Monday, February 22, 2010

History of Cultural Appropriation?

It's always a dicey topic (and the costumes look pretty tacky, frankly), but I found myself sympathetic to the Russian ice dancers who used Australian aboriginal music and imagery in their performance yesterday. It was a segment devoted to cultural dance styles, and it seemed to me that if the Chinese could use Classical Greece for their inspiration and the Brits could go American west (yeah, the French stayed home and did can-can), the Russians could look to Australia. That is the classical music of Australia; to incorporate all the musical traditions of the world should be homage and respect more than misappropriation.

I once heard the American jazz master David Amram playing at Harbourfront in Toronto. After a run through a range of American jazz classics, he announced, "Now we are going to play some of the classical music of North America." The band's percussionists burst into the rhythmic drumming you usually only hear from a native troop at a pow-wow (or maybe the opening of a Canadian constitutional conference), and the group began the hypnotic high chanting that accompanies it. I was thunderstruck, not only by the power of the music, but also by the realization that this wasn't just a way for First Nations to identify themselves as First Nations: this was amazing music. I've listened to aboriginal music differently ever since.

I don't know if the Russian ice dancers opened anyone's eyes that way. I didn't watch it (Hey, this blog will go only so far in its researches!) And yeah, they might have thought to talk to someone in aboriginal Australia or Papua-New Guinea and got a little counsel about the whole thing.

Paul Simon helped make African music the foundation stone of world music (at least for us myopic North Americans) with his Graceland album. When's he going to do his First Nations album, I wondered afterwards. And how about some serious Australian music after that?

Anyway, word is the Russians didn't skate very well, anyway. Canadians Moir and Virtue, who did Spanish flamenco, are currently standing first.

Update, March 1: Jayne from Great Southern Land comments:
Sad thing is the Russians used World music whereas Aboriginal music is really different, can stir all kinds of emotion or can raise the hair on the back of your neck, depending on the style used.
And the dance was nothing like the fab trad dances, could have been a win:win all around if they'd done their homework properly.
and suggests Yothu Yindi as aboriginal music worth listening to,

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