Cultural appropriation in western music of the 1960s  

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"Rock 'n' roll was an inevitable outgrowth of the social and musical interactions between blacks and whites in the South and Southwest."--Sholem Stein

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Early 1960s

After World War II a small but growing market developed for Western folk music and recordings of non-Western music, and this was supplied by specialist record labels such as Folkways Records, Elektra Records and Nonesuch Records in the USA and, later, Disques Cellier in Switzerland. Such labels were typically small "boutique" operations or minor specialist imprints of large companies, which released albums of non-Western traditional classical music, folk songs and indigenous music.

This market was fostered by the co-called "folk boom" of the 1950s and early 1960s, in which artists and groups like Pete Seeger and The Weavers explored the traditional songs and sounds of English-language folk music and re-interpreted them for the mass audience. In America, this process was massively influenced by the "discovery" of the treasure-trove of recordings of African-American music that had been made over the previous decades. Another more overtly political factor, and one that should not be overlooked in this case, is that many folk musicians were deeply involved in the struggle for civil rights for black Americans, and their championing of black music to white audiences was an integral and hugely influential part of this campaign.

This exploratory process also led many musicians to begin investigating folk music from non-Western cultures—as in the case of Solomon Linda's "Mbube". In each case, these processes of discovery and appropriation were made considerably easier by the increasing availability of LP recordings of "ethnic" music.

This process had a definite cumulative effect, but it is fair to say that, until the late 1960s, "ethnic"/"folkloric" music remained more or less a specialist interest. Some "exotic" influences inevitably filtered through to the mass market—as in the case of "The Lion Sleeps Tonight"—but in general these were mostly Western re-interpretations, and very little original music produced outside of the mainstream Western popular music recording industry managed to break into the pop music market or achieve significant sales until the late 1960s.

As noted above, prior to the 60s, many classical musicians and composers had also written and/or performed music that experimented with combining western musical styles and influences from non-Western musical traditions, but this too was essentially an elite 'art' activity and gained little mass recognition.

Mass market acceptance of what we now call "world music" grew dramatically as a result of the pop music explosion of the 1960s and early 1970s. During this period, adventurous pop, rock, progressive and jazz musicians and producers attempted, with varying degrees of success, to create fusions of conventional English-language popular music with instrumental and compositional influences from exotic musical genres. Their interest in these "ethnic" musics, combined with their enormous personal popularity, encouraged a growing number of record buyers to seek out recordings of non-Western music.

A prototype of this fusion of pop and world music in the late 60's can be seen in the folk rock phenomenon of the mid-1960s. Underlying this development was the fact that many leading American and English pop-rock musicians of the period—Roger McGuinn, Bob Dylan, Jerry Garcia, Donovan—had begun their musical careers on the folk scene.

Intrerestingly, although the core of the "folk" genre at this time was traditional Anglo-American folk song, maintream folk music was still appropriating new "non-Anglo" influences like calypso, black South African popular music and even Arabic music. Another notable feature of the folk scene at this time was that it was also common to include African-American music as part of the broader folk genre, and as a result many legendary black American performers like Leadbelly were able to perform side-by-side with white performers like Dylan and Pete Seeger at American folk scene's peak annual event, the Newport Folk Festival.

Folk rock was in part an attempt to broaden the language of mainstream pop by incorporating the more "serious" lyrical approach and political awareness of postwar folk. Folk rock as a genre effectively began in 1964 with the release of The Byrds' electrified cover version of Bob Dylan's "Mr Tambourine Man", in which The Byrds cleverly combined the pop-rock instrumentation and close harmonies made popular by The Beatles with elements of the Anglo-American folk genre. The huge commercial success of The Byrds' version of "Mr Tambourine Man" spawned scores of cash-in imitations, but folk rock continued to expand and diversify over the next few years.

English acts such as Donovan, Fairport Convention and Steeleye Span combined pop-rock arrangements with songs, stylings and instruments drawn from traditional English and Celtic folk music, but all were also heavily influenced by Dylan. Alan Stivell (Brittany) began the same work in the mid 1960s.

Solo guitarist Davey Graham was a notable figure on the British scene; his finger-picking style, his introduction of the so-called "Open D" tuning to British fol guitarists and his groundbreaking incorporations of Arabic and Indian inflexions into his playing influenced many of his contemporaries, including Bert Jansch, Jimmy Page, Donovan and Ray Davies.

