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Essay Paper on The Political Nature of Music

Political music has always been with us. American popular music has even had major political and economic impact in some of the profound global changes that have occurred. Some analysts have observed that the collapse of the Eastern European bloc countries, and indeed the collapse of the Soviet political economy itself, was not so much the failure of Marxist systems but rather the inability of these systems to deliver Big Macs, Levis, and rock music. People noticed that since ancient times music influenced political and social behaviour of individuals.

Political nature of music consists in defining racial and ethnic communities. For example, blues music was a post-Reconstruction development in African-American musical and poetic history. For the first time black Americans–outside of maroon (fugitive slave) communities–were forced to create both a community and a culture of their own (Frith 78). The blues were part of this culture creation process. Born in the late nineteenth century, blues evolved well into the 1950s and declined with the heyday of the civil rights movement in the 1960s. Only with the formation of an African-American community and its blues culture, the exiled African, former slaves, become truly American. It is in the poetic realization of this newly evolved community of African Americans that the social meaning of the blues is to be found.

The blues performance was a communal affirmation and celebration of the group’s culture, and because this group’s culture was created in opposition to white culture, it was a ritual of negation as well. In the roadhouses, taverns, and caf├ęs of the rural South and the urban ghetto, African Americans gathered to reaffirm their allegiance to blues consciousness. In large part, these rituals were directed by the blues musicians, who were in great demand.

Blues culture began its decline following changes in the social organization of racism. African-American society changed greatly in the post World War II era, especially after the rise of the civil rights movement, when blues was replaced by a new, more optimistic music, soul. Soul music more adequately reflected the social changes that occurred. Soul–a true hybrid of blues, gospel, and rock and roll–was the music of the civil rights movement. It was, quite literally, the soul of African-American society. Nowadays, as a people’s music, blues and soul may be dead, but their consciousness continues to live in new music that has risen to serve similar social functions: funk, rap and jazz.

Since the rise of nationalism in the nineteenth century, patriotism has been a theme often found in music. This is true of both popular and classical music. The great romantic composers of the nineteenth century, for example, frequently employed patriotic themes in a deliberate attempt to enhance nationalistic feelings. Tchaikovsky famous “1812 Overture,” a musical account of Napoleon’s defeat by Russian armies, is perhaps the best-known example of a patriotic theme in a classical work. In the United States, songwriters such as Stephen Foster had introduced patriotic themes to commercial popular music well before the Civil War, a conflict that inspired hundreds of popular patriotic tunes in both the North and the South. Northerners sang such well-known songs as “The Battle Hymn of the Republic,” “The Battle Cry of Freedom,” and “John Brown’s Body,” and southerners responded with “The Bonnie Blue Flag,” “Maryland, My Maryland”, etc. It is hardly surprising that patriotism is a central theme in commercial country music.

The manner in which patriotism is expressed in country music is strongly influenced by the music’s southern origins. In its infancy, commercial country music was a regional music produced for a regional audience: the white working class of the American South. Its first major stars came from the region and grew up playing the traditional folk songs and ballads that formed the basis for the development of the music. Although the music has outgrown its regional appeal, cultivating national and international audiences, the majority of those who perform and compose country music still call the South home. Most country music continues to be produced in Nashville. Much of what is not produced in Nashville is produced in other southern cities, among them Austin, Texas, and Muscle Shoals, Alabama.

Music also represents military actions. By the outbreak of World War II, the songwriters and performers extolled the bravery of American servicemen in that conflict. One of the more popular country songs recorded during the war was Red Foley’s rendition of “Smoke on the Water,” which provides an apocalyptic, and accurate, view of what would happen once U.S. forces engaged the Axis enemy. The great American war machine, the song predicts, would crush its foes, leaving their bodies for the vultures. The Vietnam War plunged the country into a state of political and social turmoil. The domestic violence of the Vietnam era failed to alter country music’s appreciation of battlefield bravery. In the horrific madness of Vietnam combat, dancing together to a popular song becomes for the men an affirmation of their humanity in the face of their task as killers who themselves confront the imminence of death…

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