(Image credit: Michael Ochs Archives)

  1. “Maggie’s Farm”, Rage Against the Machine (original by Bob Dylan), Renegades, 2000, Rock, U.S.A
  2. “Celebration: Raag Manj Khamaj”, Anoushka Shankar, Home, 2015, Indian Classical, India
  3. “Kun Faya Kun”, A.R Rahman, Javed Ali, Mohit Chauhan, Rockstar, 2011, Indian Pop, India
  4. “The Scene”, Thermal and a Quarter, The Scene, 2015, Rock, India
  5. “Tarhatazed”, Mdou Moctar, Ilana (The Creator), 2019, Rock, Sub-Saharan Africa
  6. “The Great Chinggis Khan”, The HU,  The Gereg, 2019, Metal, Mongolia
  7. “the WORLD”, Nightmare, the WORLD Ruler, 2007, J-Rock , Japan
  8. “Territory”, Sepultura, Chaos A.D, 1993, Metal, Brazil
  9. “Goca Dunya”, Altin Gun, On, 2018, Anatolian Rock, Netherlands and Turkey
  10. “Shanghai”, King Gizzard and the Lizard Wizard, Butterfly 3000, 2021, Rock, Australia

Hybridity and Essentialism in Rock and Metal

The impact of rock music on popular culture in the last half century cannot be understated. What started as people combining rhythm and blues into rock and roll has today morphed itself into a massive genre with thousands of sub-genres and hundreds of thousands of fans all over the world. With this playlist, I take you through a journey of how rock music has evolved as it has traveled through space and time, and how different locales have interacted with it. We see what rock music means to people from different places, and how musicians’ identities play a part in how they sell their music.

We start with Rage Against the Machine, a punk-rock band covering the singer-songwriter Bob Dylan’s “Maggie’s Farm”. With their punk aesthetic, they transform Dylan’s far slower song into an anthem against capitalism and give new meaning to the lyrics with their borderline screaming vocals[4]. This provides an energetic introduction to the playlist, but also shows some of the things that make rock music so great for hybridity: we see that in rock, imitation truly is flattery. People stand on the shoulders of the great rock musicians who came before them, and transform the sounds of the previous generations into their own anthems of today. Through the rest of the playlist, we see that this process doesn’t happen only through time, but can also happen through space: different cultures can pick up rock music sounds and transform it.

Next, the playlist examines how the Indian music scene has interacted with rock music. Indian classical music has been greatly helped by rock’s openness to experimenting with genre: ironically, it was the West’s interest in Indian classical music that led to India learning to love its own music[5]. Ravi Shankar’s Montgomery Pop Festival performance, and George Harrison’s apprenticeship with Ravi Shankar lead to increased interest in Indian classical music, both worldwide and in India. Anoushka Shankar’s “Celebration Raag Manj Khamaj” acknowledges this, combining her traditional sitar background with jazz influences and international artists to create a new style of Indian classical music. “Kun Faya Kun” shows how rock music works its way into mainstream ‘filmi’ music as a signifier of freedom and independence: it tells the story of a rock singer who finds home in a qawwali singing group. “The Scene” talks of a Bangalore band’s struggle with essentialism: to make music that is both authentically Bangalorean and yet not let their regional identity define them. It talks about how India’s rock scene is still small, and yet is a space for authentic storytelling where artists such as themselves have carved a niche for themselves by staying true to the kinds of music they enjoy.

Now, the playlist examines how different cultures have used rock and metal to sell their culture to a Western audience. Mdou Moctar’s “Tarhatazed” uses the guitar styles he learned from his heroes Jimi Hendrix and Eddie Van Halen [1] to play traditional Tuareg sounds and sing of the plight and bravery of the Tuareg people.[6] Metal music has a long tradition of finding inspiration for its lyrics in history, with lots of metal bands writing lyrics about old military deeds. The HU’s “The Great Chinggis Khaan” puts its own spin on this tradition, and uses metal music to tell the story of Genghis Khan whilst simultaneously introducing us to Mongolian throat singing, a particular style of vocal delivery common in Mongolian folk songs[7]. In both of these songs, we see how regional sounds (be it in Mdou Moctar’s unique Tuareg-inspired guitars or in Mongolian throat singing) are placed within Western music traditions of shredding-heavy rock and storytelling metal. This gives the listener something presumably more familiar to latch on to while being introduced to a completely new musical tradition, all while allowing these artists to pay homage to their Western music heroes.

