This weekend I watched part of a documentary on Techno called Universal Techno, made in 1996. That was the time when I was just staring to explore the music myself and I definitely watch this with different eyes now, than I would have then. At that time, Techno as a global musical genre was hardly 10 years old. It's interesting to see what people's concerns were, and how perceptions changed or didn't change over time.
I was struck by this segment that explores the myth of race and music. I like the juxtaposition of personal stories from opposing sides, and a third, more objective voice chiming in at the end. The idea that music comes from a place that represents your influences really resonates with me.
I couldn't watch this and not think about the connections to current debates around the appropriation of music from the global south. That inherent racial traits lead to the creation of an authentic piece of art is a myth that holds society's collective global understanding back. I would love to see an update to this documentary to include emerging centers of electronic music innovation like Luanda, Rio, Monterrey or Johannesburg. I am excited that more and more culture is being loosened from geographic restrictions, but at the same time I can't help but sometimes feel that there is a lack of introspection or at least channeling of personal influences amongst many of today's media creators.
Perhaps, because of our Internet facilitated increased inter-connectivity, less people are making personal art. Deep engagement with one's own surroundings can seem so boring, so artists look outward with the ease of the click of a button. The Techno producers in this documentary seem to be hyper aware of how their surroundings informed their music. I think these days, the best of us continue that tradition.
As an interesting coincidence, there is an exhibit currently on at the Detroit Institute of Art called, "Through African Eyes" that explores African perspectives on their interactions with Europeans through art. The New York Times article and slide show that covers the exhibit talks about how peoples' art, informed by their perspectives, is often misunderstood when taken out of context. Perhaps it's the kind of thing someone from Detroit can relate to.
If you'd like to explore these ideas deeper, read this article brought to my attention by Professor Wayne Marshall called, "Of Mimicry and Membership." And to entice/confuse you into going further, I'll leave you with this from Nigeria:
Feel free to discuss.