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Exotic Music

PostPosted: Mon Aug 08, 2005 2:09 pm
by howard male
Exotic Music

The imagining mind at its most lucid can sometimes sense that a perfect solution to a creative problem already exists - just out of cognitive reach - and it's just a question of tuning in, and picking up the signal. And so it is, this morning, having not consciously dwelt on the subject, I came up with the solution to world music's PR and marketing problem: It's got to stop being called world music - of course this isn't news to anyone who visits this forum, and of course, as a solution it's impractical. Everything is now set in stone, and however apt or sensible my alternative name is, it's about as sensible as if I was suggesting that Jazz should be renamed zzaj.

But for the sake of argument (which has been sadly missing from this forum lately) I offer up my perfect, inevitably controversial, alternative to that dull, bureaucratic, and lumpen label 'world music' that we have happily been arguing about for more than a year on this forum.

We all know the term 'world music' is awkward and wrong, and that there has to be an alternative out there somewhere, just waiting to be unearthed, dusted down, given a final caring burnish, and then presented before the board. And this morning it hit me - as if it had been dream-mailed to me - a grimy neon sign, arrhythmically blinking in the dark interior of my head. Our favourite amorphous non-genre should be called: "Exotic Music."

I know that some of you will have a problem with what I consider to be an inspired alternative - I mentioned it to my pal, NickH last night and his face actually screwed up as if he'd just eaten a dodgy mussel. To our post-modern ears, 'exotic' sounds terribly antiquated - unearthed from a time of carnivals and colonialism - intrinsically condescending and tacky. But trust me - your knee-jerk reaction is caused by involuntary associations; niggles generated by your cultural DNA. Such subjective responses have nothing to do with the core-meaning of this resonant and charming little word.

Of course it is also these 'negative' associations which make it a spicy and usefully controversial alternative. I say usefully controversial, because, were this new label taken up - a bit of controversy always creates publicity money can't buy. Bottom line: 'exotic' sounds slightly daring, slightly risqué. It may currently smell a little of political incorrectness, of women in grass skirts or fruit-laden hats; the vaguely forbidden and the secretly longed-for. But it is these secondary associations which make it such a wonderfully alive word. A word which has simply been waiting for its time to come around again.

Dowdy old 'world music,' albatrossed by negative preconceptions and socio-political doubts, could blossom as a genre if it was allowed to metamorph into 'Exotic Music.' There was a time - pre nineteen seventies - when the word 'exotic' was proudly and shrewdly blazoned across thousands of gaudy LP covers. This was, no doubt, because it sold records.


But before we go any further let's get this whole 'exotic' thing into perspective. Most of the emotive definitions I've touched on so far, are simply the product of the collective imagination of our buried Victorian psyche. The first thing the dictionary is at pains to tell us, is that 'exotic' simply means 'from another part of the world.' - so nothing to get hot under the collar about there. Perfect. Immediately its qualities as a democratic yet emotive word are spelt out.

So if your political correctness antennae is twitching like crazy, it seems to me that by calling our genre 'exotic music,' it becomes a culturally relative label, rather than a culturally diminishing label. By this I mean the label 'exotic' is contingent on where you are standing geographically, rather than something which bundles up everything accept UK and USA music. Where its spotlight shines depends on where you are standing. If you are a native of any of the lands we would umbrella as exotic music, you, in turn would call our music exotic music, So high horses can be climbed down from immediately.

The next dictionary definition mentions the fact that some plants (often the prickly or strangely smelling ones) bare this label.

But it's only when we get to the final definition that there's a coy reference to 'striptease,' and we realise how our stuffy preconceptions have let this minor aspect of the word's character crudely blossom into representing the essence of its whole identity. 'The exotic' has inadequately and inaccurately come to mean the vaguely forbidden, the erotically alluring, or simply - other stuff we don't know much about.

But it's the word's supposedly colourful nuances which make it so much more fun than the National Geographic-tinged 'world music.' These associations, paradoxically, make the word so much fun. And ripe for reclaiming from the politically correct police. For one of the things most of us love about music 'from another part of the world' is its difference; its otherness; its romantic allure.

