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Beyoncé, Irish Dancing and the Nonsense of Cultural Appropriation

Gearóid Ó Loingsigh

2 April 2024

Beyoncé, Cowboy Carter (2024)

Beyoncé was back in the news once again for a spot of cultural appropriation.  It was not her first brush with cultural Neanderthals, she has been here before for apparently “stealing” Egyptian culture by dressing as Nefertiti.  Added into the mix was a lesser-known black artist, Kaitlyn Sardin, who excels at Irish dancing and dared produce some fusion dance routines.

I have dealt with Beyoncé and Rihanna wading into the murky cesspit of the cultural appropriation debate in the past when they were accused of appropriating Egyptian culture(1) and won’t deal with it here.  This time though, the debate is clearly about music, produced by people who are still around and not the attire of long dead Egyptians with little connection to the modern country.  The fact that white country music fans are still around to complain, doesn’t make the debate any less sterile or ridiculous.

Beyoncé’s faux pas was apparently to record a country & western album titled Cowboy Carter.  Apparently, some were of the view that a black artist shouldn’t record a “white” song or perform in a “white” musical genre.  Her first release from the album was a song she composed, Texas Hold ‘Em.(2) And the hounds of hell were let loose to howl and drown out the music.  Some radio stations refused to play the song, though that didn’t stop it going to No.1 in the country music charts and the debate, though debate might be too fine a word to put on it, erupted.  She is not white, she is not part of the country music scene and she should stay in her lane, is a crude but accurate summary of most of those criticising her.  She is actually from Houston, Texas, not that it matters.  One person interviewed by The Guardian responded that “It doesn’t matter that you came from Texas. It matters if you’re actually living a country lifestyle. It bothers me that her song is being called country.”(3)  These words might be familiar to some.  They are normally advanced by identitarians when talking about whites playing genres considered “black” and in some cases other non-whites have levelled this accusation against a whole array of non-white artists including Beyoncé.  It is reactionary rubbish with the racism, in this case, hiding just under the surface, behind a veil of cultural purity.  One even went as far as to say that he would bet that Beyoncé had never been in the country saloon he was being interviewed in.  Well, many black women would steer clear of such venues, for more than obvious reasons.

Cultures are not pure, ever.  None. Not now, not ever, not even going back to the stone age.  I am very sure, no stone age hunter armed with a flintstone hatchet ever shouted “You’re appropriating my culture” when he realised some other village had come up with the same invention, or even just “stole” the idea.

Country music is not pure either and to the shock and horror of many a man yearning for the days he ran around in his white bedsheets, it isn’t even that white.  Blacks have made significant contributions to country music, not least the musical instrument known as the Banjo.  What would country be without the banjo?  Rhiannon Giddens, the black musician has dedicated her time to reviving the banjo as a black instrument and recording some excellent music, though unsurprisingly she doesn’t quite stick to genres either.(4)  Her site describes her thus.

Singer, multi-instrumentalist, composer, and impresario, Rhiannon draws from many musical traditions including blues, jazz, folk, hiphop, African, Celtic, classical, and jug band. She bridges contemporary and traditional forms, and few musicians have done more to revitalize old-time influences in current music.(5)

Rhiannon Giddens

She composes her own songs, covers others, even ones such as Wayfaring Stranger, recorded by many white country artists, though actually written and composed by two Germans in the 1660s.  As far removed from her as from the whites who might like to claim the song as their own (Links below to Gidden’s version,(6) Johnny Cash’s(7) the Mormon Tabernacle Choir(8) and even Ed Sheeran’s(9) very uncountry version. I have included links to all songs and routines mentioned in this article). The song belongs to whoever wants to sing it, however they wish to, though I personally think Sheeran murders the song with a flintstone hatchet, but each to their own.

So, Beyoncé is quite entitled to record in whatever style she wants.  Part of what rankles some is that she went straight to No.1 and will make a fortune from the album and this is part of the stay in your lane slogan applied to blacks and whites.  Elvis made a fortune singing what was essentially considered, at least initially, to be a black musical form and other white artists who have done this have been criticised by a black bourgeoisie who want that slice of the cake for themselves.  Some of the whites criticising Beyoncé are undoubtedly racist, some might just be musical purists, though music is one art form that just doesn’t lend itself to purity.  Others, like identitarians everywhere, think that the money is theirs.  Flip sides of the same coin.

