It cannot be denied that popular music across nations is largely influenced by Anglo-American pop/rock aesthetics. Classics by Elton John, Paul McCartney, Bee Gees, Olivia Newton-John, the Rolling Stones, Bob Dylan and Jimi Hendrix have had a phenomenal impact worldwide influencing the history of pop-rock over half a century from the emergence of rock ‘n’ roll in the 1950s to a variety of contemporary fashions and trends ranging from rock, soul and funk to hip hop, indie and metal.
In the context of globalisation there is an inherent quality of cross pollination in the field of popular music blurring national boundaries, a cultural diversity that bases itself on shared technologies and ‘logics of eclecticism’ such as seen in pop-rock music, especially electric instrumentation, diffusion of styles and genres, legitimation discourses, and the emergence of ethnic rock.
Going beyond the common view of the inherent qualities of the slick commercial and formulaic form of pop-rock, Motti Regev, Professor of Sociology at The Open University of Israel, has provided here a theoretically sophisticated account of pop-rock as a vibrant genre of social and cultural change owing to its ‘global diffusion’ and ‘artistic legitimation’.
Regev is one of the most erudite cultural theorists specialising in the study of popular music in artistic and intellectual terms, cultivating the aesthetic ideology of pop-rock across cultures. His work becomes relevant to the Cultural Studies programme fulfilling the role of introducing students to pop-rock history and pop-rock stylistic genealogy. His recent book Pop-Rock Music is spirited, thought-provoking and replete with original perspectives that use music as a prism for understanding cultural politics and cross-border impact on traditional art forms.
International culture industry is noticeably underpinned by the intercultural flow of meanings and material through the medium of films, TV, fashion, popular music, and other cultural commodities like cars and gadgets. Through the process of ‘Americanisation’ or ‘cultural imperialism’, the world is steadily being homogenised. However, such intercultural processes are not distinctively American or Western as the idea of ‘sameness’ is no longer in the images that are Anglo-American, but a trend that is fast moving towards ‘glocalisation’ or ‘cosmopolitanism’ that helps in the multidirectional flow of cultures, thus enabling cultural practices reflect a national identity that has both the features of the local and the global. The contemporary culture industry, therefore, transcends the national boundaries always seeking new forms and interpretations that define individual cultural space.
According to Regev, “the globalisation of culture is a process in which collective actors who tend to be similar in their structure and use of rationalised instrumental culture, are at the same time engaged in praising their tradition and the production of their culture.”
To put it simply, this is a development of one’s uniqueness through the ‘process of diversity through sameness’, a carving out of a model that does not hesitate to borrow from the foreign and mould it into the indigenous. The global forms of technology are almost the same with a variation in the content and the meaning. This is hybridisation at its best that retains the traditional and yet goes beyond the local as seen in pop-rock.
The link between pop and rock is in the similarity in their ‘sonic textures and in their cultural histories’ and clearly represents the contemporary indigenous Chinese or Hong Kongian identity in the case of Faye Wong’s popular rock. This is obvious in the fusion of folklore and traditional elements through pop rock. The solo guitar is one among many influences that travelled from the west to the east and in innumerable multidirectional influences across borders. For example, the Mali pop songs retain the Malian aesthetics through the rhythms of native folk songs played to the accompaniment of native instruments like the kora, the electronic drums and the electric guitar along with the saxophone.
Similarly, the integration of Latin American rhythms with Jamaican rhythms like reggae and native folklore and tango goes to define the richness of Argentinean rock, especially the incorporation of drum kits into ‘chacareras’ (an indigenous dance rhythm) evolving thereby into, what Alfredo Rosso calls a ‘new entity’ expressing the Argentineaness in music. Thus the cultural position of pop rock music along with its aesthetic idiom lends a different meaning and colouring to national or regional societies, ‘a process of intensified aesthetic proximity, overlap, and connectivity between nations and ethnicities.’
Terming it ‘aesthetic cosmopolitanisation’, Regev sees in pop-rock a kind of simultaneous cultural distinctiveness that does not vacillate in sharing large proportions of aesthetic common ground.
Regev sees in this theorisation of aesthetic cosmopolitanism a sociology of the legitimation and consolidation of world pop-rock music and its global cultural currency: “Being primarily a complex web of meaningful sonorities, a set of “things” that have sonic-physical presence in the world, pop-rock styles and genres become objects of interactions, building blocks that afford individual and collective actors the arrangement and construction of life-worlds, of ways of being in the world.” The global interaction with its sounds and meanings give pop-rock its anti-parochial character that helps to build a connectivity and proximity through music between different ethnicities and local styles, thereby reducing ‘the mutual sense of otherness’.
This bold and novel account of the emergence of pop-rock music as a global happening demonstrates the liberal and active interaction of western and eastern aesthetics.
(Shelley Walia is Professor in Department of English and Cultural Studies at Panjab University)