It is impossible these days to find a new piece of music that has not taken influence from somewhere else. Influences can come in many shapes or forms. Whether it be structure, instrumentation, production techniques, chords scales and tones etc. Often producers and composers will turn to other cultures and their musical heritage for inspiration. I will explore three examples of how music from the western world have been fused with world music to create this multicultural hybrid of sounds.
Example 1: Gorillaz – White Flag
This track is the result of a collaboration with the Syrian National Orchestra for Arab Music. This in itself is the defining feature of the track. The orchestra makes up the introduction to the track and flows seamlessly into a rap verse. It features energetic and detailed percussion, a layered string section with violins and double bass and a ney (middle eastern flute), which is the stand out instrument in the intro, giving the track a playful dreamy like sound which I believe perfectly reflects the feel of the album ‘Plastic Beach’ due to its high pitched sound simple melody. It creates the perfect intro and platform for the rap to sit on. Its also used for the outro, but still contains the drum pattern that was introduced in the middle of the track which works well. ‘White Flag’ is the product of Damon Albarn’s many visits to Beirut and Syria. The song refers to war in the middle east, with many of the members of the orchestra being refugees themselves and the mood of the track really conveys the feeling shared by everyone that they just want an end to war and to start making peace.
Example 2: The Chemical Brothers – Galvanize
‘Galvanize’ is an electronic/dance track released in 2005. The Chemical Brothers used a sample from the song ‘Hadi Kedba Bayna’ by the Moroccan singer Najat Aatabou (sample can be found here). The sample itself gives the song its distinctive sound and not much processing has been done to it. The sample is a Moroccan Chaabi string, a non tempered raga scale that is repeated. In order to fit the sample into the track, a time signature of 6/4 has been used for the main hook, whilst the rest of the song is in 4/4, an unusual way of writing a dance music track. It is a menacing sounding melody that gives the song a dark impression, emphasised by the sample. The difference between this song and the Gorillaz track is that the sample used in ‘Galvanize’ was never intended to be used this way and was part of a piece of music in its own right.
Example 3: Kanye West – Love Lockdown
This classic from Kanye West takes inspiration from Africa. It features a heavy tribal drum section in the chorus. The drums used are African Djembe drums and Taiko drums, they give the song power and energy. Aswell as the African drums, Kanye uses a TR-808 kick to keep the song moving. The contrast between the soft subby kick of the 808 and the harsh but traditional sounds of the African drums really works well. Kanye stated that his “intention was to juxtapose the mechanical sounds of the auto-tune and 808s with the more traditional sounds”. ‘Love Lockdown’ uses polyrhythms, meaning the rhythm is made up by two or more rhythms played simultaneously. Traditional African music is celebrated for its complex polyrhythms. In this track, a 3:2 polyrhythm has been used (an example of a 3:2 polyrhythm can be found here), and the time signature is 4/4, the same as ‘White Flag’.