Finding Music for World History Classes
Next week, my students will listen to their next text: Tropicalia, a 2-CD anthology from Brazil's 1960s. Here they'll find Tom Ze and Gilberto Gil, Caetano Veloso and Gal Costa, Os Mutantes and Jorge Ben. They'll also find a 50-page booklet that puts the music in its contexts: mid-century Brazil's regional, racial, and economic tensions, its relationships with global pop culture, and its rapid social change – all playing out in the shadow of military dictatorship. Of all the sources I require, this remains the most popular and among the most provocative.1
It's not news that music can appeal powerfully to students and illuminate otherwise obscure world-historical connections. Workshops at NCSS, AHA and other venues regularly make this point. So too do articles in teaching journals.2
Once I decided to systematically incorporate music into my curriculum, I had to actually find the right music. This was not as easy as downloading a track from iTunes. In fact, I ended up spending a good long time leafing through music encyclopedias, sniffing out web sites, browsing magazine racks and scanning recording company catalogues. I've spoken to other teachers who have done the same.
This article aims to others the trouble of reinventing the wheel. I begin with two stories, illustrating two approaches to searching for music. I then offer two lists: the first of world music reference resources, and the second of music retailers, labels, promoters, websites and radio broadcasts.
Two cautions are in order. First, much of the music useful in world history classrooms lives in a catch-all genre called "world music". Obviously, there are plenty of genres that overlap "world music". This can be confusing. Browsing the world music bin, you might run across "The Mexican Revolution: Corridos" (Arhoolie Records 1997). But if you want contemporary corridos on Mexican politics, you're more likely to find them (at least in the United States) under "Latin". Calypso is world music, but Reggae has its own section. 18th century Greek popular music is in the "world" or "international" section but 11th century Byzantine hymns show up in the "Classical" section behind the "Early Music" tab. Once common among brick-and-mortar music retailers, such inconsistencies persist online.
Second, little of the music available from the sources below dates back further than the 15th century. An article on finding recordings of ancient, classical and postclassical compositions will appear in a future issue of WHC.
Searching For Music: Two Curricular Anecdotes
The Accidental Curriculum: Music and the Afro-Atlantic
A lot of musical connections to classroom are serendipitous: aimless browsing rewards patience. Luckily, Amoeba Records, one of the last surviving big brick-and-mortar music retailers, has its Los Angeles store just a half hour from my door. Spending the better part of an evening there a few years ago, I found a promising CD in the Caribbean bin: "Drums of Defiance: Maroon Music from the Earliest Free Black Communities of Jamaica" (Smithsonian Folkways). As much as I considered possible curricular connections (the 18th c. Atlantic world, slavery, the African diaspora), it was the Smithsonian label itself that caught my attention: Smithsonian packages extensive notes – these can include translations, historical background and musical notation – into all its albums, whether in CDs or downloads. As a stand-alone musical illustration, "Drums of Defiance" ornamented a couple of class sessions that year.
The following year, scanning titles on Second Spin's World Music page (secondspin.com; find world music under "browse CDs"), I found another Smithsonian CD, "Capoiera Angola." A couple of years before, a student had introduced me to capoeira, a Afro-Brazilian song-dance-martial arts music, but I hadn't sought it out. $7.99 later, I cracked open the case and – what luck! – the first track turned out to be "Rei Zumbi dos Palmares." Palmares was the largest and most resilient of the 17th century quilombos (communities established by escaped slaves in Brazil) and King Zumbi was its preeminent, and now mythic, personality. At a friend's suggestion, I added the Gilberto Gil's soundtrack Carlos Diegues's film "Quilombo" (1984). Meanwhile, listening to PRI's "The World", I heard a story about an the Garifuna, a Caribbean islands people descended from both escaped slaves and indigenous Caribs and Arawaks: following several rebellions, the British had exiled them to Central American coastal settlements. That led me to a Garifuna band, the Lebeha Boys.
These finds culminated in a much richer unit on the 17th - 18th century Afro-Atlantic. Now I needed to put the music into a deeper context, both for myself and my students. I started fleshing it out with George Reid Andrews, Afro Latin-America: 1800-2000.3
The central strategy here is aimless rummaging. The web sites listed below, including Second Spin, the Smithsonian, MondoMix, National Geographic, and iTunes are great for rummaging. with CDs on their way out, the market is flooded with them. I may be alone in the pleasure I take in physically thumbing through a bin of plastic cases, but I am happy to live in a city that still has a few second-hand music stores around.
