Tag Archives: Popular music

Queercore and all-girl bands

Queercore is a loose community of like-minded individuals who have developed a culture of fanzines, films, art, and music. Initiated in Canada and the U.S. during the mid-1980s, queercore spread throughout North America and Europe during the 1990s and 2000s.

The movement was inspired by feminist, postmodern, and queer theories that rejected binary understandings of sexual identity as homosexual/heterosexual and gender identity as man/woman. These theories were put into punk practice to confront heterosexist society.

Central to queercore are all-girl bands whose music confronts lesbian invisibility, misogyny, homophobia, and sexual violence, and who create vital spaces and communities for different ways of doing and being queer. These bands and artists draw on discourses of girlhood, femininity, womanhood, lesbianism, and queerness within radical music-making, lyrics, and performances affiliated with DIY queer culture.

This according to “Queercore: Fearless women” by Val Rauzier, an essay included in Women make noise: Girl bands from Motown to the modern (Twickenham: Supernova books, 2010, pp. 238–58). Above, Team Dresch, one of the bands discussed in the article, in the 1990s; below, one of the band’s more recent performances.

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Irving Berlin and jazz

In his four Music box revues (1921–24), Irving Berlin introduced a series of songs that were widely construed as jazz. That view has not prevailed, but the jazz label becomes more intelligible through efforts to restore its original milieu, including the songs’ distinctive musical and linguistic elements, their theatrical context, and the cultural commentary surrounding Berlin and his work in that period.

At a time when the term jazz had only recently entered public discourse, and when its meaning, content, and value remained in flux, Berlin deployed a variety of ragtime and blues figures and combined them in such a way as to produce a jazz trope, a musical construct created by juxtaposing disparate or even contradictory topics. When repeatedly set to lyrics that celebrate illicit behavior, the music gained further associations with things that jazz was thought to abet.

Theatrical setting further reinforced the songs’ links to jazz. Berlin wrote many of the numbers for a flapper-style sister act, often placed them in a climactic program position, and juxtaposed them with sentimental and nostalgic songs that lacked jazz flavor and whose lyrics, in some cases, pointedly denied jazz’s attractions.

Beyond the stage, the songs and their theatrical presentation flourished within an emerging perspective that identified Jewish Americans, such as Berlin and George Gershwin, as the key figures in jazz and musical theater. Berlin’s Broadway jazz stands as an influential and revealing intersection of musical, linguistic, theatrical, and social elements in the early 1920s.

This according to “Everybody step: Irving Berlin, jazz, and Broadway in the 1920s” by Jeffrey Magee (Journal of the American Musicological Society LIX/3 [fall 2006] pp. 697–732).

Today is Berlin’s 130th birthday! Below, Alice Faye sings his Everybody step, an example from the article.

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Filed under Popular music, Reception

“Bengawan Solo” and pan-East/Southeast Asian identity

Bengawan Solo (Solo River) was written by the kroncong singer Gesang Martohartono (above) in September 1940. A tribute to the beauty and significance of the river for the common people, the song subsequently assumed national importance, symbolizing the struggle for independence during the Japanese occupation of Java (1942–45).

The first widely popular song by an Indonesian composer written in Bahasa Indonesia, the Malay-based national language adopted by independent Indonesia, Bengawan Solo now evokes images of Indonesian revolutionary fighters to whom homage must be given. The song has spread throughout Southeast Asia, and it has even become popular in Japan and China, making it a potent symbol of pan-East/Southeast Asian identity.

This according to “The pan-East/Southeast Asian and national Indonesian song Bengawan Solo and its Javanese composer” by Margaret J. Kartomi (Yearbook for traditional music XXX [1998] pp. 85–101).

Below, a recording featuring the voices of the composer and Asti Dewi Christianna.

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Filed under Asia, Popular music, Reception

Multiple Beninese temporalities

The Gangbé Brass Band’s Alladanou makes specific historical, linguistic, and musical references to Benin’s precolonial, colonial, and postindependence histories. These references can serve as a point of departure for exploring the song’s relationship to the royal court style adjògàn.

The Cameroonian political theorist Achille Mbembe’s concept of multiple temporalities illuminates the historical flexibility at play in Gangbé’s album Togbé, and an analytical framework for analyzing Alladanou proceeds from an interest in audience, relationality, the Fon concept of gbè (voice or sound), and resonance.

This according to “‘People of Allada, this is our return’: Indexicality, multiple temporalities, and resonance in the music of the Gangbé Brass Band of Benin” by Sarah Politz (Ethnomusicology LXII/1 [winter 2018] pp. 28–57).

Below, the song in question.

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Filed under Africa, Curiosities, Popular music

Black Sabbath and Nietzsche

Black Sabbath draws upon gods who are older than Satan. Dionysus and Apollo, pagan gods from ancient Greece, were there with Black Sabbath at the birth of heavy metal.

Nietzsche wrote about the importance of the satyr chorus in ancient Greek tragedies. Wild, horny goat men, satyrs became the Christian model for Satan. Heavy metal iconography invites us to see past those satanic images to the lustful satyrs of long ago.

If Nietzsche had been a Black Sabbath fan he would have written lines like “What good is heavy metal that does not carry us beyond all heavy metal?”

This according to “Gods, drugs, and ghosts: Finding Dionysus and Apollo in Black Sabbath and the birth of heavy metal” by Dennis Knepp, an essay included in Black Sabbath & philosophy: Mastering reality (Malden: Blackwell, 2013, pp. 96–109). Above and below, the group’s Grammy Award-winning God is dead?

