2007-12-18

Music's top 10 most influential countries

Okay, I realise the ideas of "national" music and geographical bounding of music is probably fallacious. And that the concept of influence is extremely vague at best. But nevertheless I've often caught myself wondering: what countries in the world have had the greatest impact on today's popular music? And I mean that on a worldwide, decentralised basis, where Africa is the strict equivalent of Europe.

I think I've listened to a fair bit of the world's contemporary musical expressions, but obviously it's still a sisyphean task. So this will be my own subjective ranking based on guesswork and feel. Feel free to criticize it if you can think of any reasons to change the countries or the order.

1. The United States
For every obvious reason imaginable. The driving force behind every major worldwide genre from Blues and Jazz to Dance music and Hip-hop and the reference point for the very concept of "popular music" in just about the entire world. I'm not sure I need to delve deeper into this one. 2. Jamaica
Now it gets a tad more controversial. But if you count in the dancehall-derived reggaeton and its huge recent infleuce across the Latin world, I think it just edges it. That's obviously on top of being the main influence of most young popular music across Africa, very important in large parts of Asia, and a crucial background influence on both dance and hip-hop via dub and deejay toasting.

3. India
Now this one will take some explaining. Mostly it's this high because of its truly worldwide reach, just as the Indian diaspora is worldwide. Indian-tinged musics appear from the caribbean to indonesia and everywhere in between (across africa, the balkans, the middle east) and everywhere they feed back into the national traditions. Nothing else (except the western tradition) is so widely dispersed.

4. The United Kingdom
Obvious sparring partner for the United States throughout and a big part of worldwide commercial pop sounds, but the only truly british tradition to have a global reach is Heavy Metal.

5. Cuba
Mostly its influence lies in the past but much of what we think of as "latin" music originates from here.

6. Egypt
Main country in the extremely strong middle-eastern musical tradition which is important in african, asia and the balkans.

7. Japan
Okay, another controversial one as the music there is crap. But what would music stand today without the TR-808, the Technics turntable or the DX7?

8. The Democratic Republic of Congo
Soukous has been a huge influence on music throughout africa and the caribbean.

9. Germany
Two artists: Kraftwerk. Giorgio Moroder. Enough said.

10. France
Instrumental in the development of Zouk and a clear reference point for all Francophone countries.

Bubbling under:
Turkey
Brazil
Lebanon

4 comments:

wayne&wax said...

Yeah, the thing about posts like this -- which can no doubt spur some serious conversation -- is that you only scratch the surface w/r/t WHY some of these countries have the influence they have. Obv, with countries like the US and UK -- and indeed even JA, given its connections to the US & UK -- the influence is inextricable from empire. Of course, why we decide that US & JA influence is not, in some sense, also a manifestation of, say, Ghanaian or Senegambian influence just calls attention to when we draw the timelines. And as you touch on with Congo/Cuba, these patterns of influence might be better understood as circuits, in which case, do they really reside in particular countries -- or in some sort of limbo space between. (Which brings me to another point: how much sense does it make to uphold these national boundaries if they're only a few centuries old and if they seem as if they're declining in significance as meaningful social, cultural, and political units?)

But what also seems tricky about this sort of schematizing is that it's really hard to explain, if we take into account historical and demographic and cultural factors, why a place like Jamaica has had such a disproportionate influence when compared to a place like Nigeria. Despite having much in common, from colonial history to language to musical/cultural vibrancy to metropolitan presence, it's striking how much a likkle island like JA has put its stamp on the world of music. I've never been able to account for that difference to my satisfaction aside from guessing at various contingencies of history.

Birdseed said...

That last question is a very good one, and I think a related one is why any third-world countries at all have been able to exert influence. A traditional model of cultural imperialism, say a Wallensteinian or Frankfurtian one, can't account in any meaningful way how Congolese music has made it to Cuba or Cuban music to the Congo.

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I think one can construe the "US influence is Senegalese influence" in another way, too - the senegalese have chosen and actively passed on the US music. No doubt there's some "cultural imperialism" going on with marketing and all but a lot also connects to the world following the leading nation's glamour, like they would have done with French culture in the 18th century, German and English in the 19th or Italian in the 17th.

Khiasma / Guillaume said...

To this questions I would add another one quite important I bet: what is "today's popular music" ? I mean, does such a thing "exist"? Because it's supposed to be the reference here right? Interesting reflections here.

Birdseed said...

That's another important question to ask - I tend to see popular music as equivalent to currently agile youth music, but taking into account the population as a whole a lot of countries would have to change places.