The Purposeful Curriculum: Modern India Beyond Gandhi
I had long wanted to plan a few lessons on 20th century India. Rather than wait until I happened upon the appropriate music, I planned my research in advance.
Most of the curricular materials I have place Gandhi in the center of the story. I like one package in particular [National Ctr for Hist in Schools], which does a good job leading students through comparison of the two. While some students have a decent grasp of their careers, many do not, and this source meets their needs.
However, I believe that letting Gandhi speak for modern India leaves students with some grossly distorted ideas about the country. These distortions develop because Gandhi, as an international culture hero, pushes nearly everyone else in 20th century history off the stage. To show students what's happening, I needed music.
First, I wanted music that the generic Indian identity Gandhi has come for many people to represent. Gandhi was, after all, influenced by his readings of Hindu, Jain and Buddhist texts, as well as with the Bengal Enlightenment and the works of Rabindranath Tagore. This is the Gandhi of Richard Attenborough's film, leading tens of thousands on the salt march. The music for this version of India Gandhi, composed by Ravi Shankar. Shankar's body of work has, of course, practically defined "Indian" music since the late 1950s – which is exactly why his work fit the film. The music of India's own film industry in the 1930s and 1940s would not have worked.4
Second, I wanted music that would capture the idea that, for some people worldwide, Gandhi transcended his Indian-ness to become an International Holy Man, a secular saint arrived to remind the world of its material sins. This particular narrative draws its power from Gandhi's place in the history of nonviolent theory, a delivering the ideas of Tagore, Thoreau and Tolstoy to Martin Luther King and Nelson Mandela. This Gandhi, belonging to us all, is front and center in Philip Glass's opera Satyagraha (recently revived in New York to critical acclaim). Gandhi himself might have drawn pleasure from Glass's recursive tensions and drone-like meditations. However, they say far more about Gandhi as metaphor than Gandhi as political actor.5
The Shankar and Glass recordings are widely available and easy to locate. The same is not true for the rest of the music on my list. For instance, I wanted music to Gandhi himself enjoyed. Buried in the hundreds of Gandhi anthologies and biographies are undoubtedly references which would lead me in the right direction, but because I did not have the time for that research, I decided I'd have to do without. Still, without expecting to find anything, I ran a Google search for "Mohandas K. Gandhi's music". To my surprise, I found a reference, "Google Book Result" for Nicholas F. Gier's Virtue of Nonviolence. There Gier mentions that Gandhi eulogized one Pandit Khare "who taught music in [Gandhi's ashram" and composed the prayers and hymns known as shlokas. I couldn't find any recordings by Khare himself, but I had no trouble finding other shlokas on iTunes.6
So: I now had the musical documentation for lessons on the ways people worldwide have constructed Gandhi's biography. I could, for instance, have students read some of Gandhi's work, play an excerpt Glass, and ask how Glass represented Gandhi differently from Shankar. I could compare Shankar's score against more typical shlokas and, for that matter, against Indian film music of the mid-20th century (I have a small collection of that too). What, students might consider, is the "essence" of Gandhi? 20th century political leader? Nonviolent theorist? Spiritual ascetic? Crafty political virtuoso? Which musics best served these purposes?
I next needed music that would challenge the whole idea of defining India's 20th century around Gandhi's legacy. Typically, a student learning about Gandhi's nonviolence will learn next to nothing at all about Subhas Chandra Bose's nationalist militance, M. N. Roy's revolutionary communism, Muhammad Ali Jinnah's Islamic separatism, Vināyak Sāvarkar's Hindutva communitarianism, Arana Asaf Ali's Communism and feminism, or B.R. Ambedkar's anti-caste egalitarianism. Even Nehru shrinks in Gandhi's shadow, becoming, in some accounts, little more than Gandhi's better-dressed socialist sidekick. Too sharp a focus on Gandhi also encourages students to dismiss South Asian history since 1947 as a betrayal of Gandhi's principles by his lesser heirs, as though every Pakistani, Bangladeshi, Indian and Sri Lankan leader had taken a pledge to Gandhi's vision. To reduce India to Gandhi-Land does violence not just to India's past but to world history generally. It encourages students to see other independence struggles with pity or contempt: why didn't they produced a Gandhi? What was wrong with them?