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Afro-sonic feminist funk

Since it emerged as a distinct genre in the late 1960s and early 1970s funk has played an important role in American music and culture, in its foregrounding of polyrhythmic interplay, improvisation, and community formation, and in addressing issues of discrimination and marginalization.

Recent scholarship has examined funk from a feminist perspective, highlighting female musicians’ participation in the creation of black feminist thought and in rejecting externally defined roles and identities. An expansion on these feminist approaches focuses on the particular ways that sound organization helps to address the gendered nature of funk performance and discourse; the concept of Afro-sonic feminist funk demonstrates how female musicians use the sonic and performative tenets of funk to complicate the gendered politics and discourses surrounding funk music.

This according to “Janelle Monáe and Afro-sonic feminist funk” by Matthew Valnes (Journal of popular music studies XXIX/3 [September 2017]).

Today is International Women’s Day! Above, Janelle Monáe’s Q.U.E.E.N.; below, her Tightrope. Both songs provide case studies in the article.

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Filed under Black studies, Popular music, Women's studies

Fats Domino and New Orleans

Antoine “Fats” Domino, the rhythm-and-blues singer whose two-fisted boogie-woogie piano and nonchalant vocals made him one of the biggest stars of the early rock ’n’ roll era, stopped touring in the early 1980s when he decided that he did not want to leave New Orleans; he said it was the only place where he liked the food.

Reclusive and notoriously resistant to interview requests, Domino even refused to leave New Orleans when Hurricane Katrina devastated the city, remaining at his flooded home until he was rescued by helicopter. “I wasn’t too nervous” he said later, “I had my little wine and a couple of beers with me.”

He was often seen around New Orleans, emerging from his pink-roofed mansion driving a pink Cadillac. “I just drink my little beers, do some cookin’, anything I feel like,” he said in 2007.

This according to “Fats Domino, early rock ’n’ roller with a boogie-woogie piano, is dead at 89” by Jon Pareles and William Grimes (The New York times 26 October 2017).

Today would have been Domino’s 90th birthday! Above, in 2013; below, performing in 1955.

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The Goree All-Girl String Band

The members of the Goree All-Girl String Band, all inmates in the Texas state prison system, used country music’s gender iconography in their struggle for greater autonomy and ultimately freedom in the 1930s and 1940s.

Their incarceration and past violations of the norms of feminine passivity and virtuousness placed them beyond the pale of country music’s prevailing image of valued femininity: the sentimental mother, who embodied home, domesticity, and a lost rural past. But through the alternative roles of dutiful daughter and cowboy’s sweetheart they performed their way to rehabilitation, both symbolically (as women who had returned to their proper place) and literally (as convicts who had served their time or gained clemency).

Though largely forgotten today, the Goree Girls’ popularity during their broadcasting years demonstrates that while country audiences may have venerated the sentimental mother, they also identified with and embraced women whose relationship to dominant gender ideals was fraught with complications.

This according to “As if they were going places: Class and gender portrayals through country music in the Texas State Prison, 1938–1944” by Caroline Gnagy, an essay included in Country boys and redneck women: New essays in gender and country music (Jackson: University Press of Mississippi, 2016, pp. 126–45).

Below, a selection from a musical based on the Goree Girls’ story; information on the 2017 production is here (scroll down). A film produced by Jennifer Aniston is reportedly in the planning stages; information on that topic is here.

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Filed under Curiosities, Popular music, Women's studies

Extreme metal in Iraq and Syria

Heavy metal music can be a means of artistic expression; it can also be an accessory of war. Making its first appearance in Iraq and Syria in the 1980s, it has functioned as an agency of power, endurance, anger, and abuse. Artists, fans, and the military of al-Mašriq have found that metal can be used for catharsis, rebellion, or torture.

The extreme metal subgenres of thrash metal, death metal, and black metal have become important components of the Iraqi and Syrian civil conflicts. In these contexts, metal music can be a source of empowerment for both civilians and the military; it can be the only stability that some draw from during the continual devastation to their communities, and in exceptional circumstances it can provide passage out of the region.

This according to “Resistants, stimulants, and weaponization: Extreme metal music and empowerment in the Iraqi and Syrian civil conflicts” by Sam Grant (Metal music studies III/2 [2017] pp. 175–200).

Above and below, the Kirkuk-based Dark Phantom, one of the groups discussed in the article.

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Filed under Asia, Popular music

Allen Toussaint’s legacy

Ranking among America’s most influential and versatile musical figures, Allen Toussaint excelled as a songwriter, arranger, session pianist, and producer. His influence extends across the popular music landscape; though he is most often associated with the music of his native New Orleans, he enjoyed success in R&B, jazz, country, blues, and pop. His piano playing blended the wealth of Crescent City styles, barrelhouse blues, marching band references, jazzy intervals, and sweeping octave leaps.

By the late 1950s Toussaint was already cranking out hits and frequently doubling as keyboard player and/or producer. In the 1960s two of his instrumentals became huge pop standards—Java for Al Hirt and Whipped cream for Herb Alpert. Glen Campbell’s version of his Southern nights was nominated for the Country Music Association Song of the Year award in 1977, and he was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 1998.

This according to “Toussaint, Allen” by Ron Wynn (Encyclopedia of the blues II [2006] pp. 1005–396); this encyclopedia is one of many resources included in RILM music encyclopedias, an ever-expanding full-text compilation of reference works.

Today would have been Toussaint’s 80th birthday! Above, receiving the National Medal of Arts from President Obama in 2013; below, his classic Yes we can can.

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Filed under Performers, Popular music