Guess Who’s Coming to Dharma: Black Women Embrace Western Buddhism

In the half-century since Buddhism re-entered American pop culture via the Beats (having first enjoyed a passing vogue during the 1890s), more and more black females–children of the civil rights movement, champions of black nationalism, feminist iconoclasts, and intellectuals–have been finding their way to Buddhist practice. Quietly, without much visibility or commercial fanfare, these women meditate daily, then take the insights they receive “on the cushion” into their lives as mothers, mates, social activists, and career women. From Tina Turner’s autobiographical hat-tip to Nichiren Shoshu to bell hooks’s describing her personal synthesis of Buddhist meditation, Christian prayer, and Sufi mysticism in 1999’s Remembered Rapture to Alice Walker’s outing of herself as a practitioner last year in The New York Times, black women have unwittingly become the world’s most spontaneous lay Buddhist preachers. Continue reading “Guess Who’s Coming to Dharma: Black Women Embrace Western Buddhism”

Are We the World? Global Music in the U.S. Faces the 21st Century

Sony Music’s recent and massive Soundtrack of a Century collection includes a two-CD set called International Music, ostensibly to celebrate the geographically diverse roots of the recording industry. After all, donkeys were used to haul demo cylinder recordings around Russia in the late 1880s, and the Columbia Phonograph Company General established its first Parisian offices in 1897. But what these two discs really are is a sampling of rather newly signed potential crossover acts from Sony divisions around the globe. Clearly, someone corporate hopes that multilingual exotics like Taiwan’s Coco Lee, Denmark’s Eurasian duo S.O.A.P, and the Filipino funk trio Kulay might have what it takes to follow Ricky Martin up American pop charts. Unfortunately, the collection represents a very late and strangely halfhearted leap into a world music market that has gotten increasingly viable in the U.S. over the past 20 years. You would think that Sony, an intrepid Japanese multinational that acquired the master catalog and 100-plus-year-old legacy of Columbia Records on the cusp of the ’90s, would be leading the pack by now in marketing foreign pop stars in America. But like most major labels–and unlike an increasing number of U.S.-based indies–Sony has proven reluctant to throw its full promotional weight behind world music as something as worthy and universally important as Anglo-American pop. Continue reading “Are We the World? Global Music in the U.S. Faces the 21st Century”