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03/14/2012

The Impact of African-American and Hispanic Music and Dance on American Society


The Impact of African-American and Hispanic

Music and Dance on American Society

 

Introduction

Functionalist approach to cultural evolution suggests that individuals have certain physiological needs and that cultures develop to meet those needs. These needs include nutrition, reproduction, shelter, and protection from enemies. Functionalism also proposes that there are other basic, culturally derived needs such as economics, social control, education, and political organization. The culture of any people can be explained by the functions it performed; the functions of a culture were performed to meet the basic physiological and culturally derived needs of its individual constituents.

In the case of racial minorities in the United States, their need is to protect themselves against racial bias. Racism was once blatant in the United States. Slavery, lynching and the slaughter of Native Americans were all highly visible manifestations of racism committed with the sanction or even active participation of the authorities. Although overt manifestations of racism today would be unacceptable to the majority of US citizens, the country is still struggling with ongoing racial and ethnic divisions. Major steps taken over the past 50 years to end institutionalized racism have not eliminated the inequalities which many members of racial minorities continue to face in daily life.

This paper shall discuss the current state of the evolution of African-American and Hispanic culture in relation to addressing their needs to emancipate themselves from cultural oppression and racial discrimination. The author believes that these racial minorities’ dance and music will eventually change the perception of American society towards race. 

Cultural Hegemony

As part of their fight against racial discrimination, African-American and Hispanics have created subcultures through their dance and music. With these tools (dance and music), African-American and Hispanics are somehow imposing its power over the American culture. Antonio Gramsci’s theory of hegemony provides the most adequate account of how dominance is sustained in advanced capitalist societies. The theory addresses the seemingly naturally occurring qualities and properties of social hierarchy because, hegemony suggests the complex process by which domination is transformed into civic cooperation[1]. In 1977, cultural studies expert Stuart Hall commented that the term hegemony refers “to a situation in which a provisional alliance of certain social groups can exert ‘total social authority’ over other subordinate groups, not simply by coercion or by the direct imposition of ruling ideas, but by ‘winning and shaping consent so that the power of the dominant classes appears both legitimate and natural’”[2].

Much of American culture bears the mark of the melting pot effect. Essentially a land of immigrants, the United States has served, in many ways, as a palette from which popular culture draws an innumerable array of shades. As such, popular social trends often are a reflection of the hybrid mainstream instinct. This is particularly evident in ostensibly indigenous musical movements introduced by racial minorities such as African-Americans and Hispanics. 

Style is an essential and distinguishing part of subculture. It is often a form of communication between members of a subculture with each other and with the mainstream. Members of different subcultures express themselves and communicate their membership allegiance through style. Particular aspects of style often function to give new meaning to ordinary objects or practices. Such commodities are indeed open to a double inflection: to ‘illegitimate’ as well as ‘legitimate’ uses. These objects can be magically appropriated; ‘stolen’ by subordinate groups and made to carry ‘secret’ meanings: meanings which express, a form of resistance to the order which guarantees their continued subordination. These new meanings are usually only available to and understood by members of the subculture, and non-members often misunderstand the new meanings. Hebdige refers to this as the subversive implications of style. Styles manifested in African-American and Hispanic dance and music suggest power over those who are not part of the subculture. It is evident that Americans are increasingly imitating these racial minorities’ style[3].

The related concept of 'lifestyle' provides a useful basis for a revised understanding of how individual identities are constructed and lived out. 'Lifestyle' describes the sensibilities employed by the individual in choosing certain commodities and patterns of consumption and in articulating these cultural resources as modes of personal expression[4]. Certainly, there are numerous instances of lifestyles which are intended to reflect more 'traditional' ways of life, notably in relation to class background. For example, Puerto Rican Ricky Martin or Mexican Jennifer Lopez and their fans promote an image, which is designed to illustrate their collective sense of being in style.

African-American and Latin American Dance and Music

For four centuries, from the arrival of the first Blacks in English America in 1619 to the hip-hops of the New Millennium, African-Americans have dominated American music and dance. Black music, in fact, is America's only original music, and the Spirituals-Blues-Jazz-Gospel-Charleston-Twist-Hip Hop gift is the foundation not only of rhythm and blues but also of Broadway, the Grammys and Elvis et al[5].

In an effort to break with the past, young American rebels are increasingly turning to African-American culture - particularly music, dance, language, and humor. Ragtime, blues, jazz, the Charleston, the black bottom, the slow drag, black slang, and jokes all became fashionable within this subgroup of "white Negroes," and symbolic of their generational revolt against the established social order. This sort of selective expropriation of African-American culture by certain sectors of white society is nothing new[6].  

American popular culture is periodically infused with the latest black innovations in music, dance, and comedy, and these infusions both enriched the cultural mix and encouraged the cultural rebellion of disaffected segments of the white population - most noticeably bohemian fringe elements in the 19th century and middle-class young adults after 1920[7].

As a living and fertile body of creative expression blues and jazz retain today their boundless integrity and provocative flare[8]. Their role in shaping the modern sensibility is already large and shows every sign of expanding. The dark truth of Afro-American music remains unquestionably oppositional. Its aggressive and uncompromising assertion of the omnipotence of desire and the imagination in the face of all resistances forever provides a stumbling-block for those who would like to exploit it as a mere commercial diversion, a mere form of "entertainment," a mere ruse to keep the cash register ringing. Born in passionate revolt against the unlivable, blues and jazz demand nothing less than a new life[9]

African-Americans use their music- Gospel, or religious music; Blues; Jazz; and Black Pop or R&B, which includes everything from Jump Blues, Doo-Wop, Soul, and Funk to New Jack Swing and, arguably, Rap (as an extension of R&B)- as both a basic means of communicating and as a tool for artistic expression.

