Cultural Expression Through Music

March 20, 2018


Contributed by Elizabeth Draper, Cantata Learning Music Director


Music is a huge component of cultural expression and cultural identity. People and music have been intertwined since the dawn of human evolution. There is evidence that suggests even neanderthals played early forms of musical instruments such as flutes—not just drums and sticks as one might assume. Music serves many functions and needs. It provides various forms of communication, religious and spiritual worship, artistic expression, and community celebration.



When creating music for Cantata Learning books, we strive to represent many different genres, feels, and sounds that stem from a variety of different cultures. And it is important that our producers and recording artists are knowledgeable and authentic in the sound they are creating. I work with a team of extremely talented producers and engineers, who each have their own specialties, as well as a network of recording artists who each have their own strengths and musical and cultural backgrounds.


If I want a song to have a Hip Hop feel, I know I will reach out to a producer who is involved in that culture and community. If I want something with a Central American rhythm, I will reach out to someone with that background. You get the idea.


Even though basically nothing exists within an isolated bubble, there is still a wormhole of knowledge and history associated with any genre or style of music. By making sure the producers we work with have spent time educating and surrounding themselves within the context of the genre they are composing, I am able to ensure a more authentic sound to each Cantata song.


Exposure to a variety of musical styles and genres is an important element of any child’s education and upbringing. Cantata’s songs can be an excellent way to introduce cultural and geographical topics for discussion.



A song with flavors of North and West African influences such as The Swift Gazelle Can Run Quite Well: Grassland Animals, can introduce a discussion about the people who live in various grassland regions all over the globe. An Americana song such as Earth Day features a fiddle player whose style was heavily influenced by Appalachian musical traditions. Music that evolved in Appalachia stemmed from a combination of West African and European (primarily Irish) music evolving together. The song Earth’s Record Breakers has a strong Afro-Caribbean influence. This is a broad term used for musical styles in the Caribbean originating from West and Central African people who were brought to the Caribbean as slaves. More specifically, there are elements of Garifuna music in this song which can lead to many different topics of cultural and geographical discussion.


Music is constantly evolving, and these days, probably more than ever before. Living in the communication age, it’s almost impossible to live within complete isolation without external influence. This became very apparent to me when visiting a remote Karen village in northwestern Thailand. I met a young boy there who was playing a Western guitar and singing a Pink Floyd song in English although he barely spoke English.


You need not even leave your seat to hear a Norwegian band playing Hawaiian music on African/Asian marimbas. Although it pales in comparison to travel and real life experiences, the sounds from around the whole world are just a few clicks away.


With a book in hand, it doesn’t take much to discover more about the musical and cultural roots of a song. Start by Googling the genre. Read articles about key musicians, instruments, and songs. Watch YouTube videos. Talk about the history. Visit the library and check out more books on the topics you discovered.



I always strive to be relevant and honest when creating new music for Cantata. I believe this musical integrity will serve as a window to a variety of different sounds and cultural influence for students who explore our books. It’s my hope that in this way, Cantata Learning will not only support kids’ interest in reading, but toward further musical and cultural exploration as well.