All music lovers are essentially romantics, and none more so than world music lovers. To call world music, exotic music, is to essentially come out of the closet on this - all music transports the listener somewhere else. World music simply transfers the listener to a more specific 'somewhere else' - an exotic somewhere else.

For example, to listen to any of the wonderful Ethiopiques CD series of seventies Ethiopian music - and then not to use the word 'exotic' to describe it - would be a crime against the English language. The arresting beauty of this music can only be diminished by simply trying to define it by describing it as: part free jazz, part American funk, part Latin American, and part tradition Ethiopian music. It's exotic, God damn it!

Unlike the label 'world,' the word actually begins to hint at a description of the music, rather than just being an arbitrary, culturally imperialist catagory without any intrinsic poetry. To call a music 'exotic,' is an emotive and intriguing invitation to investigate that music. To call it 'world' is to simply invite instant dismissal from our fashion-sensitive, label obsessed culture. 'World' carries baggage, and none of it's positive. 'Exotic' only carries the baggage of it's past misrepresentation and it's current lack of usage (except when talking about spices or fabric.)

Finally, let me put it like this: wouldn't it be fun to go into a record store and ask the shop assistant where the exotic section is?

PostPosted: Mon Aug 08, 2005 3:13 pm
by Con Murphy
I take it you've just had your annual exotic cigarette Howard :-)

EXOTIC MUSIC

PostPosted: Mon Aug 08, 2005 4:29 pm
by Quintin
Nice try Howard but this expression is likely to be as off-putting as the tedious "World Music" label. I always thought that the French version Musique du Monde was altogether more appropriate than our Anglo-Saxon and thus rather brutal one as it conjours up images of exotic places and a sense of adventure and discovery. Semantics, but don't you think that [/i]Music of the World has a rather better ring to it? And it gives Folk the heave-ho as a bonus!

Q

PostPosted: Mon Aug 08, 2005 7:31 pm
by jayne
Howard...

Although your use of the term "exotic" is unimpeachable, whenever I hear the word I expect it to be quickly followed by either "dancers" or "underwear".

You know what I mean? Sorry.

I supposed I have now outed myself as a down and out pleb. Please don't hold it against me for too long!

Regards,

JB

PostPosted: Mon Aug 08, 2005 8:10 pm
by Con Murphy
jayne wrote:Howard...

Although your use of the term "exotic" is impeachable, whenever I hear the word I expect it to be quickly followed by either "dancers" or "underwear".

You know what I mean? Sorry.

I supposed I have now outed myself as a down and out pleb. Please don't hold it against me for too long!

Regards,

JB


That's nothing, it makes me think of phrases like 'I've got eclectic tastes', 'I'm a people person' and 'I don't do Mondays [or whatever]'. It's tough out here in Middle England. They don't know the half, do they JB?

Re: Exotic Music

PostPosted: Mon Aug 08, 2005 8:59 pm
by NormanD
howard male wrote:'Exotic' only carries the baggage of it's past misrepresentation and it's current lack of usage (except when talking about spices or fabric.)
That's the trouble, Howard. It will never get away from its past (mis)representation. You mention "country music" to some people and they'll instinctively fire their fingers in the air like a gun and go "Yee Ha!!". Mention "exotic" and you bet they'll start swaying their hips like Carmen Miranda and go "Ay Ay Ay".

I've got a big down on "exotic" ever since someone told me that she thought Jews were "so exotic". She'd obviously never met some of my relatives or any of the community elders from my youth. Never had a word been more inappropriately used.

Mr. Charlie has mentioned elsewhere that one of the problems with the expression "world music" is that it doesn't figure in any song title. Other musical genres: rock, blues, jazz, boogie, have all made it to songs. "Exotic" would fall into the same bag - there's no song title that includes it.

"La Musique Exotique" could sound exotic, but "Exotic Music" sounds....seedy. Can you explain that one?

Norman

PostPosted: Mon Aug 08, 2005 9:32 pm
by Tom McPhillips
the sad thing is that we have to call it anything...

