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Friday, February 18, 2011

Appropriation vs. Appreciation

This Saturday is C4AP's  Black History Month Celebration, which will be themed 'Back to Africa.' To me, I feel like that might be an awkward theme (kinda hearkens 'go back to Africa' epithets,  plus not all black folk in the USA are from Africa, not all black folk identify as African, not all black folk can even trace their roots more than a couple generations in the US, let alone to a different continent....UPDATE: see Sherie's important comment below), but people smarter than I chose it and so I'll roll with it.

I direct the church's gospel choir and we were asked so sing 'Lift Every Voice and Sing' and a song of our (read: director's) choice: Ahuna ya Tswanang Le Yesu. It was always a favorite at worship in college, so I am pumped to bring it to C4AP. It is in Sotho, a Bantu language most prominent in South Africa. This is the choir's first time singing in a language other than English and they have mastered it with grace and style (yeah, I know we had doubters...what now?!).

A lot of folk are saying they will wear African garb to the event. I am not really sure what that means. It's a really big continent, with lots of different styles. I have a lovely outfit given to me by my close friend, who brought it back from a trip visiting her family in Ghana. I thought I might wear it Saturday for the event, but I am always wary of awkwardly appropriating other cultures. Too often white folk are guilty of picking and choosing when they 'appreciate' others people's cultures, which can result in caricature, disrespectful behavior, and hurt feelings.  A lot of it depends on my motivations and attitude--but a stranger across the room isn't going to know either. Plus the song we are singing is South African, which is totally different from Ghana.

Thoughts readers? Appropriate or appropriation?


UPDATE (02/19/11):
1) see Sherie's comment below--good points to remember
2) the choir was AWESOME
3) Wore the outfit
4):



























See Also:

10 comments:

  1. Katelin,

    Thoughtful post. I think that your evaluation about the theme possibly harking to the "back to africa" epithet is insightful and right on target. However, I think that you could perhaps layer your argument by acknowledging that "back to africa" has also had positive implications for Black people as well. During moments of protest and search for empowerment, many people in the Black diaspora have found identity in the concept of Africa being a cultural home base. Thus "back to Africa" campaigns have been as positive as they have been negative. I think it depends on who is talking about the whole concept. As far as you wearing your Ghanian gorgeousness, I say rock it! Instead of presenting Africa as mono cultural, I find wearing Ghanaian dress and singing an South African song and Black American song (written by a Bahamian) ironically turns the images we have of Africa and the diaspora on their head.

    ReplyDelete
  2. Great comments, all of them! Thanks!

    ReplyDelete
  3. Thanks, as always, for the thoughtful and thought-provoking posts.

    Musically speaking, I think an earnest openness to someone else's music can be a way of truly opening to them or at least starting to.

    This makes me wonder what the implications of rejecting someone else's music might be.

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  4. Absolutely! Appropriation vs appreciation in music is something I think a LOT about. In college, a central part of my campus fellowship worship experience was worshiping in many languages and styles in the spirit of Revelations 7:9, which was very formative and informative for me and my friends (See http://bytheirstrangefruit.blogspot.com/2010/04/premise.html and http://bytheirstrangefruit.blogspot.com/2010/04/resources.html). At the same time, we have to be careful not to caricature, which is something I have seen a lot of in classical music and movie music, as I am sure you are aware (I have written about race/appropriation and opera extensively at http://heartsongscolumbus.com/Essays/Appropriation%20in%20Opera.pdf). Music is such a deep and intense aspect of our cultures that it can be a super sensitive venue for all of the issues talked about in this blog. When folks dismiss art forms like rap and hip-hop, for example, without careful study and listening time, what are they revealing about their prejudices against the cultures that produce them? Conversely, having an intimate working knowledge about someone else's music, as you mention, is huge in bridging devides and beginning communication.

    ReplyDelete
  5. re: rap music as an expression of culture, rap has evolved over the decades as have other forms of music. I've commented to a Black friend/colleague that I'm reluctant to listen too closely to rap lyrics on popular radio because I'm concerned about what I might hear -- he's of the opinion that this has an element of wisdom. I've come to appreciate the "sound" of rap and enjoy rap tunes with a positive message. how fortunate that one of Katelin's favorite places of worship -- and mine -- has a rap musician whose compositions have uplifting lyrics! in some instances, the most popular pieces in any genre represents the music but isn't its best. posted by Marilyn, CFAP

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  6. Yes, rap and hip hop get a bad reputation for a lot of reasons (sometimes justified, but also a lot based on cultural prejudice). Fortunately there are tons of really talented hip-hop and rap artist out there, Christian and secular, that have good things to say.

    For anyone wanting explore further, try some of these on for size:
    116 Clique
    Lecrae
    Washington Projects
    The Roots
    Queen Latifah
    Will Smith
    Common

    There are a whole bunch I am missing, but that is plenty for now.

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  7. @Marilyn:

    I am not sure what the purpose was of your mentioning the race of your friend/colleague here. Perhaps you felt it added validity to your position if a black person also believes the same thing? I would caution you against the pervasive "I have a black friend" meme, as well as taking one person's opinion as a nod from the group.

    I'm not necessarily disagreeing with the gist of your statement (though I do enjoy rap and hip-hop for the most part). The method of your argument was just a bit clich├ęd and could be taken as tokenism.

    Regardless, glad you are exploring it, and hope to hear more from you.

    ReplyDelete
  8. Great comments, all of them! Thanks!

    ReplyDelete
  9. Absolutely! Appropriation vs appreciation in music is something I think a LOT about. In college, a central part of my campus fellowship worship experience was worshiping in many languages and styles in the spirit of Revelations 7:9, which was very formative and informative for me and my friends (See http://bytheirstrangefruit.blo... and http://bytheirstrangefruit.blo... At the same time, we have to be careful not to caricature, which is something I have seen a lot of in classical music and movie music, as I am sure you are aware (I have written about race/appropriation and opera extensively at http://heartsongscolumbus.com/... Music is such a deep and intense aspect of our cultures that it can be a super sensitive venue for all of the issues talked about in this blog. When folks dismiss art forms like rap and hip-hop, for example, without careful study and listening time, what are they revealing about their prejudices against the cultures that produce them? Conversely, having an intimate working knowledge about someone else's music, as you mention, is huge in bridging devides and beginning communication.

    ReplyDelete
  10. Yes, rap and hip hop get a bad reputation for a lot of reasons (sometimes justified, but also a lot based on cultural prejudice). Fortunately there are tons of really talented hip-hop and rap artist out there, Christian and secular, that have good things to say.

    For anyone wanting explore further, try some of these on for size:
    116 Clique
    Lecrae
    Washington Projects
    The Roots
    Queen Latifah
    Will Smith
    Common

    There are a whole bunch I am missing, but that is plenty for now.

    ReplyDelete

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By Their Strange Fruit by Katelin H is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 3.0 Unported License.
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