Skip to Main Content
Have library access? Log in through your library
Global Pop, Local Language

Global Pop, Local Language

Harris M. Berger
Michael Thomas Carroll
Maria Elena Cepeda
Cece Cutler
John Fenn
Morgan Gerard
Paul D. Greene
David R. Henderson
Dave Laing
Edward Larkey
Anthony McCann
Tony Mitchell
Lillis Ó Laoire
Alex Perullo
Jack Sidnell
Maria Paula Survilla
C. K. Szego
Sue Tuohy
Jeremy Wallach
Copyright Date: 2003
  • Cite this Item
  • Book Info
    Global Pop, Local Language
    Book Description:

    Why would a punk band popular only in Indonesia cut songs in no other language than English? If you're rapping in Tanzania and Malawi, where hip hop has a growing audience, what do you rhyme in? Swahili? Chichewa? English? Some combination of these?

    Global Pop, Local Languageexamines how performers and audiences from a wide range of cultures deal with the issue of language choice and dialect in popular music.

    Related issues confront performers of Latin music in the U.S., drum and bass MCs in Toronto, and rappers, rockers, and traditional folk singers from England and Ireland to France, Germany, Belarus, Nepal, China, New Zealand, Hawaii, and beyond.

    For pop musicians, this issue brings up a number of complex questions. Which languages or dialects will best express my ideas? Which will get me a record contract or a bigger audience? What does it mean to sing or listen to music in a colonial language? A foreign language? A regional dialect? A "native" language?

    Examining popular music from a range of world cultures, the authors explore these questions and use them to address a number of broader issues, including the globalization of the music industry, the problem of authenticity in popular culture, the politics of identity, multiculturalism, and the emergence of English as a dominant world language. The chapters are written in a highly accessible style by scholars from a variety of fields, including ethnomusicology, popular music studies, anthropology, culture studies, literary studies, folklore, and linguistics.

    Harris M. Berger is associate professor of music at Texas A&M University. He is the author ofMetal, Rock and Jazz: Perception and the Phenomenology of Musical Experience(1999).

    Michael Thomas Carroll is professor of English at New Mexico Highlands University. He is the author ofPopular Modernity in America: Experience, Technology, Mythohistory(2000) and co-editor, with Eddie Tafoya, ofPhenomenological Approaches to Popular Culture(2000).

    eISBN: 978-1-60473-803-2
    Subjects: Music

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-iv)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. v-vi)
  3. Acknowledgments
    (pp. vii-viii)
  4. Introduction: The Politics and Aesthetics of Language Choice and Dialect in Popular Music
    (pp. ix-xxvii)
    Harris M. Berger

    In the 1999 filmThe Talented Mr. Ripley,a wealthy industrialist asks an earnest young man named Tom Ripley to travel to Italy in order to lure home to New York his ne’er-do-well son, Dickie.¹ It is an unlikely misunderstanding that draws Tom, a restroom attendant who works on the side as a classical pianist, into the world of the powerful and privileged. But seizing unforeseen opportunities is Tom’s defining character trait, and he happily agrees to the industrialist’s proposal. Before leaving, Tom learns that Dickie is a jazz aficionado, and to prepare for his task he quickly educates himself...

  5. Part One. Language Choice, Popular Music, and Globalization

    • Doin’ Damage in My Native Language: The Use of “Resistance Vernaculars” in Hip Hop in France, Italy, and Aotearoa/New Zealand
      (pp. 3-18)
      Tony Mitchell

      In Spectacular Vernaculars, Russell A. Potter applies Deleuze and Guattari’s comparison of Kafka’s use of Prague German as a “minor language” with the use of English by African-Americans to what he regards as the heteroglossaic, marginal vernacular forms of African-American rap, which he sees as a de-territorialization of “standard” forms of English (66–68; cf. Deleuze and Guattari 16–17). Potter sees African-American rap as a form of “resistance vernacular” which takes the minor language’s variation and re-definition of the major language a step further and “deform[s] and reposition[s] the rules of ‘intelligibility’ set up by the dominant language.” He...

