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BETWEEN FOLK AND POPULAR: THE LIMINAL SPACES OF THE VERNACULAR
British Forum for Ethnomusicology Annual Conference 2007

ROUND TABLE

We have invited Franco Fabbri, Bernard Lortat-Jacob, Richard Middleton and Suzel Ana Reily to write a text on the main theme of the conference: the texts will be discussed during the round table on April 20.

Here you can read them and download them as pdf. files. To go to a particular text click on the author's name:

FRANCO FABBRI
Università di Torino

The king is naked: The musicological unified field and its articulation

All music is folk music, all categories are folk categories. Leastways, one might add, I never heard of no horse making them. Categories, I mean. Zoömusicologists will probably find the famous statement by Louis Armstrong (or was it Big Bill Broonzy?) definitely anthropocentric, and neuroscientists may feel the same about my addition (or parody) about categories. But whatever we think about the horse's mind, we have to acknowledge that categorizing is a human activity grounded in our bodies, in our perception of – and relation with – our environment, including other humans, and in our memory of past experiences and projection towards the future. In short, categories are based on our bodily experience, on our relation with the community we live in, its history, its politics, its ideology. Music types, or genres, make no exception. In the West there has been in the last hundred years (and currently is) a wide consensus about the division of music (let’s forget for a minute what this word means) into three main kinds: ‘art music’, ‘folk music’, ‘popular music’. The fact that this taxonomy is widely accepted doesn’t mean that it really makes sense, even for those who seem to believe in it. First, even in the West, different names are used for the three categories in different languages, and to some respect linguistic differences account for taxonomic discrepancies (think of the usage of ‘música popular’, ‘musica popolare’ or ‘musique populaire’ in neo-latin languages). Second, even in the same language the three categories have different names, depending on the community and its ideology (‘art’, or ‘classical’, or ‘serious’ music? ‘Folk’ music or ‘traditional’ music?). Third, the taxonomy doesn’t seem to include all musics that belong to the experience of the heterogeneous community that seems to accept it. Is jazz ‘art’ music, ‘folk’ music or ‘popular’ music? Or is some jazz ‘art’, and some ‘pop’? Is blues ‘folk’? Are Indian or Arab classical musics ‘classical’, or ‘traditional’? What about ‘unpopular popular music’? What about ‘music without definitions and boundaries’ (or ‘musiques actuelles’), for which dozens of festivals exists in Europe and North America, often presenting the same musicians? This multiplicity, with its contradictions, is a gold mine for scholars willing to understand the material, social, political, ideological, historical conditions under which such taxonomies are created. Coarser (like the one we are now discussing) or finer taxonomies (like those at the base of genres and subgenres, or even at the level of a single artist’s repertoire) are equally interesting, though offering different perspectives.

But one thing is striking me. With the notable exception of a few recent conferences and round tables (including this one), and of individual essays, scholars do not seem to be interested in a critique of the dominating coarser taxonomy: not, at least, to the extent that this critique may undermine the foundations of the existing musicological disciplines, which are deeply related to that taxonomy.

It’s comprehensible, as academic power (on which the lives of individual scholars depend) is rooted in disciplinary divisions. If ethnomusicology is more a matter of method than of repertoire, why not study (recalling Blacking) the rituals of an operatic première, or the microsocial interactions in a symphony orchestra, or the role of oral transmission in ‘art’ music? Or Beethoven’s improvisations? Or Charlie Parker’s improvisations? Or the repertoires of ‘beach guitarists’? But would such an ethnomusicologist, or music anthropologist, make an academic career with similar interests, so different from the discipline’s traditional mainstream (the ambiguity of the adjective is intended)?

And would a popular music scholar acquire visibility in his or her own field (popular music studies) making research on the download of ‘classical’ music mp3 files, and discussing the ways the community of dowloaders copes with the pop-oriented tag structure currently in use? Or commenting how ‘serious’ music is broadcast on radio and tv? And would such research give him or her access to the community of historical or analytic musicologists?

I don’t need to complete the picture, for the sake of balance or political correctness, with similar examples about musicologists tout court. They are the majority, they have the academic power, most of them speak about universals and are convinced they are the people who determine which universals exist. The late nineteenth century canon removed improvisation from the practice (and study) of ‘art’ music, so improvisation simply doesn’t exist, even if there are lots of documents (textual and musical) available for research. To the extent that repertoires other than the canon exist in written form, they can be studied: again, there aren’t great career expectations for young musicologists studying Frank Zappa’s scores (and if you want to be really marginal, just deal with operetta, zarzuela or musical comedy). So, even fundamental aspects of the ‘classical’ repertoire (just think of the role of improvisation in Mozart, Beethoven, Chopin, Liszt) are not covered to pay respect to the existing taxonomy.