Graham's mercurial American counterpart John Fahey also made many innovative solo guitar recordings during this period, which incorporated influences from traditional folk, Hawaiian music, Arabic and Indian music.

In America (and also in Australasia and Canada), pop-rock acts like The Grateful Dead, The Byrds and The Flying Burrito Brothers moved folk rock in a different direction. Drawing on their folk roots, and inspired by the hugely influential late 60's albums by Bob Dylan and The Band, they fused pop and rock with American country music and bluegrass music, creating the genre known as country rock.

Although these trends in what might be termed "folk-pop-fusion" were all significant in their own way, and they were clearly part of the process of cultural appropriation, such experiments by popular musicians, and the availability of recorded collections of "authentic" performances of English and American folk music, began to lead many curious listeners to explore these genres. This in turn would pave the way for the development of the "world music" concept in later years.

Mid 1960s

Pop musicians first began to move outside the Western tradition in the mid-Sixties, when they started mixing Western electric pop with influences taken from the traditional music of India. Although the results were sometimes risible, this proved to be the most influential fusion of pop and "folk" music of the entire period, specifically because it was the first significant attempt to mix Western popular music with a completely non-Western musical tradition.

Although they were by no means the only people at that time who were following this course, much of the credit for the creation of the World Music genre, and for the rapid expansion of Western mass-audience interest in non-Western music, must be accorded to The Beatles, and especially to their lead guitarist, George Harrison.

In early 1965, during a tour of America, David Crosby of The Byrds introduced Harrison to the sitar and the traditional classical music of India. Harrison was captivated by the sound of the instrument; he soon became profoundly interested in Indian music, culture and spirituality, and he began taking sitar lessons from renowned Indian sitar virtuoso Ravi Shankar, whom Harrison continued to regard as the "best musician on the planet" long after the 1960s.

Harrison's background in African-American music forms had given him a solid grounding in the techniques of improvisation that are central to the genre. Like jazz and blues, the largely improvised nature of Hindustani classical music, its strong reliance on rhythm and percussion, and the extended nature of the raga form were all features that Harrison was able to recognise, appreciate and begin to explore.

In October 1965 Harrison broke new musical ground when he played a sitar on the Beatles' recording of the John Lennon song "Norwegian Wood (This Bird Has Flown)", from their 1965 LP Rubber Soul. Other musicians were attempting similar fusions at the time—Brian Wilson, for example, used a koto on one of the songs on his classic Pet Sounds LP, recorded at around the same time—but no other single recording had the instant and worldwide impact of "Norwegian Wood".

It was the first time a western pop song had used a sitar in its arrangement, and for many Western listeners it was undoubtedly the first time they ever heard the instrument. In the wake of the song's release, the sitar became the new "in" sound for pop recordings, and an American guitar company even manufactured an electric sitar-guitar designed to simulate the sound of the sitar.

More importantly, "Norwegian Wood" sparked a major craze for the classical music of India in general and for the work of Ravi Shankar in particular, with the direct result that recordings by Shankar and other Indian classical musicians began to sell in large quantities outside India for the first time. The availability of tape recording and the LP were crucial to the popularisation of this particular genre of music, since a typical raga performance could last twenty minutes or more, and popular appreciation of this music would have been impossible without the longer duration and high fidelity provided by the LP format.

In 1966 Harrison took his "Indi-psych-pop" synthesis a step further with the highly original song "Love You To" (from the seminal Revolver LP), which featured a sinuous Indian-influenced melody and an innovative arrangement consisting solely of Indian instruments, performed by expatriate Indian musicians living in London. The peak of Harrison's Indian synthesis project was the track "Within You Without You" (1967) from Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band, recorded at Studio Two, Abbey Road by Harrison and an ensemble of musicians from the Asian Music Circle in London.

Another obvious trace of Harrison's immersion in Indian music was the fact that "Within You, Without You" also broke new ground (at least in the pop scene) with its length, clocking in at over five minutes. Harrison also recorded in India with Indian instruments and musicians when producing the soundtrack music for the 1968 film Wonderwall; he was given a free rein by the film's director and the music he created was explicitly intended as a sort of "primer" of the styles of Indian instrumental music that Harrison was exploring, but the film did not have a wide release at the time and Harrison's soundtrack remains little known outside the realm of Beatles aficionados.

