Wednesday, January 20, 2016

My Ancestry and What it Means to Me

Hello everyone! I'm here today with some interesting news, reflection, and self analysis. So about a month ago I did something I've wanted to do for many years, and that was to have my DNA tested for my ethnicity breakdown! I used, and jumped at the opportunity to get tested when they had their Christmas sale (it was about $30 off the price of the test.)

Let's first speak about my cultural history. I identify as Afro-Carribean American. My mother was born in Antigua & Barbuda and my father was born in Jamaica. I am a first generation American born citizen. My parents immigrated here as young children (aged 4 and 7 respectively) and met each other in college here in New York City, my hometown. I've lived in the city my whole life. Most of my mother's side of the family from Antigua & Barbuda also immigrated here in the 1960's and 1970's, and many of my cousins are also first generation and second generation Americans.

That being said, without a doubt my family on both sides are descendants of slavery. The Trans-Atlantic slave trade brought slaves not only to the Americas, but the Caribbean Islands as well. This is the first piece in the puzzle of what I'd known my genetic makeup to be. I have been remotely aware of for the longest time. What I didn't know, was where the obvious European genetic attributes had come from.

An old-ish photo of me in my most "natural state", fro and all it's glory!
There is a lot of talk in my family about what parts of Europe we take bloodline from. Growing up I've heard everything from Portuguese, to Italian, to British. Many people swear up, down and around on the Portugal thing, so for most of my life that's what I would go around saying when people asked if I "must be mixed", even though at the end of the day I just say I'm a Black person, or Person of Color.

So what did my breakdown end up being? Let's have a look below...

Okay, so the 77% African thing didn't really come as a surprise, since that was basically a given, I mean pretty much everyone currently native to the Caribbean Islands has some type of bloodline that traces back to the Sub Saharan West African coast (and yes that does include Hispaniola and Puerto Rico!) I was pretty sure that I was going to get a pretty high percentage of Nigerian or Ghanian ethnic traces. It's very exciting to have some sort of knowledge of where my African blood originates. I studied both cultures in college, and now I'm even more eager to make an even deeper connection and do more research on where I come from.

My only sadness is that they cannot pinpoint exactly which cultural groups I bear lineage from, and there are SO MANY, Hausa, Fulani, Ashanti, Yoruba, Igbo, and more. But I'm sure I'm not from one cultural group in earnest because all the people of the region mixed together during the slave trade, so there really is no way to know. I basically have trace amounts of many! Which is still something to merit. Yes, slavery happened, but I won't let that define who I am or erase my culture.

So that brings us to the little European surprise I wasn't expecting.


When I saw this result I was very confused. I never heard anything about any Norwegian or Swedish ancestry of any kind in my family (probably because it was remotely illegitimate to begin with, for reasons I don't think I need to mention here, we all know what types of atrocities went down during the slave trade.)

So I'm quarter Viking? Okay...?

But after a small bit of research, it made a little more sense. Scandinavian nomads went EVERYWHERE. They migrated to and colonized parts of Europe, the Middle East, and Africa too, primarily the Western coast because they traveled there by boat from the Northern Atlantic Ocean. They pillaged, they traded, and mingled in all of these places, thus why the bloodline traces add up. I doubt me having this blood in me is due to any fortunate circumstance, which is a little saddening, but it is what it is I guess. There is really no way to know for sure, so what can I say?

Happy Leif Erikson Day?

It's interesting however, since I've been remotely interested in Scandinavian music for awhile, mostly in the Rock and Metal variety. Not that it's traditional or cultural in any way, but in a modern sense I would say it is a huge part of Scandinavian pop culture at the very least.

I also love snow and cooler temperatures? I mean I do...

Yea, not saying I AM Scandinavian now because of a quarter drop of ethnic ancestry, but that doesn't mean I shouldn't take the time to explore this unknown part of what makes up my biological makeup.

And there is Irish as well, which in a way derives from Scandinavia to begin with. There is lots of similarity in the cultures, and a lot of migration involved.

Nigerian Celtic Viking? Hmm ok.

And some Viking dipped a toe into Iraq for two minutes, thus the less than one percent Middle Eastern ethnicity? I'm not counting that though since it seems rather inconclusive.

At the end of the day I still identify as Black, and being that is the majority of my ethnic background, and how I present to others outwardly, I will continue to embrace this fact.

There is much more research to be done. I'm so curious about the genetic makeup of my other family members now as well so I can get a clear trace and perhaps uncover more similarities and differences. I hope I can convince others in my family to try it too!

Can't wait to learn more about all the cultures that make up my ethnicity, I will be sharing my experiences here going forward!

Tuesday, January 5, 2016

"MY MUSIC IS BETTER THAN YOURS!" - Reflection and Discussion Post

Hello everyone! First off, Happy New Year! It's 2016, and I'm ready for a very exciting and eventful year. I have a lot of things up and coming, and I've made some positive changes in my life. I'm hoping to make this a great year, but only time will tell.

Anyway, I just wanted to get some thoughts down on a subject that I have been thinking a bit about lately. The topic is music, and it's a but of a multi faceted question I want to discuss my thoughts and get input from others on:

  • Why is it that certain types of music become strikingly more popular than others in mainstream media? (Let's keep to the USA for this one)
  • Why are certain types of music not as widely appealing to a broader audience (instead of a niche one?)
  • Why do some people outright reject certain kinds of music based on narrow-minded views? (Language, deeper meaning to lyrics, instruments used, race/ethnicity of the performers)
I brought these questions up recently after my boyfriend went on a holiday trip to South Africa to visit family members there (just to clarify, because the question tends to be asked, he is in fact Black African, this will be remotely of importance later) and the question of his music tastes came up. 

