The Null Device
Posts matching tags 'orientalism'
A musician on the Isle of Wight was arrested for racial harrassment after playing the 1970s hit Kung Fu Fighting in front of a Chinese mother and son. He denies deliberately playing the song at them, and says that he was already playing it before they entered and took offence. Does this mean that the Oriental Riff is now considered musical hate speech, the melodic equivalent of a racist epithet?
Chopsticks At Dawn; a fascinating 30-minute BBC radio documentary, presented by comedian Anna Chen, exploring pseudo-Oriental motifs (such as the Oriental Riff) in Western popular music. These motifs bear little relation to any actual Chinese or oriental musical traditions (the closest link is their use of pentatonic scales, though even these are neither as exclusive to or common in the East as widely believed), but became stereotypically "Chinese" to Western ears by virtue of sounding exotic, and plausibly oriental to someone who is not overly familiar with the actual cultures in question. The foundations were laid by 19th-century composers naïvely trying to evoke the Orient; they took a more malignant turn with the rise of anti-Chinese sentiment in the west, rising from Britain's opium wars, and subsequent need to dehumanise the Chinese, as well as popular xenophobic panic about the "heathen Chinee") turning into a set of mocking, vaguely ridiculous caricatures. The most egregious of those stereotypes have been consigned to history, but the musical clichés running through them still lied sufficiently close to the surface to emerge in pop songs like Kung Fu Fighting and Hong Kong Garden, serving as musical shorthand for an entire region and set of cultures for Westerners.
(via Hong Kong In The 60s)
Did you ever wonder where that musical riff used in popular songs to signify the Far East (typically China or sometimes Japan; think Kung Fu Fighting/Hong Kong Phooey/International Karate) came from? this guy did, and did a fair amount of research:
Anyway, the author of the site, Martin Nilsson, has compiled evidence of the Oriental Riff and its earlier predecessors going as far back as 1847.
The little ditty above is what I call "the musical cliché figure signifying the Far East."
I would venture that a majority of music-culturally aware people would agree that there is such thing as "the stereotypical Chinese (or more generally Asian) riff." Most of them would also agree that the "canonical" form of it is the one notated above, typically instrumented with some kind of squeaky wind instruments playing in a pitch at least higher than middle C, and with some ticking-sounding rhythm instrument underlining the rhythm.
Recently discovered courtesy of 3RRR's International Pop Underground: this gem.