    • Language Ideologies, Choices, and Practices in Eastern African Hip Hop
      (pp. 19-52)
      Alex Perullo and John Fenn

      Hip hop emerged as a musical and cultural force during the late 1970 s in the United States and has followed a global trajectory ever since. Artists and fans around the world filter North American hip hop styles through their own local musical, social, and linguistic environments, making hip hop a highly visible (and audible) example of the intersection of global and local youth cultures. Young people in Tanzania and Malawi, neighboring African countries in the eastern region of the continent, are no exception to this creative process. Both countries have vibrant hip hop communities that draw on youth knowledge...

    • “Goodbye My Blind Majesty”: Music, Language, and Politics in the Indonesian Underground
      (pp. 53-86)
      Jeremy Wallach

      Much of the currently fashionable discourse on “global English” predicts that the English language will have a progressively greater presence in the popular cultures of nations subjected to globalizing forces. While demonstrably true in some cases, such a claim underestimates continuing attachments to national and local languages, as well as the semiautonomous creative development of imported cultural forms once they take root in new settings. In this essay, I discuss issues of language choice in Indonesian “underground” rock music and document a remarkable shift over the last decade that defies the global English thesis: once the dominant language of Indonesian...

    • At the Crossroads of Languages, Musics, and Emotions in Kathmandu
      (pp. 87-109)
      Paul D. Greene and David R. Henderson

      Westernization is not a term with which we are especially comfortable. Neither is modernization.¹ Yet in discussing the connections between music, language, and social change in Kathmandu, Nepal, we are unable to ignore these terms, for versions of them have been traced out time and again for us in conversations and interviews with Nepali pop musicians and their audiences.² How do the sounds and senses of Nepali pop, rock, and “sentimental” music index particular kinds of social change? We take one emotional register—which we can loosely denote as one which encompasses romantic love, longing, and desire—and examine how...

  6. Part Two. Nation, Region, and Ethnicity in the Politics of Music and Language

    • Mucho Loco for Ricky Martin; or The Politics of Chronology, Crossover, and Language within the Latin(o) Music “Boom”
      (pp. 113-130)
      María Elena Cepeda

      African-American comedian Chris Rock’s remarks, made in reference to Puerto Rican Ricky Martin’s performance of his recent hit “Livin’ La Vida Loca”² at the 1999 MTV Video Music Awards, neatly summarize the contradictions embodied in mainstream U.S. attitudes towards Spanish: “Livin’la vida loca,man—I’m gonna write me some Spanish jokes or somethin’. . . . Can’t make no money speakin’ English no more. . . . There ain’t no money in English, man, c’mon—no money in English. . . .Vida loca, you know.” As Rock’s remarks suggest, while Spanish is the target of much popular media...

    • Just for Fun? Language Choice in German Popular Music
      (pp. 131-152)
      Edward Larkey

      After World War II, West Germany, in its search for a post-Nazi identity, encountered the emerging hegemony of the United States, the political and military leader of the Western world whose culture industry challenged the weakened German cultural elite with a powerful combination of unbridled and unrepentant commercialism, populism, and consumerism. Americanization became a looming threat to conservatives competing for legitimacy in a national-cultural marketplace that was severely discredited by the Nazi-tainted popular culture of the recent past. Some conservatives rallied around pre-Nazi cultural ideals rooted in a romanticized folk culture, seeking a mythical GermanHeimat(homeland) untouched by the...

    • The Choices and Challenges of Local Distinction: Regional Attachments and Dialect in Chinese Music
      (pp. 153-186)
      Sue Tuohy

      This excerpt comes from one of many legends told about the song form calledhua’er. The legends locate the origins ofhua’ersongs sometime in the distant past and someplace in Northwest China. This version tells us that, in this multilinguistic environment, the people wanted to sing in a language capable of communicating their shared feelings. They chose songs coming from heaven that were sung in Chinese. But this decision did not settle the language issue permanently. In contemporary China, people continue to make decisions about which languages to use when singing and talking abouthua’ersongs.

      Hua’eris a...

