Music Culture

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Music Culture

Music Culture

Defining Music Culture

Music is an integral part of culture. Not only is it interesting in itself and an object worth studying as is any other part of culture, but it also sheds light on various cultural processes. Anthropological interest in music, moreover, is not limited to socalled “primitive” or “folk” music any more than anthropology itself is limited to the study of “simple” societies and cultural forms. Just as anthropology studies complex societies, among others, and complex ways of life, so too does it study all types of musical expressions (Pratt, (2006).

Ethnomusicology, which is the specific branch or concentration of anthropology concerned with the understanding of music in culture, studies music within human society and culture. It is concerned in particular with the way in which music symbolizes the way of life of a people. It studies things such as social transformation and power as expressed through music and its role in sociocultural life.


Erosion of U.S. regional musical culture was a complex process. Phonograph records in the South, from the beginning of recording, sold to markets wanting to hear their own kinds of music. As early as 1923, U.S. record companies sent talent scouts to comb the South for local musicians, who were recorded and sold to black and white populations in those areas and marketed to other areas of the country (Kellner, 2005).

The complex process of mediation of allegedly natural or authentic or folk forms of popular music is illustrated by the primitive black bluesman Howlin Wolf (Chester Burnett), born in the Mississippi Delta region in 1910, becoming known during the 1940s in Memphis for his distinctive falsetto moan, once thought to have been acquired via the oral transmission process in his original home, the Delta.

Yet Wolf said he developed his style through emulating the blue yodel on records of white singer Jimmy Rodgers, known as the singing brakeman, who dominated the popular music industry in the years 1927 to his death in 1933, virtually creating a national style of popular country music, recorded in north-eastern studios by RCA Victor and sold across the nation on Victor 78 RPM records. Rodgers was the first major country music performer to use unidentified sidemen in the studio, including jazz great Louis Armstrong, establishing the common pattern in popular music of “the star” and anonymous accompaniment (Garofalo, 2008). Rodgers's career illustrates the complex process of mediation of “natural” and “folk” forms of popular music, providing an example of ethnic cross-influence and interaction, all based on a process of oral and aural transmission, combining personal appearances in local settings with the individualized listening via phonograph records and radio (and, later, from the 1940s on, via television) that continue into the twenty-first century on HBO and MTV.

Popular music in the present era is a part of a complex cultural process: its products highly mediated cultural commodities, yet not imposed on an unsuspecting public by what T.W. Adorno once called “the culture industries.” Popular music, no matter how commodified, has, like ...
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