Monday, April 28, 2008

What is Asian American Music?

I found a very interesting article on JSTOR that grapples with the question of what is Asian American music. 

It's called "Between Notes: Finding Asian America in Popular Culture" by Oliver Wang, published in American Music, Vol 19. No. 4, (2001), pp 439-465. 
You can find the article on JSTOR (I've tried to copy and paste the link but failed)

The author talks about a musicologist named Joseph Lam, who says, "Asian American music is not dependent on the text (e.g., lyrics, images, even melody, timbre, rhythm) or even a tradition of musical practice. Instead, Asian American music is so designated based on the context of production (who makes the music and why? as well as reception (how is the music used, how is it understood)." 

So according to him, it is the combination of production and consumption that makes music Asian. 

The author comments that Lam's definition aims to "establish a point of common reference that future discussions can work from--even if it is to deconstruct Lam's own theories," as supposed to serving as the canonical definition of what Asian American music is.

This definition and the article pretty much refute the argument I made in my previous blog because I placed the emphasis on the musical text rather than the people who perform and listen to the music. So, is Yo-Yo Ma's music Asian American? I still want to say no. He is Asian American but his music does not really have any race categories because it doesn't really belong to any race. 

I still have the desire to stand by what I've said, but it is interesting to read a counter argument. 

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