Music of Diaspora

Learning Goal: I’m working on a global studies writing question and need an explanation and answer to help me learn.

In The Colors of Zion: Blacks, Jews, and Irish From 1845 to 1945, George Bornstein writes that Irish, Jewish, and Black writers, artists, and thinkers found commonalities and contrasts across ethnic nationalist endeavors, literature, and popular entertainment. Each group was persecuted and subjugated in their own way, and certainly there was conflict among them, but examining them in a comparatively helps us to comprehend how individuals understood their diasporic experiences.

One of the ways that diaspora groups explained their experiences was through song. Songs of the diaspora evoked involuntary migration/emigration, memories about the homeland, feelings of exile, nationalism and rebellion, the idea of return, and experiences in the host society. Diasporic music not only recreates, but also reimagines the traditional music by melding with other traditions and cultures, thus creating new genres that influence the homeland as well.

In a 500-750 word essay, please compare and contrast a specific song, bands/musician, or musical genre from at least two of the three diaspora groups: Jewish, African, and Irish diasporas, focusing on one of the criteria below. You may also examine connections between the music traditions of the groups or the use of the same material.


Your choice can be material that we have examined this the semester, something mentioned in the reading or multimedia sources, or something you’ve found on your own (please provide a link). Please use the assigned readings of the last few weeks to provide context for your analysis. Your analysis of a song, band/musician, or musical genre must focus on one of these criteria:

  • Dispersal from an original center [involuntary migration]
  • Collective memory about the homeland
  • Alienation from their current host society [exile]
  • Regard for the original homeland as the “true” home & the fight for its maintenance or restoration [ethnic nationalism]
  • Solidarity toward that goal [idea of return]

Examples of topics/approaches:

  • Use of “Babylon,” Psalm 137, or other Biblical ideas to evoke exile in diaspora songs
  • Linkages and comparisons of ethnic nationalist songs
  • Songs that examine experiences of the groups in the diaspora
  • Music fusion genres (Afro-Celtic, Jewish ragtime and jazz, Afro-Caribbean [samba, calypso, etc.])
  • Sharing of cultural traditions (ex. Partnerships between Irish and Jews in Tin Pan Alley songsAl Jolson’s adoption of African-American music in The Jazz Singer; Paul Robeson’s singing of Jewish religious hymns)
  • Comparison of Hebrew and Irish language songs

Requirements for submission (will be factored into your grade):

  • Essay length: 500 to 750 words (2 ½ to 3 pages double-spaced).
  • Double-space, use 12-point font, and a reasonably sized font (Times New Roman or Garamond)
  • Include links to your examples, as well as song lyrics, if you choose to analyze specific songs, in your essay (in addition to the required length).
  • Writing should be clear and organized, with full paragraphs that focus on separate ideas.
  • Proper writing style, grammar, punctuation, and spelling are expected. All work should be proofread before submission (not just spell-checked)
  • Include footnote citations for individual quotes and sources referenced AND a separate bibliography. Use the Chicago Manual of Style for formatting. There is a link to the Chicago Manual of Style’s Quick Guide in Folio that will explain how to format citations for specific sources for footnotes and bibliographies.
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