"Global Folk Music" Fusions: The Reification of Transnational Relationships and the Ethics of Cross-Cultural Appropriations in Finnish Contemporary Folk Music

By Hill, Juniper | Yearbook for Traditional Music, January 1, 2007 | Go to article overview

"Global Folk Music" Fusions: The Reification of Transnational Relationships and the Ethics of Cross-Cultural Appropriations in Finnish Contemporary Folk Music


Hill, Juniper, Yearbook for Traditional Music


A Finnish fiddler trading fours with a Hindustani vocalist, Swedish herding calls soaring over a djembe and didjeridu groove, Russian refrains inserted between Finnish texts and Swedish harmonies-these are only a few examples of the transnational musical fusions and collaborations that characterize nykykansanmusiikki, or "contemporary folk music," in Finland. It is common practice for Finnish contemporary folk musicians to collaborate with foreign artists, dig for source materials in neighbouring countries, play traditional instruments from multiple cultures, market their creations as "world music from Finland," and speak of "global folk music communities."

These "cross-cultural" musical activities are a new assertion of Finnish musicians' transnational identities: Pan-Nordic, Finno-Ugric, (Western) European, and "global folk."1 These identities are understood, maintained, and expressed through relationships-relationships that are constructed and confirmed as musicians affiliate and disaffiliate with multiple cultural, ethnic, geopolitical, and affinity groups. By appropriating music, creating fusions, and collaborating with musicians from multiple countries, cultures, and ethnicities, Finnish musicians perform their ideal transnational relationships. They reify abstract ideas about their connections to different people and cultures into lived musical activities and sounds. This process of reification is akin to the "exploration, affirmation, and celebration" of relationships as described by Christopher Small (1998:183-84):

Musicking is about relationships, not so much about those which actually exist in our lives as about those that we desire to exist and long to experience ... During a musical performance ... desired relationships are brought into virtual existence so that those taking part are enabled to experience them as if they really did exist. By bringing into existence relationships that are thought of as desirable, a musical performance not only reflects those relationships but also shapes them. It teaches and inculcates the concept of those ideal relationships, or values ... In articulating those values it allows those taking part to say, to themselves, to one another and to anyone else who may be paying attention: these are our values, they are our concepts of ideal relationships, and consequently, this is who we are ... After taking part in a good and satisfying musical performance, one is able to feel that this is how the world really is, and this is how I really relate to it.

In the Finnish case, transnational relationships are not just brought into virtual existence as if they existed. Rather, at least for the musicians taking part, they are reified, or converted from abstract concepts into something that can be regarded as material and concrete, ideas transformed into tangible experiences and sound products in which Finnish musicians directly interact with and relate to music and musicians from various cultures.

The method and manner of appropriating and incorporating other musics also reify the desired nature and power dynamics of each transnational relationship. Jane Sugarman (1997), in her analysis of Prespa Albanian wedding singing, has demonstrated that aesthetic choices and performance practices can contribute to constituting and maintaining power, status, and hierarchies in relationships amongst performers and participants. In addition to live interpersonal interaction (as described by Sugarman), relationship dynamics may also be established through the manipulation of musical symbols from other cultures, such as in the appropriation of West African drums or Ingrian archive material.

In Finnish contemporary folk music, I observed six types of transnational musical activities that assert different types of relationships, each with specific status and power dynamics. 1) Long-term collaborations are used to forge contemporary alliances and egalitarian affiliations amongst Nordic musicians. …

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