Although not quite as influential as "Norwegian Wood", the 1965 song "See My Friends" by The Kinks is another significant Western pop song of the period that shows the unmistakable influence of Indian music. In this case, according to writer Ray Davies, the song's arrangement was inspired by a stopover in India during the band's first trip to Australia in 1965, when during an early-morning walk, he heard local fisherman singing a traditional chant, part of which he incorporated into the song's sinuous melody line; Davies' exposure to Hindustani raga music is also evident in the sitar-like quality of the guitar accompaniment.

1967 was a pivotal year for the development of the genre. In June the three-day Monterey International Pop Festival, the world's first rock festival, was held in California, and it was attended by approximately 200,000 people. Alongside the legendary English and American pop and rock acts, the bill also featured black South African jazz trumpeter Hugh Masekela as well as a performance by Ravi Shankar, who opened the climactic Sunday concert (and whose presence at the festival was almost entirely due to the influence of George Harrison). Shankar's performance at Monterey was without question the most important concert of his entire career in the West—it was seen by tens of thousands of people that day, and thanks to the fact that the entire festival was recorded and filmed, millions more around the world heard it on record and/or saw it on film in the years that followed.

The other major landmark that year was the launch of the hugely influential Nonesuch Explorer Series by the American Elektra Records label. This first Explorer LP, a collection of Balinese folk music entitled Music From the Morning of the World, launched a growing catalogue of high-fidelity field recordings of the music of other cultures. The Nonesuch Explorer series is now recognised as one of the most important commercial collections of world music and several excerpts from Nonesuch recordings were included on the Voyager Golden Record that was sent into deep space aboard the Voyager 1 and Voyager 2 space probes in 1977.

Jamaican music

Jamaican music

Another very significant world/pop crossover style that emerged in the 1960s was Jamaican ska (sometimes called bluebeat, rocksteady and reggae. Little Millie Small scored what is probably the first bluebeat hit, "My Boy Lollipop" in 1964, and these styles gained a considerable following in the United Kingdom, especially in the mod and skinhead subcultures, thanks to artists such as Prince Buster, Desmond Dekker and Laurel Aitken. In 1968, The Beatles enjoyed a major crossover success with Paul McCartney's ska-influenced "Ob-la-di, Ob-la-da", while Desmond Dekker became the first Jamaican musician to score a #1 hit in the UK with the 1968 reggae song "The Israelites". In 1972, Johnny Nash scored a major international hit with the reggae-styled "I Can See Clearly Now" (with The Wailers as his backup band). His follow-up single "Stir It Up" was penned by Bob Marley. The style gained wider popularity that year with the cult success of the Jamaican movie The Harder They Come, which starred reggae musician Jimmy Cliff, who also wrote and performed much of the soundtrack album.

Reggae was a distinctive local style that evolved in Jamaica, although its development had been strongly influenced by earlier American soul and R&B. Reggae became widely popular in the UK mostly thanks to Jamaican-born singer-songwriter Bob Marley, who was one of the genre's main founders and one of its most prolific and consistent songwriters. Reggae's popularity in Britain was greatly assisted by the fact that a large number of black immigrants from the Caribbean had settled in England since the end of World War II. Reggae also became very popular with the new generation of musicians in the punk rock and New Wave music genres of the late 1970s. Bands such as The Clash and The Slits became enthusiastic champions of the style, as well as appropriating it for their own music.

Internationally, the most successful appropriators of reggae for mainstream pop audiences was the hugely successful British band The Police, who scored a string of hit singles and hit LPs in the late 1970s and early 1980s, with finely-crafted pop songs played in a reggae style, such as "Walking on the Moon".

Late 1960s

In 1968, Rolling Stones guitarist Brian Jones recorded the Master Musicians of Jajouka in the village of Jajouka in northern Morocco. Jones died the following year but the LP was released in 1971 on Rolling Stones Records. Although there was some criticism of the electronic treatments Jones applied to the recordings in post-production, the LP was one of the first recordings released in the pop market that showcased traditional Moroccan music.

The electric folk movement in which Western popular music appropriated the English and Celtic traditional music also began in the late 1960s, with the work of groups like Fairport Convention. This movement continued well into the 1970s.

See also

See 1960s music, Cultural appropriation in western music

Unless indicated otherwise, the text in this article is either based on Wikipedia article "Cultural appropriation in western music of the 1960s" or another language Wikipedia page thereof used under the terms of the GNU Free Documentation License; or on research by Jahsonic and friends. See Art and Popular Culture's copyright notice.

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