This Album is Brought to You By Colonialism!

I’ve been thinning out my L.P. collection of late, and this little beauty came up as a candidate for the great purge of 2018.

I ended up deciding to part with it because it’s not in great shape, the music is just kind of so so, and the cover isn’t quite cheesy enough. The music is kind of a “Middle Eastern” violin over hand percussion. It was ok, but not really something I would listen to. So it’s going away.

But what really stood out were the liner notes. Give them a read.

So yeah, it’s pretty racist, and serves more as marketing copy than traditional liner notes for like a jazz album or a field recording would be. Which is ok.

The liner notes have all the classic stereotypes associates with the Orient: harems, scantily clad dancing girls, sex-crazed slave-owning Sultans, thieves who have their hands chopped off when caught, and a society and culture that is wholly foreign to Westerners that is at once mysterious, romantic, and violent.

And check out the song titles: “Harem Girls,” “Night Madness,” “Warm Winds” — all designed to reinforce the popular and commonplace (at least among whites) conceptions of the Orient. I wish I knew whether these were songs composed for the album, or if they were based on traditional songs or themes and then translated into a form Western audiences would appreciate.

Also note that the liner notes conflates Egypt and Armenia, collapsing a large region of the world with very different peoples, languages, and cultures under the same rubric.

More than that, the liner notes frame this as the authentic music of the region, not imagined or exaggerated, but as a true representation of the music.

These tropes are all part of what philosopher and cultural critic Edward Said called “Orientalism.” At the risk of oversimplification, these stereotypes were one way in which whites could justify colonialism. The thinking goes, these people are savages, thus, it is up to whites to “civilize” them. Or put differently, “white man’s burden. ”

So over time these stereotypes gained traction, were continually reinforced by “historians,” writers, etc., and remain in the cultural imaginary of the West and manifest themselves in something as benign and banal as liner notes on a cheesy record from the 50s.

There you have it, the long reach of colonialism continues into the present day — right into my record shelves. In other words: “this album is brought to you by the good folks at colonialism.”

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