Real Imaginary Place in Czech Bluegrass Songs

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Bluegrass is a music form often considered to be necessarily or uniquely connected to Appalachia. Significant popular and scholarly discourses (Malone, Negus, etc.) support the sense of a homological relationship (Middleton, Born, Murphy) linking certain rural spaces with country musics. At the same time, bluegrass has a broad and varied global appeal. Abroad, bluegrass is often a part of "Americanism," the negotiation of cultural elements from the United States--and is subject to an array of different cultural politics. This presentation presents an analysis and contextualization of three Czech bluegrass-related songs to indicate some ways in which bluegrass music makers can create a sense of place far afield from the music's putative geographic roots. During their long history of Americanism Czechs have inscribed "real imaginary" elements of Americana on their environment, laying a foundation for the current interest in bluegrass music. Czech articulations of this imagined "Amerika" in translated, newly-created, and recontextualized bluegrass songs reveals a playful ambiguity. Czechs have cultivated this music and sense of place through Americanisms that blur boundaries between what is American and what is Czech. These cases challenge homologies of sound and geography, and provide new ways to consider music and place in Appalachia.


Blacksburg, VA

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