“Owning Music, Owning the Nation”
How does the regulation and control of national music impact identity formation among a country’s disparate groups of people? This panel addresses such questions of music, nation, and ownership from three geographically diverse perspectives, drawing upon the panelists’ recent fieldwork, historical documents, and media sources. The panel investigates these core questions and draws attention to the challenges faced by peoples attempting to claim ownership of national culture in the modern nation-state. The first paper examines patriotic songs of the U.S., focusing on articulations of Americanness in recent songs from the Tea Party Movement within the context of debates regarding the proper performance of previous generations’ nationalist music. The second paper explores the political struggle over ownership of Mongolian throat-singing between China and Mongolia sparked by UNESCO’s delineation of cultural rights. The third paper examines Israeli state-sponsored musical institutions’ renegotiation of their portrayal of the nation since the 1990s, using the rise of Musika Shachorah (“black music”) as a case study to illustrate the nation’s attempts to representation racial diversity. Together, the papers address questions of belonging and cultural ownership that serve as vital sites of inquiry into nationalist identity construction in the modern global community.
“Negotiating National Identity through American Patriotic Song in the Tea Party Era” (Joe Maurer)
Who may sing the United States’ patriotic songs, and in what manner? During the 2012 U.S. presidential election, two candidates (Herman Cain and Rick Santorum) took their campaign theme songs from Krista Branch, a singer associated with the populist Tea Party Movement. Those songs, “I Am America” and “Remember Who We Are,” demonstrate a marked difference from the patriotic songs of previous generations. Rather than focusing on land and patriotic symbols like the national flag, this most recent type of song articulates an ideological conception of “us” and “them,” illustrating the suggested beliefs and qualities required in a performer (and consumer) of patriotic song. This stylistic turn is especially significant in light of recent controversies regarding the performance of older patriotic music. In April 2006, “Nuestro Himno,” a popular new Spanish-language rendition of the “Star Spangled Banner,” attracted criticism from President George W. Bush, who noted that “people who want to be a citizen of this country ought to learn English. And they ought to learn to sing the anthem in English” (New York Times 2006). A linguistic controversy arose once more in 2014, this time around a multilingual rendition of “America the Beautiful” sung in a Coca-Cola advertisement during the Super Bowl. These incidents and their context in the new milieu of American nationalist music point to important questions of ownership and belonging. This paper addresses these questions of musical Americanness and their significance in light of the recent political success of the Tea Party Movement.
“Whose Throat-Singing?: UNESCO Awarding Khoomei as a Chinese Intangible Cultural Heritage” (Thalea Stokes)
In 2009–2010, the People’s Republic of China sent a myriad of applications for the rights to intangible cultural heritage artifacts to UNESCO. Among the applications was one claiming the Mongolian art of throat-singing (Khoomei) as belonging to China’s intangible cultural heritage. When the decision to award China with the rights to Mongolian throat-singing became publicly known, outrage among Mongolians in China, Mongolia, and elsewhere ensued. In the following year, Mongolia sent an application to UNESCO for the same artifact and was subsequently awarded rights; however, the France-based NGO categorized the art as Khoomei rather than “Mongolian throat-singing,” thereby creating a distinction of sorts. How is Khoomei used by China and Mongolia to make claims about their national identities, and what are the deeper motivations behind these claims? How is it, through the mediating global entity UNESCO, that Khoomei has come to represent both China and Mongolia? What is Chineseness and Mongolianness, and how does Mongolianness necessarily represent Chineseness? This paper, aided by prior fieldwork and current research, discusses how China uses cultural artifacts of its ethnic minorities to project an image of a culturally unified and harmonious state on the global stage, an image that is negotiated and disputed by outside actors. The paper will use the dispute of who owns Khoomei as a case study to illuminate the politics of state ownership of music and the translation to state control of a people, their history, and their culture.
“Composing racial diversity in Israel” (Mili Leitner)
Israel’s early years saw the conscious creation of a national popular music canon, facilitated by state sponsored institutions such as Kol Israel, the Music Inspectorate and IDF (Israeli Defence Forces) radio (Regev & Seroussi, 2004). Israel, as is common for the modern nation state, negotiated its identity through its cultural products, and seemingly defined itself as Ashkenazi and European. In the 1990s, an explosion of independent broadcasters established themselves in Israel, capitalizing on the newly available media of cable television channels and Internet radio stations. Their ability more accurately to represent and reflect the rapidly diversifying demographic makeup of Israel was evident in their economic success, and state-sponsored music institutions were forced to react by incorporating musical representations of non-Ashkenaz groups into their institutions’ output. I explore the rise of Musika Shachorah (“black music”) and its reception by African and Latino migrant worker communities and Ethiopian Israelis, as a case study of ethnically non-normative genres being incorporated into the Israeli mainstream. This super-genre, which includes Hebrew-language hip-hop, reggae and soul, gained traction as the nation’s black community expanded rapidly during the 1990s and 2000s. Musika Shachorah has been taken up by Ashkenazi Israelis, re-circulated into state-sponsored media such as IDF radio, and transformed to suit the national agenda as artists like Subliminal rap about Zionism and Jewish pride. Thus a new, diverse, state-sanctioned Israeli nation identity is emerging, illustrating the power of music and its commercial nature to bring about tangible changes in the nature of Israeliness.