Friday, April 8, 2011

Creating culture through remix

Many of us are accustomed to relying on a retweet, status update, video upload or hyperlink as a means of sharing information. Within this sharing we build communities through common interests, gain acceptance and understanding of others, and experience places that otherwise would always remain foreign to us. These ubiquitous acts allow us to move seamlessly between our two roles of consumer and producer, participating in the production of our culture. Each time we share we view something that is produced we essentially are actively engaged in remix culture. To Knoble and Lankshear (2008) “remix means to take cultural artifacts and combine and manipulate them into new kinds of creative blends” (p. 22).” Perhaps to many of us, it simply means actively using the tools we have available to us in our daily lives.

What to many of us is an obsolete thought is the fact that our use of these tools is in contradiction of the traditional ways in which people were to interact with the media. In the read only culture of the past we simply consumed. (Lessig, 2008). Newspapers, books, television shows and movies were ‘taken in’ - media was served to us. Through this media we defined our culture. Fast-forward to a world filled with digital technology, which “changed how we think about access to culture” (Lessig, 2008). We now not only see culture through what the media gives us, we use media ourselves to create our culture. Each one of us have the ability, if we wanted, to create our culture and we do so without even knowing it. Uploading a movie onto YouTube that was created using iMovie and inserting a song that was downloaded off of iTunes seems nothing more than a few hours work. What we forget is that in the process we accessed information that really didn’t belong to us. Permission wasn’t obtained to use the latest song as background music to accompany personal photos or videos. We simply thought since we have access, we also have permission. And quite frankly even if we knew it may be wrong, the ease of accessibility trumps the feeling of doing something wrong.

Case study: Punjabi culture remixed

Defining culture and traditions

“Culture is the conduit of past to future, the vessel of memory of countless generations of the past to countless generations in the future, an inheritance and a memorial” (Deneen, 2008, p. 65). According to Deneen (2008), culture is the way in which people come together to create meaning, to share values, build a basis by which grief and joy is measured, shared and expressed. How we share the cultural knowledge that we amass is varied through our geography, our tools, our habits and our gender.

Traditions are social constructs used to create identity. Traditions are based on and defined by a group’s past and are fluid enough to change with the group’s current existence. Traditions stem from the embodied cultural capital of the group, Eisendstadt (as cited by Linnekin, 1983) says, “the selection of what is culture is always made in the present; the content of the past is modified and redefined according to a modern significance” (p. 241). Traditions are easily adapted to accommodate the changes in time and place of the group. The content of traditions is “ . . . redefined by each generation and its timeliness may be situationally constructed” (Linnekin, 1983, p. 242).

For first generation Canadians of Punjabi heritage, remix is a way of life. Being Canadian they grow up experiencing what is seen as the ‘mainstream’ way of growing up: watching Sesame Street, joining sports teams at school, juggling homework and figuring out what university or college to attend. Along with this ‘mainstream’ growing up is the culture that many of them experience at home. This culture is vastly different- language, music, food, and cultural norms that perhaps sometimes seem to clash with what the rest of the kids at school are doing. In many ways these two cultures found no way to co-exist. One existed out the home in the public sphere of school/work another inside the home with friends and family of the same origin. New media dramatically changed that.

Music as a means of creating culture

“Far from simply "reflecting" social processes, music provides contexts in which cultural meaning is formulated and negotiated. Among diaspora communities, music is vital for formulating diasporic cultural identity” (Diethrich, 1999, p.39). For the Punjabi community this certainly is true. Music is a way for Punjabis scattered all over the world, to connect back to the heritage and culture that is rooted in India. Often referred to as desi or Punjabi music, for young people, “music is used not only to cross the distance to India, but to create an entirely new space, one that asserts and affirms both aspects of their hyphenated identities” (Diethrich, 1999, p.36).
Today’s music remixes.

According to Shirky (2008), “Our electronic networks are enabling novel forms of collective action, enabling the creation of collaborative groups that are larger and more distributed than at any other time in history” (Shirky, 2008, p.48). Because members are no longer bound by proximity, groups can exist and meet no matter where individual members may reside. This is seen in the Punjabi music scene. Websites such as connect Punjabi’s from across North America, Britian and India, all sharing their thoughts on music and it’s cultural significance or impact.

Punjabi Music creating culture

Punjabi musicians teaming up with mainstream North American hip hop artists is one way in which youth see their culture being remixed.

Seeing mainstream North American artists perform their own versions of Indian songs is another way in which youth see their culture literally incorporating two worlds.

The use of Punjabi music at Bhangra competitions is also another way in which remix culture is flourishing. Youth use bhangra music alongside hiphop and pop music to combine energetic routines. The moves in these routines are themselves remixes-choreographing traditional Bhangra (Punjabi dance) with other dance genres without missing a beat.

These competitions not only feature remix through the music and dance, but also through their programs. VIBC, Vancouver International Bhangra Competition is one example where youth are connecting the many cultures that make up their world.

A shift in culture

The challenge comes when these remixes are done without giving permission or credit to the works that are used. Many Punjabi music songs are remixed by artists who sell and produce music as well as by the general public who remix through the use of their laptops-simply because they have the tools and the imagination to do so. Music producers and DJ’s like TigerStyle and create mega hits, seamlessly fusing Indian beats with mainstream music. Their “mix produces the new creative work-the “remix”. (Lessig, 2008, p. 69).

Traditional copyright laws may not be followed because music is being remixed and reproduced without the permission of artists. At an even simpler level, YouTube is inundated with videos of Punjabi music where the slides use movie clips, images of celebrities, without any real sense of permission. Perhaps one of the biggest ironies is that in many cases the artists who have created remixes are now seeing their work remixed by youth. Many of these youth remix simply because they can “access is the mantra of the YouTube generation (Lessig, 2008, p.46).

The issues that exist with this remixing of culture go beyond technology. A shift in the very culture that exists within the Punjabi community is also subject to change. Traditional songs now contain modern themes, beats and lyrics. Events that at one point could be classified simply as Punjabi or Western, are now mixing both. Perhaps as mentioned above this is less of an issue, this is a natural phenomenon-traditions change with time and place. Even further, given that remix is synonymous with so much of what we do, we will simply see it as it is what it is- the world we live in.


Deneen, P. (2008). Technology, culture, and culture. New Atlantis: A Journal of Technology & Society, 2163-2174. Retrieved from Academic Search Complete database.
Diethrich, G. (1999). Desi Music Vibes: The Performance of Indian Youth Culture in Chicago. Asian Music, 31 (1) 35-61. Retrieved from (April 7, 2011) .

Lankshear, C. & Knobel, M. (2008). Remix: The Art and Craft of Endless Hybridization. Journal of Adolescent & Adult Literacy, 52(1) 22-33. Retrieved from (April 8, 2011) .

Lessig, Lawrence (2008). Remix Making Art and Commerce Thrive in the Hybrid Economy. New York: The Penguin Press.

Linnekin, S. (1983). Defining traditions: variations on Hawaiian identity. American Ethnologist, (10)2, 241-252.

Shirky, C. (2008). Here Comes Everybody. New York: Penguin Press.


Baronroflcopter. (2010, June 8). Jay-Z and Punjabi MC Mundian to bach ke live at Rock am Ring 2010. Retrieved from

Gurrvy. (2008, July 21). Nachna onda nahi. Retrieved from

Ladygagamex. (2009, September 4). The Pussycat Dolls feat. A.R. Rhaman Jai Ho! Retrieved from

Redman07. (2010, March 8). Kollaboration 10 Bhangra Empire. Retrieved from


No comments:

Post a Comment