Music and identity

Subject: Art
Type: Compare and Contrast Essay
Pages: 12
Word count: 3106
Topics: Music, Agriculture, Identity, Social Issues


Identity is a widely used term that means different things to various groups of people at different times. Identity is sometimes taken to mean a sense of integration of self, in which different aspects are unified (Deaux and Martin 103). Identity can also be thought to be a way in which individuals or groups see and define themselves, and how other individuals or groups see and define them. Identity is formed through the socialization process and the influence of social institutions like the family, the education system, and the mass media (Browne, 5). Music represents one of the factors that greatly influence the identity of person or group. From its sound and setting to dance and instrumentation, music represents a powerful symbol and a tool for creating and maintaining identity. This essay explores the Igbo folk music with a view of establishing how it gives identity to the Igbo community.

Music and identity

Music is a fundamental channel of communication as it provides a means through which people can share emotions, intentions, and meanings, even when their spoken languages differ. It also provides a vital lifeline to human interaction, especially those who have special needs or interests. According to Connell and Gibson (15), music is an extremely powerful tool through which people develop personal and social identities. It represents a channel through which emotions, thoughts, political statements, social relationships, and physical expressions are exchanged.

Sieber (123) points out that popular music is a powerful medium for representing, contesting, and negotiating the changing cultural identities in the dynamic global diasporas. It indexes continuity and change in society. It also sustains and renegotiates connection across transnational space. Lastly, music reshapes generational relations by linking the present and past generations. In a nutshell, music is used as a communication means through which aspect of people’s identity as constructed. Regardless of its genre, music has a profound influence on developing a sense of peoples’ identity, values, and beliefs.

The Igbo folk music and identity

Folk music is a spontaneously composed type music for a race, tribe, or group (Nnamani 304). It is humble in nature and is orally transmitted from generation to generation. It has unknown composers. According to Nnamani (304), Folk music is the term used to designate the traditional music of a person or group, which contrasts the popular music and the serious concert or opera music.

The Nigerian music is conceived as a medium of aesthetic contemplation of socio-cultural phenomenon (Omojola par. 1). Its importance transcends the value created by itself. This is because the composer of the music, its performers, and audience attach premium value to its relevance to the socio-political issues that affect their daily lives. The history and development of the Igbo music date back to the traditional African society before the scramble for Africa by the European states. The Igbo music was formulated on communal binding and viable traditional concepts and covenants (Omojola par. 6). These concepts were periodically validated or commemorated as a means of binding generations together. The generational binding required to be facilitated by stylized media that could give a super ordinary atmosphere when passed from one generation to another (Omojola par. 7). The media for facilitation of these functions consisted of traditional African theater that was wide in scope and ramification. Music was the common media used to pass cultural norms, beliefs, and values from one generation to another. It included dances, drama, and mime. These music aspects were perfected with time to become part of the Igbo culture.

Music is an important aspect of the life of the Igbo people because it is known to possess both cultural and spiritual values. Celestina and Veronica (269) posit that music accompanies the life of a black man from the womb to the tomb. They assert that music in the Igbo community dictates the life of a person. It represents a celebration the birth of a child; it is used during children’s games and at peer group functions. Also, it is used during work and leisure time, religious functions, and at death. Children are exposed to music from infancy through lullabies (Celestina and Veronica 269). Also, an Igbo child is exposed to folk songs and games performed by fellow children during playtime. At these stages of life, the performed music affects the identity of the child into adulthood. To the Igbo people, folk songs form an important channel through which proverbs and idioms are passed. It is through the folk music that virtues are upheld and vices condemned. The folktales and music stress the importance of observing the social norms.

Music has been as a source of identity for the Igbo people in diaspora. The performance of Igbo music in the US has helped reinforce the culture and identity of the Igbo community. The performers and audience of the Igbo music are of different age groups. The singing and performances of the songs are done by people from different ages to create social, emotional, and aesthetic relationships and solidarity (Gordon 238; Nuraghe and Frank 229). Children sing the Igbo songs as a sense of attachment to the culture and traditions of the community. The Igbos sing and dance to propel their philosophy of life, wisdom, and sentiments. The Igbo music and dance use different instruments. These include the “Igbo” or simply the big drum, the “One”, flutes, and the “Ekwe” (Ndukaihe and Fonk 229; Omojola par. 7). The move makes the Igbo music gain an Afrobeat style of music, which is a source of Nigerian identity.

It is worth to acknowledge that the Igbo folk music is used to serve a social and cultural course. It is used to preserve and propagate the Igbo cultural heritage, which is a source of their identity (Ndukaihe and Fonk 229). It is used to express the Igbo language, which they consider as a lovable language. The melodic style takes permanent residence in the cultural practices of the community because of its intrinsic quality (Gordon 238). The melodies and the rhythmic waves of the Igbo music forge mystical and aesthetic links among the performer and audience. It creates an identity for the tribe, making the Igbo people have a distinct identity formation as compared to the other tribes (Celestina and Veronica 269).

