Why isn’t Asian music more popular?

by on July 30, 2008 at 6:19 am in Music | Permalink

Going back to some old requests, Eric H., a loyal and perceptive MR reader and commentator, asks:

Why do the US (a wealthy country) and Africa (a poor continent) put out
more influential modern music than Asia (a populated continent of both
wealthy and poor extremes)?

Where do I start?

1. Most African music has scales very similar to those of European music and thus we are arguably considering a unified and indeed accessible style.

2. Many African musics emphasize rhythms and rhythm is arguably the most universal element of music and thus it is relatively easy to export.  American music has in this regard a strong African component, for obvious historical reasons.

3. The micro-tonal musics, as we find in India and the Middle East, don’t spread to many countries which do not already have a micro-tonal tradition.  Cats wailing, etc., though it is a shame if you haven’t trained your ear by now to like the stuff.  It’s some of the world’s finest music.

4. Many Asian musics, such as some of the major styles of China and Japan, emphasize timbre.  That makes them a) often too subtle, and b) very hard to translate to disc or to radio.  African-derived musics are perfect for radio or for the car.

5. African music is really, really good.  And America is really, really good at entertaining people.  It’s an unstoppable alliance.

Student July 30, 2008 at 8:24 am

I’m sure you’ll eventually explain the distinction you make in #5 between being “really, really good” and being “really, really good at entertaining people”.

I mean, it isn’t like you to assert such judgments without any supporting argumentation…uh, oh. right.

josh July 30, 2008 at 9:04 am

Can anyone recommend an itunes-available Asian music starter set for someone who wants to train his ear?

meter July 30, 2008 at 9:07 am

You could say the same about Brazil and Cuba.

nelsonal July 30, 2008 at 9:36 am

josh
Given Tyler’s statement that micro tonal music requires pretty good acustics to appreciate, I’d expect that anything on iTunes wouldn’t be a very good representation because of the compression (rythem based music compresses quite well because you just need enough of the tone to generate a rythem which is far less than what you would need to establish a series of chords).

Levi July 30, 2008 at 10:56 am

josh: Can anyone recommend an itunes-available Asian music starter set for someone who wants to train his ear?

Are any of the Rough Guides to World Music available on iTunes? Their sets are usually quite good. They are excellent for a broad perspective on the sounds involved and good for furthering your own research by using services like Allmusic, Lastfm, and even Pandora.

andthenyoufall July 30, 2008 at 11:25 am

I’m not personally convinced that the explanandum is true. Yes, America puts out more influential modern music (and movies, and dramas, and books, and…) than other parts of the world. But Africa? “Influential” is cheating, of course, since one can always say “Oh, very few people *listen* to modern African music, but it’s very influential…”

I know dozens of people who love J-pop and Korean pop. (I don’t like it myself, but…) I can think of many movies with scores marked by traditional Asian motifs, both East Asian and South Asian. There are several Indian songs that have become as popular at mainstream parties as “Toxic” was in 2003. The only big hole is China, but why would they have a culture industry comparable to their market size when they have a censorship-happy government?

Compare this to modern African music. Are we just talking about lateral influence on the music of America and Latin America in the 19th and early 20th C.? Contemporary African music is less influential than techno.

Anittah July 30, 2008 at 12:17 pm

Dear loyal and perceptive MR reader and commentator Eric H.: Define “more influential.”

Seems to me by the responses thus far that this definition has been interpreted to mean:

“More likely to be played at a dinner party by ‘over’-educated Occidentals so that their guests can consider them worldly.”

or

“More easily integrated into the iTunes playlists of honkey folk.”

;)

Signed,

Me Rub You Wrong Time

Hei Lun Chan July 30, 2008 at 12:35 pm

If we can’t dress in skimpy clothes and dance to the music, we’re not interested.

J-Pop has heavy western influences.

Lars July 30, 2008 at 1:12 pm

You wrote:
“The micro-tonal musics, as we find in India and the Middle East…”

Almost no one in the Middle East listens to any music which does not utilize the western scale of music, and I challenge you to produce the name of a single popular musician in the Middle East who does. You will, it is true, in for instance Rai music of North Africa and France, hear instruments being used where quarter tones are played, but these are always in a piece which uses the western scale of music. Just go on Youtube and doe searches for “Rai,” “Rachid Taha,’ “Cheb Khader’ (or for that matter ,just do a search for the name Cheb), “Hayfa Wahbe,” “Nancy Ajram,” “Tarkan,” “Bulent Ersoy”… well, I could go on. But listen to them. They don’t use quarter tones or micro-tones.
As for Indian music, that I don’t know nearly as much about, but the Ballywood music that I nave heard generally employs an identifiably western scale of music as well.

jim July 30, 2008 at 1:38 pm

The Japanese music industry is the 2nd largest in the world. How is this not influential?

One very simple measure of influence is % of global music spending. I think Japanese music generates the 2nd most in revenue after American music.

