Tuesday, April 17, 2007
When Black People Sing Brown Music
A few days ago, over at Racialicious, there was a conversation going on about White people singing Black music. This phenomenon of Blue-eyed soul -- you know, folks like Justin Timberlake, Joss Stone, and Robin Thicke making R&B hits and dominating the charts of so-called Black music. Is this fair? People wondered. Is this a case of cultural thievery? Does the music industry favor White artists who sing Black music over Black artists singing Black music? There were no clear answers. And here's one more.
If White people must justify and defend their right to sing "Black music" how do you explain Beyonce singing in Spanish? She may be from Texas, but she's no Latina. And yet Beyonce has just released an album with six or seven songs en Espanol. Of course Beyonce is not the only Black singer to cross the language border. Wyclef Jean raps a bit in Spanish with Shakira in "Hips Don't Lie" and Will Smith welcomed us to Miami in Spanish back in 1997.
Are Hispanic people feeling threatened or angry about these "Black Gringos" stealing their language? Or are they feeling respected now that mainstream musicians are trying to woo them in their own language? And White people are singing in Spanish too. It's not just Black artists. And then of course there's the perplexing case of Jennifer Lopez who claims English as her first language, but she just released her first Spanish language album. Where does she fit in this linguistic claims race?
The AP ran a story on this Spanish singing trend, insisting that American artists, regardless of race, are recording in Spanish to increase their fan base. With record/CD sales down, performers need to look to new markets to increase their sales. I'm all for polyglot singers but don't we come back to the question of cultural appropriation when a singer with no real connection to the language uses it for personal gain?
And then there's the point I made previously that for some reason, when singing in Spanish, people just sound better. You can sing the most inane lyrics in Spanish and for some reason they just sound more believable, more romantic and poetic than in English. Am I wrong? Personally I don't think Jennifer Lopez has a voice, but in Spanish she sounds like she really has something to say.
China is a really big market. Will rock stars and rappers start performing in Chinese next? Think about it and let me know.
Hasta La Vista.