Writing Assignment: Critical Review of “World Music” Recording 

Choose from Topic A. 

• Suggested length: 3 pages or 600 words and a reference page

• First Draft Due in Module 4 

• Final Paper Due in Module 6 

• Completion Time: First draft – 4 hours. Final draft – 3 hours. 

Topic A: 

A defining feature of “world music,” “world beat,” or “ethno-pop,” as it has variously been called, is the production of recordings by well-known American and European pop musicians that include traditional musicians from other cultures performing in a back-up role, or that call attention to themselves by the use of musical exotica extracted from traditional cultures. Such recordings suggest a range of issues and questions that invite critique and debate. Some of these are listed below: 

1. How do a recording’s musical arrangements, title, graphics, and accompanying notes represent the relationship between Western lead musicians and participating traditional musicians? 

2. Is music on the recording attributed to an author, composer, or arranger? Who holds the copyright? What do attributions and credits suggest about rights to, and ownership of, the music? 

3. Are the musical and personal relationships negotiated through the production of the album compatible with beliefs about rights to, and ownership of, music in the imported tradition represented on the recording? 

4. Does the lead artist show musical respect for the imported tradition(s) represented on the recording? What is “musical respect” and how might it be shown or not shown? 

5. Do artists who employ traditional musicians have obligations not only to the musicians but to the political entities or cultural traditions that they represent? What factors would determine whether they do or do not? 

6. Should traditional musicians be implicated in the capitalist culture of risk that is an inherent part of the record business? That is, should traditional musicians get a fixed “session” fee for participating in a recording, or should they be paid royalties based on sales? 

7. Are cross-cultural “world music” and “world beat” projects inherently opportunistic and exploitative? 

The Assignment: 

Choose either a recording from the attached list or a recording not on the list that meets the criteria of “a cross-cultural fusion in which Western musicians work with artists or musical material from traditions different than their own.” If you choose a recording not on the list, please let me know what it is before you begin your work.

 Write a critical review of the recording in which you do the following: 

1. Offer a concise description of the musical and aesthetic concept behind the recording, or answer the question, “What did the artists or producers set out to do?” 

2. Discuss the way in which “roots” music is incorporated into the musical sound. 

3. Discuss musical, aesthetics, and ethical issues that the recording raises, taking into account the list provided above. Think about the relationship between aesthetics (what is beauty?) and ethics (what is good?). You are welcome to consider issues on the list provided above as well as issues not on the list. 

4. Offer your critical judgment about ways in which the project succeeds or fails as music and as an exercise in developing cross-cultural understanding and relationships. 

Topic A: Suggested Recordings: 

• David Byrne, “Rei Momo” (with Latin American musicians) 

• Peter Gabriel, “Passion” (created for the soundtrack to “The Last Temptation of Christ” based on Middle Eastern Music); (may discuss together with Gabriel’s “Passion Sources”) 

• Kate Bush, “The Sensual World” (with Bulgarian women) 

• Mickey Hart, “Planet Drum” and “At the Edge” (“world percussion”) 

• Paul Winter, “Earthbeat” (jazz and Russian village music) 

• Outback: “Dance the Devil Away” and “Baka” (Aboriginal music combined with folk guitar) 

• “Spirit of the Forest” (Baka Beyond) jam sessions with Baka Pygmies and composer/guitarist Martin Cradick 

• Linda Ronstadt, “Canciones de mi padre” (with Mexican and Mexican-American musicians) 

 • Talking Heads, “Reamin in Light” (appropriation of scratch, funk, Afro-Beat and jùjú rhythm) 

• “A World out of Time” Vols. 1 and 2 (Pop/avant-garde guitarists Henry Kaiser and David Lindley join musicians in Madagascar) 

• “Talking Timbuktu” (Guitarist Ry Cooder grooves with griots from the Sahara) 

• Robbie Robertson and the Red Road Ensemble, “Music for the Native Americans” 

• “The Sweet Sunny North” (avant-garde musicians Henry Kaiser and David Lindley jam with traditional musicians in Norway) 

• Paul Simon, “Graceland” 

• Robert Plant and Jimmy Page, “No Quarter.” (collaboration with musicians from Egypt) 




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