Of course we all know this: the king is naked. So, pretending not to see him, most of us prefer to behave schizophrenically. With one mind, we acknowledge that the boundaries of our disciplines are fuzzy, that walls are crumbling (there is even some theoretical evidence that they cannot exist!); with the other mind, we keep at safe distance from those non-existing walls. You never know: we might be injured by the crumbling!

As a few readers/listeners know, in my writings about genres and music categories I have always maintained that I was not interested in creating a new, ‘scientific’ taxonomy: the main purpose of my study has been to understand music taxonomies ‘as they are’, to see how communities organize their musical universe, and how the way it is articulated varies with the passing of time, according to the internal dialectics of communities and with changes in material and cultural conditions. I have been interested in music categories precisely as ‘folk categories’, even if some categories (or some of their aspects) may not be structured as folk categories proper (just think of genre rules articulated in laws or in aesthetic manifestoes). However, recent debates about disciplinary boundaries and their fuzziness (and the related schizophrenic attitude I described above) make me think that one possible solution – and maybe the only one – to the problems related with the historical division into three main ‘kinds of music’, and thus of music studies into three disciplines, is simply to throw it away.

My suggestion is, that it should be substituted with a much finer taxonomy of music facts or events (‘activities with or around sounds’, according to Gino Stefani: see also my definition of ‘genre’ in “A Theory of Music Genres: Two Applications”, http://www.tagg.org/others/ffabbri81a.html), covering (theoretically, and possibly) all music events on the planet. Each music event should be identifiable by a set of properties, and events with common properties could be associated into types. Musicology should be the discipline studying any of such events, though it is reasonable to assume that it should then be divided into sub-disciplines, studying certain types of events, or events that can be approached according to a specific method. So we wouldn’t throw away the baby of existing disciplines with the bath water of contradictory historical taxonomies, but we would probably discover how much of the existing musical universe was uncovered by those taxonomies/disciplines.

Of course, I’m talking about a ‘scientific’ taxonomy, based on the traditional/historical structure of property-based taxa, quite different from the way types and categories are built by the human mind in everyday life. Personally, I’m quite convinced that cognitive linguists are right when they describe the ways categories are created in our bodies and minds: I’m a devout reader of Mark Johnson’s and George Lakoff’s essays, I know that in real life we do not think of categories as slots where to put objects according to sets of properties. However, a profound understanding of how categorizing works in our minds doesn’t prohibit creating property-based taxonomies for specific purposes. The taxa of biology are still very useful in scientific study, and in actions to preserve our planet’s biodiversity, even if we have discovered that when we scream at the view of a possibly offending ‘insect’ we are not thinking in terms of arthropods and the distinct subordinate categories of insects and arachnids, but of the folk category of ‘insects’ (that apparently includes spiders).

What I envision is a (multidimensional, of course) layer of music types, that could be mapped to a separate entity, that is, the existing articulation of ‘folk categories’ or (in my terms) the way the musical universe is articulated by communities into genres. I don’t pretend that such a taxonomy (the multidimensional layer of music types) be devoid of ideology: but I believe that it would be a giant step forward to clarify and minimize the impact of ideology on disciplinary definitions.

I also think that the job can’t be accomplished by an individual, or even by a restricted group: this is a kind of genome project (nothing, or very little to do with the music enterprise with the same name) that can only be developed with the aid of the whole musicological community. Previous endeavours of creating ‘universal’ music taxonomies (see for example Charles Seeger’s “Toward a Unitary Field Theory for Musicology”, in Selected Reports, Volume 1, No. 3, Los Angeles: University of California, 1970) collapsed because of individual inclinations and tastes.

It may turn out to be a huge useless work. Or, as soon as the basic network of properties and types is laid down, we may discover that many new possibilities are open, and we may wonder how we could make without it. Yes, as Richard Middleton says, we only have to lose our (disciplinary) chains.

BERNARD LORTAT-JACOB
CNRS, Paris

What constitutes a rich field of study for ethnomusicology?

The question, which I ask, does not concern the limits/borderlines between what is viewed as ‘Traditional’ and what is called ‘Folklore’. Playing with such definitions does not really interest me. I think it more important to turn my attention to ‘the musical object for ethnomusicologists’. This has already been widely debated, but what I want to do here is to shed some new light on this debate.

The object of the study of ethnomusicology is “all the musics of the world”; it has often been said that ethnomusicology is more about method than object.

However, is it not illusory to aspire to study all the musics played by million of inhabitants living on the planet, who, in different ways, share in the happiness of performing music? Musics which moreover are constantly changing? A whole army of ethnomusicologists – if one could raise one – would have no chance of accomplishing this task. Hence the idea I am putting forward here: there now is an imperative to make choices and I would like to discuss these choices with you here.

