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Ethnic?

DCPImages

New Member
I guess I will be accused of being way too PC, but does anyone else have a problem with the way the term ‘ethnic’ is thrown about in musical circles?

Too often ‘ethnic’ seems to be used as a collective way of lumping together rich, complex, diverse and very beautiful musical traditions in order to distinguish them from what? ?mainstream music? ?proper music? ?classical music? But that all seems a little culturally-centric, don’t you think? After all, the only thing that so-called ‘ethnic’ music seems to share is not having their origins in the dominant cultures of the North Atlantic (and at worst this can imply the traditions are somewhat secondary, unsophisticated or even inferior)? In contrast, when I hear people writing ‘ethnic’ tracks, they seem to be cliched and trying to repeat old Hollywood stereotypes rather than being very original, let alone informed or respectful.

Don’t get me wrong, I am all for experimentation, innovation and hybrids. I also understand that music is so complex that it is difficult to talk about it without doing an injustice to that complexity. But, in 20 years time, could it be that the current use of the term ‘ethnic’ will be thought of as archaic or no longer acceptable? It would be great to have more nuanced and informed ways of talking about some of the worlds richest and very beautiful musical traditions. We live in a post-colonial world, don’t we?

Claude Plummer
 

widescreen

Active Member
No I'm not.

I would see it very rational and pragmatic. Ethnic stands (for me) as any kind of music/instrument that is only used/celebrated in a specific region or by a specific group of people and not widely spread internationally.

Ask someone from India what an Alphorn is. Or how it sounds. Or even looks like. Most would not know it. But he (or she) would recognize a violin. Or a trumpet. Or (of course!) a Sitar.

You would not find Sitars used widespread in many countries apart from the Indian subcontinent. As Alphorns not being used far away from the region around the Alps. So these both are ethnic.

Although there surely exist more Sitars then Alphorns internationally. I suppose even in Germany/Austria/Switzerland where the Alphorn is originated there are more Sitars used than Alphorns (but both mostly used in kinds of folkloric contexts).

So what would (per that definition) the word Ethnic be negative about? There are also ethnic British instruments (especially in the Irish/Scottish context). With no doubt the British had the biggest impact on colonialism.
But what has the word "Ethnic" to do with a "post-colonial world"?

Please do not get me wrong, either. But is the one recognizing something archaic in a common word that just describes something precisely telling more about his own archaic thinking?
Who could be offended by the word "Ethnic" as everybody on that world can be meant. As everybody has ancestors in a specific region where more people with similar traditions lived. And some of them made similar music with specific instruments that are and were only used in that region.

What if "Ethnic" is not OK, what would be the suggestion? Then you could not use the words "Asian", "European" or any other kind of categorizing words for music any more.

I myself belong to a specific ethnic group. Although we do not have musical instruments of a wider interest we have a very VERY special dialect. :grin:
That even people living in the same country would not understand. And foreigners cannot recognize and assign to the right country.

Just my little piece for the discussion.
 
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proggermusic

New Member
I think this is a worthwhile topic of conversation and I don't think it's excessively PC to discuss. I tend to find it uncomfortable when people talk about "ethnic" sounds, or when companies market "ethnic" sound packs... as widescreen indicated, every human being on earth comes from one ethnicity or another, and the term itself is supremely unhelpful in terms of categorizing sound or music. All music is ethnic.

I'd be curious about the opinions of forum members who come from cultures whose sounds would be marketed as "ethnic" by NI or the equivalent. The vast majority of those sounds would, I'd wager, originate in Africa or Asia, possibly South America, and likely not Europe or North America. How would a Japanese composer feel about koto or shamisen sounds being marketed as part of a miscellaneous "ethnic bundle?"
 
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DCPImages

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I doubt that this thread is going to get much traction, which is interesting in itself.

Sociologists would see the way the term ‘ethnic’ is often used in music as a form of ‘erasure’ because the act of burying so many diverse traditions in a single word erases cultural identity and at the same time by using it as a counterpoint to ‘mainstream’ reinforces the dominant (Western) perspectives.

Too heavy for this time of day? Sorry :) Hey! Lighten up! It’s an interesting question. No need to feel threatened ;)
 

wsimpson

New Member
Similar but not exactly the same - I used a Middle Eastern instrument from EW Ra on a track and someone suggested I was "appropriating another culture". I am not Middle Eastern. I don't deny that I was using the instrument in a way that I thought sounded Middle Eastern, but I didn't think it was inappropriate. What do you all think?
 

AMBi

Member
Similar but not exactly the same - I used a Middle Eastern instrument from EW Ra on a track and someone suggested I was "appropriating another culture". I am not Middle Eastern. I don't deny that I was using the instrument in a way that I thought sounded Middle Eastern, but I didn't think it was inappropriate. What do you all think?
Sounds like such a silly argument. Music is a universal language and I don't think people should limit themselves based on such things. Especially considering so many musical styles hail from and borrow from other cultures.
A certain amount of respect towards said culture should go into it but as long as the intent isn't meant to be harmful it shouldn't be an issue what instruments or styles you try to express yourself with.
 

