Magazine article UNESCO Courier

A World of Music

Magazine article UNESCO Courier

A World of Music

Article excerpt

CIVILIZATIONS have always Influenced and enriched one another culturally through borrowing, osmosis and acculturation. With the development of intercontinental communications networks and the audiovisual media, the speed at which these processes take place is accelerating at a tremendous rate. Music, a source of enjoyment which transcends linguistic barriers, is one of the more positive aspects of these exchanges.

As early as the eighth century, one of the farthest-reaching currents of musical crossfertilization was making its way around the globe. Indian music travelled to Central Asia, Iran and Afghanistan, and also to the Middle East, where it influenced Arab music. Arab music in turn spread throughout North Africa to Spain, where it gave rise to flamenco, then after the expulsion of the Arabs from the Iberian peninsula, back down to North Africa, where "Andaluslan" music was born.

Nevertheless, until colonial expansion and the slave trade turned the world music order upside down, musical traditions remained fairly localized, centred on a village, a tribal group, or a region, and varying from place to place in much the same way as regional dialects, dress or cooking.

Music has had clearly defined social and ritual functions since very early times. In some cultures it remained the exclusive domain of certain individuals or groups. Among the Wolof and Malinke peoples of West Africa, the griots were the sole repositories of music, of genealogies, and of the oral tradition, which they transmitted from generation to generation. Griots were even obliged to marry within their own group.

Many young griots today, however, perform in modern settings and use such instruments as saxophones and electric guitars. In Senegal this mixture of traditional rhythms and pop music has resulted in a new musical style called mbalax.

In japan some musical instruments are still associated exclusively with specific professions. They include the gelsha's shamisen and the biwa, which is played only by blind bards. At the same time, the japanese are great consumers of Western music, and in particular of French popular songs.

When, at the beginning of the sixteenth century, the Portuguese and other European colonists established themselves in Africa and began exporting thousands of black slaves to the Americas, an entirely new genre, "creole" music, was born. Portuguese-influenced music from Cape Verde, Mozambique and Angola, and then Afro-Cuban, Afro-Brazilian, Caribbean and AfroAmerican music developed. Instruments of African origin such as bongos, congas, timbals, claves (rhythmsticks) and maracas, began to be used, notably in Cuba, and new musical forms such as son, son montuno, bolero, guaracha and rumba gradually emerged.

From tango to rock

In the 1920s, jazz, which had emerged as a hybrid of Afro-American and European music and had become associated with Art Nouveau and Modernism, blew a wind of freedom over America and Europe. It imposed its black aesthetic on white culture and became one of the most important forms of popular music of the twentieth century. It influenced and inspired composers such as Gershwin and Debussy, and painters such as Matisse and Mondrian. In the same way, the tango, a blend of Bantu rhythms and Argentine expressionism, then the rumba in the 1930s, mambo in the 1940s, cha-cha-cha and rock n' roll in the 1950s, all Afro-American creations, gained world-wide popularity.

Black music is still the common denominator (though not the only one) of most popular music today. Funk, disco, soul, rap, rock, reggae, samba, bossa nova, soca, Afro-beat, juju, highlife and zouk all have African roots to some extent. In France, Georges Moustaki, Claude Nougaro and Bernard Lavilliers are enthusiastically exploring Afro-Brazilian rhythms, and Nana Mouskouri is branching out into gospel singing. In the United States, Paul Simon has made a recent album with Cameroonian and Brazilian musicians, and in japan Ryuiji Sakamoto has called on the Senegalese singer Youssou N'Dour to bring a little warmth to his rather precise instrumentation. …

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