Colonial attitudes within Western music
I have never felt comfortable with the economic, social and cultural order that reigns over the field of ‘world music’, that makes Western artists travel to countries in the East and the South that possess rich musical traditions. They collect music, repertories and musicians from there and return to fructify this godsend in the privileged world of the well-off West, where the art market is structured in a sufficiently rational manner to allow musicians to develop their careers and live off their art. None of us find this strange. The audience in those countries rarely have the opportunity to judge the results of our work as it is almost unavailable to them. Perhaps the time has come to reverse this trend. In any case, I feel the need to do so in order to preserve the coherence and balance of my own journey as an artist and as a human being.Yesterday I asked "Could [the mass market fallacy] also explain why creativity continues to flourish in genres such as world music and jazz which have shed their mass market pretensions?" Surely it is no coincidence that my opening quote comes from one of world music's most creative forces, even if he is uncomfortable with the world music label usually attached to him?
I discovered the music of guitarist, composer and visionary Titi Robin on a visit to Paris last year and he has made several appearances On An Overgrown Path since. The quote comes from the blog about his remarkable new project Three Rivers. No music has been released yet. But I use the word 'remarkable' with confidence because Three Rivers is a remarkable and rare example of a contemporary musician putting his music where his mouth is. It also provides serious food for thought about the continuing colonial attitudes within Western music and raises important questions about the currently fashionable East meets West projects that have featured here and elsewhere.
You can read the full story of Three Rivers on Titi Robin's blog. But in brief, it is a 3 CD project based on the music of India, Turkey and Morocco. Work will take several years and each CD will be recorded in one of the three countries, with Titi Robin playing with local musicians and using local production facilities and a local record company. Each disc will be released first in the country in which it was made by the local record label. At the completion of the project Naïve, 'maison d'artistes éclectique et non conformiste' and the label to which Titi Robin is signed, will release a de luxe 3 CD set in Europe. India is the first part of the triptych and Blue Frog is the production partner in Mumbai. Titi Robin's blog provides a lot more information and videos, it is best read by starting from the bottom and reading up.
It is interesting how these paths keep crossing. Three Rivers has echoes of the 1972 journey that took Peter Brook and a troupe of actors to perform in African villages. In that opening quote Titi Robin said "I feel the need to do [this] in order to preserve the coherence and balance of my own journey as an artist and as a human being." Elsewhere in his blog he talks about listening to the song of a Kalo (gypsy from the south of France) from the San Jaume area of Perpignan. Just a couple of months back I was in that wonderful city of Perpignan. It is where Pablo Casals made many of his legendary recordings, and last week I quoted the great Catalan musician as saying "A musician is also a man". Classical music can certainly learn a lot from both Pablo Casals and Titi Robin about the importance of maintaining the balance between artist and human being.
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I can only give one example from my own experience, but the great Sri Lankan composer, the late Master Premasiri Khemasdasa (with whom I was privileged to work in the mid-90s) was a striking example of a musician from a South Asian tradition who travelled to the west (particularly East Germany and Czechoslovakia) and used his musical experiences there to rejuvenate traditional Sinhala music theatre, integrating western instruments and performance techniques and referencing Bach, Brahms, Weill and Eisler.
Khemadasa's stage works played to large audiences across rural and urban Sri Lanka; maybe not the elaborate economic model of the Western musuic industry, but (within Sri Lanka)financially successful and widely-heard by a mass audience, nonetheless.
Basic Wikipedia biog here:
I'm certain that there must be many comparable examples in non-western cultures - about which we in the west are either unaware, or (I suspect more likely) closing our ears to western influences on musical cultures that we prefer to hear as "pure" or "other" (itself a colonial mindset). We can't simply cast musical cultures as exploiter and exploited. The reality is more complex.