Some of you may think that the question asked above is a little ‘politically incorrect’. In fact I am not sure that this debate can take place peacefully on the other side of the Atlantic. But it’s for this very reason that I’m interested in such a question. A question too rarely asked, and often considered when it’s already too late.

I emphasise, however, that I do not wish my position to be exaggerated. I do not want to be labelled as someone who is stating that “this musical culture is good and it must be studied” or conversely that “ this one is worth nothing, don’t go there!”.
The question I ask concerns scientific strategy. What should we study? How do we make choices? According to what criteria can we pragmatically orientate our choices? In other words: What constitutes a rich field of study for ethnomusicology?

The question is of course scientific but it is also practical: it is of interest to both academics and very young researchers – I meet them every year – who have to work on how to increase our knowledge in ethnomusicology. So, what shall we do and how shall we do it?

The question is also up to date. Should we study, as it has been suggested [Molino 2006], the music that housewives listen to in their kitchen? Or the whistling of painters while at work? This can be done as long as a cognitive approach is taken but, from the ethnomusicologist’s point of view, these suggestions are not very interesting.

Of course, that said, the responses which I bring to the table here reflect my own experiences –and therefore my own choices. By now, I am quite familiar with three or four fields, which have ‘grown inside me’ during the last years of my research activities. At a certain time during my research (40 years already!!), I had to "choose" between them. If these choices have been fruitful I owe it less to my own talent than to the people who guided me and trained my ears: I refer here to the rural, Mediterranean societies which welcomed me with great generosity. To those with whom I conceived and created some knowledge – the results have long since been published.
In order to define what I have identified as les beaux terrains (a rich field) - and I wish to apologize again for the reductive effect of this expression - I will talk about four criteria.


1. Ancestral cultures

I purposely do not use the term ‘traditional’: I consider this an overused term which has led to abuses - we are reminded of this issue by Pascal Boyer in Barricades mystérieuses. The concept of ‘tradition’ was first linked to the idea of the ‘action of transmitting’ (as is shown by the suffix –tion) but has now more or less become synonymous with ‘heritage’. This notion excludes the idea of action, as heritage is lifeless. For this reason ‘traditional’ music, when it exists, does not interest me. It interests me even less when it is ‘patrimonalised’ [cf. concept of ‘patrimonalisation’].

To be precise the ‘ancestral cultures’ which have guided my work, do not necessarily practice the cult of the ancestors. Let’s say however that they enter into a dialogue with ancestors. I would have never thought of studying cultures that do not pay respect to their dead, who do not mourn. Mourning, as we all know, is, in appearance only, a nuisance for the ethnomusicologist. When a singer is mourning… he stops singing (this also, but to a lesser extent, is true of the players, professional or semi-professional). The ethnomusicologist arrives and has to put his tape recorder away. Everywhere I have been it has been like that (among the Berbers in Morocco, the Touaregs, Sardinians, Romanians…).

So it seems that mourning is a handicap for the researcher – it represents an obstacle – but this handicap cannot be avoided and is absolutely necessary: death, and respect towards it, is an essential part of cultural life. This is an anthropological rule: rejecting or minimising the respect paid to death is the same as threatening life itself; showing respect towards death is a strong indicator of a culture’s vitality.


2. Noi cultures

What does this expression mean? In Sardinia, the pronoun ‘Us’ (Noi, in Italian) is the one, which is most often used. Every conversation, whether it is about fishing, olives, wine, sense of honour, rules of hospitality - and music of course – is always interspaced with the pronoun noi. This noi is emphasised, it always starts a sentence. Some would talk of a “Sardinian identity”. Let us say, more simply, that in Sardinia people know who they are.

Of course this noi has a variable dimension. It is the Noi, Sardi (Us , Sardinians) when one is in a foreign country, but it can also be the Noi ‘barbaricino’ which defines a micro regional entity within Sardinia. Or it can also be the Noi between members of a brotherhood in a village such as Castelsardo - Noi here concerns only about a hundred people; the pronoun can be attributed to an even smaller number of people (a greffa, a group of friends meeting for one or several evenings).

What matters here is to understand that, particularly in Sardinia, the Noi is only important as far as it is a term which is in opposition to another. It can only exist in relation to a sort of ‘non-noi’ who can be a stranger or more importantly a rival. Collective Sardinian thinking is not traditional. It is first and foremost ‘contradictional’. People always think of themselves in dual terms.

