The Connection between Indigenous Music and Society essay

The Connectionbetween Indigenous Music and Society

Indigenousmusic refers to traditional music of a particular ethnic people ofthe world. For instance, it is the music belonging to an &quotoriginal&quotgroup of individuals that may have inhabited a particulargeographical part of the world alongside other recent immigrants.Therefore, the term &quotindigenous&quot depends on specific roles,particularly the ethnic group it represents, rather than uponparticular musical characteristics, for example, race, territory,subsistence lifestyle, or history (Beavon et al., 2011). Definingthese indigenous ethnic groups may apply to other cultures.

The North America`s indigenous music, for instance, includes theNative American music and the American-Indian music. It refers to themusic, which is performed or created by the indigenous natives ofNorth America, which includes the U.S Native Americans and Canada`sAboriginal people, Mexico`s indigenous people, and other countries inNorth America – more so traditional tribal music (Petersen, 2008).Fast forward to the 21st century, there now exists inter-tribal andpan-tribal music as well as the original Native American genres andsubgenres of populous music in addition to the indigenous ortraditional music. These subgenres include the blues, rock,classical, hip-hop, reggae, and film music.


The most attractive aspects of this music include singing andpercussion, especially in North America. Vocalization is identifiedwith different forms, which range from choral and solo song tounison, responsorial, and multipart humming. Percussion, whichincludes rattles and drums, accompanies the steadiness of the rhythmfor singers that use non-lexical vocalese or their native language(Wodnicki et al., 2010). Indigenous music often begins with a slowand firm beats, which grow more emphatic and gradually. Othersflourish like a rattle, drums, shouts, and tremolos. The use ofaccented pattern adds signal changes during performances for dancersand singers. Different characteristics identify with a particularsociety where it is performed.

SongSources and Texts

The Native American song texts include both obscure songs and publicpieces, is said to be &quotunchanging and ancient,&quot and thusidentifies specifically with the North American Society. The NativeAmerican society uses these obscure songs and public pieces, makingup different song texts, for ceremonial and sacred purposes only.These song texts form the basis of identity by how they are applied(Petersen, 2008). For example, there are free sacred songs and ritualspeeches, which are perceived to be musical due to their melody anduse of rhythm. These ritual expressions are often used to describethe ceremonial events, reasons and implications happening at night.

The connection between the indigenous music and society is shownthrough the use of vocables. Vocables (lexically meaninglesssyllables) make up a typical section of the many types of indigenousmusic, especially the Native American music. Vocables often mark thebeginning and the end of sections, phrases, or songs. Often, thesesongs make proper use of vocables and other elements that cannot betranslated. Some of the songs than can easily be explained arespecific classical songs, for example, the Navajo &quotNaasha,&quota song that celebrates the result of Navajo Internment of 1868 inFort Summer, New Mexico. National anthems and tribal songs also formthe central part of the society`s musical corpus (Petersen, 2008).These songs are used as starters every time there is a publicceremony, especially the Native America`s powwows.

The connection between indigenous music and the society is based onnumerous activities in everyday life. For instance, indigenous musicin Native America is made up of dancing songs, courtship songs, andtraditional Canadian and American tunes like the &quotJambalaya,&quot&quotAmazing Grace,&quot and &quotDixie.&quot Most of these songscelebrate societal activities, for example, planting season, harvest,and other important activities during the year.


Indigenous music plays a critical role in education and history,with stories and ceremonies orally passed on important ancestralcustoms and traditions to new generations. In Native America, forexample, ceremonial music is said to have originated from spirits ordeities, or other especially respected people in the society (Harvey&amp Ralls, 2000). Rituals are modified by every element of a song,costuming, dance, and each element informs about the wearers, makers,and symbols critical to a nation, tribe, clan, village, family, orindividuals. Native Americans perform different stories throughmusic, song, and dance. Thus, the historical facts propagated form anintegral part of the societal beliefs.