Basically, him being interested in mostly Japanese music was thought to be strange by his fellow family members, who almost exclusively listen to American Rap and Hip-Hop music. As many of us of African descent growing up in America, we are expected to follow suit, and his family expected that of him to, but it's farthest from the case. He does listen to some, but his passion is in Japanese music - mostly J-Rock and J-Pop to be more specific. 

There is this stigma in the Black Community that if your music tastes aren't Rap, Hip Hop, and R&B, then you are an outsider. Your music, if it doesn't fall into those genres, is "too White."

My question always is, when the hell did music just belong to any specific race? I can understand said music originating from people of a certain race or ethnicity, but not the entire genre being a "race." Give credit where it's due but don't go denouncing people's musical tastes as though liking music made by someone not the same as you means you can't enjoy it. Seriously, that notion infuriates me to no end. 

You can watch his video on the topic here (from YouTube):

That then brings me to my tastes in music, which I had been ridiculed for in the past for the very same reasons. I mostly listen to music in the Rock/Metal/Alternative variety with a toss of Dance/Techno/Happy Hardcore and of course Classical Music. 

My favorite musical genre at the moment is Symphonic Rock/Metal (Moi Dix Mois, Versailles, Malice Mizer, Delain, Epica, Within Temptation, Sirenia, Nightwish, just to name a few.) Anyway, these genres are practically ignored as a whole by the wider Black Community. To my knowledge there are none or not many Black musical artists who participate in the genre either (but if I could make music, I would be so in that trust me...) It makes me a little sad, but I don't let that stop me from listening to whatever I want. 

But, going back a bit before I get off topic, let's address our initial questions.

Why is it that certain types of music become strikingly more popular than others in mainstream media?

It's sadly simple, in my opinion, why this is. The general public, or the masses, like whatever is easy to consume. They like music with a hook, a catchy beat, generally upbeat sounding, and music that plays into their fantasies. People like music about partying, sexy women/men, finding love, driving fast cars, and getting riches. The melodies are often simple and easy to grasp. In comparison, many Symphonic Metal songs in contrast have very deep and heavy lyrics often melancholy (many about death, love lost, deep despair, and extreme emotion.) They have fast paced rifts and percussions that can be taxing on the ear of the "normal" person. The melodies are often more complicated and ever changing. This is why I think simpler Pop and Hip Hop songs hit the Top 40 and are regularly played on the radio because they are simply "easy on the ear" and make people feel fanciful. Is there more to it though? 

Why are certain types of music not as widely appealing to a broader audience?

It's not that I want my favorite music to become mainstream and played out, but I really do wonder sometimes why don't genres other than Pop and Hip Hop/R&B get any real recognition? All the music on the radio sounds the same, like a carbon copy with a different voice. I feel as though people aren't really given a chance to even like anything different. Kids know all the songs that play on the radio like if those are the only songs that exist. 

I grew up on an additional divide. I'm Afro-Caribbean, My family is from the Islands on both sides, so I do have cultural genres such as Reggae, Soca, and Calypso to identify with, and I do enjoy them, but I always looked for more. I was not a "follow the herd" type of girl. Thanks to the internet, I was able to discover, around the ages of 13-15, a lot of the music I still listen to religiously to this very day.

I feel like people are simply not exposed to enough music. Either they don't have the desire to seek it out, they might be afraid to stray from the pack, or they just don't know where to start? It could be a marketing thing, like maybe certain music was just never meant to reach a wider audience on purpose? Like the creators or small fan base want to keep it niche, which is fair. I'm not entirely sure how to answer this question with definition.

There is also musical theory which plays into why music even sounds "good" to the human ear. Just like there is the Golden Rule in mathematics involving symmetry, the same applies to music as well. Notes aren't just strung together at random to create music. It's chaotic to hear someone smash a piano keyboard or guitar strings haphazardly. However, for a musical piece to be truly astounding, it must have all the appeal I stated previously and follow the Golden Rule - and there is your hit song! 


Why do some people outright reject certain kinds of music based on narrow-minded views? 

This is what really bothers me the most. I've heard people denounce music for the silliest of reasons. Some people refuse to listen to music unless they can understand the language. That's being said, again I also listen to a lot of Japanese music. I also listen to music in many other languages. It's easy enough to look up the lyric translations for any song in the world these days. Not being able to understand is not an excuse. It's stupid, plain and simple. 

I find this reigns true with many of my fellow Americans. Our music, music in the English language generally speaking (I guess we can include music from Europe as well) is regarded highly globally, especially if it's a well known song or artist. But music in other languages do not get the same recognition here in America. Most music in any other language besides English can't even get on the Top 40 list, and if there is one, the most we'd get is one song in Spanish (since it's the country's second language), and even then it's often mixed with English or has a repetitive hook of the same Spanish phrase over and over. 

Also, is it conditioning? Does it come from ones parents and family, the renouncing of non-mainstream music? Media outposts dictating what you see, or in this case, hear? We are often taught, as Westerners, and as Americans, that everything we produce from all angles, are superior to that of the rest of the world, and I'm sure that includes music. We are told to like the music that "our people" like (or are supposed to like? I don't even...) is the music we should be listening to. That music is a trend, and not something to be cherished. That lyrics don't matter so long as you can bump and grind to it. 

I believe, music is much more. Music is meant to be analyzed and picked apart. It's meant to be explored across boundaries of geography, time, culture, and language. It's meant to bring you up or down. It's meant to convey a deeper message or meaning, even a subliminal one. It's meant to be understood fully and with reason. 

Music is life. 

Please share your thoughts on this subject, I'm very eager to hear input from others on this topic. Remember, everything I said here is opinion, and not fact, so if you disagree with anything I said, none of it is absolute, its simply just my opinion which can be different from yours. 

Thanks for reading!