Therefore a group of dancers, singers, members of a brotherhood, etc., by its birth, brings about the birth of a rival group. Sardinian society always creates divisions (mitoses). Friendly rivalries, challenges, conflicts whether real or not, and even vendetta with homicide, are an integral part of this very fascinating society and give it dynamism.

This Noi is fundamentally political (i.e.: Maoism or Troskysm often refer to the Noi - Noi, comrades - a Noi which had disastrous consequences in history!).

But the Sardinian Noi is more democratic, it implies a copy of oneself (mitosis: a division) which in order to affirm itself, demands constant negotiation. This Noi exists through an internal fracture – like a mitosis -, it generates constant actions 1) within what I would call ‘mitosic cells’ (since one always thinks of oneself as in two parts always really or virtually sectioned) and 2) towards the exterior, the other, the one who is not oneself - in other words: the ‘stranger’.
The Noi has therefore two realities: ‘inclusive’ (us, we are together even if it takes two of us to form a single unit); ‘exclusive’ [you, the others: “try to copy us”]. And this Noi has to be always affirmed, proclaimed as if to convince oneself that it exists.

This particular social energy feeds into music, or rather the musics, of Sardinia (tenore, songs with guitar accompaniment, dance music, polyphonic choir, etc.). It exists in all the challenges contained in Sardinian society; such as horse races, rituals of all sorts, fighting games, morra, rounds of drinks in bars, etc.

Of course there are other micro-sociological factors, which generate social dynamism, but in Sardinia, these are particularly efficient, therefore Sardinia is ‘a rich field’ of studies for ethnomusicologists.


3. Uncomfortable cultures

I am not talking here about the uncomfortable situations in which the ethnomusicologist can find himself (nights without sleep, too much alcohol - which are an integral part of musical practice in northern Mediterranean countries as they are in most parts of the world). I am not talking about the taste for danger, for example, in Albania where wearing a seat belt in a car shows a lack of social skills and may cause offence to the driver!

I want to talk about a more fundamental issue, that of ‘discomfort’ so familiar to small rural Mediterranean societies and which puts them miles away from those timorous traditional and conservative societies that folklorists have imagined – probably in their own image.
Aside from work, masculinity is, organically, always in conflict with family life. Everything to do with leisure (music, having a few drinks in a bar) is not compatible with a western bourgeois way of life. However, all leisure activities (it. divertimento) represent first and foremost an intense social exercise. They create or re-create links. So that, contrary to appearances, it is a commitment to be in cumpania bedda (in good company) and to comment on the world with friends. It is difficult to give the impression that you are doing nothing when in fact everything is happening in this nothing.
To live in this kind of culture means that in fact one must reject all forms of individualism, that could consist, for instance, in renouncing to see a friend in hospital, or also to enjoy a selfish pleasure, or even to abandon the marginal satisfaction of watching television (except football which has a specific status). The most important is to remain oneself, that is to say, to be always moved by the Noi, to which I referred earlier on.


4. Voracious cultures

We often refer to ‘living cultures’ but what does this mean? As opposed to what? Are all cultures not alive?

“Voracious culture” is a lot clearer and refers to predators and big open spaces. The best example of a voracious culture is Western elitist culture, which has an extraordinary capacity to swallow everything up, in particular as far as the musics of the world are concerned. It loots them and folds them up to the size of its wallet. But this predatory capacity is not only typical of Western modern societies. Others, if not all, tend to see themselves as hegemonic and - whether they want it or not - engage in predatory in-fighting, similar to these fights that one can see on BBC wildlife programs.

Every heron knows that it can swallow a fish depending on its size, not because of its appetite but according to the chances it has of swallowing it up in one gulp. If the carp weighs more than 350 grams, the heron will not be able to swallow it up and is in danger of choking.
Musics in contact are full of carp and heron stories, and though in ethnomusicology we like to say that all musics can be assimilated and hybridised, we are well aware that many carps have killed herons and that musical cultures run the risk of disappearing by being swallowed up. As in natural selection, the ones that survive are the herons with a large throat and a supple neck. And in my opinion, these musics offer the best field of study.

This reference to a certain musical ‘vitalism’ does not solve all the problems of our field, which suffer from a trauma: not really global warming, but a kind of freezing of local traditions and a loss of self confidence. But that is another story.


The end of this presentation will consist of a few examples from different societies (South America, Martinique, High Atlas, Sardinia, Albania, etc.).
The conclusion will offer an opportunity for discussion.