Or we just looking at the influence of traditional music? So then we have the western scale and african beats taking over global music production.

k July 30, 2008 at 2:05 pm

Most western music is african. Check” Creative Destruction: How Globalization Is Changing the World’s Cultures” for the fact of cross fertilization between Angola and Cuba.
Rock, r&b came from jazz.and jazz if the music of african slaves descendant in the south.
Salsa came from african music and saloon music thht came from jazz

Carolynn July 30, 2008 at 3:53 pm

I like to think I have a pretty eclectic taste. I can listen to country music, gangsta rap, indie, punk, pop, classical (my favorite), but I cannot stand most Asian music. I’m ok with most world music, I can go as far as India, and the Middle East. BUT I would rather pierce out my eardrums than listen to a Chinese opera. In fact, listening to Chinese opera would have the same effect so I might as well do it myself. Western is the only way when it comes to music. There is no internal logic in most instrumental pieces out East.

josh July 30, 2008 at 6:00 pm

Levi,

Thanks. The easternmost rough guide available is the guide to “the music of Iran.” I have no idea what to make of the samplings, but it might be worth 9.99 as an experiment.

adam July 30, 2008 at 9:12 pm

Why has England produced so many great bands, despite it’s size, compared to the U.S. ? Led Zeppelin, Beatles, Stones, Cream, Clapton, The Who, Pink Floyd, etc.

Steve Sailer July 30, 2008 at 9:23 pm

The place to look is Latin America, where the dominant musical countries, such as Brazil and Cuba, tend to have a sizable African cultural influence, while the countries that aren’t as influential in world music tend to be more American Indian in background.

Charlie (Colorado) July 31, 2008 at 12:17 am

I’ve got to question the premise. I’ll grant that Chinese Opera is a little hard at first (my first impression, years ago, was someone beating a complete trap set and a water heater with several cats grasped by the tails) but classical Japanese music has had a substantial influence, eg, in New Age music. Bollywood music is increasingly influential, as with the Moulin Rouge score (the Ewan McGregor one, not the José Ferrer one). Indian classical music, including Ravi Shankar and others, had a dramatic influence on the Beatles. For that matter, Middle Eastern and North African music is showing up more and more. Sub-Saharan Africa shows up mostly through the cultural inheritance of blues and shape music (but that’s really an American music as much as anything), and specific cultural imports like Paul Simon’s “Diamonds on the Soles of Her Shoes”, and in the Lion King music.

Mark Harrison July 31, 2008 at 6:23 am

1: I’m surprised that you managed to get through that entire piece without mentioning Bolywood. Part of the answer must surely be “Because a lot of INDIAN music is classed as Movies.”

2: I totally agree with what you say about tonality – I edited a Qin CD (Chinese instrument) recently for Steven Dydo, and parts of it were a nightmare – the originally recording was of a live concert (in the UK, as part of the 2007 Shoreham Music Festival), and therefore a relatively high noise background. Everything I could try to do to reduce the background noise had a mighty impact on the tonality, and we ended up going with the “live” recording, with the editing merely topping and tailing.

Daniel Wolf July 31, 2008 at 8:22 pm

Lars — I was addressing modern music, and my answer was based both on my own field experience and current research and yes, familiarity with some of the musicians you listed. Contemporary Arabic, Turkish and Persian popular music is materially contiguous with traditional musics and have been astonishly robust in maintaining that. The Turkish popular genres, beginning with the Arabesque, for example, use stringed instruments with seventeen frets to the octave, a scaled-down version of traditional fretting but nonetheless microtonal. Electronic keyboards — widely used in contemporary popular music throughout the region — are now built with switches to allow for tuning to traditional maqamats. (Just do a search for “oriental keyboard” for some examples). This is not to deny that there are some musicians who play in genres that are identified with forms of European or American pop music — here in Frankfurt, Germany, there are many young people of Turkish or Morrocan heritage who are expert rappers or soul singers, but even there, there is considerable mixing of materials and many, if not most, of these artists engage in considerable “code switching”, incorporating traditional intonation, ornamentation, etc., often side-by-side with western tempered materials. (No to mention the phenomenon that the same young people who rap in Turkish may very well be expert in the music and dance in the latest Indian films). But if anything, I have noticed over the past decade an increased concious and assertive use of traditional elements as a sign of rejecting western influences, in part, one suspects, in reaction to current world conflicts.

GC August 4, 2008 at 11:46 am

music india online (http://www.musicindiaonline.com/) is an extensive online resource of indian music. you can listen to it online (no downloads). the genres are on the left panel. indian classical music is two main systems, the north indian ‘hindustani’ music and the south indian ‘carnatic’ music. each has its own sets of distinct instruments, both percussion and acoustic/strings and long illustrious group of musicians. masters of these systems when they play together, or group of varied artists come together, the name for it is ‘jugalbandi’. you have vocalists and instrumentalists listed separately as well.

other genres of indian music are categorized here as folk, fusion, regional, patriotic and devotional. bollywood comes under regional and hindi.

Anonymous February 23, 2009 at 5:02 pm

As a white man in france i can say that we listen to american/british misic a lot because it’s inenglish vut not only. We also listen to african and north african misuc sometimes. But asian music don’t entertain people here maybe sometimes indian music. However There are a few youngster who listen to j-pop an k-pop and i think it’s because j-pop and k-pop are full of western influence.

froggy July 5, 2009 at 11:13 pm

I think Asian music is not very popular in North America mainly because there are not a large percentage of asians living in North America compared to Whites and Blacks.

But, I think stars like BoA*, Ayumi Hamasaki, Utada Hikaru, Rain, Jay Chou will make asain music more popular since good music sounds good.

I like listening to J-pop, K-pop, and J-pop they have some nice beats and melodies.

jj April 26, 2010 at 8:34 pm

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