Since Google had taken me to Gandhi's music, I started with another search, this time for for "Jawaharlal Nehru" and "favorite music". In a discussion list I found a reference to a song, "Ae mere watan ke logo" which "made Nehru cry."7 What was "Ae mere watan ke logo"? To find out, I went to Wikipedia, where someone had posted a history of the song and a translation of its lyrics. It turns out that the song, composed in 1962, commemorated India's soldiers in the Sino-Indian war of that year. It is difficult to imagine Gandhi shedding tears (at least, tears of pride) over a patriotic hymn celebrating war. But then, it is difficult to imagine Gandhi enthusing over most of Nehru's policies.
So much for Nehru. What else might be useful? At a conference, I ran into an Indian scholar in the lunch line who suggested I add the song "Vande Mataram". Composed in the late 19th century around an anticolonial slogan, "Vande Mataram" (Hail to the Motherland!) references Hindu divinities and, due to Muslim sensitivities, did not become the national anthem. India's Hindutva (literally "Hinduness") nationalists have long seen taken umbrage at this decision, and have sometimes used it as a wedge issue in Indian elections. In short, Vande Mataram is a text that introduces a strain of nationalism far removed from that of Gandhi.
Finally, I wanted to suggest the sheer diversity of contemporary South Asian. This is not something I have time to explicitly teach. Yet a playlist consisting of Bollywood song (I like the rain dance from the widely available film "Lagaan"), Bhangra numbers, Carnatic chant, Sufi Quwwali devotional music, "tribal" and Baul music provides a backdrop for a handout summarizing that complexity.8
Bringing the music together is, of course, only the beginning: I then have to construct lessons. The default: If it's a song, I distribute the lyrics and have students stand and sing. Unless it's particularly somber, after some encouragement (we do not sit again until we've sung) we ultimately find our voices: they are very loud and charmingly off-key. Then, with lyrics in hand, I ask students some leading questions. For instance, which lyrics of Vande Mataram (if any) would Gandhi, Nehru, and Ambikar have endorsed? What lyrics might various movements have added? Which ideas are particular to India? Which are comparable to music of other 20th century independence-movements?
Resources: Learning More About the Music
Whether constructed out of music found by happenstance or by purposeful search, lessons incorporating music ultimately benefit from a greater understanding of composition, performance, audience, and social context. The following make an excellent start:
That said, I find Wikipedia an absolutely essential resource. Among its nearly three million English-language articles are thousands that profile contemporary performers, songs, styles, and aesthetic movements, information I can not easily find anywhere else. If I want to know more about the Baroque, I'll go to the New Grove Dictionary. If I want to know more about the roots of tango, I'll read about it in the Rough Guide. But if I want English-language lyrics to the Indian anthem Vande Mataram, I can find them fastest in Wikipedia – and not just in English, but in the Devanagari and Bengali scripts adopted by the Indian National Congress in 1905. Wikipedia is also my first stop if I want some guidance to illustrate a point about cultural globalization with a recent K-pop hit (K-pop is South Korean music popular in East and Southeast Asia).
Resources: Where to Find Recordings
First, a word on the CD. The compact disc is, of course, a dying media, increasingly displaced by MP3 downloads, podcasts, and a dozen other technologies.
Even so: when it comes to music for classroom use, I prefer a CD. Why? Because, before I play a track for students, I want to know something about it. Few downloads come packaged with lyrics and explanatory liner notes (those from Smithsonian/Folkways are exceptional in this regard). Most CDs do. Though I can find the information I need in the references listed above, a detailed booklet will often teah me much more.
That's true even if the liner notes are in a language I can't read. A few years ago, rummaging a Salvation Army store for old CDs, I found a Korean album. Only the title was in a Roman font: everything else was Korea's Hangul script. Without a clue what I'd bought, I asked a Korean student to translate. It turned out that I'd found a recording of "Simcheong-Ga" (Song of the Filial Daughter).9 Simcheongga is a pansori, story performed as song and accompanied by drum. Popular in 19th century Korea, revived during the Japanese occupation, and considered pansori performances can last several hours. My translator told me that she and her friends have no interest in pansori: some of my émigré Korean students hadn't heard of the genre. A web search led me to a Korean government site lamenting that Korea's "rapid modernization" nearly extinguished audience interest, prompting the government to declare pansori "National Intangible Cultural Property" and draft a "national action plan" for its survival. Wanting to know more, I attended a summer seminar in Korean history which in turn, introduced me to the film "Chunhyang" which dramatizes the longest of the pansori, intercutting the narrative with an actual stage performance. A lovely film: one which touched on class, gender, politics and philosophy.10
Had I found a Simcheongga online, I would have found its sound both compelling and challenging, but would not have investigated much further. The liner notes drove me to learn much more than I would have otherwise.