Translation: Geneviève and Desi Wilkinson

RICHARD MIDDLETON
Newcastle University

Back to the Future: Folk, People, (Who)Man


Volk heisst nicht der Pöbel auf den Gassen, der singt und dichtet niemals, sondern schreit und verstümmelt. (“The people are not the mob of the streets, who never sing or compose, but shriek and mutilate.” – J.G. Herder)

The issue for discussion needs to be located first in a historical and cultural specificity, and Herder’s fierce distinction is a convenient marker of that place. The project of ethnomusicology founds itself on an ambiguity in Enlightenment anthropology, which is at the same time a political wager. Herder’s innocence is irrecoverable. But that loss is itself potent. We can hope to uncover the implicit conditions of a discursive regime that conditions, still, the terms of scholarly trade – including its utopian afterglow.

What object motivates Herder’s distinction? I would say, commodity. But of course its role has become more complex and more pervasive than in his world. The Volk/Pöbel as a whole buy and sell their own songs, chase their own tail, prostitute their own tale, consume themselves. This has long since become so taken for granted as to be invisible; commodity has the status of what, in the Hegelian language given renewed currency by Jameson and Žižek, we can call a ‘vanishing mediator’. The wheels, then, have long since come off the people’s wagon. To the extent that this regime has been spread worldwide, what started as specific has become, at least as tendency, universal. And to the extent that ethnomusicology is complicit in this process – scholarly reification the flip side of commodity fetishism – it has been a colonising force in a far deeper sense even than postcolonial critique has realised. The branding of ‘world music’, in scholarship as much as in the music industry, seals the deal.

Ethnomusicology, like musicology tout court, is, as Bohlman has told us, unavoidably a ‘political act’. It should act, then. It is, we might say, called to act; its gestures should be given, and give, voice. But to whose call will it respond? What manner of body politic will it call into being? Is it not more than time for shrieks and mutilations?

Why so? And why does Herder’s language point towards beastliness – for us, unavoidably, towards the sounds of the torture-chamber, concentration camp, farm factory, slaughter-house: industrialised meat? The question returns us to specificity, here to the anthropological project as such within which Herder finds his place. The quest of what has been called the ‘anthropological machine’ (see e.g. Giorgio Agamben’s The Open, 2004) is for the true nature of man – his species-essence, as the young Marx would call it. John Blacking’s How Musical Is Man? is the classic ethnomusicological gesture in this tradition (and it is worth adding that the ‘musicological machine’, towards which Herder also points, runs parallel to its anthropological analogue; the moral economy of ethnomusicology draws on both). But what if the Neanderthals also sang, as Stephen Mithen argues (The Singing Neanderthals, 2005)? Not to mention the other hominids. What about the great apes, whales, frogs, birds – and sirens, mermaids, angels and other mixed creatures? The search for origins is always a search for the self. The machine always ends up dissecting not so much its exotic historical and cultural object as its subject – modern man. The Lacanian ‘object voice’ – A Voice and Nothing More, as Mladen Dolar (2006) puts it, voice as such; at the limit, the shriek stuck in the throat, language mutilated beyond meaning – registers the impossible-real knowledge of the internal fractures that form this creature.

In a moment that, to many, feels post-historical, it is not difficult to identify (even, for many, to celebrate) the death of the Folk, of the People, of Man himself. But the fractures cleaving the human animal and thus traversing the field of natural philosophy animate also the social formation of the human family – the hierarchies of race, gender, class and sexuality; in a society structured in dominance ‘nature’ is always an ambivalent value, and so long as the nature of the Low, nature as low, the low as apparently natural, continue to shape these hierarchies, so long will the vernacular – the verna, enslaved but also native born – insist that there is history, still, to be lived, struggle to be waged. ‘Perhaps the body of the anthropophorous animal (the body of the slave) is the unresolved remnant that idealism leaves as an inheritance to thought (Agamben) – a disjunction marked, above all, by the manoeuvres of embodied and disembodied voice, put at issue more than ever by the machinery of technological mediation; can the object speak, sing, think? Yes: the shriek I hear is that of its protest at the mutilation of this remnant – which at the same time references a self-mutilation by the Low’s oppressive other.

The actors in this drama, within and without – within the self, within the social – return us one last time to the concrete: for in the present moment, with the ever more intense compression of ‘inside’ and ‘outside’ – for which ‘world music’ can stand as an exemplary sign – the political stakes for the subject anthropos are not separable from the fate of creation itself. The disciplinary path might run from ethnomusicology, through a ‘demo-musicology’, to – what? A science of sounding bodies? What would need to be given up to attain this goal? Chains, certainly (to adopt Marx and Engels’s formulation), here disciplinary chains (at least). But we must look beyond the purview available to nineteenth-century revolutionaries. The world, world music too, is not there to be won, for, like the Low as such, it is tired of the theatre of ownership. The price to be paid, then, lies close to home, and the fetters are those of the self – self-possession.

