Culture And Music

How do culture and music influence each other?


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Musical production, particularly in the United States, is directly impacted by cultural influences, particularly ethnic traditions. Music is often reflective of "the cultural melting pot."

The previous educator mentioned jazz which, along with blues, is a distinctly American art form. Jazz was born in New Orleans as a result of the intermingling of African and European musical traditions. Even country music—a form almost entirely associated with rural white America in our present day—has roots in Southern slave culture: it was slaves who entertained their masters with the banjo.

For many years, music was a segregated affair in the United States. Despite the fact that jazz was created by black musicians, black and white jazz musicians did not play together. Nick LaRocca, leader of the Dixie Land Jazz Band, even went as far as to claim that black people had made no significant contribution to jazz. Conversely, during the First World War, black jazz musicians—starting with James Reese Europe—found great success in France, which embraced jazz and maintains an appreciation for it.

By the 1950s, rock-and-roll, another black cultural product, was marketed to white teenagers via Elvis. First he, then The Beatles and The Rolling Stones, epitomized cool through their interpretations of blues and rockabilly songs. White musicians distinguished themselves by embracing black music. This continued until the late 1960s, when Led Zeppelin became a popular band. However, their brand of blues-rock eventually led to the harder sound of Metal. 

Hip-hop—a form of music invented by young blacks and Latino people from the South Bronx in the late 1970s—has become as ubiquitous as jazz and blues were in their hey-day. The difference is that hip-hop has become a multi-faceted industry that has affected nearly every aspect of culture, including film, television, and fashion.  

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This is a good question and the most important point is to realize that music creates and shapes culture and culture creates and shapes music. There is a circular relationship. Let me give you a few examples.

First, a culture that celebrates money and material will create music about these topics. For example, a lot of the pop songs of the 1980's was really about materialism. Think of Madonna's top hit, "Material Girl." So, we can say that culture influences music.

Second, there are times when certain voices are heard in society that challenge it. Music that this minority community creates can challenge society and transform it. The classic example is jazz. Jazz breaks the rule of classical forms. Jazz, therefore, in its essence is subversive.

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