In the comment sections of Randa Jarrar's essay, "Why I can't stand white belly dancers," commenter listtowardslight said: listtowardslight
As a world musician, I'm going to register my deep disapproval of this article. If someone studies an art form deeply, gives credit where due, and gives it a thorough and deep treatment, they become a part of it. They're communicating in ways greater than words. It's nigh well a responsibility to continue the transmission.
How many videos of any Middle Eastern instrument played can you find without some argument breaking out in the comments - this is Persian! No! They ripped it off from the Kurds! No! The Armenians invented everything! These jokers want to place national ownership on an instrument or a type of music. Are they the ones playing, singing and dancing? Hardly ever.
Does the author want to see if any Chinese are angry that the Japanese koto, the Korean gayageum, the Vietnamese danh tran, the Mongolian yatga all ripped off their ancient zither, the guzheng? Was this not an organic proliferation?
The reality is that artists are driven by empathy and inspiration, and that's what the nationalists miss. The nationalists have a deep underlying mistake in thinking *anything* in the world has a linear, neatly bounded growth rather than a unbounded, ongoing weave. There is no single family tree to any long-standing art; cross-pollination is more the rule than the exception. That's why, done rightly, it's effective connective tissue, effective antidote to oppression!
What about when it's done disrespectfully or wrongly? Are there cheap, disrespectful knock-offs? Yes. They're outed as soon as something real shows up. It's all a part of the conversation.
I'm talking about humanity's bards and artists doing what they *ought* to do. Every pre-literate society passes on their stories through song, and often by dance; these things have deeper roots. They are anthems to a deeper part of ourselves that goes deeper than social or national constructs, which we are better for listening to.
Art and song and dance slips boundaries and brings people into sync more readily than it sections them by nation, tribe, or race. It is more powerful when kindling empathy than smothering it. Compare any real cultural transmission to national anthems - what has more power? Art is at its vital best when it's humanizing people, which powerfully counters corporate and national propaganda which would have us dehumanizing the Other so that war can be sold to the masses.
Yes, there is an issue with cultural appropriation. It came from power differential and violent oppression, which are the creations of politicians, warlords, and bean-counters. Not artists.
I'm going to close with a quote from a well-known poet, but the fact was that he wasn't just a poet. Each line of his poetry was to be spoken in the midst of dance, during yet another time of notable cultural exchange and awful war. His instruments were banned by religious fundamentalists and had to be smuggled as contraband, because those poems and that music and that dance were all a part of something they wanted to suppress.
* * *
I Have Learned So much from God That I can no longer Call Myself
A Christian, a Hindu, a Muslim, A Buddhist, a Jew.
* * *
There's a reason we remember Hafez's unbounded spirit - here transmitted by Daniel Ladinksy - far better than anyone that tried to nail it down or set boundaries on its transmission.
Normally I think progressives would just agree with you, but right now, I'm not quite sure.
For one, we're watching "True Detective," where the ones with deeper roots in the pre-literate Bayou, who's art and rituals have leaked through all the state's attempt at smothering, are rabid child-abusers. And the rope they use -- it's not for weaving but for tying kids down. And if we're admiring the anthropological mind of detective Rust, it's because it's going to help him snuff them out.
Secondly, the European nations that attempted to kill pre-literate folk culture, replaced astrology with astronomy, magic with science -- and it's getting harder for us to champion any group that could think science an imposition. Normally we're all with you, because championing the traditionally picked on pisses off Republicans to no end, but it's becoming more important to champion science above all else. So the pre-literate cultures which enabled female empowerment and "commerce" with such things as their dance, art, and witchcraft, against a masculine state that wanted the multivalent tamed and unified -- but who were also against superstitions and for science, are going to get a more appreciative reappraisal from us.
And you know, folk art may not contain a wit of empathy; it might not even be its core. The Venus figurines are considered amongst our first human art, and like what's at the bottom of "True Detective's" Bayou "sink," they may have been used mostly as child-raping wands.