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10 ways music is intrinsically linked to our cultural identity

Music and cultural identity

If you’re like us, music is everything. It’s a huge part of our lives and to be honest, we’d probably be lost without it. But do we realize just how much of an influence it really has on us and our cultural identity?

“Music is therapy. Music moves people. It connects people in ways that no other medium can. It pulls heart strings. It acts as medicine.” – Macklemore

1. It’s like a time capsule

There’s nothing quite like a song to capture what was going on culturally at that time, and like a time capsule, it’s captured for eternity. The slang and language usage are so indicative of the times, and you can probably recall exactly when a song was made based on what is mentioned.

The mentions of current fashion trends, technology, popular foods and celebrities are some of the most telling, and they eternalize key parts of our culture that might otherwise be forgotten.

Would we ever think of Apple Bottom Jeans again without Flo Rida, or blue suede shoes without Elvis? Probably not, but we can thank music for reminding us of the cultural trends of yesteryear.

2. It teaches us about language

Some of the first communication we give and receive in life is through music. Mothers play music for and sing to their children in the womb. Most parents sing to their child from an early age for a reason, as singing is such an important part of learning language.

How do you think we learned the alphabet – one of the first and most essential skills developed as a child? If you took another language, chances are you learned key words and phrases through song as well. Music provides an entertaining form of repetition that is so conducive to memory and it’s a key part of growing our cultural identity.

Don’t speak another language? Chances are you know the words to a song in a different language and don’t even know what they mean. If you were asked to memorize sentences in Korean or Spanish you’d probably have a hard time, but can bust out a few lines of Psy or the Macarena, no problem.

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“The world’s most famous and popular language is music.” – Psy

3. It’s how we celebrate

Pretty much every moment we celebrate in our lives is tied to music. The first dance at our wedding, blowing out our birthday candles, scoring a goal. Heck, we even get down to music in our heads when we do a happy dance. Holidays around the world have distinct music that accompanies them, and different countries have whole festivals and events centred around parades of music and celebration.

A party without music just isn’t a party at all, and music and happiness go hand in hand all over the world.

4. It influences fashion

J-Lo’s pink sweatsuit and hoop earrings. Hammer pants. Every Spice Girl outfit. Mohawks and punky safety pins. Arianna’s high pony tail. All iconic, all so influential in their time.

Chances are you can remember exactly what your favourite singers wore in your favourite music videos, and if you didn’t try to replicate their style in your own wardrobe at the time, you definitely at least dreamed about being able to pull those looks off.

Music has set the standard for what’s hot fashion-wise for decades, and music video fashion has become a key way for setting clothing trends and shopping trends as well with strategic product placements.

These fashion trends are observed all around the world, and the popularity of certain music styles is evident based on the fashion trends of the masses.

Man playing guitar in Texas

Image source:Charles Fair / Unsplash

5. It connects you to others

Sure, music trends tend to be generational, but there is something oh-so-powerful about music genres and  how they shape our cultural identity while creating solidarity across decades, age groups and even countries.

People typically have no problem being vocal about their musical preferences, and dissing someone’s favourite artist may just be the end of your relationship. In the internet age, musical fandom has brought about the ‘stan’ phenomenon, with fellow fans banding together to form passionate and loyal groups that have a strong online connection that reaches all around the world.

A Beyhive member (Beyoncé stan) in the USA could find their soulmate in the form of another Beyhive member in Singapore, and this shared love for their musical icon could easily mean more and garner more respect than any other differences of beliefs they may have. Not forgetting powerful songs and tunes that connect communities across the world – from the shores of Lake Titicaca to New Orleans colourful streets.

There are few things that we share around the world, across cultures and religions, but music is a beautiful commonality that we all love, appreciate and bond over.

“Music makes the people come together. Music mix the bourgeoisie and the rebel.” – Madonna

6. Live music brings us together

Music gives us so many great moments, but a great music performance is a milestone, a staple and an anticipated outing in lives all over the world.

Whether it’s a concert, a festival, a live gig in a bar, street performers or jam sessions in the park, cultures everywhere take pride in and relish the opportunity to gather and enjoy music together. And while those live performances vary based on culture, music genre or age group, they all serve the common purpose of entertaining and connecting the masses for a beautiful moment in time.

