The Avid Listener: World Music

6 posts categorized "World Music"

December 7, 2015

Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan and the “World Beat Dilemma”

Joshua Kalin Busman (University of North Carolina, Pembroke)


Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan provides the soundtrack for a Coca-Cola advertisement.


“Here's a world beat dilemma for you: Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan is one of the world's great singers, but his qawwali music is intended for Sufi Muslim religious ceremonies in Pakistan. How can Khan … be made palatable to the general listener?”

—Ron Givens, Entertainment Weekly

In the spring of 1991, it was perhaps surprising to readers of Entertainment Weekly to find a review of the most recent album by qawwali artist Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan. As the review notes, qawwali is a devotional style of music associated with Sufi Islam, and Khan, a Pakistani singer and composer, is the world’s foremost proponent of the style. Born in Faisalabad, Pakistan in 1948, Khan first came to the attention of Western audiences as one of the original acts to participate in Peter Gabriel’s World of Music, Arts and Dance festivals in 1982. Following his popular exposure through the festival, Khan was signed to Gabriel’s newly formed Real World Records label and collaborated with Gabriel on the 1989 soundtrack to Martin Scorsese’s The Last Temptation of Christ. The album being reviewed is Mustt Mustt, Khan’s first collaboration with Canadian guitarist and producer Michael Brooks and his second release for the Real World imprint.

Continue reading "Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan and the “World Beat Dilemma”" »

June 8, 2015

Musical Virtuosity

Travis D. Stimeling (West Virginia University)

When I was in my late teens and early twenties and was aspiring to a career as a professional musician, I surrounded myself with as many examples of excellent playing as possible. This meant that I sought out recordings of musicians who challenged the boundaries of their instruments and their own bodies, performing at extreme tempi, dynamics, and ranges. As I listened to musicians such as trombonists Joe Alessi and Christian Lindberg and euphonium players such as Robert Childs, I found myself simultaneously inspired by their talents and frustrated by my inability to come close to the standards they set, even as I was learning the same repertoire that they had helped to make famous. Rather than seeing their work as the product of years of practice (in some cases, more years than I had been alive), I began to believe these musicians were superhuman. I spoke of their work in hushed tones to sympathetic peers, but I found myself increasingly discouraged, all that practice time yielding the musicality of a mere mortal. 

Continue reading "Musical Virtuosity" »

November 24, 2014

Hip-Hop Diplomacy, Part 4

Felicia Miyakawa (Austin, TX)

“Girls Be Brave PSA,” produced and performed by the students of St. Karen’s High School in Patna, India with the help of Next Level.


The scene: Two teenage boys—doing their utmost to appear cool—loiter against a concrete wall in Patna, India. Two smiling teenage girls, deeply engaged in their own conversation, walk by the boys, who immediately start whistling, cat calling, and ogling, demanding the girls’ attention. The girls ignore them, but the boys follow them down the street with cries of “Oh, sexy!” and “What’s your name, baby?” When the girls turn around, the boys corner them. One of the girls, a Very Brave Girl, abruptly twists the boy’s arm and chastises him for grabbing her: “Stop it! What do you think this is? Do you think girls are a source of entertainment? Girls are weak? If you think so, you’re wrong! You protect your Mother and sister from this outer world. I am also someone’s daughter. I am also someone’s sister. I am also a woman, like the Goddess whom you worship. Now change your mentality, and move on.” The boys appear thoroughly abashed. One of them repeats what he has just learned to the other. They return to school. Later, the Very Brave Girl discusses the incident with her parents, who express deep concern for her well being and praise her bravery. The video ends with young voices rapping encouragingly: “Be cool, calm, and bold; Behave, be brave; to be better, be the best; break up bitterness; be strong and face the stress.” Against this rap, text fills the screen, one phrase at a time: “Listen to our girls. Support our girls. Be brave.”

Continue reading "Hip-Hop Diplomacy, Part 4" »

November 17, 2014

Hip-Hop Diplomacy, Part 3

Felicia Miyakawa (Austin, TX)

The video above captures part of a “cypher,” an improvised dance where participants show off their best moves while onlookers beatbox in a circle around them. Here dancer Amirah Sackett demonstrates “popping,” a type of dance closely associated with Hip-hop culture, popularized by dancers like Jorge “Popmaster Fabel” Pabon in the 1980s and kept alive by dance crews around the world ever since. Cyphers are common in urban spaces, but this particular cypher took place in the lobby of the U.S. Department of State, an unexpected location for a Hip-hop activity by any stretch of the imagination. In fact, this was a kick-off event for a larger project spearheaded by Professor Mark Katz, who stands opposite the camera in the video, maintaining the dance groove by clapping with the rest of the crew, looking every bit the professor in charge in his gray, v-necked, cardigan sweater. But this video begs the question: how did “popping” get to the lobby of the State Department?

Continue reading "Hip-Hop Diplomacy, Part 3" »

October 20, 2014

Structural Listening

Andrew Dell'Antonio (University of Texas, Austin)

If music is organized sound, then the most distinctive quality of a musical work or tradition is its organization—the patterns of sounds and silences that make it unique. And since music is also a cultural practice, musicians organize their sounds in predictable patterns so that their musical meanings might be shared and understood. This aspect of music is known as form, and we might call an approach that is especially focused on form structural listening.

In order for musicking to be effective as a shared practice, both performers and avid listeners have to understand the forms in their tradition. As a listener, you are likely familiar with the formal conventions at the core of your favorite songs or other musical works—even if you’re not directly conscious of them. If you’ve ever sensed the approaching chorus of a song you’ve never heard before, you know what it’s like to listen to music structurally.

Continue reading "Structural Listening" »

Dedicated to the idea that music criticism can be literate and fun to read, The Avid Listener fosters weekly discussions between scholars and novices alike.

Listen. Write. Discuss. Repeat.

Norton Music

A History of Western Music

J. Peter Burkholder, Donald Jay Grout, and Claude V. Palisca

The Enjoyment of Music

Kristine Forney, Andrew Dell’Antonio, and Joseph Machlis