‘Men as a species completed their evolution thousands of years ago; but humanity as a species is just beginning its.’ (Walter Benjamin)

SUZEL ANA REILY
Queen’s University Belfast

Folk Music, Art Music, Popular Music: What do these categories mean today?

Not so long ago music research seemed to be neatly divided amongst three main fields: historical musicology, that focused primarily upon western art music; ethnomusicology, that dealt with the traditional musics of the world; and popular music studies, that investigated musical styles produced and promoted by the music industry. Today, however, the boundaries dividing these fields have become progressively more fluid, such that the arguments for abolishing them altogether are stronger than ever. If what distinguished these spheres in the past were the musical repertoires they focused upon, what is now leading to their unification is a common concern with musical processes and the ways people conceptualise and use music in their daily lives. Whilst certain processes may have been linked primarily to either art, popular, or folk music, today these specificities appeared to be disappearing. ‘Folk music’ can be heard on the stage, recorded, and sold as a commodity, thus mobilizing the music industry; ‘popular music’ hits may be sung communally around a campfire to the accompaniment of an acoustic guitar in a manner reminiscent to ‘folk music’; major stars of the ‘art music’ world now perform in ways that mimic the stars of pop or rock, commanding equally high fees. In light of this, can we still distinguish between ‘folk music’, ‘popular music’ and indeed ‘art music’? If these classifications are no longer valid, what other ways might there be of understanding contemporary musical universes and the dynamic forces through which they are articulated?

Looking Back

To approach these issues it could be useful to begin by looking at how the distinctions between art, popular and folk music came to crystallise as they did, reminding ourselves of the intellectual legacy from which they emerged.

The concept of the ‘folk’ surfaced with the raise in nationalist sentiments in the late 18th century, and it gained momentum throughout the 19th century. One of the major intellectuals to develop a discourse linking ‘the folk’ to ‘the nation’ was Johann Gottfried von Herder (1744-1803). As a consequence of the Reformation, Counter Reformation, and the Thirty Years War, by the early 18th century, Germany had become fragmented into around 1800 district courts with only tenuous links to one another. In an effort to establish a common cultural terrain capable of conferring some unity upon the region, Herder led a movement to re-awaken the lost legacy of the ‘nation’. He contended that the Germanic could only be recovered through the investigation of the expressive forms – especially the poetic forms – that still survived amongst those who embodied the ‘national soul’: that is, ‘the folk’, or the peasantry. He placed peasants in this role because he perceived their behaviour and their expressive forms to display an ‘emotional’ (or irrational?) dimension, in a marked opposition to those of the privileged, aristocratic classes; this had occurred because, living – as they did – in isolation from the developments of ‘civilization’, the peasantry had not been contaminated by the ‘rational’ values of the Enlightenment, as had the elites. It was amongst the peasantry, therefore, that the unique historical and ecological legacy of Germany had been retained.
One of Herder’s primary concerns was the disappearance of the German language amongst the elites, who were progressively turning to French. Only if Germans could be once again united by one language and confident in their sense of a common heritage could the country re-establish its place in relation to the rest of Europe. To convince the elites of the value of the German language Herder aimed to re-present it to them by demonstrating its aesthetic potential. Goethe, one of Herder’s most successful followers, led the way in showing a sceptical elite how a great German legacy could be recovered. This model of nation-building was followed by other artists in a wide range of aesthetic fields, both in Germany and the rest of Europe as well many other parts of the world. Indeed, Herder’s project came to acquire global dimensions.

In effect, Herder’s model inspired artist to draw upon the (local) national heritage held by ‘the folk’, and to reshape it to generate a national art. In other words, the local, irrational motifs of ‘the folk’ were to be transformed by the artist according to universal (rational) aesthetic principles. However, if, on one hand, the ‘irrationality’ of the expressive forms of ‘the folk’ constituted the elements that distinguished one nation from other nations, they also distinguished the peasants – all peasants – from (all) the elites, regardless of nationality. Thus, the very concept of ‘art’ could only emerge in contra-distinction to another body of expressive forms, ‘folklore’, the one of universal validity, the other of purely local relevance and intelligibility. From this opposition one of the enduring tenets distinguishing art music and other forms of ‘high art’ from folk music (and folklore generally) would evolve: art constituted that which was generated for its own sake, and was thus to be contemplated solely for its aesthetic qualities; the expressive forms of the folk, on the other hand, would always be subordinated to some immediate function, aesthetics being only of secondary concern. Folklore, therefore, could never be more than a lesser form of art, just as its creators were perceived as cultural inferiors and under-civilized.

