Odd issues of appropriation or otherwise (in this case as regards a blues song I may be writing)

I played rugby for Dulwich College old boys. Posh school in south-east London. Raymond Chandler was a day boy there (not at the same time). He was born in Chicago but moved across the Atlantic at 12, was naturalized British at 19, and at 24 returned to the US and settled in California. According to Wiki by 1931 Chandler was a highly paid vice president of the Dabney Oil Syndicate, but his alcoholism, absenteeism, promiscuity with female employees, and threatened suicides contributed to his dismissal a year later.

Chandler wrote pulp. Highly stylized and very American. Leading exponent of the genre, along with Dashiell Hammett, and it's because of Raymond Chandler that I think it's OK for me to write the blues. I am also, for a late-stage white man, fairly exhausted, sardonic, and subject to romantic uncertainty, especially first thing :

Woke up this morning
I was all out of time
heard the cock a crowing
didn't pay him no mind

There is much talk of cultural appropriation and what is or what isn't acceptable at this point in history. I am very sympathetic to the matter, but as regards the blues I find it problematical.

There was a carnival day here in Archidona yesterday (small market town in Andalucia). Seems like everyone takes part. Different squads and platoons, grandmas and babies and everything in between, and all in fancy dress. They parade round and around and bang the drums. I keep out of the way mostly, but yesterday I had need of the local supermarket and while in there waited with my milk and firestarters behind six folks all immaculately got-up as cod depression-era-Africans with afro wigs, black face, spears, the whole nine yards.

I was shocked at how shocked I was and how unshocked everyone else in town was. Just not an issue here. So far. Social and cultural change. An interesting river. And this is what I was thinking about as I stumbled back down the hill to my quarters, singing the blues song I'm writing currently, and somewhat puzzled about my lack of clarity.

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Comments

  • I don’t see any issue with writing a blues song. It’s the double negative that would upset me!

  • @PhilW said:
    I don’t see any issue with writing a blues song. It’s the double negative that would upset me!

    Colloquial language my brother... :)

  • One of the really interesting cultural currents of the 20th century is how Britain took American music and threw it back at the US. In the case of black American music it only really got popular once the British had reflected it back, something Keith Richards talks at length about in his autobiography.

    Chicago Blues wasn't really a big deal outside of Chicago, so when the Stones became popular and made the sound of the blues really big across the whole of the US, the original bluesmen were rediscovered by their home country, and were for the most part pretty grateful to the Stones for the favour.

    Rock and Roll wasn't purely black music, although the original rock and roll song "Tutti Frutti" was by Little Richard, but Elvis and Buddy Holly weren't far behind. But once again the Beatles took rock and roll and did their thing with it, and the US lapped them up.

    The same thing happened with House and Techno, which were born in Chicago and Detroit, but came to the UK and then eventually made it back to the US many years later as EDM. Without that round-trip to Britain (via France as well) then I can't imagine EDM would ever have taken off in the US the way it did.

    Maybe 2019 might argue that the Stones and Aphex Twin were culturally appropriating black American music for their own ends, but if they hadn't I think we would all be culturally poorer for it.

  • edited March 4

    I once told someone I know, who travels a lot to hot and poor countries, that I had a music project going involving African rhythms an the likes, you know...that kind of vibe. He told me, nice one man as long as you don’t fall into the cultural appropriation trap.

    This was probably the first time I’ve heard that term. Back in the communist and ridiculously culturally uniform Poland when I grew up there was no such thing as ‘cultural appropriation’. We lived within state racism that had no other distinct races within despite paradoxically being vastly diverse in terms of culture. In terms of race, I’ve probably seen a black man for the first time at the age of 10 only to see another one at the age of 19 when I moved to Italy. Anyway, I was brought up in a story book racism where the black or the yellow men belong to the children’s story book jungle. I suppose It is hard to shake off this kind of racism even if it’s solely theorthical.

    I’m not sure why I wrote this elaborated prologue really.

    The point is that maybe because, or notwithstanding of that I absolutely don’t give a damn whether or not cultural appropriation filters into what I do musically. To me culture, is like organic matter or nature itself, no matter how much we try to examine and define it we’ll always end up with a dry and synthesised sociological crap. Don’t get me wrong, I love sociology as an exploration and not a tool to judge cultural tendencies.

