Musical Perspectives on September 11th

Printable Version

PDF, 260K


Music has assumed a central role as the United States struggles to recover in the wake of September 11. Whether it’s the sound of Congress singing “God Bless America” on the steps of the Capitol building the day after the tragedies or the sight of a weeping crowd listening to the Buckingham Palace Guards play “The Star-Spangled Banner” in a moving act of solidarity, music has accompanied many unforgettable images that have been seared into our memories. In the days and weeks that followed, music became a particularly effective way to portray defiance to the world while memorializing the dead; patriotic songs featured in everything from the re-opening of Wall Street, to memorial services, to the seventh inning stretch in baseball’s World Series.

When it came to representing the people thought responsible for the attacks, however, selecting music was much more complicated. More people knew that the Taliban had banned music in Afghanistan than had any idea what that banned music sounded like. Searching for accompaniments to news reports from Afghanistan and South Asia, major media outlets arrived at a bizarre mix of music from Egyptian pop to North Indian ragas to orientalist trance music composed in Los Angeles. The interchangeable use of music spanning a regoin from North Africa to the edge of China was sadly indicative of our ignorance of an area that had been suddenly thrust into our consciousness.

On Friday, October 12, 2001, UCLA’s Department of Ethnomusicology convened “Musical Perspectives on September 11: A Roundtable on Music, Community, Politics, and Violence.” Professors Hiromi Lorraine Sakata, Ali Jihad Racy, and Nazir Jairazbhoy shared their expertise in music of Afghanistan, South Asia, and the Middle East, and answered questions from the audience with the hope that a greater knowledge of music will battle racial and religious stereotypes and foster a greater intercultural understanding. Their collective hope that music can humanize is never more urgent as the War on Terrorism continues, and reports of death and violence in Afghanistan, India, and the Middle East dominate the front page of the world’s newspapers.

Click here to go to the roundtable
Click here to go to the responses

In addition to this Roundtable, we are presenting responses from two ethnomusicologists, Gage Averill and Anne Elise Thomas, working in New York City and Amman, Jordan. In hopes of continuing the conversation begun by UCLA’s Department of Ethnomusicology’s Roundtable, ECHO has also set up a discussion board, and we invite you to enter into this crucial debate.

Cecilia Sun
J. Lester Feder

December 15, 2001

syrian dish, thirteenth-fourteenth centuries

designed by Gordon Haramaki