Music is my culture, a part of it at least. And my culture is very important to me as I am sure yours is for you. I appreciate music in its entirety. When I listen to music, I appreciate what it tells me: how it makes me feel; how and why it inspires me; I appreciate the good and the bad and the happy and the sad. But how can I be sure that the music I appreciate is good for me? How do I make sure I’m not feeding into a world of musical appropriation?
The music cover is a great form of music appreciation. Like the Red Hot Chili Peppers cover of Stevie Wonder’s Higher Ground; the Dead Kennedys cover of Elvis Presley’s Viva Las Vegas; The Cure’s cover of Jimi Hendrix’s Foxy Lady. There is only one rule: the artist who covers a song must be responsible for giving credit to the original. Plain and simple.
So what is appreciation in music? To be as brief as possible, I would say it is when you give credit to inspiration.
The problem with covers is sometimes the credit is not given to the original; therefore, unknowledgeable fans will not know unless their favorite artists give credit. In other words, we got playyyyyyyyyyy-giarism at work.
One of my favourite bands, Led Zeppelin, have been accused more than once of not giving credit to artists. Judge for yourself. I still love their music, and in some cases, I even prefer their remakes, but the problem is not with reinventing music, the problem with the Led is their lack of acknowledgements. Not cool Zeppelin!
Another example is when Elvis Presley took Hound Dog from Big Mama Thornton. I mean, it is completely okay to rework a song, especially in the entertainment industry, I would hope so. I love covers – most of the time! This time, I prefer the original version by Thornton over Elvis’ cover. But you know what happened? Elvis’ cover became a hit and he earned, o did he earn! And through the power of greed and a lack of racial morality in 1950’s America, he was never forced to hand over any royalties to Thornton.
This is just a slice of the story of music and racism in American history.
But if musicians can take an entire song and profit without giving credit, then musicians can certainly take a few sounds and styles and reinvent and claim it as their own original. Music culture goes down two roads; one marked with appreciation, the other unmarked towards appropriation.
What is cultural appropriation? And when does it affect music?
In Canada, this has been discussed regarding Indigenous music. There is music that remains spiritual to a culture and therefore needs to be protected. Music for ceremony belongs to religious and spiritual belief. If we take without permission in this case, we are doing much more damage than we think.
And what about when we pay to see artists and realize that some elements of their music contain cultural appropriation? If we call them out, do they stop? If they are still making money, does that mean the majority does not care?
They – meaning we do care! We open our wallets because we open our hearts. We pour money into the hands of music creators because we support their artistry. We become part of a relationship where we pay for what we want to hear.
We cannot always be certain whether our favourite music is responsible for cultural appropriation. But we should try. Musicians listen to music just as we fans do as well. So, we gotta do our homework sometimes. There are outright examples of cultural appropriation in pop music and the music industry does not stop it. Why is that?
Well, because the music industry is just that, an industry. It builds on our expectations and when it can, it shapes culture through music into a commodity. We pay for our music, but the industry makes music the commodity, while culture is the flavour that keeps us listening. So how do we separate culture and commodity?
To be clear, I am not saying that using previous music styles and cultural music is forbidden. Music borrows, depends, adapts and readapts, combines and refines, music just goes on. But musicians must maintain the authority to be honest and avoid the fragmentation of culture for profit if they’re gonna cash checks and sleep easily at night.
I know that we already know what to do. We must advocate for acknowledgement of music’s originality. We need to voice out that some music retains the right to remain within a culture, and if culture is to be explored through music, we should make it clear that using culture to expand music must be done through sincerity and TRIBUTE. And we must make it clear that culture-vultures are not welcome on our shelves or in our playlists.
If we fail to do this, we fail to maintain the essence of who we are. When our cultural essence is camouflaged within an industrial lie, then a lie becomes the commodity we buy, and all we will want to know is the lie.
So musicians, get permission; musicians, be honest; give credit.
And listeners… support music that supports music. And if you love a song, and you know there was no credit made to the original, I cannot and will not tell you what to do from there. That is something you have decide for yourself. As for me, I am off for now, down the road of appreciation!
Until Next Time Lovely Readers!
Borduas, Pierre. “Big Mama Thornton – Hound Dog.” Youtube. 27 Aug. 2016. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=frsBq9MCNVg.
clashboy1977. “Led Zeppelin Plagiarism Part 1.” Youtube. 27 May 2009. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=JyvLsutfI5M.
ElvisPresleyVZL4. “Elvis Presley – Viva las vegas HD.” Youtube. 6 Feb. 2012. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ui0EgRsFVN8.
ForbiddenInGermany4. “Elvis Presley – Hound Dog (1956) HD 0815007.” Youtube. 26 Dec. 2010. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=MMmljYkdr-w
gkm29. “Red Hot Chili Peppers Higher Ground Official Video.” Youtube. 1 July 2009. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=686A5yPMWrs.
Hendrix, Jimi.”The Jimi Hendrix Experience – Foxey Lady (Miami Pop 1968).” Youtube. 5 Nov. 2013. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_PVjcIO4MT4.
johnniewalker23. “Stevie Wonder – Higher Ground.” Youtube. 23 Nov. 2007. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=4wZ3ZG_Wams.
kurt_dahl. “What Constitutes Music Plagiarism? The Sam Smith and Robin Thicke Trials.” https://lawyerdrummer.com/2017/03/music-plagiarism-2/, 30 March 2017.
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Morris, Wesley. “Why Is Everyone Always Stealing Black Music?” The New York Times, The New York Times, 14 Aug. 2019, https://www.nytimes.com/interactive/2019/08/14/magazine/music-black-culture-appropriation.html.
Nittle, Nadra Kareem. “Cultural Appropriation in Music: From Madonna to Miley Cyrus.” ThoughtCo, DotDash, https://www.thoughtco.com/cultural-appropriation-in-music-2834650, 24 Feb. 2019.
Rowat, Robert. “This Podcast Episode Looks at Indigenous Appropriation in Canadian art music.” CBCnews, CBC/Radio Canada, https://www.cbc.ca/music/this-podcast-episode-looks-at-indigenous-appropriation-in-canadian-art-music-1.5293938, 26 Sept. 2019.
standar, jazz. “THELONIOUS MONK TRIBUTE.” Youtube. 5 Sept. 2017. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=scQCCZncYXc
Vik, Spencer. “Dead Kennedys – Viva Las Vegas (Elvis Presley Cover).” Youtube. 16 Nov. 2008. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=XT72CgEJQNQ.