Although modernity and distance have caused generations to lose touch of the Igbo culture, the modern performances of the Igbo folk music at the national and international levels has enabled the Reformation and observation of the Igbo identity. For instance, folk music has given the Igbo people living in the US a sense of identity for a long time. According to Gordon (238), folk music helps the immigrant persons living in large cities across the US to reinforce their cultural, tribal, and religious identities. Igbo is one of the prominent tribes in Los Angeles that has propelled its identity through folk music. Gordon (238) observes that the Igbo people do not feel at home with the mode of worshipping in the American churches. Instead, the Igbo sing and perform Igbo songs in churches. Women wear the traditional Igbo attire during the performances, which are usually accompanied by drumming. Gordon (238) notes that this has helped to lessen the sense of isolation among the Igbo community. It has also given them the identity that has enabled them to deal with the pressure of living away from home.

The Expression of Chineseness and Americanness

Research makes it clear that as from the 1990s, Chinese mainstream music witnessed an expansion in the quantity of Chinese American or American-Born Chinese (ABC) artists that left the United States to seek after professions in China. These artists who did not have their cultural legacy in China, additionally carry with them parts of the American experience. Two of the most unmistakable ABC pop stars in China are Wang Leehom and Vanness Wu. However, despite the fact that the two have comparable foundations and both recognize as ABC, the routes in which they express their Chineseness and Americanness in their music is open (Boxi, Pg. 73). One would thus be right to proclaim that one may make use of music to promote a secure identity in the community.

It merits noting that the typical Asian American experience comprises of immigrants from Asia in pursuit of more and possibly better opportunities in the community. It deserves noting that in most cases, they usually gain exposure to Asian American music which may comprise of both Asian America and music that it created by the Asians in America.  It deserves noting the interactions of the different cultural identities would also give way to the introduction of the Asian American music in Asia.

It is evident that as from the 1990s, the traditional Chinese music would receive influence from the increasing number of number of Chinese who were undertaking musical activities in America. The move would offer them a peculiar identity in the Chinese world. Some musicians rose to prominence due to the integration of the American way of life, and the Chinese culture includes Wang Leehom and Vaness Wu (Boxi, Pg. 73).  It merits noting that music would offer them an individual identity in the community due to the nature of their music.

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It is apparent that as from the 1980s, Mandopop was introduced to Taiwan and would experience and exponential growth. The Taiwanese artists highly dominate the music genre. It deserves noting the origin of the style of music does not have a significant influence on its popularity. Research makes it clear that music has more financial goals to attain than the political mileages.  The move makes it possible for the genre of music to appeal to a relatively broad audience in the community. The style attracts followers from as far as South East Asia and Eastern Asia. An insight into the music genre makes it vivid that the western culture had a significant impact on the development of the music genre. The influence is likely to rise due to globalization and transnationalism (Boxi, Pg. 73).   It is possible to trace the initial stages of the influence from 1960 when the American dance band’s style of instrumentation would become prominent in Taiwan.

The influence of the western cultures would intensify with the return of the American born Chinese. Transnationalism would make it feasible for them to bring in their American experience.  It merits noting that the desire to return to one’s homeland encourages the Chinese immigrants in the United States to maintain closer ties with the native homeland. The move makes a majority of the American Chinese to consider returning to their home. It deserves noting that the move has an impact on their cultural heritage since the majority of them already have experience of the American way of life.

There is economic point of views that make an effort to exploit the possible causes of the rise of the Mandopop. It merits noting that there have been increases in the cases Asians going back to their homelands in pursuit of better opportunities. It was the case for some aspiring Chinese musicians who were in America. They would bring in the American musical qualities such as the hip-hop rhythm to the famous Chinese music. It is such a scenario that would give rise to the LA Boyz hip hop group in China. It merits noting that the team would bring in a different vibe to the Chinese music. They would introduce the wearing of the baggy jeans, rapping and the ability to carry out street dances. The move would highly popularize the American hip hop in China (Boxi, Pg. 74).  The success of the music group was a great inspiration to the American born Chinese to seek an opportunity out of America.

An insight to the rise of Mandopop would be incomplete without an overview of Wang’s and Vanessa’s contributions. Their music was essential in offering them an identity in the community. They portray some difference which is crucial in their bid to create their musical identities. The difference stems from the level of Chineseness and Americanness that they opt to corporate in their music. It merits noting that Wang would opt to create a distinct Chinese pop sound which he would describe as chinked out. He would infuse some Chinese elements in his music such as the Chinese musical instruments. He was also keen to maintain his pop music base which would in some occasions contain rap interludes. It deserves noting that there was a considerable variation of English in the songs (Boxi, Pg. 74).  It is also evident that in instances when Wang uses the English phrases, in most cases, they tend to be colloquial.