    A lot of hurt I think, comes from the misinterpretation of intentions. If you hear me playing blues is it because I’m trying to appropriate some black coolness and use it for devious purposes or is it because it resonates with me...or maybe simply because it is my right as a human being to use music, whatever it may be to drown my sorrow in or celebrate or whatever.

    If I spent enough time in a certain part of a given culturally defined geographic area, won’t it leave a visible trace on my cultural identity? Or does my cultural inbreeding stop in childhood and that’s the only cultural image I’m allowed to represent?

    Either way you look at it, it is a rabbit hole.

    To wind my story short.

    Isn’t blues a lament of human misery?

    Isn’t gluing it to blackness a form of racism?

    Shouldn’t Afro Americans frown upon Ali Farka for appropriating ‘their’ culture?

    ...or maybe I just misunderstood the whole appropriation thing and I’m talking bollocks? Reading back what I wrote this morning makes me wonder whether cultural appropriation has anything to do with race at all...

    ...and finally

    Shouldn’t we just chill the fuck up?

  • Music is music, pure and simple. The best stuff comes from the heart.
    Whatever ‘style’ you make music, it can be heard a mile off if you don’t mean it maaaaan!

  • Cultural appropriation is one of the saddest, most damaging concepts to arise from the SJW crowd in the last few years. There is joy in sharing experiences, history and knowledge with others. There is no joy in claiming ownership of these things and denying others the ability to experience them (usually based on the false premise of the color of their skin). Cultural appropriation is just another form of segregation. Take it to it’s logical conclusion and the world will be a much more bitter and divided place with less opportunity for all.

  • Do whatever's authentic to you. If it doesn't feel authentic to you, it will show, and your art will suffer for it. The problem with appropriation really shows up when you move into the territory of caricature, which is easy to do without even noticing if you're not being authentic.

    TLDR: Keep it real and don't be an asshole.

  • Cultural appropriation is the exploitation of someone else’s culture for your own benefit. As @JohnnyGoodyear has pointed out, the U.S. has a long history of cultural appropriation. I believe respect is the over riding principle to consider. If you really respect another culture, it would seem worthwhile to consider how they might feel about how you’re intending to use parts of their culture. How you feel about someone using your own creative efforts may not translate well to someone from another culture. I don’t believe there are always straightforward answers to these sorts of questions as life, people, and culture are often very messy as mutual understanding can be elusive.

  • My understanding is cultural appropriation applies when you try to take credit for things borrowed from other cultures. Having some sort of understanding of the culture you are borrowing from would seem necessary, otherwise it may come across as disrespectful.

    Remember the Miley Cyrus Twerking controversy? I don’t think anybody cared that she was twerking all over the place. The issue was twerking came from a really old style of African dance that came to the US through African American culture. But when Miley Cyrus started doing it on TV or whatever, people started primarily associating her with that dance, and some even thinking she did it first. She became more famous from twerking, but not a lot was said about the true origins of twerking.

    So basically, if you get famous for doing something that you borrowed from another culture, just own up to it, and give credit where credit is due. If you get stinkin’ rich from it, consider giving back to the culture you borrowed from.

    Borrowing without proper acknowledgement and respect is going to get the cultural appropriation charge thrown at you. But if someone says “you can’t do that because you are the wrong race”, then I would have to call ‘racism’ on that mindset.

  • edited March 4

    @JohnnyGoodyear , I always love your writing. I welcome your forays into the blues genre because you strike me as one of taste and not mere plagiaristic "appropriation."

    In terms of blues and cultural appropriation, one need only recall this scene from the film "Ghost World":

  • It does seem that the cultural appropriation charge only gets leveled at White people. When non-White people appropriate some aspect of White culture, they are usually heralded as ‘pioneers’ and celebrated.

    Outrage sure is strange.
    Here, I will leave you this to ponder...

  • @CracklePot said:
    It does seem that the cultural appropriation charge only gets leveled at White people. When non-White people appropriate some aspect of White culture, they are usually heralded as ‘pioneers’ and celebrated.

    Outrage sure is strange.
    Here, I will leave you this to ponder...

    Cracklepot, with all due respect, there is such a huge disparity in the power structure that one can't treat the issue as symmetrical. Africans were brought to America and treated as property, not humans. For the most part, the U.S. has never come to terms with the enormity of the injustice and horror. Africans provided much of the labor that drove American prosperity while being locked out of the fruits of that prosperity and were treated as property. Long after emancipation and the achievement of equality in the eyes of the law, the descendants of slaves have never been made whole and have continued to be abused by the system and denied opportunity in a way that the vast majority of white Americans can't or aren't willing to fathom.