Epic legends and different stories about heroes of a particularculture constitute the basis of tribal and intertribal musictraditions. These various tales are more often than not an iconicpart of the societal culture (Wodnicki et al., 2010). However, theytend to vary slightly every year, with leaders combining,recombining, and introducing slightly different variations. The&quotPueblo,&quot for example, composed different new songs eachyear in a committee that used dreams and visions. The purposes andstyles of indigenous music vary immensely between and among everytribe, especially in Native America. However, a common and notableconcept amongst different indigenous individual groups represents aconflation of power and music. For instance, the Pima people have afeeling most of their traditional songs were provided at thebeginning and was sung and performed by the Creator (Diamond, 2008).It was also believed then that particular people are inclined more tothe musical talent than others due to a person`s having strangepower.


Within various native societies around the world, gender plays acritical role in indigenous music. In numerous musical activities,men and women perform sex-specific functions. Songs and dances,instruments, often exude peculiarity in one sex or the other(Wodnicki et al., 2010). Again, sex controls numerous musicalsettings. In today`s powwows, for example, women play an importantrole as backup dancers and singers. For instance, the Cherokee peopleare known to perform dances before the stickball games. During thesepre-game activities, both men and women engage in different dances,while following separate and unique regulations. Women dance in oneplace, while men dance going around a fire.

On societal connections, while men`s performances and songs invoke asense of power, the women`s performances and songs draw power andrelevance away from the opposition stickball team. In othersocieties, different customs have particular ceremonial drums, whichare only played by men. For Indians in the Southern Plains, it isbelieved that the original drum was offered to a woman by the MassiveSpirit a spirit that instructed her to give it to all the otherwomen across native nations. However, it is prohibited for women tosit at the Beg Drum.

The majority of tribal songs represent a relative paucity ofindigenous women`s dances and songs, especially in the Southeast andNortheast regions (Petersen, 2008). However, the Southeast is home tothe influential women`s musical traditions, especially in using legrattles for friendship dances and ceremonial stomps. It is also hometo women with special love, hand-game, and medicine songs. On theother hand, Southwest region is diverse, especially in women`s songofferings, major ceremonial, social, and instrumental roles in songand dances. The female gender also plays a crucial role andimportance in the Sun Dances, especially of the Great Basin and GreatPlains, while singing and performing during social dances. Forexample, the Shoshone women still performed the Ghost Dance`s songsinto the 1980s.


History and music are firmly and tightly interwoven with the livesof people cutting across different societies. In Native America, forexample, the history of a tribe is consistently and continuouslynarrated through music. It is this music that keeps alive a societyin its oral historical narrative (Harvey &amp Ralls, 2000). Theseancient stories vary from society to society, which forms the basisto be part of a societal identity. Their historical authenticity,however, cannot be clearly verified, apart from supposition and fewother archaeological pieces of evidence. Beavon et al. (2011) notedthat the earliest documentation of the American indigenous music camealongside the European explorers. Pictographs and musical instrumentsdepict music and dance to have been dated as early as the 7thcentury.

According to Beavon et al. (2011), Bruno Netti – musicologist –referred to the style embraced in the Great Basin area, as one of thecommon and oldest techniques throughout the entire continent beforeMesoamerica. However, the style continued in the Great Basin areaonly and was embraced on other societal activities, for example, ingambling, lullaby, and other tale genres across the continent. Thestyle featured relaxed vocal techniques. Its massive rise may havebeen from the Mesoamerican Mexico, which quickly spread northward,more so into the Eastern music areas and California-Yuman.

According to Bruno Netti, these musical styles are also part of therelative simple rhythm in percussion and drumming, with pentatonicscales and isometric material applied in the singing, and intendedmotive created into longer ones from limited sections. While theNative American society embraces this process, three different Asianstyles may have impacted on their indigenous music. This influencewas felt entirely across the Bering Strait, which features pulsatingvocal techniques and other possible evidence in the new tribes of thePaleo-Siberian, for example, the Chukchee, Koryak, and Yukaghir(Diamond, 2008).

Additionally, these styles may impact on the Athabascan,Plains-Pueblo, and the Northwest-Inuit Coast, Navajo and Pueblomusic. Evidence of influence on the Native American society betweenMexico and Northwest Coast are evident, more so through bird-shapedwhistles. Again, the Plains-Pueblo region impacted and continues toaffect other cultures, which is evident with contemporary artists andmusicians across different tribes embracing Plains-Pueblo throughpan-tribal and inter-tribal genres, for example, the peyote songs.