Black musical sensibilities often inform musical structures that originated apart from black America and became African Americanized. There is an expressive range that constitutes black music[10] (Goosman, 1997). Some styles are the African Americanization of white music or the appropriation of white musical sensibilities, perhaps for the purposes of parody, marketability, emulation, affection, interest, or even as the result of cultural brainwashing.

            Black America maintains, after nearly four hundred years in the New World, a range of "essential" sounds and identities, depending on social needs and circumstances. Difference and dissonance can be construed as a positive aesthetic found in black America -- from the juxtaposition of different rhythms in ragtime, boogie-woogie, jazz, and funk, to the juxtaposition of different rhymes in rap, to an aesthetic of "contrasting sound qualities"[11].

As early as the 1940’s, the Latin music record scene has been enjoying a wide audience. Latin music could have dominated America if not for the World War II, in which a variety of factors led to a decline of the majors' near-total hegemony in the field of ethnic and minority music[12].

Industry sources are noting that a majority of the current growth in Latino music sales is taking place in American music stores[13]. This illustrates that the American culture is embracing the lifestyle embedded in Latino musics. The motivations underlying the Latin boom are indeed multifaceted, and they encompass possibilities for economic gain as well as the increasing consumer influence and visibility of U.S. Latinas/os within the public sphere. During approximately the past two years, a majority of the numerous popular publications that have devoted space to the discussion of Latin American music's rising popularity among non-Latino audiences have offered their interpretations of the "boom's" appeal to mainstream audiences[14]. This suggests that Latin American music is moving fast penetrating the American culture.

Salsa and meringue, as well as ballad can be found on TV programs in New York and elsewhere, the large networks -- notably SIN-TV (Univision), which accounts for a large percentage of Spanish-language broadcasting in the United States -- and programs like MTV International.

 

Conclusion

Over the last decades, a growing number of publications in cultural studies, including ethnomusicology, have grappled with various challenges that our postmodern world poses to its analysis. Today's social and cultural fragmentation, alienation, dislocation, and disruption are the results of often radical transformations brought about by the collapse of the Western colonialist empires and the subsequent development of new forms of imperialism. While the creation of a global economy and improved communication systems has facilitated the worldwide dissemination of mass culture and has hence led to a global consumption of cultural commodities, the shifting power balance between nation-states and blocs has led to the emergence of new forms of economically or ideologically motivated migration and the re-emergence of nationalism and religious hostilities.

In the 1990s it is evident that despite the process of political and economic globalization, "culture" is more diverse and complex than ever before. Rather than blending local differences into a homogeneous global culture, culture clashes have released unexpected energies, unleashed creativity, and provided opportunities for counterposing diverse alternatives. The global village is not a village, but an urban complex of global diversity, including all the ethnic neighborhoods contained within the city. In American society, African-Americans and Hispanics are successful in showing their identity. Through their unique and influential art forms (dance and music), these racial minorities are proving that they are surviving and leading the current evolution of culture.

 

References

 

Barlow, W. (1995). Black music on radio during the jazz age. African American Review, Vol. 29.

 

Channey, D. (1996). Lifestyles. London: Routledge.

Deetz, S. (1995). Transforming Communication, Transforming Business. London: Hampton Press.

 

Ebony. (2000)The 25 Most Important Events In Black Music History
Magazine article; Vol. 55, June.

 

Farley, C. J. and Thigpen, D. E. (2000) Christina Aguilera: Building a 21st Century Star. Time, 6 March, 71-72.

 

Goosman, S. L. (1997). The black authentic: structure, style, and value in group harmony. Black Music Research Journal, Vol. 17.

Hebdige, D. (1979). Subculture: The Meaning of Style. London: Routledge.

Lannert, J. (1999). Latin Sales Swell in First Half of '99. Billboard, 21 August, 8.

 

Manuel, P. (1991). Latin Music in the United States: Salsa and the Mass Media. Journal of Communication, Vol. 41.

 

Rosemont, F. (1973). Preface. Blues & the Poetic Spirit. By Paul Garon. New York: Da Capo.

Wilson, O. (1983). Black music as an art form. Black Music Research Journal Vol. 3:1-22.

[1] Deetz, S. (1995). Transforming Communication, Transforming Business. London: Hampton Press.

[2] Hebdige, D. (1979). Subculture: The Meaning of Style. London: Routledge.

[3] Hebdige, D. (1979). Subculture: The Meaning of Style. London: Routledge.

[4] Channey, D. (1996). Lifestyles. London: Routledge.

[5]Ebony. (2000) The 25 Most Important Events In Black Music History
Magazine article; 55.

[6] Barlow, W. (1995). Black music on radio during the jazz age. African American Review, Vol. 29.

[7] Ibid.

[8] Rosemont, F. (1973). Preface. Blues & the Poetic Spirit. By Paul Garon. New York: Da Capo.

[9] Rosemont, F. (1973). Preface. Blues & the Poetic Spirit. By Paul Garon. New York: Da Capo.

[10] Goosman, S. L. (1997) The black authentic: structure, style, and value in group harmony. Black Music Research Journal, Vol. 17.

[11] Wilson, Ol. (1983). Black music as an art form. Black Music Research Journal, 3:1-22.

[12] Manuel, P. (1991). Latin Music in the United States: Salsa and the Mass Media. Journal of Communication, Vol. 41.

[13] Lannert, J. (1999). Latin Sales Swell in First Half of '99. Billboard, 21 August, 8.

[14] e. g. Farley, C. J. and Thigpen, D. E. (2000) Christina Aguilera: Building a 21st Century Star. Time, 6 March, 71-72.

 


 

 



 

 

 

 
 

 

 

 

 

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