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Audiotopia: Music, Race, and America

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Ranging from Los Angeles to Havana to the Bronx to the U.S.-Mexico border and from klezmer to hip hop to Latin rock, this groundbreaking book injects popular music into contemporary debates over American identity. Josh Kun, a MacArthur "Genius" Fellow, insists that America is not a single chorus of many voices folded into one, but rather various republics of sound that rep Ranging from Los Angeles to Havana to the Bronx to the U.S.-Mexico border and from klezmer to hip hop to Latin rock, this groundbreaking book injects popular music into contemporary debates over American identity. Josh Kun, a MacArthur "Genius" Fellow, insists that America is not a single chorus of many voices folded into one, but rather various republics of sound that represent multiple stories of racial and ethnic difference. To this end he covers a range of music and listeners to evoke the ways that popular sounds have expanded our idea of American culture and American identity. Artists as diverse as The Weavers, Café Tacuba, Mickey Katz, Rahsaan Roland Kirk, Bessie Smith, and Ozomatli reveal that the song of America is endlessly hybrid, heterogeneous, and enriching—a source of comfort and strength for populations who have been taught that their lives do not matter. Kun melds studies of individual musicians with studies of painters such as Jean-Michel Basquiat and of writers such as Walt Whitman, James Baldwin, and Langston Hughes. There is no history of race in the Americas that is not a history of popular music, Kun claims. Inviting readers to listen closely and critically, Audiotopia forges a new understanding of sound that will stoke debates about music, race, identity, and culture for many years to come.


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Ranging from Los Angeles to Havana to the Bronx to the U.S.-Mexico border and from klezmer to hip hop to Latin rock, this groundbreaking book injects popular music into contemporary debates over American identity. Josh Kun, a MacArthur "Genius" Fellow, insists that America is not a single chorus of many voices folded into one, but rather various republics of sound that rep Ranging from Los Angeles to Havana to the Bronx to the U.S.-Mexico border and from klezmer to hip hop to Latin rock, this groundbreaking book injects popular music into contemporary debates over American identity. Josh Kun, a MacArthur "Genius" Fellow, insists that America is not a single chorus of many voices folded into one, but rather various republics of sound that represent multiple stories of racial and ethnic difference. To this end he covers a range of music and listeners to evoke the ways that popular sounds have expanded our idea of American culture and American identity. Artists as diverse as The Weavers, Café Tacuba, Mickey Katz, Rahsaan Roland Kirk, Bessie Smith, and Ozomatli reveal that the song of America is endlessly hybrid, heterogeneous, and enriching—a source of comfort and strength for populations who have been taught that their lives do not matter. Kun melds studies of individual musicians with studies of painters such as Jean-Michel Basquiat and of writers such as Walt Whitman, James Baldwin, and Langston Hughes. There is no history of race in the Americas that is not a history of popular music, Kun claims. Inviting readers to listen closely and critically, Audiotopia forges a new understanding of sound that will stoke debates about music, race, identity, and culture for many years to come.

30 review for Audiotopia: Music, Race, and America

  1. 5 out of 5

    jamie

    Starting from the assumption that pop music can create an aural, temporary space where we can test out, construct and modify our identities, Kun's text focuses specifically on how pop music can be and frequently is used to construct national identities and enact or do citizenship in both U.S. American and American society. An able musicologist and generally intelligent dude, Kun is fiercely critical of the 'melting pot' theory of U.S. American culture and society, even when it comes to U.S. Amer Starting from the assumption that pop music can create an aural, temporary space where we can test out, construct and modify our identities, Kun's text focuses specifically on how pop music can be and frequently is used to construct national identities and enact or do citizenship in both U.S. American and American society. An able musicologist and generally intelligent dude, Kun is fiercely critical of the 'melting pot' theory of U.S. American culture and society, even when it comes to U.S. American music and sounds. Throughout the six case studies in the book, Kun instead looks for difference, dissonance, and alienation, writing about figures who grappled with exclusion and marginalization of their identities, and wrote and used music to understand, confront, and express their isolation. Kun's observations about how racial and national identities are performed via popular music are deep, intriguing, and always feel like they're right on. His subjects are well-researched, his musical and lyrical analyses are on point, and his work is useful and thoughtful. His storytelling-type writing style might not be for everyone, but the text is generally accessible, and Kun's active, inquisitive way of listening and talent for tracing artist, song, and genre origins is worth the effort. Highly recommended for anyone interested in writing about popular music.

