Is world music really bourgeoisation in disguise?

EJ Moeran remained suspicious of the 'bourgeoisation' of folk, impatient with 'those who set about the teaching of folk-songs in schools, or the organising of garden fêtes etc... Well-intentioned as these efforts may be, they evolve something quite apart from the art of those who have it in their very bones, handed down from father to son'.
Nowhere is bourgeoisation more in evidence than in gypsy music, which has evolved via folk, classical, jazz and world music into something quite apart from the art of those who have it in their bones. The recording featured in my header image is a notably bourgeoisation-free zone. Titled De Sant Jaume Son - The Sound of Saint Jacques - it features musicians from the gypsy enclave of Saint Jacques in Perpignan on the Mediterranean coast near France's border with Spain. The Saint Jacques neighbourhood in the centre of the city remains almost unchanged - compare the archive photo on the CD sleeve to the one below that I took in Perpignan a few months ago. From the first track there is no doubt these Gypsies have the music in their bones, they are well served by punchy sound captured in 1991 in the Music Conservatoire in Perpignan and the download is a snip at £4.99. Have we let bourgeoisation slip in disguised as fusion, multi-culturalism and world music? Perhaps authentic performances are not such a silly tradition after all.

* My header quote comes from Electric Eden by Rob Young. This important book has slipped under the classical music radar, possibly because at first glance it appears to focus on the niche of contemporary British folk music. But that categorisation is very misleading as it roves effortlessly and eruditely from Vaughan Williams and Finzi to Fairport Convention and The Incredible String Band and onwards. The American edition of Electric Eden was published in May, let's hope it does for Bax and Ireland what The Rest is Noise did for Feldman and Cage.

* I will be in Paris on November 25th for the premiere of Titi Robin's Les Rives anti-bourgeoisation project.

De Sant Jaume Son was bought online, Electric Eden was borrowed from Norwich Library and my Paris trip is entirely self-funded. Header photo photo is (c) On An Overgrown Path 2011. Any copyrighted material on these pages is included as "fair use", for the purpose of study, review or critical analysis only, and will be removed at the request of copyright owner(s). Report broken links, missing images and errors to - overgrownpath at hotmail dot co dot uk Also on Facebook and Twitter.


Philip Amos said…
I recall well an odd experience some ten years ago when I attended an open-air fusion concert. The organizer was a guitarist I knew quite well, and I knew that he was moving in this direction because gigs were thin on the ground, and he, largely through perspicacity, thought fusion was the way to go.The line-up of the band was very large and not much was left out in the way of idioms and instruments. The last number was a full-throttle humdinger which I enjoyed immensely, but here is the point: I had this very odd sensation of having heard nothing. Everyone had their own music in the bones perhaps, but different bones, different idiom, and it did not coalesce.

Flamenco is what I know best in this context. My ex-wife and I produced Flamenco music and dance performances in British Columbia, and I wrote a good number of essays on the subject as well as programme notes. The writings must have been pretty good, for I heard recently that they caught the attention of the Chicago Lyric Opera. What we produced was Flamenco Puro with a traditional quadro. 'Puro' is the key word.

Always we had full houses, but our Artistic Director got the fusion bug and put together a group to perform jazz/Latin/Flamenco fusion. It didn't work. I must say that Flamenco Puro is nothing like the 'flamenco' customarily seen on television or other media. Flamenco is about life as experienced and inherited by the Gypsies, and once tampered with, it ceases to be Flamenco. Puro has been seen on tv in North America, but rarely. And on occasion it may be seen in theatres, as with our productions.

But theatres are not really places for Flamenco, though sometimes we did induce the ultimate experience of the Duende. Lorca wrote, "...that which has black sounds has duende...It is a power, a struggle for creation in act...The duende must be awakened in the ultimate rooms of the blood." All Flamenco Puro performances are ferocious attempts to awaken the duende, the Spirit without Name.

Much more on this in Lorca, and also the poetry of Gustavo Adolfo Becquer, notably his Espiritu sin Nombre. Becquer's poetry is a marvel. He was half-German and in his poetry combined Flamenco and the Duende with German Idealist philosophy. There is even something to be learnt from just looking at Singer Sargent's masterly painting, El Jaleo. And so, Flamenco is in the bones, indeed, and has been for seven hundred years. You cannot divorce Flamenco from its history. Jose Greco at the Palladium was compromised Flamenco, and also Flamenco ensnared in a fusion group. But an old lady in an Andalusian tavern, stamping her foot just once at a certain point in the cante -- Que Flamenco!!!
P. M. Doolan said…
Perhaps a bigger question: isn't the invention of terms like "bourgeoisation" a form of bourgeoisation?
Pliable said…
Re. 'bourgeoisation'.

If EJ Moeran used it I am happy to quote it.

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