“Territory” by Sepultura and “the WORLD” by Nightmare show how rock music can serve as an outlet for rage. Territory by Seplutura uses guttural screaming, relentless drums and power chords to make a straightforward point about how war always serves the powerful. Sepultura ended up redefining the entire subgenre of death metal: their anger and willingness to speak truth to power is now common in death metal. The entire Japanese rock (or J-Rock) scene in Japan emerged as a rebellion to the strict traditional norms of Japan[2], and became a place for Japanese youth to express themselves and dress and sing in ways that weren’t ‘traditionally’ Japanese.

The last two songs on my playlist are different from the ones that precede it: they aren’t made by people from the traditions which they draw upon. Rather, they are made by Westerners who find sounds that they love and put their own spin on these sounds. Altin Gun is a band from the Netherlands (with Turkish vocalists) that covers old Turkish music and puts a psychedelic twist on it. “Goca Dunya,” their most popular release to date, is an old Turkish song they’ve reworked. King Gizzard and the Lizard Wizard have had hundreds of influences over the course of their extensive discography, but on “Shanghai”, they condense these sounds into a tight song driven by modular synth loops. Particularly notable is the absence of electric guitar on this song: the traditional marker of rock music. One might be suspicious of how ‘authentic’ such music can be, but I think that is the wrong question to ask. These sounds don’t belong only to the traditions that they came from, and new artists picking them up and putting their own spin on it allows us to hear a vast variety of sounds that make traditional rock better. Both King Gizzard and Altin Gun take the trailblazing work of the microtonal Anatolian rock from the mid 1960s and 70s, and make it into the sound of the future: all while being very open about their influences and giving them credit for their own success!

Rock music is fascinating because it allows people to engage with their culture in a necessarily non-essentialist way. Unlike traditional music, the artists on this playlist have not been constrained by what it means to be authentic music or by considerations of nationalism in the same way that a classical musician might have been.[3] They are able to find traditions and values within rock music that connect to them: be it speaking truth to power or the way rock musicians dress or the freedom it signifies. They combine their own musical traditions and training with the rock records they had to find their own place in the pantheon of rock music.

Rohan Kapoor is a third-year undergraduate student at UChicago studying Mathematics and Physics. He enjoys playing the bass and enjoying the jazz scene in Chicago. He is originally from Bangalore, India. 


  1. https://www.mdoumoctar.com/about
  2. Martin, Ian F. (2016). Quit Your Band: Musical Notes From the Japanese Underground. Awai Books. p. 41. ISBN 978-1-93722005-1.
  3. Bohlman, Philip Vilas. 2011. “Music and Nationalism Why Do We Love to Hate Them?” in Focus: Music, Nationalism, and the Making of the New Europe. 2nd ed. New York: Routledge, pp. 1–22.
  4. Tatro, Kelley. 2014. “The Hard Work of Screaming: Physical Exertion and Affective Labor among Mexico City’s Punk Vocalists.” Ethnomusicology 58, no. 3: 431–53.
  5. Agehananda Bharati (1980), “Indian Expatriates in North America and neo-Hindu Movements”, in Vinayshil Gautam; J. S. Yadava (eds.), The Communication of Ideas, Concept Publishing Company, p. 245
  6. Appert, Catherine M. 2016. “On Hybridity in African Popular Music: The Case of Senegalese Hip Hop.” Ethnomusicology 60, no. 2: 279–99.
  7. China’s 2018 CCTV Spring Festival Gala, YouTube playlist