  2. 4 out of 5

    Veronica

    Argued that songs have the power to instantaneously transplant their listeners into a community without borders. Ultimately, the driving force of the book was to make believers of nonbelievers that, "popular music is one of our most valuable tools for understanding the impact of nationalism and citizenship on the formation of our individual identities." Argued that songs have the power to instantaneously transplant their listeners into a community without borders. Ultimately, the driving force of the book was to make believers of nonbelievers that, "popular music is one of our most valuable tools for understanding the impact of nationalism and citizenship on the formation of our individual identities."

  3. 4 out of 5

    Jillian Strong

    Generally enjoyable, more anecdotal than anticipated. I think I’ve gotten to the point where I prefer reading about theory when it comes to music books.

  4. 5 out of 5

    Kendall

    You may notice this is on my "skimmed" list. I picked it up from our library because it popped up on a search for the keywords, "reconquista," and "History of Spain." This beats me at first glance, but then I realized it so brims over with musical erudition there must be something in it on my subjects. Not, alas, enough to justify a close read; thus "skimmed.". If he just didn't talk so much about himself, even though he is clearly brilliant. You may notice this is on my "skimmed" list. I picked it up from our library because it popped up on a search for the keywords, "reconquista," and "History of Spain." This beats me at first glance, but then I realized it so brims over with musical erudition there must be something in it on my subjects. Not, alas, enough to justify a close read; thus "skimmed.". If he just didn't talk so much about himself, even though he is clearly brilliant.

  5. 4 out of 5

    Emily

    This book started off promising. However, the author's overblown, overcomplicated writing style made his points almost impossible to uncover. Kun is like the Karen Armstrong of music scholars. Also, his thesis, "that songs are audiotopias", ie, little worlds of sound...I think anyone who's ever loved a song already knows that. This book started off promising. However, the author's overblown, overcomplicated writing style made his points almost impossible to uncover. Kun is like the Karen Armstrong of music scholars. Also, his thesis, "that songs are audiotopias", ie, little worlds of sound...I think anyone who's ever loved a song already knows that.

  6. 4 out of 5

    Armando

    You have to listen carefully to what Josh Kun says about the formation of race and culture in conjunction with musical identity. If you don't pay close attention to the reading, Kun's thesis flys over your head. Read with caution. You have to listen carefully to what Josh Kun says about the formation of race and culture in conjunction with musical identity. If you don't pay close attention to the reading, Kun's thesis flys over your head. Read with caution.

  7. 4 out of 5

    julieta

    a brilliant book! I had read many great articles written by mr. kun, this book is a great read, totally recommended

  8. 4 out of 5

    Ceci

    Very smart and interesting. Great read.

  9. 5 out of 5

    Minh-Ha

    a great model of how to "think with your ears" -- one of the better texts of auditory culture studies. a great model of how to "think with your ears" -- one of the better texts of auditory culture studies.

  10. 5 out of 5

    John Robinson

  11. 4 out of 5

    Emily

  12. 5 out of 5

    Holly Genovese

  13. 4 out of 5

    Suzi Q

  14. 4 out of 5

    Kate

  15. 4 out of 5

    Byard Duncan

  16. 4 out of 5

    Lydia

  17. 4 out of 5

    Dave

  18. 4 out of 5

    Chris Keeve

  19. 5 out of 5

    Josh

  20. 4 out of 5

    Connor Williams

  21. 4 out of 5

    Jay

  22. 5 out of 5

    Sara-Maria

  23. 5 out of 5

    Ramon Rivera-servera

  24. 5 out of 5

    D.

  25. 5 out of 5

    James

  26. 4 out of 5

    Tiffany

  27. 4 out of 5

    Ayane Ish

  28. 4 out of 5

    Barkley H

  29. 4 out of 5

    Masayoshi Yamada

  30. 5 out of 5

    Caitlin

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