An analysis of the visual representation of the level of Chineseness and Americanness reveals a considerable variation in their representation. The move offers Wang’s music a peculiar identity in the community. Wang appears with two women in one of the videos where one of the women is in modern clothing while the other one adorns traditional Chinese clothing. The move may seem appropriate in the attempt to offer an equal representation of both cultures.

The public persona of Wang reveals a blend of the two cultures. His dressing mode which consists of jeans and jackets could have its origin in America. However, then move to make use of his Chinese name makes it clear that he embraces the Chineseness in him. The move makes it possible for him to relate well with his audience.

Margins and Mainstreams in Jazz music

It deserves noting that throughout history, there has been a tendency to view jazz music as marginal in the community. There are concerns that the genre of music enjoys neither the straightforward commercial nature of rock music in the community not the level of public of public support accorded to the classical music.  It is apparent that the term jazz loosely translates into sexual intercourse. The name was a never a great start for the introduction of the genre in the community (Stranbridge, Pg. 2). It is apparent that music deserves to be ideal for the mainstream audience in the community. There are few claims that jazz would rise to be a mainstream music in the community.

A deeper insight into the struggling nature of the jazz music in the community reveals that its history is a significant threat to its penetration in the community. The swing era would mark the final moments of the fading popularity of the jazz music. The music was becoming esoteric to the mainstream tastes.  It was increasing becoming inappropriate to the mass. The socio-cultural interactions were behind the lagging nature in the acceptance of the music genre in the community. There was a tendency to link the music genre to prostitution and alcoholism in the community.

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It merits noting that jazz music would occur a different position in the North American cultures after the Second World War. There was a significant consideration of its outside role with the increasing exposure to the mainstream audience in the community (Stranbridge, Pg. 2). The period between 1950 and 1960 would witness various recording in the genre. One of the important albums from that period is the album Time Out which happens to be among the most sold jazz albums in the community. It is also the same period where there was a relatively wider acceptance of the jazz music in the community. Several Hollywood movies would feature jazz tracks which would lead to greater acceptance of the music genre in the community. Some television series would also feature jazz tracks. The move was commendable as it would aid in the penetration of the jazz music in the community. One would be right to proclaim that the period between 1950 and 1960 was the jazz age (Stranbridge, Pg. 2). The society would accept the genre despite its initial negative publicity.

The period after the Second World War is critical in the analysis of the musical identity of jazz music in the community. There was a popular populist conception of the musical genre which had links to the jazz canon.  The conceptualization would also serve as a great marketing strategy for the music in the community. It deserves noting that the populist notion has links with connotations of sophistication which were essential in eroding the initial stereotypes that the community held against the music genre. The move was pivotal in the attempt to influence the masses to accept the music genre widely.

There is essence in noting that apart from the sharp contrast in the discursive role of jazz music in the community, there are more challenging issues relating to the genre of music. Some of the problems would exhibit different relationships with the existing cultural mainstream due to the oppositional politics which would emerge from the notions of marginality of the music genre. There are circles where the jazz music holds the locus of discussion on the possibility of the roles that it may play in promoting social change in the community (Stranbridge, Pg. 2).   There is a potential link between the jazz music and social, political benefits in the community. It merits noting that in cultural policy and arts funding in the community, there are several economic benefits such urban regeneration, promotion of tourism in the economy, business investments and also the development of service industry which is the backbone of the economy in certain states. It also merits noting that embracing the music genre could have a significant impact on the unemployment in the economy. It is likely to lead to job creation thus minimizing unemployment.

It merits noting that arts have a profound impact on the social activities in the community. Jazz is one of the forms of art in the community. It offers the society a full range of benefits from economic to entertainment.  However, there is a certain degree of distraction that one may link the genre jazz within the community. The pragmatic blend of art and culture is essential in the attempt to have the genre receive acceptance in the community.


Music is an important anthropological subject that has gained prominence in different fields. Its importance surpasses the entertainment, singing, and dancing constructs. Music offers an intrinsic value based on the fact that it influences the identity of a person, group, or national. The case of the Igbo folk music illustrates that music determines the cultural heritage and identity. The folk music has given the Igbo tribe the identity, making it stand out among the Nigerian tribes. It has also upheld the cultural and religious identities of the Igbo people in the diaspora, especially in the US.

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  11. Chen, Boxi. “The Expression of Chineseness and Americanness in Chinese Popular Music: A Comparison of ABC Pop Stars Wang Leehom and Vanness Wu.” Asian Music 43.2 (2012): 71-87. Print
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