I always liked "roots music" a lot better - but isn't "exotic" already taken - - that tiki stuff Charlie mentioned the other week?

"Exotic" equals "Lounge"...

for the moment I'll keep heading towards the World sign in the badly lit section at the back of the record store...

"musique sans frontieres" maybe??? Now yer talkin'!

but who'd buy it?

It's not World Music, it's just music

PostPosted: Tue Aug 09, 2005 8:37 am
by Con Murphy
normand wrote:I've got a big down on "exotic" ever since someone told me that she thought Jews were "so exotic".


So, what's Julie Burchill like in person, Norman?

normand wrote:Mr. Charlie has mentioned elsewhere that one of the problems with the expression "world music" is that it doesn't figure in any song title.


No, but Mariza mentions 'fado', Cesaria Evora mentions 'morna', Edith Piaf mentions 'chanson' etc. That's my beef right there - "World Music" isn't a musical style, it's a marketing contrivance. There's no distinctive style that you can attribute to it, it's just 'everything foreign that I like'. It's fine for a record shop sub-heading or category on an on-line record store, but does it really have to go any further than that?

PostPosted: Tue Aug 09, 2005 10:16 am
by howard male
I knew I was on to a looser as soon as I started to write this piece, but I was curious to see what others had to say. I am fascinated by how a culture works on us as individuals and how unbendible we are once we have assimilated 'knowledge' on something. It doesn't matter what the dictionary says regarding the meaning of the word 'exotic,' we all (including myself) have a negative knee-jerk reaction to it, which is clearly unshiftable.

Norman wrote -

I've got a big down on "exotic" ever since someone told me that she thought Jews were "so exotic". She'd obviously never met some of my relatives or any of the community elders from my youth. Never had a word been more inappropriately used.


Now I'm going to be Devil's advocate a bit here (surely not Howard!), but don't you think, in some instances, we learn to be offended by certain words?

Words are fashion victims. Words are victims of persecution. And words have their meaning altered overnight (or over decades) as they are 'reclaimed' or stigmatised by different pressure groups.

For example, I always though that, objectively speaking, the word 'coloured' to describe black people, is more nuanced and positive than the word 'black'. 'Coloured' seems to embrace the rich diversity of skin colour, and black just seems, so...well, black.

'Coloured', objectively speaking, is more colourful. If coloured people are coloured, then I am uncoloured, which, as far as I can see, makes me lacking something - colour! Thus the oppressed have their positive label. It comes back to Maya Angelou as a child, thinking white folk were ghosts - insubstantial, unfinished, uncoloured-in.

But gradually 'coloured' became blacklisted, and black became the new coloured. So be it - the power over such things should be with the people being labelled. Yet 'black' still seems to me - for arguments sake - confrontational and rather retrogressive. We all know nothing is black and white, yet that seems to be the way our multicultural society wants things painted.

It probably took decades for us all (or most of us) to learn what the new ruling was with the coloured/black thing. Now such changes - via the multimedia - are spread much faster. Political correctness has become the new good manners - a means of discerning refinement and education in others. If you ignorantly (but innocently) call a mixed race person, 'half caste', in educated company, then you have done the PC equivalent of eating with your mouth open, with both elbows on the table.

I wonder at what point you learnt to be offended by being called exotic, Norman? If someone called me exotic (it's never going to happen) I would be delighted! But maybe if I went to live in Thailand or Mali, eventually someone, innocently and charmingly, would use their word for 'exotic' to describe me and my mysterious Anglo-Saxon culture.

I suspect it was meant as a kind of awkward complement, yet it turned into an "I'll get my coat" moment. This leads to my notion that the problems that we face increasingly in this country as regards racial and cultural differences often occur during such misunderstandings, and more effort should be spent in schools, addressing such issues. But that's enough for now...

PostPosted: Tue Aug 09, 2005 12:36 pm
by NormanD
howard male wrote:Now I'm going to be Devil's advocate a bit here .... but don't you think, in some instances, we learn to be offended by certain words?
Better the devil you know.
I have to hand it to you Howard: when you get it wrong, boy, do you get it wrong! You never miss by less than a mile.

