search of deeper musical understanding, take a western approach. As a musician, I think African music is worth our time and study. Gregorian Chants are not the beginning. Bantu singers did a great deal to inspire early European music. Furthermore, Africans in the West played a critical role in the development of modern music. The history of human beings on this planet has a sound track. Cultural bias has robbed us of music that once existed in various regions all over the world.

Many schools have entire sections dedicated to composers of one culture and lack resources needed to explore music from another. Lack of documentation? Not always the case. Not all resources were destroyed (or libraries burned)…

There are people researching. The information is providing a more accurate account of our musical journey. When we travel, we can still hear traces of traditional music. There are great books tracing modern day instruments back to the source. It is amazing to hear the circular motion. For example, African music inspiring other cultures and other cultures eventually inspiring African music. The story of music provides a wealth of knowledge. I will keep studying and applying what I learn to the music I perform.


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