To compile this list, I have put aside my prejudice against downloads: the sources below sell CDs, downloads, or both.
Over the past seven decades, the Smithsonian has assembled a titanic archive of world music. Though much of this is the fruit of three generations of anthropological fieldwork, the museum added much more when it acquired Folkways catalogue in 1986. It was from the Smithsonian that I found a Philippine recording, in Tagalog, of "Internasyonal" (The International), which I have occasionally used when discussing mid-20th century third world Communism.11
Apart from the depth of its catalogue, what's so impressive about the Smithsonian? You can download specific tracks or entire albums. You can find the liner notes and, where they were packaged with the original, translated lyrics. And the cost is very reasonable: a typical 12-song album costs about $15 for the CD (imports can run up to $25) and $10 for the download – again, with the printed material.
Finally, an outstanding search engine will reveal undiscovered gems: Lebanese funeral laments, Kalimantan festival music, 19th century Australian folk songs, Angolan revolutionary anthems, ballads of the War of 1812, and 17th century English political satires.
To discover music you never new existed – and get ideas for the way that music fits into the bigger political, cultural and economic picture – try listening to the following sources:
Tom Laichas teaches at Crossroads School in Santa Monica, California. He is the author, for the National Center for History in the Schools, of "Infinite Patience, Indomitable Will: Ralph Bunche and his Struggle for Peace and Justice" and writes regularly on world history education for World History Connected and other publications. Contact him at email@example.com
1 "Tropicalia" (Soul Jazz Records, 2006). For more on Tropicalia and politics, see Christopher Dunn, Brutality Garden: Tropicalia and the Emergence of a Brazilian Counterculture (University of North Carolina Press, 2000) and Caetano Veloso, Tropical Truth: A Story of Music and Revolution in Brazil (Da Capo Press, 2003).
2 For a list of articles appearing in World History Connected on music in the classroom, search the site for "music".
3 Various artists, "Drums of Defiance: Maroon Music from the Earliest Free Black Communities in Jaimaica" (Smithsonian Folkways, 1993); Grupo Capoeira Angola Pelourinho, "Capoeira Angola from Salvador Brazil" (Smithsonian Folkways, 1996); Gilberto Gil, "Quilombo" (Warner, 1984); LeBeha Boys Garifuna Youth, "LeBeha Drumming: Traditional Garifuna Music" (Innova Recordings, 2005); George Reid Andrews, Afro Latin-America: 1800-2000 (Oxford University Press, 2004).
4 Richard Attenborough (dir.), "Gandhi" (1982).
5 In class, I use Christopher Keene, conducting the New York City Opera Orchestra and the New York City Symphony Orchestra, "Satyagraha" (Sony, 1990). Excerpts of various performances are also available on YouTube and Google Video.
7 Message posted by Saki on October 15 2008 on Hamara Forums. A popular album of shlokas: Semmangudi R. Shrinivasa Iyer and M. S. Subbulakshmi, "Moulav Ganga (sloka)" (Saregama, 2004).
8 For instance: George E. Ruckert, Music in North India (Oxford University Press, 2003); T. Viswanathan and Matthew Harp Allen, Music in South India: The Karnatak Concert Tradition and Beyond (Oxford university Press, 1995); and Rough Guide to World Music, 2nd ed., vol. 2 (Rough Guides, 2000).
9 Dongjin Park and Ilsup Han, "Pansori Simcheong-Ga" (Jigu Records, 1980). In 1980, Jigu released 50 albums of traditional Korean music. For more on this, see the PDF file Keith Howard, "Recording Pansori" at www.ncktpa.go.kr/eng/aboutg/pdf/musicofkorea2_09.PDF
10 Kwon-taek Im (dir.), "Chunhyang" (2000) 133 minutes. For more on the pansori, see the Korea National Tourist Organization, "Masterpieces of the Oral and Intangible Heritage of Humanity" (http://www.ocp.go.kr/english/treasure/pansori-en.html).
11 "Internasyonal" is on the album "Philippines: Bangon! (Arise!)," originally on Paradon Records and available from Smithsonian Global Sound.
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