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Theft: A History of Music (duke.edu)
135 points by spatten 8 months ago | hide | past | web | favorite | 19 comments

This was a very enjoyable and creative read.

I'm not criticizing this in any way, but it would have been even better had it covered the history of music beyond that of the western hemisphere. Other cultures have had enough written history and written music [0] for what could be some fascinating stories on music and distribution/remixing.

0: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Musical_notation#In_various_co...

My current favorite music is the music of the western Sahara desert (mostly but not all Tuareg). Northern Mali and Niger have the hottest music scene in the world today, imho. And it's very much a function of cross-cultural remixing.

Tuareg culture is ancient, pre-Islamic, and it has a long and beautiful tradition of music and poetry, which falls along gender lines. Traditionally, women played most music, while men wrote poetry in the lovely Tamasheq language. But when guitars, radios, and recordings arrived in the 1960s/1970s, the instrument had no role in the traditions, and they could make something new. The poetry fused with the rhythms, while the new wave of guitarists dug into Dire Straits and Santana along with their own traditions. The results are astounding - deep, soulful, melodic, improvisational.

Check out Tinariwen and Bombino for the hottest bands in the scene (again imho). If you dig them, keep digging, there's a lot more where that came from. And due to civil war and other problems at home, a lot of the musicians tour relentlessly in the West. I see a half-dozen Tuareg concerts a year!

Niger has unbelievably great music. Recently picked up a copy of " Etran De L'Aïr - No. 1" (2014) and it's fantastic. "Azna De L'Ader" (late 70's) is a fantastic find as well - super rhythmic acid rock bursting with energy and passion and completely original. These are just a couple artists from that region I'm into lately and this stuff is as fresh to me as when I discovered punk rock in the early 1990's.

Quite a bit different from the things you're suggesting showing that there's a huge range of sound coming from that region and there has been for a long time, however not documented in the West.

Sahel Sounds is an imprint that has been putting out a ton of great stuff for a few years now.

Sahel Sounds is a fantastic label. One of my favorite albums recently has been their "Music from Saharan Cellphones", basically a sampler of recordings floating around from mostly-unknown bands. One thing that struck me was how much drum machine there was on that album, relative to the more rock-oriented Tuareg desert blues bands, which are driven by acoustic percussion, whether djembe or calabash or a western drum kit. It's like some of the sounds of Euro dance music are getting in to the new stuff, much like how classic rock influenced the older generation.

Dude. I'll pay you money for your playlist. I had a worldbeat phase in the 90s, but now I'm an old man very much out of date.

Music discovery is still a challenge. I used to lean heavily on labels and festivals with supporting roles from radio shows like Wo'Pop and Positive Vibrations.

FWIW, One of my all time faves is Habib Koité https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Habib_Koité One of my bucket list items is going to Mali and seeing him, and everyone else, perform live.

I dream of going to Mali, and visiting Timbuktu to hear the music there. But until the jihadists are finally driven out, that's not going to happen. :( I have a friend in the State Department who also loves desert music, and she says northern Mali is an absolute no-go zone for Western tourists - like they won't even come rescue you.

There's a really great documentary from a couple of years ago called They Will Have to Kill Us First, which you would probably love. It's about musicians from northern Mali living as refugees from the civil war, and how the jihadists have treated musicians.

Also, keep an eye out for a band called Songhoy Blues, if they're ever in your area. They're in the documentary. They're Songhoy, not Tuareg (different ethnicity), and the band formed in the refugee camps with guys from different towns who never would have met otherwise. They tour a lot, and they're a lot closer to American/British rock and roll than most Tuareg music. I took my spouse to see them (I've seen them twice), and she said seeing their singer live was what it must have been like to see a young Mick Jagger. He's that good.

I discovered Tinariwen on a CD in my university library about 10 years ago, I had all but forgotten about them until I got a notification they were playing in Amsterdam earlier this year.

They were absolutely incredible live, and I was really surprised at how young the audience were (especially for a band that have been going since the 70s).

Thanks for the recommendation for Bombino, it's heading straight into my Spotify queue.

This reminds me of Pete Frame's Rock and Roll Family Trees.


Different idea, but a cousin nonetheless.

Forgot I have a copy of that, need to go dig it up; found lots of new music to listen to thanks to it.

One of the co-authors, James Boyle, has a freely available book about the public domain.


I read this book a while ago about the history of Jamaican Dancehall music. I highly recommend it. It goes into a ton of history both about music and politics in Jamaica from the 50's to present day and is an amazing read if such things interest you.


Jamaican music in general is the perfect example of music theft giving rise to a whole new style of music. Ska music was created by Jamaican musicians trying to imitate swing and jazz music from America. From there it developed into rocksteady and reggae. At the time Jamaica had no copyright laws so songs were freely sampled and remixed back even back then. Most modern dancehall music still has it's roots in old baselines and melodies written back then. Because of the poverty in Jamaica, a lot of songs were remade and updated over and over again with different singers or musicians.

Hip hop was influenced by Jamaican dancehall brought over by people immigrating to new York and other cities from Jamaica. In the 80's dancehall tunes started sampling from hip hop tracks and a bunch of bands like Sublime took reggae songs and redid them. Every single one of Sublimes songs is a reimagining of either some some reggae, punk rock or old rock song. The downside to this is a lot of talented artists ended up dying broke despite having a bunch of hit songs. Producers who could afford equipment ended up owning the rights to a lot of the music and the artists tended not to be paid properly. Some of them eventually managed to get royalties if they became famous enough that big record companies took interest but for the most part they all lost money they should have been paid.

Now today there's dancehall and reggae festivals all over the world. Some of the biggest ones happen in Europe and Asia. Even Japan has a reggaeband dancehall subculture.

Reggae in general is a pretty cool, I don't want to say genre because there's so many different genres within reggae music, branch of music I guess. So much of it was made in so many different styles, sometimes dozens of different versions of the same song were produced. There's really a ton of music to discover.

Reminded me of the Logicomix: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Logicomix

Logicomix is one of the best graphic novels I have read recently. Excellent use of the medium, and very well researched.

and that, in turn, reminds me of The Most Important 6 Second Drum Loop


and Raiding the 20th Century


This is exciting. I'd love to see the topic addressed in the same way for food, as well as music!

In the past it was called 'fusion'. Today it's called 'cultural appropriation'


Cultural appropriation is a complicated subject. It's grossly oversimplified by both sides.

A great book on the recent history of music piracy and the advent of the MP3 is How Music Got Free:


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