    So, it is quite reasonable for the issue of appropriation from African-Americans be a more serious concern than whatever influence the culture of their subjugators have had on them.

    Those white artists that show respect for the traditions they are adopting and point people towards the great traditions from which they draw inspiration are generally not accused of appropriation. Usually, people use cultural appropriation to refer to those artists that pay no tribute to the artists upon whose shoulders they stand.

    Also, not sure what in the video strikes you as cultural appropriation (which is a completely separate issue from the false equivalence implied by your comment).

  • @espiegel123
    No, you took it the wrong way. I am just trying to get people to think about this topic.
    I agree with what you are saying. I actually think the video I posted is awesome.

    I could have written a similar view of this issue as you, but I was attempting to get people to think about it more. I was trying to frame the thought as a question, but maybe I left it too open-ended. Anyway, I think it is great that you shot down my intentionally ignorant post.

    As to why I posted this video in particular...
    These guys are playing British Oi music, which usually gets labeled as Nazi Skinhead music.
    I don’t think Oi is inherently racist, though there are some Nazi Skinhead types that are associated with the Oi music scene. This band gave me a pleasant surprise, and I think they a pretty cool.

    Also, I believe there are a lot of Brits on the forum, and was wondering how they would react to this band.

  • edited March 4

    @CracklePot said:
    It does seem that the cultural appropriation charge only gets leveled at White people. When non-White people appropriate some aspect of White culture, they are usually heralded as ‘pioneers’ and celebrated.

    Outrage sure is strange.
    Here, I will leave you this to ponder...

    Is “white culture” even a thing? Do you think the white culture isn’t appropriated as much or do members of white culture not care about the appropriation of their culture?

    Some Japanese seem very fond of English words and many non-Japanese tattoo themselves with Japanese script. Many do so without knowing the meanings of the other culture’s words. The history of Japanese script might be interesting to look into with respect to this topic too.

  • @aquasloth said:
    @JohnnyGoodyear , I always love your writing. I welcome your forays into the blues genre because you strike me as one of taste and not mere plagiaristic "appropriation."

    In terms of blues and cultural appropriation, one need only recall this scene from the film "Ghost World":

    Blues Hammer!
    🤣

  • Must be a slow day if this topic came here.

    Cultural Appropriation is a complicated topic because of how vague it is. Often times its denied by those who feel its often thrown at white people who are “just trying to have fun”. It’s often blamed as being an SJW weapon and seems to symbolize the blocking of people’s rights to do whatever they want and enjoy whatever they want. I can’t speak to the way it's used by all people, but I would say claims of cultural appropriation are rarely a concern for those who show true respect to the culture they are trying to utilize for whatever purpose. People get in trouble when they take culture and try and divorce it from its cultural roots. Like if some American shop said their new sushi was authentic and the real deal, but contained nothing from any Japanese cultural sources other than the name.

    Cultural Appropriation is often insulting. It means to demean the original. Wearing Native American garments and dancing around in circles to some stereotypical caricature of native Americans for no reason other than because “I can”, would be an example. Playing the blues and writing blues music can be appreciation and adoption of culture. The black music community has always accepted and collaborated with many non-black artists who respected the genre and its origins. It’s never been off-limits, its always been free-license, but it's just always come with the tag “credit where credit is due”.

    What I have to reject is the appropriation of white culture, because people don't realize that in most of western society acclimation to Caucasian standard is often a social imperative. Wearing western style clothing cannot be cultural appropriation if you also require that people wear that kind of clothing to get services and employment. Straight hair cant be appropriated if you require people with curly or nappy hair to straighten it in order to go to work or school. This is not to claim that “white culture” cant be appropriated but as a whole white culture does not exist. People can appropriate Italian culture, and really American pizza is probably a potential example of that depending on the origins of the shops. However White culture as a whole is not a thing. Black culture is misconceived to be a racial matter when in actuality it more so relates to the culture of post-slavery black diaspora vs. actual African continental cultures. the numerous Caucasian cultures can be appropriated, and its open season to call those out if they are appropriated without a show of respect for the origins. However, claiming those must also acknowledge whether or not colonialism or some other power structure has imposed its culture on others in the first place.