Polkasound

Senior Member
...does anyone else have a problem with the way the term ‘ethnic’ is thrown about in musical circles?
I don't, because for the sake of categorization and brevity, we need a single adjective that covers folk/traditional music of all regions and cultures (a.k.a. "world music").

I used a Middle Eastern instrument from EW Ra on a track and someone suggested I was "appropriating another culture".
If someone said that to me, my response would be, "Thank you."
 
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DCPImages

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Similar but not exactly the same - I used a Middle Eastern instrument from EW Ra on a track and someone suggested I was "appropriating another culture". I am not Middle Eastern. I don't deny that I was using the instrument in a way that I thought sounded Middle Eastern, but I didn't think it was inappropriate. What do you all think?
I don't have a problem with that. Personally, I am all in favour of exploring traditions, experimenting and hybridising and I don't see that as cultural appropriation - more like cultural cross-fertilisation. In academic circles it would be more likely to be considered cultural appropriation if it was imitation or cliche without any attempt to understand, respect or acknowledge the origins. It is good practice to always reference your sources. This is the problem with the term 'ethnic'. On its own, it is a pretty meaningless term that doesn't seem to give due respect to cultural origins.

Consider this: Perhaps musicians are extremely precious about their own intellectual property, but not necessarily respectful of the intellectual properties of cultures other than their own?
 

ptram

Senior Member
I'd be curious about the opinions of forum members who come from cultures whose sounds would be marketed as "ethnic" by NI or the equivalent.
As a shifting concept, 'ethnic' can be used to include the widest range of cultures. The two most comprehensive collections of 'ethnic' instruments are BS EthnoWorld and UVI World Suite. At least the first one is curated by an ethnomusicologist. Both include instruments from the 'dominant' cultures, with abundance of accordions, ancient European instruments, and traditional Celtic, Alpine and Bluegrass instruments.

The original General MIDI map included a limited Ethnic set, beginning with instruments from India, Middle East, Japan and West Africa, but also including bagpipes and fiddle. For some reasons, shakuhachi and koto seem to be the two most often heard in commercial productions. The standard was created, if I’m not wrong, by the Japanese company Roland.

Paolo
 

storyteller

Senior Member
Similar but not exactly the same - I used a Middle Eastern instrument from EW Ra on a track and someone suggested I was "appropriating another culture". I am not Middle Eastern. I don't deny that I was using the instrument in a way that I thought sounded Middle Eastern, but I didn't think it was inappropriate. What do you all think?
I cringe every time I hear the term ”cultural appropriation.” The concept is a triggermyth. I like @Polkasound’s response. Ha. That said, respect people, respect history, be an honorable person and explore all there is to explore upon this planet. If you like a sound, use it. If you like a hairstyle, wear it. If you like a clothing choice, wear it. But if you are doing something to mock someone or another culture, take a timeout and re-evaluate your actions. Intention is everything. The term “cultural appropriation” has been planted in use to be divisive, ignore intention, and gaslight selfish emotions fueled by fear and inclusivity.

Ethnic? Same thing. It is a descriptor of a period, a past culture, or something not culturally like your own in the present.
 

JohnG

Senior Member
does anyone else have a problem with the way the term ‘ethnic’ is thrown about in musical circles?
I don't like the term either. I prefer "regional" or "non-orchestral" or something like that.

There are plenty of land mines in this field, ranging from using styles that someone else created to "phrase" libraries. You see it with everything from chants to blues licks. Is it rude to play something with a steel drum if you've got a Caribbean setting? There are questions also about what Western audiences perceive about various regions, compared with people who live there.

I don't think it's easy to settle the perplexities you get into with this stuff.

On a related matter, many film/tv composers hire guitar players and just give them some chords to improvise against. They do it every day and the players typically don't expect writing credit.
 

Gene Pool

Active Member
Ethnic means Sitar right?
Yes. Any of that foreign music. Typically associated with pagan festivals and human sacrifice. Bagpipes, banjos, bongos and such. I can use some of the aforementioned, but I'll need a DNA test to determine to what extent before I know if I've done something wrong.
 

Gene Pool

Active Member
By the way, since I just remembered this is the Composition, Orchestration & Technique sub-forum, if anyone is looking for an excellent Tablas player, I heartily recommend this fellow. Not only is he an excellent musician, but he is a Holy Man, and his people enjoy hockey.

Trudeau Holy Man.jpg
 

TigerTheFrog

Reid Rosefelt
I have no issues with the word ”ethnic,” but I prefer World Music.

It’s what people of all ethnicities play all over the globe. What is exotic depends on where you were born, and everybody can mix it up and fashion new kinds of music out of it.

World Music is a particular blessing for people who use virtual instruments. It’s not just about expanding a musical palette. Done right, it’s about traveling, and traveling expands your mind no matter what kind of music you play.
 
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DCPImages

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OK. So here’s some testers:
Are crumhorns ethnic?
Sackbuts?
Scottish bagpipes?
Hurdy-gurdy?
What about Appalachian music?
How about bluegrass?
Jazz?
What about Irish harp?
Or Mozart?

Granted some would be considered ‘world music’
 
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