Have you ever listened to a song in a language that you don’t understand, but are still moved by the emotions expressed by the artist? Music is universal—that’s why unfamiliar languages and genres can’t stop us from sharing the energy and emotions with the artists, and each other. The power of music to communicate across languages makes diverse cultural representations in music even more essential because it opens ourselves up to new experiences and perspectives and builds empathy. Cross-cultural representation on stages and the air waves gives voice to our nation’s cultural mosaic and the need for equity.
Being exposed to culturally diverse music facilitates our acceptance of one another. In her book Music and the Child, ethnomusicologist Natalie Sarrazin highlights the importance of multi-cultural teaching in creating a more inclusive society and raising awareness of lived experiences other than our own. When students are exposed to multiple cultures through music, they have the chance to learn about people who are different from them, fostering increased appreciation and understanding of others. Using her own classroom as a testing ground, teacher Karri Shea believes music serves as one critical medium for engaged learning. In her article published in Canadian Music Educator in 2020, Shea discusses how exposure to culturally diverse music develops a pathway to understand and feel what another person is experiencing, which prepares students to be global citizens. Students learn to appreciate different cultures and develop open-mindedness and empathy for others; this builds a foundation for creating a more harmonious and accepting world for us all.
Beyond musical education, the general public can also contribute to a more open and inclusive society by listening to artists with diverse backgrounds, ethnicities, identities, and languages. Music inspires cultural understanding, a shared sense of community, and connection among people of all ages and backgrounds, which is why the Levitt Foundation is committed to supporting a broad range of artists and music genres across the Levitt network.
Popular among Levitt audiences through the years, Making Movies, an international rock & roll band, has performed at Levitt AMP Stevens Point, Levitt AMP Woonsocket, Levitt Pavilion Dayton and will bring their unique sound to Levitt Shell Sioux Falls next month. This inventive multi-cultural band explores connections between genres and cultures by fusing classic rock with Afro-Cuban, Hispanic and other Latin rhythms and beats. The band expresses their personal marginalized immigrant experiences through their songs. In an interview with Remezcla, Enrique Chi, the lead vocalist, guitarist, and songwriter shared, “Music was my connection to the outside world. I realized through artists and songs and bands that there was a world very different from suburban Kansas City. Yes, I remembered my life back in Panama, but music was my daily reminder.” Making Movies highlights the global, shared human connection and the possibility of bridging culture through their music and performances.
Making their Levitt debuts this summer, the Black Opry performed at Levitt Pavilion Arlington and Levitt Pavilion SteelStacks this past summer. Founded by country music journalist Holly G, the organization and online community serve as a resource to support Black country music artists and fans. According to a study conducted by musicologist Jada Watson, over the past two decades, Black, Indigenous and people of color (BIPOC) artists account for less than 4 percent of the commercial country music industry. “The whole reason I started doing this was because I did not see people in country music—and that includes the fans, the executives, and the artists—that looked like myself,” said Holly in a recent interview with The Washington Post. She started by building a website and writing articles about artists of color in country music to end the racial inequities within industry practices. Soon her work attracted more people and connected Black country artists and listeners to join and support the group. As an artist collective, Black Opry continues to amplify the work of Black country artists and bring diverse Black country sounds to audiences across the country to both dispel stereotypes and increase representation within the genre. Check out their upcoming performance at Levitt Pavilion Dayton on August 20, featuring Ping Rose, The Kentucky Gentlemen, Jett Holden, Tylar Bryant and Tae Lewis!
Beyond the Levitt network, mainstream festivals are increasingly celebrating cultural diversity in music. This past April, 88 Rising presented a historic Head in the Clouds Forever showcase at Coachella, marking it as the first record label to receive an official performance slot and feature its Asian acts on the festival’s main stage. Powerhouses Jackson Wang (China), NIKI (Indoneisa), Rich Brian (Indoneisa), CL & 2NE1 (Korea), MILLI (Thailand), Warren Hue (Indonesia), BIBI (Korea) and Hikaru Utada (Japan) lit up the stage, with an 80-minute set that became a major highlight of the three-day festival. With a reported 750,000 people attending Coachella this year, the showcase served as a great opportunity for audiences to be exposed to iconic Asian artists from all over the world spanning K-pop, J-pop, R&B, indie folk, hip hop and rap and across generations. 88 Rising continues to push forward the representation of Asian artists and has presented its own annual Head in the Clouds Festival in Los Angeles since 2018 (with this year’s festival taking place this month). In an interview with Los Angeles Magazine, 88 Rising founder Sean Miyashiro shared, “Especially from Asian Americans—how thankful and proud they are to now have a festival in America that represents them.” Through lyrical storytelling, diverse performance styles, and dynamic interaction between the artists and audience, audiences could expand their global view.
Music is powerful. It can bridge divides among cultures and life experiences, and allow us to gain a more comprehensive view of the world. It can make us more empathetic and understanding of one another, to share the joy and sadness, the hope and frustration, the celebrations and sufferings of humanity across time and place. As the only national network of outdoor performance spaces presenting free concerts, Levitt venues and Levitt AMP concert sites continue to showcase a wide array of music genres and cultures to communities across the country.