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The Healing Powers of American Roots Music

By Stephanie Shonekan, Art, Music, and Pop Culture Contributing Editor

During this year’s Grammy Awards Stevie Wonder reminded viewers to appreciate the “healing powers” of music. This lovely sentiment, as well as the well-loved adage that “music is a universal language” suggests that music is the one thing that soothes all tension and brings unity among all peoples. But musicologists and ethnomusicologists disagree with this notion. Although music can be a powerful art form that conveys human experiences, understanding its cultural implications is more complicated. We argue that although we can all aspire to feel the emotion conveyed in musics from around the world, we cannot truly understand all the particular devices and functions of each culture’s music.