Friday, April 30, 2010

Music and Sports

In the texts accompanying the music in the Top 100 2009 I elaborated on the awkward relationship between art and music. A complicated relationship where only the avant-garde, the most advanced cultural thinkers and doers manage to pull off a meaningful co-existence between the two. In music the topic of art is usually avoided. The only characterization that comes to mind discussing the more popular or less advanced musicians (culturally speaking, their music being just as meaningful and exciting —or even more so— than that of the avant-garde) who do tackle the subject of art is anxiety.

Currently a brand new topic concerning the cultural position of music has come to my attention. Upon seeing a video clip of the New Zealand rugby team in their game preparation, I decided it was due time to investigate the relationship between sports and music. Another motive for tackling the subject now –not rugby but soccer– is the upcoming spectacle called the World Cup, in which the team I support, the Dutch, have an outside chance to win it. It’s more than a month away but it’s starting to itch.
Sports and Music: Several situations where they cross paths come to mind immediately:
1. Music as a competitive activity: In many parts of the world there exist competitions between rivaling bands. There are also competitions in modern popular music (i.e. American Idol).
2. Music surrounding sports games: Music by fans to spur on their sports team, but also national anthems and sports that are choreographed to music.
3. The musical identity of certain sports: Some sports have a very distinct musical counterpart, think of surf-music.
4. Musicians that also play competitive sports or vice-versa.

The relationship between sports and music is much less complicated than music’s relationship with art. It is in fact very simple, basic, even base. Through various examples I will attempt to provide a sketch of the world of sports and music. The first example being that of the New Zealand rugby team whose ‘haka’ pre-game war chants cover all of the four above aspects of sports and music.

In preparation for their games the New Zealand national rugby team performs a ‘haka’, a traditional Maori war dance, before kick off. All members of the team chant and perform a synchronized dance all in order to intimidate the opponent. Copy the address below and paste to your browser to watch the ‘All Blacks’ do their thing right before kick-off against Tonga.
Interesting part about this particular match up is that the opposing team, Tonga, perform a ‘haka’ themselves and compete with New Zealand to gain the first psychological advantage. This is sports in their most rudimentary form (I assume these ‘haka’ traditions are age old). From rugby to soccer: New Zealand has qualified for the World Cup, they will be playing Italy among others in their group. Don’t expect the 'All Whites' to perform a ‘haka’ on the biggest stage in the world but wouldn’t it be nice if they did (and beat favorites Italy in the process)?

In a conversation I had with Jason Misic, bass player for Mother of Fire (see entry 2) we discussed the competitive character of a ranking system such as I use for the Top 100. The nature of music, according to Jason, is non-competitive while I use statistics and charts as if music were sports. Certainly, the nature of his music is non-competitive, it is peace, it is sustainable culture, but there are also many competitive modes of music making. Commercial music is about outselling the other, the aforementioned ‘haka’ —a war dance— is about power, and marching bands have a strong militaristic character.

The Saddest Music in the World is a film (2003) by the Canadian film maker Guy Maddin. The film, a fictitious story set in Winnipeg in 1933, documents a competition between all countries of the world to determine who plays the saddest music. There are several elimination rounds and the final at the end plays between the US and Serbia with the latter winning the title. If I were to rank movies, this one would, if not number one, be surely in the top ten.

Mashindano! Competitive Music Performance in East Africa is a book by Gregory Barz and Frank Gunderson. From MSU press: “Local dance contests, choir competitions, popular entertainment, song duels, and sporting events are all described.” I never read the book but I do own a copy of Gregory Barz’ Music in East Africa: Experiencing Music, Expressing Culture. Barz dedicates a chapter of this book to competitive music performances. The image below is a painting for the Top 100 2006 based a photograph by Barz depicting members of the Bana Sesilia group performing Bugóbogóbo during competition in Tanzania.

Bana Sesilia Group
14" x 37"
charcoal, ink, oil on canvas, 2007

For now I will close the discussion on music and sports with a top 10 made up from music listed in my Top 100 archive.
1. Rugby: New Zealand – Tonga, haka
2. Bana Sesilia group – Bugóbogóbo (excerpt)
3. Vojnin Lubic (Serbia) - Siroko Lisce Borovo (from The Saddest Music in the World)
4. Suite Aymara (Colombia, from Frozen Brass: Africa and Latin America), Rivaling marching bands from two different villages march towards each other and meet halfway in a cacophony of sounds
5. Italian national anthem; it’s my favorite anthem even though I hope Italy will not win the World Cup (again)
6. Rice University Marching Owl Band – Louie Louie (accompanying that other kind of football, from the album The Best of Louie Louie on Rhino Records featuring all covers of that song)
7. European countries compete every year with songs, really hokey but I must have liked Italy’s contestant in 1984 because it scored 7 points. One of my first live music TV memories is that of ABBA winning the 'Eurovision' song festival in 1974, jump starting their impressive career.
8. Wolverhampton Wanderers fans – We are Wolves
9. Henk van Mokum – Een Amsterdamse Jongen (a song about my soccer hero Johan Cruijff)
10. Harmonites Steel Band – Play Mas (during carnival time steel bands compete for an audience)

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