Peter, Paul, and Mary at the Washington Monument
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Edited by Annie J. Randall Music, Power, and Politics


Photo: Barry Feinstein
Peter, Paul, and Mary at The Long March,
August 28th, 1963

Music, Power, and Politics presents thirteen different cultural perspectives on a single theme: the concept of music as a site of socio-political struggle. Essays by scholars from seven countries (UK, People’s Republic of China, Germany, South Africa, USA, Serbia and Montenegro, and Iran) explore the means by which music’s long-acknowledged potential to persuade, seduce, indoctrinate, rouse, incite, or even silence listeners has been used to advance agendas of power and protest.

The cultural and historical scope of the collection is intentionally broad and includes essays that examine: music used to convey political ideology in Nazi Germany, apartheid-era South Africa, Mao’s China, and modern day North Korea; propagandistic popular song in civil war-era USA; hegemonic processes in the folklorization of indigenous dance in Mexico; postcolonial musical efforts to reclaim ethnic heritage in Serbia and Barbados; punk music as a means of establishing new cultural identities for women in the UK; the subversion of racial stereotypes through Trinidadian music in the USA; music as a tool of popular resistance in modern day Iran; governmental control of music recording and broadcast in pre-unification east Germany; and strategies of surveillance and power relations within audio technologies in Bosnia and Herzegovina.

The Authors

Michael Eldridge, Ruth Hellier-Tinoco, Bennett Hogg, Keith Howard, Jelena Jovanovic, Edward Larkey, Sharon Meredith, Laudan Nooshin, Grant Olwage, Annie Randall, Helen Reddington, Britta Sweers, Hon-Lun Yang.

About the Editor

Annie J. Randall is an Associate Professor of Musicology at Bucknell University in Lewisburg, PA. She has published several journal articles and book chapters on late eighteenth and early nineteenth-century German music and is coauthor of the book Puccini and “The Girl“: History and Reception of The Girl of the Golden West (University of Chicago Press, 2004). She is currently collaborating on a collection of essays, She’s So Fine: Whiteness, Femininity, Adolescence, and Class in 1960s Music, edited by Laurie Stras.


by Annie J. Randall

The essays in Music, Power, and Politics trace the operations of power—social, economic, and political—through the medium of music and through discourses about music. None of the essays makes a claim for the power of music itself to persuade, coerce, resist, or suppress; rather, the authors address the uses to which music is put, the controls placed on it, and discursive treatments of it. Guiding these investigations through a variety of historical and cultural contexts are the theories of Gramsci, Adorno, Foucault, Baudrillard, and Attali; indeed, the volume could be viewed as a set of case studies based on these scholars’ theories.

Several themes run through the book and the essays can be grouped accordingly. Jelena Jovanovic’s “The Power of Recently Revitalized Serbian Rural Folk Music in Urban Settings” and Sharon Meredith’s “Barbadian Tuk Music—A Fusion of Musical Cultures” might be read together as investigations of music that has been used to assert racial or ethnic identity against the homogenizing tendencies of the nation-state. Jovanovic’s article also relates to Bennett Hogg’s “Who's Listening?” in terms of geographical location; both examine the operations of power through music in territories of the former Yugoslavia though Hogg’s concentrates on the use of electronic technologies while Jovanovic’s examines the recovery of rural folk singing traditions. Singing traditions are also the topic of Grant Olwage’s “Discipline and Choralism: The Birth of Musical Colonialism” which views choral instruction methods through a Foucauldian lens.

Intersections of electronic technology, music, and gender inform Helen Reddington’s discussion of women in punk during the Thatcher era in England, “Hands Off My Instrument!” Her essay, if read alongside Edward Larkey’s “Fighting for the Right (to) Party? Discursive Negotiations of Power in Pre-Unification East German Popular Music,” a treatment of rock music in pre-unification East Germany, yields many points of contrast; while the time period is the same and the genre of music is similar, the issues faced by the musicians in negotiating their positions vis-à-vis radio stations and the recording industry could not have been more different. Equally stark contrasts of another kind can be found between Larkey’s essay and Britta Sweers’ “The Power to Influence Minds: German Folk Music During the Nazi Era and After.” Only fifty years separate the eras but in that time eastern Germany had passed from Nazism to Communism and one form of extreme government control of music to another. Geography also ties two essays with Caribbean themes; both Eldridge’s “There Goes the Transnational Neighborhood: Calypso Buys a Bungalow” and Meredith’s “Barbadian Tuk Music – A Fusion of Musical Cultures” focus on the uses of West Indian musical genres as tools of identity in late colonial and postcolonial time frames.

The theme of music in totalitarian contexts links Sweers’ essay with Keith Howard’s “Dancing for the Eternal President,” a study of modern-day Korean mass dancing in public, government-sponsored spectacles. Government use of individual pieces of iconic music for purposes of historical self-fashioning is a theme connecting Hon-Lun Yang’s “The Making of a National Musical Icon: Xian Xinghai and his Yellow River Cantata,” a treatment of Maoist China’s musical showpiece, and Annie Randall’s essay on a patriotic US standard, “A Censorship of Forgetting: Origins and Origin Myths of Battle Hymn of the Republic.’” Both Randall and Hellier-Tinoco’s “Power Needs Names: Hegemony, Folklorization, and the Viejitos Dance of Michoacán, Mexico” discuss at some length the role of “objective” academic methodologies in establishing and maintaining power structures; while Randall looks at historical musicology and class, Hellier-Tinoco centers her study on the sociological practices of categorization and its role in hegemonic folklorization processes.

Laudan Nooshin’s “Subversion and Countersubversion: Power, Control and Meaning in the New Iranian Pop Music,” a discussion of western-style pop music in a context of contemporary middle eastern religious fundamentalism, is the only essay to address music and religion explicitly. Olwage’s treatment of choralism, however, implicates the Anglican church in its discussion of colonial discipline while Randall identifies the suppression of religious fundamentalism in US history as an important element of her argument regarding “Battle Hymn’s” origin myth.

Though the time frame of topics covered in the volume span, roughly, a period of one hundred and fifty years, dozens more volumes could be filled with investigations of music, power, and politics in earlier eras. Similarly, each geographical area represented in this volume could generate its own volumes of essays on the operations of power through music. Genre too could be used as an organizing principle for yet other volumes: preceding the word “music” in the book’s title, any number of terms such as “pop,” “orchestral,” “band,” “choral,” “jazz,” “pedagogical,” “patriotic,” could serve as qualifiers. In other words, the topic is certainly not new; however, surprisingly little has been written on it in any systematic or theoretically coherent way from within the disciplines of musicology and ethnomusicology. The essays embrace the work of the twentieth century’s most prominent cultural theorists and represent a synthesis of ideas from the fields of sociology, philosophy, musicology, ethnomusicology, and cultural studies. This volume is intended to introduce readers to this synthesis and to provide points of departure for further research on the diverse topics presented here.


[I am grateful to the British Forum for Ethnomusicology who, with the generous support of the British Academy, sponsored the society’s annual meeting in 2001 (London, UK); its theme of “Music and Power” provided the cornerstone for this volume. Dr. Laudan Nooshin, the principal organizer of the BFE meeting and head of the program committee is owed a huge debt of gratitude for her vision in coordinating this extremely stimulating conference. I warmly thank each of the authors who accepted my invitation to contribute their research to this volume; it has been very gratifying to work with this particular group of committed scholars for the past two and a half years. A.J.R.]

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Music, Power, and Politics Copyright 2004 Routledge Contact email