Saturday, May 03, 2014
And did those feet in ancient time...
'BBC Proms unveils celebration of global classical music for 2014' declares the BBC press release accompanying the infamous 'Madame Tussauds' photo of Sakari Oramo. Which is not quite true: in fact the 2014 Proms are an admirable celebration of Western classical music. Yes, there are orchestras from beyond the Western hemisphere such as the Qatar Philharmonic and the Singapore Symphony; but they are playing Tchaikovsky and Rachmaninov spiced with compositions from local composers written in the Western classical tradition. Now let's make it quite clear; I am not advocating turning the Proms into a world music festival. But that headline does reflect the colonial attitude that guitarist, composer and improviser Titi Robin sees as still prevailing in the music industry.
Titi Robin recorded the Moroccan disc of his revelatory Riverbanks trilogy in Agadir. Among the guest artists are the Berber tamawayt singer Cherifa Kersit, who featured in a 2011 post that told of the struggle of the indigenous Berbers to gain cultural recognition in contemporary Morocco. I took the header photo in Sidi Ifni which is two hours drive south of Agadir; the town was originally a Berber settlement and the main language is the Berber dialect known as Tachelhit. Montserrat Figueras and Jordi Savall have done so much to build bridges between different cultures, using music such as the Berber (Amazigh) lullaby The Moon. This traditional song, which comes from the Agadir region, was introduced to Montserrat Figueras by her longtime collaborator, the Moroccan oud virtuoso Driss el Maloumi. His own deeply moving performance of the Berber melody, from his album Makan, can be heard here.
That solipsistic headline does raise concerns about how Western classical music is being hijacked to serve colonial mindsets. The BBC's avowed celebration of "global classical music" concludes with Parry's Jerusalem, preceeded by Elgar's Land of Hope and Glory and Arne's Rule, Britannia! Now, I recognise that the Last Night of the Proms will never change: because, like Jeremy Clarkson, the event is a big earner for the BBC. But, in a tweet, a fervent supporter of the right-wing UKIP party declared 'Time to take our country back' linked to a YouTube video of the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra playing Jerusalem. ('And did those feet in ancient time/Walk upon England's mountains green...') Which, if the threat from UKIP at the forthcoming Europen parliamentary elections was not so serious, would be laughable. Because Jerusalem, far from being the product of ethnic nationalism, started life as a rallying cry for a spiritual movement formed, to quote its founder, to appeal "to the whole of humanity... Hindus, Mohammedans, Buddhists... " My account of the genesis of Hubert Parry's misunderstood syncretic anthem is here.
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