A Look Into The Blending of Musical Cultures by Morgan Vo
Black artists are immensely influential in the development of Western music through their contributions to several of the popular genres we listen to today. Shoutout to the greats, the OGs: Chuck Berry, Ray Charles, Prince, Jimi Hendrix, Aretha Franklin and many more! Today, I wanted to delve into if and how Asia has impacted popular Western music.
At first glance, I see how Western music has affected music in Asia. For example, Korean pop (K-pop) music pulls a lot of their inspiration from EDM or R&B, but I couldn’t directly see, in this case hear, any influence from Asia in songs that I listen to, or know. Digging deeper, I found a GREAT example of Asian influence in mainstream music in Britney Spears’ iconic song “Toxic.” Arguably the most defining section of the song, it’s high-pitched string hook, is sampled from the hit eighties Bollywood musical, “Ek Duuje Ke Liye.” It seems that Asia is more impactful in mainstream music than expected.
Another example of Asian influence was the great sitar explosion in the 60s. The sitar is a plucked stringed instrument originating from India. Renowned sitar player Ravi Shankar influenced many bands such as The Rolling Stones, The Monkees, and especially The Beatles. According to a Los Angeles Times article by Benjamin Epstein, “Shankar’s instrumental prowess had been well established internationally before he met George Harrison in 1966, their meeting launched Indian music and culture into the forefront of pop consciousness in the West.” You can hear the sitar in songs like “Paint it Black” by The Rolling Stones and “Within You, Without You” by The Beatles which helped popularize its use in western music.
Asian cultural influence in music can be found long after the 1960’s, notably popping up in turn of the century hip hop music. American hip-hop group Wu-Tang Clan blends Asian culture into their music. Their name alone stems from ancient chinese history. According to an article written on the medium “The word Wu-Tang originates from Wu Dang, the Taoist holy mountain located in Central China.” Also, many references to kung-fu can be heard in their debut album, “Enter The Wu-Tang (36 Chambers).” The cultural fusion showcased on their debut album led to the group becoming a global sensation and changing the music industry from then on. Their album provided a new sound that people had not heard and were excited about.
Mainstream music today has influences from many cultures and countries. For example, K-pop has taken the world by storm, especially in America. BTS, a popular korean boy band, have become so big that they have collaborations with artists like Halsey and Sia, two popular singers with many songs that have topped the charts. K-pop has even made its way to popular music festivals. In 2019, K-pop sensation Blackpink was a huge-font, second-line act at Coachella. However, K-pop is not the only Asian influence you can find in Western, mainstream music. A record company and music coalition, 88 Rising, has many popular East Asian musicians under their belt that have become popular in Western music. Artists such as rapper Rich Brian and singer songwriters Joji and NIKI together have garnered over 500 million streams on Spotify. 88 Rising even curated their own musical festival in Los Angeles called Head in the Clouds, that hosted over 20,000 thousand fans. Artists from Asia continue to make an impression on popular music, creating sound loved by the world over.
In conclusion, Asian culture and influence can be clearly seen, and heard, throughout Western mainstream music. It is important to listen to music from all cultures and realize where and what they came from. I am excited to see new Asian artists emerge and witness how Asian artists influence music in the coming years. Here is a playlist that showcases Asian influence on Western music and Asian artists that I think are worth listening to!