Friday, September 02, 2011

Josh Garrels and Context

It has taken me awhile to write this post, but first let me say that if you haven't heard Josh Garrels' new album "Love, War, and the Sea In Between", you should check it out here:

I was really looking forward to hearing this album, as I've been kept updated by his newsletter and run into him in various times and places in the last couple years - Lancaster, Bushnell, North Carolina. So when he announced it was out and available as a free download, I got it. At the time, I was on fieldwork in India, and internet connection was a bit spotty so I sat in a friend's internet cafe in Shillong for 2 hours in order to get the whole (large) file. It's a testament to the world's increasing globalization that even that was possible, as it probably wouldn't have been even a year or two ago.

So this was the context in which I put my earbuds in, turned on my ipod, and listened to the whole album in one shot. And... it kind of fell flat. I wasn't sure what to think, since I've always liked the music Josh makes, and all the reviews I read beforehand had nothing but good things to say about the album. So I forgot about it and continued to work on documenting Pnar.

About a month later I had been in the US for my sister's wedding, which was pretty awesome, and after two weeks I was on my way to NYC to catch the airplane back to Singapore. On the greyhound bus I had just finished a large portion of the 40+ page paper I was working on, and needed a break. I found Josh's album on my ipod and started to listen. It was really good! I remember we had just got on the NJ turnpike to head into NYC, and I thought - "why is this so much better than when I listened to it in India?!"

It struck me that in India, a lot of the things that Josh writes/sings about, and even the music styles he uses, simply didn't connect with the world I was experiencing. It was as if the issues he deals with have no grounding in a non-western, non-american context. Which totally makes sense - I think how my music doesn't necessarily translate to people outside my own particular contexts. I think that speaks to the role of the artist as both a creator and reflector of culture, and thus how important it is to know the context to which you intend to speak, which Josh seems to have figured out pretty well.

At the same time, we would like to say that art transcends culture, and that this is our goal as artists. But how well does that work? Take your art outside your own culture and I guess you'll find out.


TwiceBorn said...

I was blown away by Joshes new album, and the first time I listened to it was in Africa on a missions trip. His White Owl song really became my theme song for that time of my life because it's about the great commission. No matter where I am, I am always blown away by his album. It just seems perfect, every song.

Ring Records said...

it really is a great album, isn't it?! I think I was just trying to understand why it didn't fit for me the first time I listened to it. Definitely one of my favorites though.