IndigenousMusic in Societal Life

Although writers tend to attribute the importance of religious andsocial life to ideas and sentiments phrased in words, Harvey &ampRalls (2000) observed that majority of deep-seated communityconnections and bonds are forged and nurtured through the senses.These thoughts are continuously renewed through experiences ofaromas, sights, sounds, and tactile sensations. The structured,repetitive, and danceable music sounds are found and identifiedwithin almost every society. There is something uniquely profoundabout indigenous music, but also deeply cultural as well. Thecommunity may be impacted or moved by music whose language may notmean something to them. Again, the same musical performances mayimply different things and scenarios at various people but thingsthat they can relate.

Indigenous music is popularly associated with societal identity, andnot just for entertainment, and leisure purposes. In its actualsense, traditional music can move people. And since it can genuinelyimpact on them, members of the community worldwide use music toestablish a cultural identity, while using it to erase other people`sidentity, emphasize unity and dissolving it. Some musicians andartists get arrested, jailed, tortured, and killed, while othersembrace the seat of power. Some artists` events and performances aresupported and celebrated, while others are rejected and banned.

These artists are also aware of the societal demands duringcomposition, and thus numerous indigenous music genres span multipleraces and tribes. For example, pan-tribalist music is the syntheticadoption of much traditional from different foreign communities(Petersen, 2008). Such approval is demonstrated by the rise of Canadaand the United States, where the Native Americans, through music,have forged one identity and crafted Pan-Indian music, which includesfamous songs like the peyote, Ghost Dance, and powwows. The GhostDance, for example, spread throughout the tribes in the early 1980sand others that are still sung today. This music is characterized andidentified by a narrow range and relaxed vocals. Peyote songs derivedfrom Apache and prayers in the indigenous American Church usedescending monophony and melody.

Claims for native music in the 19th and 20th century appeared toemphasize for self-determination around the struggles experienced insocieties around the word targeted at maintaining a particularcultural connection and identity. The move was viewed as a strategyto govern and own traditional lands within larger political spectrum(Wodnicki et al., 2010). While these crucial challenges pervaded andinvaded people`s societal affairs, indigenous music by the Aboriginalmusicians became increasingly critical as a way of engaging andmediating viewpoints of the society`s consciousness. The music gave amusical platform for performers to demonstrate a concerted anddetermined resistance to sovereignty and colonial influences.


What indigenous music accomplished through learning, listening, andperforming, is the actual meaning of symbolism among the people. Thechoice of words, instruments, and societal setting, symbolizes aculture over a long time that is intertwined with critical values andsignificance of that particular culture. The connection between themusic and the society comes from varying articulation by the people,while these songs demonstrate essential identities of the communityin question. In Native America, for instance, the community continuesto express reasons for the obscurity in the Western culture and theconnection of values and virtues expressed through music.

This study embraced different meanings and importance of variousmusical styles, instruments, and melodies to, which reflected on theplace, identity, and connection in widespread societal culture. Thepaper also adopted an ethnomusicological method whereby music isstudied and explored based on, not only on its content, but also onits economic, social, and political perspective. Additionally, fromthese studies, the use of indigenous music up-to-date presents adiscerning, accessible, and compelling approach to communityawareness regarding contemporary struggles through placerepresentations and negotiations of power.


Beavon, D. J. K., Voyageur, C. J., &amp Newhouse, D. (2011). Hiddenin plain sight: Contributions of Aboriginal peoples to Canadianidentity and culture. Toronto [Ont.: University of Toronto Press.

Diamond, B. (2008). Native American music in eastern NorthAmerica: Experiencing music, expressing culture.

Harvey, G., &amp Ralls, K. (2000). Indigenous religious musics.Aldershot: Ashgate.

Petersen, A. (2008). Review article : Ethnomusicology and musiceducation : continuing the dialogue : reviews and reports. Samus :South African Music Studies, 28, 169-183.

Wodnicki, Adam J., Friedson, Steven, Banowetz, Joseph, &amp Thomas,Lisa Cheryl (2010). Native American Elements in Piano Repertoireby the Indianist and Present-Day Native American Composers.University of North Texas.