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That’s Not “Alternative Music”: Music Appropriation

Watched Surf’s Up with my child this week and was reminded of the first time I heard “Alternative Music” aka White people appropriating reggae and island music.

Character’s from Surf’s Up.
Character’s from Surf’s Up.

Surf’s Up plays on surf/tiki culture. With an all White cast, lots of tikis, the mention of “ancient Hawaiians”, coconut bras and a penguin named “Lani”, they leave know stone unturned. Right before I was tempted to deal with the tantrum that would have followed me changing “ the cool penguin movie”, I heard Into Yesterday by Sugar Ray and was reminded of my teenage confusion.

I’m from Waiʻanae, Hawai’i. I moved to the mainland in 2005 and was extremely confused when I first heard “alternative music”. I could not understand why so many people were in love with these skinny White boys mimicking music I had been skankin’ to since elementary school.

I grew up on Pati, Fiji, Bob Marley, The Manoa Company, Third World and Israel Kamakawiwoʻole. All talented artists, masters of their crafts and amazing showmen. Their music however always had limited streaming and was placed in categories like World, Reggae and Other.

Genre categories for Israel Kamakawiwoʻole: Hawaii reggae world
Genre categories for Israel Kamakawiwoʻole: Hawaii reggae world

While these labels aren’t untrue they were not placed on White artists making the same type of music, White artists who were praised on their ability to add “shuffle beats, folk harmonies, pop and soul harmonies [in their] stewwithout giving credit to the cultures and local artists they’ve gained inspiration from.

I now know “alternative music” is a genre created to place music White people have appropriated from others. These tactics continue and White people continue to genre hop without hesitation and with little resistance, see Post Malone.

I hope one day to see more of the artists I love getting recognition for their music and that appropriation will not be celebrated. Until then I’ll keep listening to the music I love through Youtube and questioning why I’ll never hear it on the radio or why they’ll never be featured in a “cool penguin movie”.


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