I started this thought process a couple months ago on a walk in Laos with a new friend Aaron (who plays in a reggae beatles cover band called the Yellow Dubmarine-check them out!)…How is music different from East to West: not only in style, but in importance, in its role to culture and society. I wouldn’t consider myself to be a musically inclined person; I played the piano for 10 odd years, the flute in band, and sang in elementary choirs….otherwise I’m the person that just found out about last summers hit tune and play it on repeat failing miserably to remember the words, which is usually coupled with me not knowing who is singing or what the name of the song is. So, perhaps I’m not the best person to be dissecting this particular subject matter…or maybe I’m the perfect one, who knows.
Starting with what I do know…music in the West; not just North America but western Europe as well. Music in the West is an industry, when you’re a kid in piano lessons the goal is revolved around royal conservatory exams, and the ‘cool’ pop music is a fortune in sheet music stores. American/Canadian/everywhere in the world Idol, The Voice, X factor…all those talent shows, utilize not the love of music, but the desire to be famous from making music as major money makers. Because of the massive paycheques and fanatic fame involved with being a ‘successful’ musician in our culture, music is based off of this ‘package deal’ of good looks and charisma just as much as the voice. Furthermore, concerts are major income not only for the performers but for the venues and tourism of cities. Music that can’t be performed in concert, or that wouldn’t appeal to high ticket prices is typically scuffed away from production companies that want, as all western culture wants, the best bang for their buck.
All of this is fine and dandy, I get that it’s an industry, I don’t really resent it either…it is what it is. What is interesting to me though, is how music in the East is such a contrast. Playing instruments is a way of coming together, not for 5 members of a band, but for communities of people. The songs that are sung or played have meaning, are often passed down, and sit in a range that anyone can join in to. The east doesn’t prioritize music as a money making deal, but as a way for people to come together, to create together, and it is genuinely seen as an art versus a profession of fame. Not to say that musicians in the west aren’t artists…but half the time they don’t write their own lyrics or their own music, what is produced is what will sell, not what feels good to sing or means anything important. Also, the Father in the family I stayed with in Kolkata had been selected to sing in the soundtrack to a Bollywood music…regular people rarely get such an opportunity in the West because its about marketability not raw talent.
It definitely sounds like I’m super against western music but I’m not…I just think the attitude towards it in the east is much different and worth mentioning. Religion in the east is a completely different story as well but I’m really not in the mood to start great religious debates on a leisurely travel blog.
I will however say that it is incredible the devotion and full-hearted belief people in the east seem to have regarding their religious affiliations, but how non-judgemental they are. I’ve been judged and attemptedly forced into religions/churches back home by people who don’t live the words of their doctrine themselves, but here…here I’m staying in an ashram in a temple, nobody asked me for any religious statement, nor do they force me to believe anything. Here they see religion as a personal choice not a societal requirement and I think that might be my favourite part of the East in general. Not necessarily religion but the sense of ‘this is me, my family, and my life, and nothing else really actually matters’. I respect it. I think it is amazing to see what the human race will endure here in order to make a living for themselves and their family…the working conditions, the hours worked, the hygiene (lack there of) facilities available…you couldn’t pay a North American business person enough money to do what people do here merely to put dinner on the table. Yet what do we all complain about: work. What do they complain about: nothing really…occasionally a bad chai. A lesson to be learned I think….but a lesson much easier pondered than lived.