2015年6月28日星期日

Race and Gender in Music

What is the boundary of a tradition or genre? Music grants creative license, and market forces are increasingly determining the success of musicians rather than politics expressed in the music. This creates problems such as cultural appropriation, and the clear solution is not yet to be found. Jazz started as a music genre that expressed black suffering and the African American experience. Nowadays it is often associated with upper-class taste and elevator music. Yet one also finds it hard to call for a purge in all elements that are inauthentic.
The politics of culture remains an important issue for the Indian diaspora in the Caribbeans, as Tejaswani Niranjana shows in her book Mobilizing India: Women, Music, and Migration between India and Trinidad. The diaspora faces the anxiety of trying to prove they are also adherents of “Indian culture,” which dangers on feeding into Orientalist interpretations of hierarchies of authenticity. Some migrants from India have treated caste as a personal ascription and adopted the styles of conduct to appear as a twice-born. Due to the disproportionate ratio of male to female migrants, caste endogamy to the extent of “back home” was almost impossible. This trend has led to people like controversial writer V.S. Naipaul to think of the diaspora in the Caribbean as “mimic men” and have not “produced anything.” Some of them have thus tried to show their continuance of (Hindu) tradition at home and racial similarity and create exclusionist cultural projects. The left in Trinidad thus faces problems of race, where colonialists and racial purists on both sides tried to maintain an antagonist position toward each other’s interests, despite working class similarities.

Derek Walcott responded in a momentous Nobel Prize speech that the Caribbean has always been looked in a way that it is "illegitimate, rootless, mongrelized." It stems from an expansionist idea that the Caribbeans across the ocean “is new, this is the frontier, the boundary of endeavor, and henceforth everything can only be mimicry.”[Women, Music, and Migration between India and Trinidad. 37.] Yet there is undue appreciation to the innovative uses of the mix in chutney-soca, with Trinidadian English as well as Bhojpuri Hindi being featured in explicit songs. In ways chutney-soca songs are more authentic, organic, and egalitarian than some other "traditional" Indian songs. As Walcott eloquently asked, why are these practices "not 'celebrations of a real presence'? Why should India be 'lost' when none of these villagers ever really knew it, and why not 'continuing'?"


Soca music events allows for many working class women to participate in festive cultural expression, even while incurring wrath from conservative commentators. There are many suggestive lyrics, such as those sung by the famous Drupatee, which have suffered the ignominy of vulgar or obscene. Others stated that "no Indian woman has any right to sing calypso."[Ibid. 112-3.] Racial purity, like caste purity, relies heavily on the circumscription of actions of a community’s women. Hindu opinions in Trinidad has are parallels with Confucian projects in China, such as the House of Female Virtue (女德馆) in which claims to tradition and cultural authenticity threaten female self-respect, freedom, and mobility. The question of gender is under-explored in the quest for authenticity. Trinidad provides a great ground for research since it carries many intersectional questions. Tejaswani Niranjana’s book is a great analysis for the politics of class, race and culture.

Fore more: see documentary on Calypso-Soca music, Jahaji Music

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