Release by Afro Celt Sound System is the seventh set work in this blog series. This Edexcel GCSE Music Set Work is part of the “Fusion Area of Study”. If you haven’t read my previous blogs then please do have a look at those. I am going to use my 5W’s approach when analysing this set work.
Afro Celt Sound System are a band that use Fusion as their main tool of expression. They fuse together Electronic music with traditional Gaelic and West African Music. This set work is a great example of this Fusion and a wonderful set work. They are very much a collective of musicians and this Set Work is from their 1999 Album called “Release”.
This set work is referred to as a Fusion because it brings together different styles & traditions. But a fusion is also about creating something new from these different styles. Fusion music will often bring together the old and the new, and here we have the use of electronic music.
When it comes to a Music GCSE Set Work this is packed full of great music and lots to listen out for. What students need to focus on is what makes this is a Fusion and what different features are brought together. How successful this piece is as a Fusion can then be discussed and students will need to know exactly what musical elements are combined in this set work.
It is worth remembering that what students are required to do in the GCSE exam is compare this set work to a piece of Unfamiliar listening. This unfamiliar piece is therefore likely to also be a Fusion, but it may not be as much of a fusion as this. Of course the unfamiliar piece could also not be a fusion at all and it could simply be a song that includes an instrument from another tradition. If a Rock song simply uses a Sitar, Penny Whistle or brief moment of fiddle, then is it a Fusion?
Taking features from other traditions is therefore not enough to make something a fusion. The ideas need to all combine and work together to create something new.
What – Performing Forces
A crucial thing to understand is how instruments are used in this piece. Here we have a range of instruments from each of the traditions. From Africa we have the Kora and Talking Drum. From the Celtic tradition we have the Hurdy-Gurdy, Uileann Pipes, Bodhran, Fiddle, Whistle and Accordian.
And we then have the more Western forces of Vocals, Synthesisers, samples, Drum Machines, and percussion. Much of their piece is also made using looping, something that is now often associated with modern electronic music.
It is important that students can hear and identify these different instruments so they can spot them in any unfamiliar extracts. Listening to the Hurdy-Gurdy or Uileann pipes on their own is a really good idea.
This is where we consider Why Afro-celt Sound System composed this song in this way. And it is fairly clear that they were wanting to create something new using different traditions – they wanted to create a Fusion. They weren’t simply wanting a western looped dance track, but they wanted to do as their name suggests. Creating a Fusion means bringing together different instrumental forces and approaches, and they use looping as their main tool for this song. Other features such as the use of Drone also suggest different genres and styles that rely on this musical technique.
When we consider how this piece compares to another, we are weighing up the features. In order for a piece to be a successful Fusion, it needs to create something new using the ideas within. Sometimes we hear songs that include Bagpipes for example, but we don’t call this a fusion. The very word Fusion means – The process or result of joining two or more things together to form a single entity. It is therefore important that we consider if a piece of music is fusion ideas together or simply borrowing a sound, force or texture from another tradition.
There are lots of great examples of Fusion that students can listen to as part of their Wider Listening. This will help to fully explain what makes Release a great example of a Fusion. Embedding Wider Listening in an essay really helps to show understanding of music. It also helps to present a full argument and a keen interest in the subject as a whole. The more we listen, the more we learn and students should be Deliberately Listening to music to seek out great examples that link to set works.
It would also be good for students to understand the individual musical traditions and styles so that they can spot key features.
There is a great deal more to discover about this set work and I would point students to the excellent notes provided by Edexcel. These notes will help guide students through the key musical features of this piece. But what the notes don’t provide is all of the Wider Listening and understanding that needs to sit alongside this. Where students fully understand how different traditions are combined to create something new, they will be successful. It is not a case of just pointing out features, but considering how they combine and the sound this creates.
I would love to know more examples of great Fusion songs, pieces or works. Do share in the comments below.