Talking Points: UniSound’s Programming Music From Cultures That Aren’t Ours Session
On Tuesday, December 5th UniSound hosted a Diversity, Equity, Inclusion, and Belonging session focused on the topic: “Programming Music From Cultures That Aren’t Ours” which was a continuation of the session in August. The session was moderated by UniSound Steering Committee members Maggie Richardson and Lee Saville-Iksic. Read about the main themes and takeaways from the session below.
The conversation started with some discussion around culture appropriation and attendees tackled the question can organizations present authentic programming from cultures that aren’t theirs? Is that okay? Also, is presenting music from another culture cultural appropriation? The group decided it all depends on the organization’s approach. Lee Saville-Iksic shared some thoughts about how organizations can program different cultures’ music appropriately.
- Call it what it is: Recognize that you are appropriating. Assume the posture of an inspired outsider who would like to learn more about another culture and experiment with blending elements of that culture with your own. Find culture-bearers who are willing to act as a guide.
- Check your attitude about authenticity: For quite some time, the academic stance on performing “world music” was to ensure the most authentic performance possible. This was a well-intentioned attitude, but inherently missed the mark. If you properly assume the role of an outsider, you quickly see that it is impossible for you to produce a truly authentic presentation of art from another culture.
- Consider the context: What is the original context of the content you wish to appropriate? What are you hoping to do with it? Can you treat it with as much reverence as those who hold it as their own? There is a very simple, but extremely insightful, model for cultural re-contextualization put forth by Huib Schippers in a 2006 article published in the British Journal of Music Education. If you follow this model (which, if you are being mindful, you might already be doing this intuitively), you’ll be certain not to do something foolish like take a sacred concept from indigenous culture and put it on a t-shirt alongside a reference to grilled cheese (please don’t do this).
- Examine the power dynamics between your culture and the culture from which you are appropriating: This is where people get themselves into trouble. If there is any ounce of oppression, dominance, and/or privilege in the relationship between cultures, you must move forward with extreme care. All of the advice above becomes even more important, especially finding a ‘guide’ in someone who can easily identify as a cultural insider. If you can’t do this, reconsider your project.
Getting this right is tricky. But, if you have the right attitude, take the time to learn as much as you can, and undergo a thoughtful re-contextualization process, mindful cultural appropriation can produce a creative outcome that indicates an honorable relationship between cultures while developing a willingness in others to respect, explore, and embrace what they might have previously thought of as foreign.
The session was full of rich examples of genres that have stemmed from other cultures. For example, country music came from blues music. Attendees shared how their organizations plan programming that focuses on other cultures and reflected on what they did well and how they could improve that programming in the future. Even though this conversation could continue for hours, the session wrapped up by sharing a podcast by Malcolm Gladwell which covers the topics from the session.
Are you passionate about discussions like this? Want to continue the conversation around DEIB topics? Join us for our future DEIB sessions, offered quarterly. All are welcome and sessions are free.