"I wonder at what point you learnt to be offended by being called exotic"

Did I say that I was offended? Did I say that I was called exotic (I should be so lucky)? Was it a compliment for me? Answer to all three: No.

The point was that a particular word was used to describe a whole group of people from a particular religion / cultural background, a generalisation and a terrible oversimplification. My great-uncle Aaron and his wife Leah - exotic? Yeh, right. Ariel Sharon? Ditto.

What were my feelings at the time? Amusement, and bemusement at the well-intentioned ignorance some people have. I've known far worse things than this. The only difference was, it was a relatively positive comment. Or was it? I'm still not sure, and only I can be the judge of my own perceptions.

Black people are good dancers, dress cool, and are sexually alluring - or so I thought when I was a kid and had never even met any Black people. Jews are exotic, cosmopolitan, and intelligent. Wrong for Blacks, wrong for Jews. Stereotypes are stereotypes, and perpetuate particular ways of thinking about identified peoples, and avoid seeing them as the individuals they are.

I never learnt to be offended, I just knew when I was, and knew when to react or not. I did learn when to laugh at people, though, and that's got me through a lot of people's silliness and ignorance. And I have learned not to run away.

And going back to my Jews-are-exotic bit, there's nothing worse than making a joke and people not getting it. No, there is one thing worse than that - having to explain the joke. That's a real nebbish, as some exotic cosmopolitans say.

PostPosted: Tue Aug 09, 2005 1:10 pm
by howard male
Norman wrote -

Did I say that I was offended? Did I say that I was called exotic (I should be so lucky)? Was it a compliment for me? Answer to all three: No.


Well you didn't say you were offended in so many words, but you did say you had a "big down" on the 'E' word, since someone used it to describe Jews generally. So if this person had caused you, ever since, to dislike the very mention of 'exotic', what were you if not offended?

And it seems to me you were being called exotic, because you were being bundled up by this person as part of the Jewish community he/she found so exotic.

I don't wish to get into a heated debate over this, I just wanted to point out that I do feel I was closer to the target than the mile miss, you suggest.

Everything else you say, I fully take on board.

The fact is people will always generalise and stereotype when they don't have all the facts at their disposal. And no one ever has all the facts at their disposal.

It's also difficult when experience teaches you how often certain cultural groups (notice I didn't say racial groups) consistently live up (or down) to their stereotypes.

One such group, in my experience, is white South Africans. I had yet another bad experience with some white South African twenty-somethings recently and mentioned this to a friend who actually said he'd never met a likeable white South African. What are we to do with such knowledge - just sweep it under the carpet, keep our mouths shut, and wait, with foolhardy optimism, to one day meet a nice white South African?

Of course there must be millions of warm and lovely WSA's, but if experience is giving you 100% evidence to the contrary, it's hard to be objective about it. When I do meet such an individual, I will, needless to say, embrace them with open arms, and immediately banish all previous preconceptions - I'll keep you posted!

Culture undoubtedly constitutes a large part of an individual's personality, and in that sense, cultural stereotypes do exist.

PostPosted: Tue Aug 09, 2005 1:44 pm
by howard male
But enough of my, asking-for-trouble, provocative rhetoric. Let's get this topic back on track.

Exotic Music, going by all your responses, is clearly out. But I'm now reminded of Marcia's onomatopoeically correct, and I thought, very funny, 'Plinky Plonky Music.'

If I continue on like this, at least everyone will end up being grateful for the somber, uncontroversial and solidly reliable 'world music.'

Exotic Music

PostPosted: Tue Aug 09, 2005 2:32 pm
by Graham G
Don't you people have any work to do?

Re: Exotic Music

PostPosted: Tue Aug 09, 2005 5:26 pm
by NormanD
Graham G wrote:Don't you people have any work to do?
So?
Norman

PostPosted: Wed Aug 10, 2005 8:57 am
by howard male
Graham G wrote -

Don't you people have any work to do?


Er, no actually - not until next month anyway -when I'm back in full time employment until November. Any other questions?