    • “Ordinary Words”: Sound, Symbolism, and Meaning in Belarusan-Language Rock Music
      (pp. 187-206)
      Maria Paula Survilla

      Language embodies experience, triggers associations, and articulates varied layers of significance.¹ Whether spoken, heard, read, or intimated, language can give voice to powerful meanings and encourage multiple responses to the forms of expression in which it participates. As Michael M. J. Fischer’s remarks suggest, the sedimented and resonant allusions within language can activate memory and cultural awareness. When combined with music, language’s evocative power can go even further. Here, song texts move beyond the referential meaning of their words to embrace metaphorics, rhyme, rhythm, and other sonic dimensions of language. This “package” of potential meaning can be read by different...

    • Cockney Rock
      (pp. 207-232)
      Dave Laing

      Since the global success in the 1960 s of the Beatles, Rolling Stones, and other beat groups, it has been customary to refer to the dominant pop form as “Anglo American” music as if this was a homogenous bloc.¹ Indeed, there has been a convergence of generic style in forms such as progressive rock, blue-eyed soul, and heavy metal between musicians from North America and Britain over the past four decades. Associated with this musical convergence, however, has been a complex relation to American vocal styles by singers from Britain involving both imitation and resistance. This relation was discussed in...

    • “Raising One Higher than the Other”: The Hierarchy of Tradition in Representations of Gaelic- and English-Language Song in Ireland
      (pp. 233-265)
      Anthony McCann and Lillis Ó Laoire

      At present, whatever might fit under the rubric of “Irish culture” is receiving widespread publicity and perhaps more recognition in international contexts than ever before. The discourses and social dynamics of development, consumerism, and tourism have become dominant forces in everyday life as Ireland has become “the place to be.” Cultural “phenomena” such as the dance stage showRiverdanceand Frank McCourt’s best-selling novelAngela’s Asheshave boosted this highly responsive climate for the commercial exploitation of Irish-related cultural marketables. The media-driven spectacle of celebration and “wonderlust” has not been without detractors. Crowley and MacLaughlin have drawn attention, for example,...

  7. Part Three. Music and Words:: Language Choice and Dialect in Song and Performance

    • “Trying to Break It Down”: MCs’ Talk and Social Setting in Drum & Bass Performance
      (pp. 269-290)
      Morgan Gerard and Jack Sidnell

      Although music is increasingly available as an object of personal consumption as recordings circulated on disks and in electronic files, in one manifestation it is fundamentally social—embedded in public, socially organized events of performance. The situated activity of musical performance can be analyzed in terms of the social groupings that are organized within its course. In this essay, we argue that an anthropological account of drum & bass performance requires just such a situated analysis.¹ Thus, rather than treat social structures and categories (for example, race, social class, gender) as objective, external, and independent facts that constrain action, we...

    • Singing Hawaiian and the Aesthetics of (In)Comprehensibility
      (pp. 291-328)
      C. K. Szego

      The last fifteen years has seen a variety of movements across the humanities and social sciences that critique the notion of cultural totality and attend to the active and variable interpretation of expressive forms within social groups. For those who study music in culture, the heterogeneities, discontinuities, and contradictions that these movements expose provide an increasingly compelling approach to the investigation of musical meaning. Indeed, ethnomusicology’s alliance with anthropology almost half a century ago drew scholars toward theoretical paths that often led to similar, overdetermined outcomes, at least with regard to the meanings that human subjects invested in musical sounds....

    • “Chanter en Yaourt”: Pop Music and Language Choice in France
      (pp. 329-348)
      Cece Cutler

      Quite by chance, a musician friend of mine was asked to write some English lyrics for a French pop-rock group called Montecarl. He explained to me that there were already vocal tracks on the demo but that they were justyaourt, or “yogurt,” and did not really mean anything. In France,chanter en yaourtrefers to singing that imitates English and is often glossed asle faux anglais, or “fake English.” In its most general sense,chanter en yaourtinvolves the use of an assortment of real and nonsense English words and sounds sung in phonologically and prosodically convincing approximations...

  8. Contributors
    (pp. 349-352)