    Anyways, enjoy music, give credit where credit is due, and don't mock other cultures with superficial and stereotypical acts and we’ll all be good.

  • @InfoCheck said:

    @CracklePot said:
    It does seem that the cultural appropriation charge only gets leveled at White people. When non-White people appropriate some aspect of White culture, they are usually heralded as ‘pioneers’ and celebrated.

    Outrage sure is strange.
    Here, I will leave you this to ponder...

    Is “white culture” even a thing? Do you think the white culture isn’t appropriated as much or do members of white culture not care about the appropriation of their culture?

    Some Japanese seem very fond of English words and many non-Japanese tattoo themselves with Japanese script. Many do so without knowing the meanings of the other culture’s words. The history of Japanese script might be interesting to look into with respect to this topic too.

    English in japan is a complicated one given how post-war initiatives influenced education and helped create the current system in which English language is a mandatory curriculum in japanese schools. A very poor curriculum at that.

  • The good thing about most rabbit holes is that most of them usually take you back to the surface.

  • @chocobitz825
    That was very well said.
    Thanks for indulging me and weighing in.

    It sure is refreshing to read a rational, sane, and thoughtful opinion for a change.
    I have been looking at comments on News related YouTube videos lately, and I could swear the world was way beyond hope.

  • @CracklePot said:
    @chocobitz825
    That was very well said.
    Thanks for indulging me and weighing in.

    It sure is refreshing to read a rational, sane, and thoughtful opinion for a change.
    I have been looking at comments on News related YouTube videos lately, and I could swear the world was way beyond hope.

    +1

  • edited March 5

    @JohnnyGoodyear said:

    There is much talk of cultural appropriation and what is or what isn't acceptable at this point in history.

    It's like anything - if it's done with respect then it can enhance, evolve and educate. If it's done in a tacky or disrespectful way (being half-Irish I wince at the shite St Patrick's Day crap we see in England and Wales), then it presents a negative representation of the original culture.

    Personally I'm more interested in creating completely new things - music, art, whatever. That's the whole point for me - to make something new rather than work within an existing genre or cultural framework. But I think it's perfectly valid for others to borrow, rework, build on, evolve or whatever if it's done with respect.

    After all we've been doing it ever since we spat paint around our hands on a cave wall.

  • "Cultural appropriation" is a ridiculous concept. It's an attempt to pathologize what is normal. It essentializes cultural identities and reifies cultural boundaries. It exists only in the imagination of the people who believe in it, kind of like the Easter Bunny. I wouldn't spend even two seconds worrying about it with regard to my own creative endeavors.

  • @supadom said:
    The good thing about most rabbit holes is that most of them usually take you back to the surface.

    Ain't that the truth

  • @lukesleepwalker said:

    @supadom said:
    The good thing about most rabbit holes is that most of them usually take you back to the surface.

    Ain't that the truth

    What are you guys, Hobbits?
    I can’t come close to fitting into a rabbit hole.
    ;)

  • Music is within us all... influenced or pulled out of thin air... none of that matters.. if it needs to come out of you, it will.. just let it. Do not question its origin. Your job is to create. Period.

    “Interpretation is the revenge of the intellect upon art. Even more. It is the revenge of the intellect upon the world. To interpret is to impoverish, to deplete the world -- in order to set up a shadow world of meanings.” -Susan Sontag on Criticism

  • @royor said:
    Music is within us all... influenced or pulled out of thin air... none of that matters.. if it needs to come out of you, it will.. just let it. Do not question its origin. Your job is to create. Period.

    Beautiful.

  • If it's in you, tap into it, and you might be surprised where it goes. If it's not, your original post demonstrates a conscience there that will guide you no matter what we say. Sounds like you just need a little push to go for it.

  • Never got into the blues. Weird, as I love every genre it rubs shoulders with.

    That's all.

  • @gusgranite said:
    Never got into the blues. Weird, as I love every genre it rubs shoulders with.

    That's all.

    Really?
    Didn’t you watch that Blues Hammer clip posted up above?
    ;)

  • @CracklePot said:

    @gusgranite said:
    Never got into the blues. Weird, as I love every genre it rubs shoulders with.

    That's all.

    Really?
    Didn’t you watch that Blues Hammer clip posted up above?
    ;)

    lol blues hammer really just puts it all into perspective

This discussion has been closed.