As for the category popular music, it emerged toward the late 19th century as a way of identifying the various musical forms taking shape in urban centres. These styles seemed to fall somewhere between folk and art music, drawing in equal measure from both: more cosmopolitan than folk music, but lacking the aesthetic sophistication of art music. As urban populations grew, these styles became progressively more visible, and with the emergence of the recording technology and the radio, popular music became closely associated with the music industry. Indeed, it was its very construction as ‘commodity’ that gave popular music a negative aura. Whilst the value of folk music could be seen to reside in its ‘authenticity’, that of art music in its detachment for any commitments other than its own integrity, popular music had to be content with vulgarity if it was to gain any headway in the market.

These categories – it is worth remembering – developed in western Europe in relation to the ways in which the European musical and artistic spheres were perceived by the intelligentsia. However, there have been radical global changes that have transformed the social world and redefined economic relations throughout the region. Without doubt, in Europe the peasantry has all but disappeared; indeed, even the distinction between the rural and the urban has become increasingly meaningless, given the ease of transport and the accessibility of technological advances even in the most remote of areas. The power of the aristocracy and the oligarchy has been progressively eroded, as industry and business based in urban centres have become the primary sources of wealth. Access to education and the cost of labour have provided unprecedented opportunities for social ascent amongst rural agricultural and urban working classes, radically altering the general standard of living of the population Thus, the clear class differences that promoted marked forms of cultural segregation have been reduced, and access to a wide range of musical universes is now possible for ever larger numbers of people.

Yet, however much the world has changed, it must not be forgotten that access to economic and technological developments have been extremely unequal across the globe. If in Europe there are no longer large sectors of the population that could be classed as peasants, people whose livelihoods are linked to subsistence agricultural economies still persist in many parts of the world, particularly in the poorest regions of the world. Similarly, in such places feudal style oligarchies have also not disappeared. And western style capitalism and the individualist ideologies that support it are far from dominant throughout the globe. Thus, while the boundaries between musical universes conceptualised in class terms have been blurring in Europe, America and other prosperous regions of the world, the modes of classifying distinct musical spheres in other parts of the world may still be informed by the distribution of economic power and potential.

Critically, while in the deprived regions of the globe, many people have only limited control over their lives, in more privileged parts of the world the spheres for choices and opportunities are markedly more varied. In the western world one can choose which musical universes one wishes to participate in, and often choices are made in relation to the associations that are invoked by such seemingly out-dated categories as folk, art, and popular music. Indeed, many people continue to conceive of the world of art music (and the high arts generally) as elitist. Their prestige is certainly sustained through the heavy institutional backing they receive, with considerable funds going into supporting state orchestras, conservatories, concert halls, museums etc. The state takes on this role, seeing the high arts as vehicles to further the ‘civilizing process’, progressively elevating the ‘culture’ of the population as a whole.

As any ‘classical’ musician knows, many years of training are required of those who make art music performance their profession. Even to undertake such an endeavour requires ‘talent’, a concept, which, as John Blacking repeated noted, limits access to the performance realm. For Bourdieu, these mechanisms of exclusion ensure that the high arts continue to serve as markers of social distinction. Nonetheless, today, the world of art music is no longer the exclusive preserve of the elites, if ever it really was. Today it is possible for members of the middle and working classes to choose to engage in this aesthetic universe, and they too can display discerning tastes. Indeed, the driver of a taxi I regularly employed in Belfast spent the day driving about town listening only to ‘classical’ music; his preferred genre was opera. After discovering this musical universe somewhat late in life, he joined a community choir and started to regularly secure season tickets to the Opera House.

People can also choose to engage in musical forms commonly identified as folk music – or ‘new folk music’, as it is referred to by some. Clearly the legions of European performers of these genres are not peasants and the performances they are involved in are not ‘functionally’ linked to a peasant life style. However, in this sphere, participants can invoke the memory of a past era in which life was simpler and more communally oriented than it is in the modern world of today. Importantly, this was an era that somehow ‘we’ – our nation – lost. Thus, folk musics might be viewed as focal points for the expression of national sentiments and nostalgia for ‘our’ past, and the revival movements emerging from them have led to the invention of countless traditions aimed at restoring a sense of community in the highly competitive, commoditized and undifferentiated cosmopolitan world that we now live in.

The huge range of styles encompassed by the umbrella term ‘popular music’ provide countless alternatives through which people of all social classes and ages can construct identities and present themselves to others. There is perhaps no other musical sphere in which the forces of hybritidy and differentiation are more marked than in contemporary popular music. Styles develop by drawing on other forms, in processes that fuse the meanings and associations linked to the forms from which they borrow to generate new possibilities and choices for the presentation of self, ranging, for instance, from the more democratic and egalitarian orientations of punk to the discerning and technical artistry of metal and its countless derivatives. Ideas about what it means to be a man, a women, a teenager, a gay person, an Anglo-Indian, a Caribbean in London, and so on, can all be articulated through creative bricolage in popular idioms. And for those with concerns over the environment or the plight of people in far away places, there’s ‘world music’.