Beyoncé is not the only black artist to venture into the world of country,(10) Charley Pride and Ray Charles did so back in the 1960s at times of heightened tensions in the midst of the racial violence meted out against those demanding civil rights for blacks.  When Charley Pride released his first country album, his image was not put on the record sleeve and they initially hid the fact he was black as part of their marketing strategy.  He would eventually make it to the Grand Ole Opry in 1967.  He had a total of 52 top ten hits on the Billboard Hot Country Songs chart.(11)  No mean feat and not a once off foray into country music either, he was a country artist.  Linda Martell fared worse as she never hid that she was black and though she would also perform at the Grand Ole Opry in 1970, her album Color Me Country(12) never had the same success.  Ray Charles also dipped his fingers into the pond producing Modern Sounds in Country and Western Music(13) in 1962.  It was a best seller, topping the charts.  So, Beyoncé is by no means the only or even the first black artist to find success in the genre.  Black artists have always ventured into genres that were not considered to be black.  Others have gone the other way and identitarians tend to criticise white artists doing “black” music, though when Gene Autry, the white country and western singer, nicknamed the Singing Cowboy recorded a blues album, nobody accused him of cultural appropriation.  Though even non-whites get accused by the black bourgeoisie closely aligned to the US Democratic Party of cultural appropriation, Jews, Asians, even Africans get in the neck.  Samuel Jackson infamously accused black British actors of stealing their jobs because they were cheaper and questioned the cultural bonafides of British-Nigerian actor David Oyelowo when he was cast as Martin Luther King in the film Selma.(14) He never criticised the decision to cast the black Yank, Morgan Freeman as Nelson Mandela in the film Invictus or Matt Damon as the white South African rugby captain in the same film.   Given the backlash against his comments he decided to keep his mouth shut when the British-Ugandan actor Daniel Kaluuya was chosen to play the black revolutionary leader of the Black Panther Party, Fred Hampton.  No one is safe from the accusation.  It is a bit like the MacCarthy trials.  “Are you now or have you ever been a homosexual? No, but I slept with a man who was.  Have you ever appropriated a culture? No, but I hummed a tune by a man who had.”

Which brings us now to Kaitlyn Sardin, the US black Irish dancer.  She has recently gone viral, though not for the first time, with her dance routines and not being as powerful as Beyoncé has come in for some vile racist abuse.(15)  She produced a new video which is what is now termed fusion i.e. Irish dance with some developments.  This is now quite common and there is a host of Irish groups producing fusion.  My favourite is a routine called Freedom with the voice of Charles Chaplin and images from Belfast in the early seventies.(16)  Though the first person to do this was Michael Flatley with River Dance which not only broke many of the “rules” of Irish dancing, it even went as far as to incorporate the Lambeg War Drums in a much more positive sense than the annual announcement of Protestant supremacy for which they are used every July 12th.  Of course, Flatley, unlike Sardin is white and of Irish descent.

Kaitlyn Sardin

As I said there are many fusion groups in Ireland, the one I previously mentioned and even one which is danced to classical music titled Fusion Fighters Perform Fusion Orchestra.(17)  Again, all as white as the driven snow in Siberia.  There is even an all-female Fusion Fighters group from the USA that does a tap dance routine to William Tell.(18)  The particular group started off with Irish dance and moved into other styles over time, so much so that even their website acknowledges it has less to do with Irish dance than they used to.(19)  It is what happens with culture.  It evolves, all the time. Again, they are white and no one said fusion is not Irish dancing and no one said anything about not being Irish, even though their Irish connections may be as tenuous as Darby O’Gill.

The term fusion is one of those designed to assuage musical purists more than racists.  In reality there is no such thing as fusion music.  ALL music and dance are fusion till it becomes accepted as the standard, when new deviations or fusions arrive.  Though dancing has existed in Ireland for centuries it has not been immune to outside influences such as French Quadrilles in the 1800s or other forms.  The clues are in the names, hornpipes and polkas for example are two types of music that you will find in other parts of Europe and indeed in the case of polkas they clearly originated in Eastern Europe, though most forms including reels and jigs are not exclusively Irish either.  All cultures borrow.

Most instruments used in Irish music are not Irish in origin.  Some, like the flute have arisen in most cultures around the world and archaeological remains have thrown up examples everywhere of flutes and whistles made from everything, including animal bones.  Fiddles arose over a long process around the world and it is a bit difficult to pinpoint them to one country.  Uillean pipes are Irish, though they too were part of a wider process in Europe with different types of pipes arising.  Though Scottish bag pipes are perhaps the most famous type of pipe, there are in fact lots of pipes throughout Europe and parts of Africa, Iran, Azerbaijan and even India.  Other instruments such as the banjo are African in origin, though the modern banjo has developed over time since it was first brought to the western world by slaves.  The piano accordion is a relatively recent European invention from the mid 1800s, a further development of the accordion, which was also a European instrument.  If we rejected all outside influences and demanded purity, we would have little in the way of Irish music or dance, were we to have any at all.

