Facing the Music: Shaping Music Education from a Global Perspective

By Huib Schippers | Go to book overview

CHAPTER 2
Positioning “World Music” in Education
A Conceptual History

In the early 1930s, Martin and Osa Johnson, a couple from Kansas, traveled to
central Africa to document the lives of the pygmies in the Ituri forest. Perhaps
the greatest value of this expedition to posterity lies in the fact that
they filmed their endeavors, in the first movie with sound ever recorded in
Africa. They playfully named it
Congorilla. In addition to animal footage,
there is much focus on “the little savages” who are being measured, prodded,
and exposed to other well-intended but toe-curling experiments. One of
the highlights is a scene in which they decide to “give the boys and girls
some modern jazz.” As a probably unintended but hardly subtle symbol of
colonial superiority, the phonograph is installed on top of a traditional drum.
Osa Johnson, in full tropical gear, shows the natives how to clap their hands
and bob up and down to the music, displaying great enthusiasm but limited
sense of fluid movement. The pygmies comply politely. Martin Johnson
observes: “It was remarkable the way they quickly caught the rhythm of
our modern music; sometimes they got out of time, but they quickly came
back to it again
.”1

Apart from some documentation on the early dissemination of European music, this is likely to be one of the earliest filmed examples of music instruction that transcends cultural boundaries. It also offers an unintended ironic picture of “pioneers” in the field of cultural diversity in music education. The Johnsons are effectively “bringing back” Afro-American music (“our modern music”) to black Africans and teaching them to move to it in the rather stiff manner one tends to associate with people from colder climates. If we take this scene as a starting

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