Greetings, dear GCS, and Happy Valentines Day!
As many of you know, February is celebrated in many countries as Black History Month – and this week my offering definitely links with that observance, but first I am going to tell you about another celebration, World Music Day, which will be celebrated this June 21st for the 41st time.
For many years the music of western culture has been dominated by the European classical canon (as well as descended ‘classical’ musics from other countries like ours, settled by Europeans). For the second half of the 20th century while a brand new study known as ‘Musicology’ was being founded and developed this bias was deeply evident in making reference to all OTHER musical traditions as ‘World Music.’
As Wikipedia correctly relates,
“The term … is taken as a classification of music that combines Western popular music styles with one of many genres of non-Western music that are also described as folk music or ethnic music. However, world music is not exclusively traditional folk music. It may include cutting edge pop music styles as well. Succinctly, it can be described [by those of us in the west] as “local music from out there”, or “someone else’s local music”.
Ironically the founding of what is called “World Music Day” (France, 1982) had nothing to do with this very limited – even domesticated – understanding of the world’s music, instead being a day (June 21st, the Summer Solstice) to celebrate music-making in general, which takes place in countless forms all over the globe.
The performance I’m sharing with you today was given in celebration of World Music Day in June 2016. But before I tell you anything more, go ahead and watch.
This performance of an African-American spiritual you might know, is by the J CLEF CHORALE of the University of Nigeria, Nsukka, Enugu State, Nigeria. This is a bit of a twist on a genre, isn’t it? Actual African students dressed in very traditional – almost retro-style American (although perhaps a bit more brightly coloured) uniforms, standing still and hands-clasped in performance of one of the songs of Africans enslaved in the New World. Not only is the spiritual, which focuses on shoes (which were rarely provided to slaves to discourage escape) domesticated into a standard church-choir type musicality, but it is then re-exported to be sung by the Africans whose ancestors might have been among the song’s early singers.
The music of Africa, especially in the many forms that evolved and emerged from it in North America and the Caribbean as a result of slavery, is frequently domesticated by choirs such as ours – transcribed, arranged, published, performed AND profited from by white folks like us, and it is worth wondering: do we have the right to subsume and domesticate the music of other cultures (especially those our society has oppressed)? Do modern university students in Africa who have never known slavery have more right to? What are our responsibilities to the music’s creators, to our audiences, to those facing slavery or oppression in various forms still today, indeed, to ourselves when we draw upon the beauty, complexity and infectious appeal of music from this source?
Over the next two weeks we’ll further unpack this important and interesting topic – and after that, as you might have heard recently, we will be BACK TO BIMONTHLY, IN-PERSON REHEARSALS beginning on Monday, March 7th!
Stay as safe and happy as you can! If you haven’t been for a while visit the Georgetown Choral Society website, Facebook Page and YouTube Channel – where you can subscribe to stay connected.
‘See’ you next week – take care of yourselves and those around you. Brighter days lie ahead.