I’VE BEEN thinking a lot this week about having this time in India, about having the opportunity to do my research on rock music, and about what kind of social “worth” my project might have.  Rock music here is, to put it frankly,  a pursuit for people with some disposable income.  The relatively expensive pubs and clubs that host live rock bands are most often frequented by people from cities in India and from abroad who have come here to Bangalore to work in the IT sector, for various start-ups, or in media professions.  They are not from the working classes.

What this means for my research is that I spend a lot of time getting dressed up and going out to really nice places to hear music while in a country which, like my own, has many social/health/poverty issues that many hard-working and intelligent people, Indian and non-Indian, are working to overcome.   It makes me wonder what my project, which looks at media and advertising in relation to rock music, might be doing (or not doing) to understand, address or educate about such pressing social inequalities.

In ethnomusicology, as in anthropology, this is a long-lived discussion: what imperative does an ethnographic researcher have to give back to the communities she/he is in? Many ethnomusicologists do research that is explicitly activist in scope and works towards social justice ends.  Some do research on the uses of music to strengthen or weaken political regimes, others examine the role of music in strengthening cultural identity.

My work is concerned with two aspects of rock music in Bangalore:  the first is what Lawrence Grossberg has called “affective alliances” – the types of social cohesions/exclusions and the negotiations of personal identity that may be forged by participation in musical activity.  The second part of my research is concerned with ways in which corporations like Nokia, Coca-Cola, and Levis harness, fund, support, and represent rock music or rock images.  Practically speaking, in my research I talk to people about their music, their feelings about their music, and I “read” and critique media representations and advertisements that use rock music.

This intersection –  the intersection of the affective power of music and the profit motive of advertising in the context of the rock performance – is the crux of what I’m studying.  I think that it speaks to the juggernaut of cultural globalization and people’s responses to it, which is an important aspect of resisting globalization’s more pernicious effects.  For example, Coca-Cola has been involved in long-running disputes about water rights in rural India; simultaneously, through advertisement and media “synchronicity” they harness rock music’s symbolism, aligning themselves with the vision of a wealthy, “modern” India.

tee-shirts for sale on the 100 ft road, Indiranagar

tee-shirts for sale on the 100 ft road, Indiranagar

So I do think that there is a place for research like mine, research that is subtly oriented towards understanding social injustice as it operates in the realm of the imagination. It is necessary and important to examine a network of power like the transnational music media – because it works to create images that many aspire to and few can attain.  It works to create a culture in which the ability to consume is a precondition of the ability to participate in certain kinds of music.

Published in: on October 12, 2009 at 7:00 am  Leave a Comment  

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