Marginal/minority popular music : the concept of the "third space" and the case for "hybridities" of cultures/identities /
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The topic of this thesis is marginaVminority popular music and the question of identity; the term "marginaVminority" specifically refers to members of racial and cultural minorities who are socially and politically marginalized. The thesis argument is that popular music produced by members of cultural and racial minorities establishes cultural identity and resists racist discourse. Three marginaVminority popular music artists and their songs have been chosen for analysis in support of the argument: Gil Scott-Heron's "Gun," Tracy Chapman's "Fast Car" and Robbie Robertson's "Sacrifice." The thesis will draw from two fields of study; popular music and postcolonialism. Within the area of popular music, Theodor Adorno's "Standardization" theory is the focus. Within the area of postcolonialism, this thesis concentrates on two specific topics; 1) Stuart Hall's and Homi Bhabha's overlapping perspectives that identity is a process of cultural signification, and 2) Homi Bhabha's concept of the "Third Space." For Bhabha (1995a), the Third Space defines cultures in the moment of their use, at the moment of their exchange. The idea of identities arising out of cultural struggle suggests that identity is a process as opposed to a fixed center, an enclosed totality. Cultures arise from historical memory and memory has no center. Historical memory is de-centered and thus cultures are also de-centered, they are not enclosed totalities. This is what Bhabha means by "hybridity" of culture - that cultures are not unitary totalities, they are ways of knowing and speaking about a reality that is in constant flux. In this regard, the language of "Otherness" depends on suppressing or marginalizing the productive capacity of culture in the act of enunciation. The Third Space represents a strategy of enunciation that disrupts, interrupts and dislocates the dominant discursive construction of US and THEM, (a construction explained by Hall's concept of binary oppositions, detailed in Chapter 2). Bhabha uses the term "enunciation" as a linguistic metaphor for how cultural differences are articulated through discourse and thus how differences are discursively produced. Like Hall, Bhabha views culture as a process of understanding and of signification because Bhabha sees traditional cultures' struggle against colonizing cultures as transforming them. Adorno's theory of Standardization will be understood as a theoretical position of Western authority. The thesis will argue that Adorno's theory rests on the assumption that there is an "essence" to music, an essence that Adorno rationalizes as structure/form. The thesis will demonstrate that constructing music as possessing an essence is connected to ideology and power and in this regard, Adorno's Standardization theory is a discourse of White Western power. It will be argued that "essentialism" is at the root of Western "rationalization" of music, and that the definition of what constitutes music is an extension of Western racist "discourses" of the Other. The methodological framework of the thesis entails a) applying semiotics to each of the three songs examined and b) also applying Bhabha's model of the Third Space to each of the songs. In this thesis, semiotics specifically refers to Stuart Hall's retheorized semiotics, which recognizes the dual function of semiotics in the analysis of marginal racial/cultural identities, i.e., simultaneously represent embedded racial/cultural stereotypes, and the marginal raciaVcultural first person voice that disavows and thus reinscribes stereotyped identities. (Here, and throughout this thesis, "first person voice" is used not to denote the voice of the songwriter, but rather the collective voice of a marginal racial/cultural group). This dual function fits with Hall's and Bhabha's idea that cultural identity emerges out of cultural antagonism, cultural struggle. Bhabha's Third Space is also applied to each of the songs to show that cultural "struggle" between colonizers and colonized produces cultural hybridities, musically expressed as fusions of styles/sounds. The purpose of combining semiotics and postcolonialism in the three songs to be analyzed is to show that marginal popular music, produced by members of cultural and racial minorities, establishes cultural identity and resists racist discourse by overwriting identities of racial/cultural stereotypes with identities shaped by the first person voice enunciated in the Third Space, to produce identities of cultural hybridities. Semiotic codes of embedded "Black" and "Indian" stereotypes in each song's musical and lyrical text will be read and shown to be overwritten by the semiotic codes of the first person voice, which are decoded with the aid of postcolonial concepts such as "ambivalence," "hybridity" and "enunciation."