Music History

The Great Mystery of the Stereotypical Oriental Musical Signature

We’ve all heard it a million times.  Written out, it looks like this:

Oriential Musical Signature


If that’s just gibberish to you, listen to the first couple of seconds to this song which opens with a slight variation on the theme.

That same musical signature (or a minor derivation thereof) has been used throughout music for decades.  Karl Douglas and “Kung Fu Fighting.” David Bowie and “China Girl.” Rush in “A Passage to Bangkok” from 2112. So here’s the question:  where did this bit of music come from? And how did it come to become so stereotypically Oriental? Stereotypically Asian? A fascinating question, no?

Jim points us to this great article at NPR. The answer is amazing–and, as you might guess, involves accusations of racism.

Alan Cross

is an internationally known broadcaster, interviewer, writer, consultant, blogger and speaker. In his 40+ years in the music business, Alan has interviewed the biggest names in rock, from David Bowie and U2 to Pearl Jam and the Foo Fighters. He’s also known as a musicologist and documentarian through programs like The Ongoing History of New Music.

Alan Cross has 38319 posts and counting. See all posts by Alan Cross

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