So, Kaitlyn Sardin should be celebrated.  She is from the US, is black and more importantly is very good at what she does: dancing.  The fact that she is not Irish or she recently produced a fusion routine is neither here nor there.  Any liberal who got lost on the internet and accidently read this article will probably have nodded most of the way down: until now.  The ridiculous statements made about Beyoncé and Sardin are generally rejected by liberals.  But when the cultural capitalists hiding behind identity politics make similar claims against white artists or indeed between other non-white artists this rubbish is taken seriously.  Culture does not belong to anyone, you don’t have to be white, black, Asian or Latin to perform in a particular style.  Culture is a gently flowing river you bathe in, swimming ashore where you please along its route or letting it sweep you out into the sea.  It has always been thus and always will be, despite the attempts of cultural capitalists to appropriate culture for their own grubby money-making ends, or racists imagining some non-existent purity.  It doesn’t mean that some of the commercial outings by Beyoncé and other artists do it well.  They don’t.  Beyoncé was criticised for her depiction of India as a white paradise and other artists such as Gwen Stefani, Nicki Minaj and Iggy Azalea have been accused of engaging in crass portrayals of the cultures they seek to borrow from(20) and in Ireland we know a thing or two about how crass Hollywood can be when it comes to depicting Irish music.  But that is another matter, many artists in particular genres have come up with really crass portrayals of their own cultures.  The point is whether culture is pure, has lanes and you stick to them due to an accident or birth.

The legendary US folk singer Pete Seeger would joke that plagiarism was the basis of all culture and he was a wonderful plagiarist who introduced musical forms from around the world to a US audience at a time when there was no internet and it was not an easy feat.  He introduced the song Wimoweh to the world, which has gone through multiple adaptations,(21) some of them very good and others absolutely dire, such as that recorded by the English pop group Tight Fit in the 1980s.(22)  The original song however was quite different in style and written and recorded by the South African musician Solomon Linda(23) who was swindled out of the royalties on the song.  Had Seeger stayed in his lane, most of us would never have ever heard of Linda or the story behind his song.

Demands for cultural purity are inherently reactionary, as are demands to stay in your lane, be they levelled by whites, blacks or Asians.  Culture is to be celebrated and expanded.  The accusation of appropriation would only make sense if someone like Seeger had said he wrote Wimoweh, that would be straightforward dishonesty, something he could never be accused of in his multiple adaptations of songs from Ireland, Japan, China, Indonesia, Scotland, Chile, Nicaragua amongst other places.

Beyoncé’s foray into country is perfectly fine, though personally, I don’t like her music, including her country.  But that is my personal taste and has nothing to do with appropriation or other rubbish from cultural capitalists.  The Irish radio on Saturday’s used to broadcast an Irish music show from the musical company Walton’s.  It always finished off saying “If you do feel like singing a song, do sing an Irish one.”  The exhortation was for all, not some, the point was to celebrate and enjoy music.  Lets leave the cultural capitalists, purists, identitarians and racists to the handful of songs they mistakenly believe to be pure.


(1)  See Ó Loingsigh, G. (02/05/2020) Cultural Appropriation: A Reactionary Debate.

(2)  See Beyoncé’s version here

(3)  The Guardian (04/03/2024) I can guarantee Beyoncé has never stepped foot in here: Houston’s country saloons review Texas Hold ‘Em. Diana Gachman

(4)  See for example Another Wasted Life

(5)  See

(6)  Rhiannon Giddens Wayfaring stranger

(7)  Johnny Cash Wayfaring Stranger

(8)  Tabernacle Choir Wayfaring Stranger

(9)  Ed Sheeran Wayfaring Stranger

(10)  Vox (26/05/2024) Beyoncé’s country roots. Avishay Artsy.

(11)  See

(12)  See

(13)  See

(14)  The Guardian (08/03/2017) Samuel L Jackson criticises casting of black British actors in American films. Gwilym Mumford.

(15)  Irish Central (25/03/2024) Irish dancer’s fusion choreography goes viral, triggers racists. Kerry O’Shea

(16)  See

(17)  See

(18)  See

(19)  See

(20)  Business Insider (14/01/2023) Gwen Stefani is only the latest glaring example of cultural appropriation in pop music. Callie Ahlgrim.

(21)  See

(22)  See

(23)  See

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