Foreign musicians succeed in America by virtue of not being American

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May 1, 2007

1:48 AM

The United States has always been known as a melting pot, a mixture of many cultures and ethnicities that have influenced different parts of American society and culture. Music has played a role in this, as many musical traditions imported from other countries have had a profound influence on the musical expression and identity of American music. African polyrhythms, British rock, reggae riddims, Spanish tinges — these elements of music from different parts of the world have always had a significant role in American music. Everyone knows or has at least heard of a few non-native music gods and their contribution to American popular music such as the Beatles, Carlos Santana, Bob Marley, the Rolling Stones and many more.

p. What is this phenomenon with musical artists from other countries? What is it about their flair that makes them immensely popular and allows them to surpass American musical artists? Let’s take a look at a few non-native musicians of today that have come into American mainstream music and are doing better than American music artists.

p. Starting in the Caribbean, Sean Paul, the reggae/dancehall artist from Kingston, Jamaica, has turned into an international success with his sophomore album, “Dutty Rock.” His undeniably fresh and danceable beats spice up any party, with hits like “Gimme the Light,” “Like Glue,” “We Be Burnin’” and “Temperature” giving him the upper-hand in the reggae genre. Rihanna, another Caribbean native from Barbados, adds some charm and sweetness to pop and R&B music, tinged with Caribbean flavors and sassy lyrics.

p. Moving further into Latin America, with musical emphasis on syncopation and percussion, two Latino artists have rapped, sung and danced their way into mainstream music. Shakira, a Colombian singer-songwriter, has become a huge Latina star, enticing her audiences with intense vocals and fluid hips. Pitbull, who is technically from the Caribbean, is a Cuban native, whose music flows with rapid Spanish rhymes mixed with sexual come-ons and hip-hop influences.

p. From Africa, we have the Senegalese singer Akon, who takes on many musical roles as a producer, songwriter and rapper. When he’s not smacking asses or dry-humping women on the floor, he has his own record label, making collaborations with American artists such as Gwen Stefani and Young Jeezy while using his sleek and handsome vocals to rep his homeland.

p. Now that we are no longer fighting the British, midnight rides are no longer needed. We are welcoming the Queen and rocking out to Queen at the same time. A plethora of British rock and other genres has been flowing through the United States for quite some time, and it hasn’t stopped. From across the pond come artists such as Bloc Party, Coldplay, Joss Stone, Portishead, Oasis, Mika, Corinne Bailey Rae, Muse, The Chemical Brothers, Amy Winehouse, Radiohead, M.I.A. — and the list goes on.

p. What allows non-native musicians to become so successful in mainstream music here in the States is their abundance of creativity and uniqueness that makes them stand out. Not to say that American musical artists are unsuccessful and have a lack of talent, but let’s be honest, they all sound the same. We have boring, one-dimensional artists who care more about their celebrity title than creating a new sound, or becoming the next virtuoso in electric guitar. We’d rather sing like Paris Hilton (if anyone actually remembers her album), and put a spotlight on the image of a musician instead of relying on musical ability to push our music forward. Furthermore, artists from other countries add a new perspective on music itself. The lyrical content, the intricate rhythms and the instrumentation — it’s all fresh. In fact, many American musical artists try to mimic and recreate where others are flourishing. We have to compete with these artists, and we are losing — terribly. It’s a battle that we just can’t win. And I don’t want us to. Yeah, I have love for my country — just not for some of its music.

p. __Genice Phillips is a sophomore at the College. Although she remembers Paris Hilton’s album, she hopes to one day forget it with the help of electroshock therapy.__

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