Your first live music experience is something you’ll always remember, and your favourite concert will probably be one of the coolest moments you experience in your life. There is just something so satisfying about singing, swaying or dancing along to live music with friends and strangers alike, and it’s a unique and beautiful experience that only music can provide.

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7. It creates controversy and progressive positivity

Music has been causing controversy for decades, and it seems with every generation there’s a new musical trend that has the older generations shaking their heads and clutching their pearls, and these reactions often tie into dance as well.

Pretty much every popular genre of music was seen as scandalous back in the day, and the dancing that accompanied the likes of jazz, rock ‘n’ roll and hip-hop had people protesting and boycotting all over the place.

Musically, trends have gone from squeaky clean to subtly suggestive to cheeky and full on explicit, and everything in between. In some parts of the world, we’re able to swear and talk about sexuality and political issues, while in other parts of the world music content is closely censored and stays clear of specific issues.

While music has always been a way to push the boundaries of expression and free speech, it’s clear that the world is not expressing itself uniformly, and the varying musical trends and content provide an insightful view into what is and isn’t being discussed and accepted in any particular country or culture.

Music and dance have done so much for expression, cultural identity and sex positivity, and music often gives people an outlet to express feelings that they wouldn’t feel comfortable expressing otherwise. And whether we’re twerking secretly in our bedrooms or finding comfort in LGBT anthems, music will forever continue to speak for the silenced.

LGBT music festival

Image source:Robin Worral / Unsplash

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8. There are anthems for all

Countries everywhere may share commonalities, but there are a few distinctive points of pride that differentiate them all – the flag, and the national anthem.

Every country has its own national anthem for a reason – it’s a unique declaration of values, history and culture. Singing your national anthem with a crowd of strangers is one of the most patriotic feelings around, and the national anthem is one of the first things we learn in school and one of the only constants throughout our education.

Music also allows us to establish a unique cultural identity, using the sounds of unique instruments, genres and rhythms that make the unofficial anthems that we all know and love. We can’t imagine the world without genres like calypso, k-pop and zydeco, or without instruments like the didgeridoo or the ukulele.

It’s amazing that without any words or point of reference we can hear music and instantly be transported somewhere else, and that we can appreciate and begin to learn about other cultures just by pressing play.

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9. It helps us find our identity

For most of us, there’s a point in our youth where we stop wanting to emulate our parents and start to form our own cultural identity, and music is usually a part of that transition. When we start to discover music for ourselves and we’re deciding what we like and don’t like, it often leads us away from the music of our parents and towards something pretty different.

This is often our first little act of rebellion against our parents, and our parents often hated (and might still hate) what we listened to, but finding ourselves along with our generation is an important part of our identity.

While our musical tastes may start to sync up with our parents a little later in life, this generational struggle is an essential part of growing up, and we can’t wait until we’re inevitably shaking our heads over the strange things our kids listen to 20 years from now. We’ll probably still be listening to Ed Sheeran classics, our kids will hate it, and that’s how life goes.

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“There are two kinds of music, the good, and the bad. I play the good kind.” – Louis Armstrong

10. It’s a necessary part of our routine. Period

There isn’t really much that we do without music, and it’s honestly just become so intertwined with our lives that silence is a rarity. The days of carrying around a boom box are long gone, and ever since earbuds came along we’ve been blissfully plugged in whenever possible.

Whether we’re listening to music in the car, at the gym, on the subway, during work, while we study, while we’re cooking, while we’re cleaning, or just walking around the grocery store, it’s always there. It’s what we do when we’re happy or sad, and it’s become our self-care; our time to be alone and drown out the stress and the world around us.

We’re collecting concert ticket stubs and curating our playlists, constantly searching for new songs and the perfect collection of tracks to fit any mood. Like a garden, we’re always pruning and nurturing our music collections and sharing our favourite songs with our favourite people.

Music has become our favourite pastime, distraction, hobby and art form. It’s SO necessary for shaping our cultural identity, and we wouldn’t have it any other way.

Couple dancing in Nice

Image source:Contiki

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