In the contemporary western world, we are not only at liberty to construct and represent ourselves through the commodities we surround ourselves with, music being for many a central element in the definition of one’s persona, we are practically compelled to do so. Our individuality – or our own personal style – is defined by the aesthetic choices we make. Our choices give us access to different sets of social circles and voluntary associations where we hope to encounter like-minded people. We have the potential, perhaps more than ever before, to be in control of who we are and how we represent ourselves to others. And we can choose simultaneously to display a discerning taste for art music in one sphere, engage in a session of traditional Irish music in other moments, and listen to a range of popular music styles from anywhere in the world on our iPods at other times. And the more cosmopolitan we become, the wider in range our musical choices are likely to become.

While the increased possibility of choice has led to an effective erosion in traditional musical categories, the conceptual associations they evoke have remained critical to the ways in which many musical choices are made. Thus, it is clearly no longer of academic interest to classify different music using these categories; instead, they might best be treated as ‘folk categories’, and as such investigated in terms of the ways in which they are informing the musical choices people are making. And remarkably, the ‘folk’ use of these categories is truly global. Indeed, they were fully operative in the ways in which people in Campanha, a small former mining town in southern Minas Gerais, Brazil, discussed the musical universe of the town. This is where, for the past decade, I have been conducting research on the town’s musical life.


Folk categories in Campanha

Since colonial times, Campanha has prided itself in its musical heritage, and one version of this story is told by the celebrated local musician, Marcello Pompeu (1885-1988), in a small booklet entitled Subsídios para a história da música da Campanha (1977). It is important to note, however, that this document makes no mention of and of the genres associated with the town's lower classes; it focuses exclusively upon the musical activities of the local elites, describing the processional bands, church choirs, orchestras, pianos, serenades and parlour dances that entertained the more prosperous sectors of Campanha during his long life.

This omission is entirely coherent with the dominant attitudes of the local elites toward the expressive forms of the town’s subaltern classes. Indeed, the social space in Campanha is marked by a strong class divide. The local elites represent themselves as ‘enlightened’ (esclarecidos) and ‘cultured’ (gente de cultura) in opposition to the lower classes, who are seen as ‘simple’ (simples) and ‘uncultured’ (gente de pouca cultura). The lower classes, on the other hand, define themselves as ‘poor’ (pobres) in opposition to the ‘rich’ (ricos) and ‘refined’ (gente fina). Viewed in terms of the criteria used in the national census, however, most members of the local elite would hardly be classed as rich, fitting more comfortably within the category of middle class, or even lower middle or upper lower class. They live primarily around the central core of the town, while the lower classes, many of whom verge on the destitute, are concentrated in peripheral neighbourhoods around the centre.

Musically this divide is made especially visible during the two major religious festivals that mark the local annual calendar: Holy Week and the Festival of Our Lady of the Rosary (October). Holy Week, as in other towns throughout Minas Gerais, is Campanha’s most prestigious festival, a legacy of the ‘baroque culture’ that developed in Minas Gerais during the 18th century as a consequence of the wealth generated by gold. Traditionally the celebrations feature the church choir, a small orchestra and the town band, but given the constraints on space, I will restrict this discussion to the choir. The choir’s repertoire for the occasion includes pieces in the ‘barroco mineiro’ style (baroque of Minas Gerais) by such eminent composers as Manoel Dias de Oliveira (c. 1735¬–1813 in São José del Rey [now Tiradentes]) and Joaquim José Emerico Lobo de Mesquita (Diamantina, 1746–1805). The most prized pieces performed during Holy Week are the two sets of motets known as the Motets of the Stations [of the Cross] (Motetos de Passos) and the Motets of [Our Lady] of Pains (Motetos de Dores), both by Manoel Dias de Oliveira. In their original form, they were set to two four-part choirs, two flutes, two French horns and bass, but in Campanha one of the choirs has been suppressed, as have the French horns, and the flute parts are played by violins.

As currently constituted, the choir, know as the Coral Campanhense (Campanha Choir), was formed in the late 1950s in an effort to ensure that the repertoire associated with Holy Week would be performed competently; since then membership has fluctuated as some members have left and others recruited to replace them. The choir members are drawn primarily from amongst the local elites, the vast majority of lighter skin colour. Furthermore, the ratio of women to men is in the region of three to one. All choir members participate on a voluntary basis, and they are involved primarily for the enjoyment they get out of singing. Even though very few of them can read music, they use sheet music, as it provides a melodic and rhythmic 'aide-memoire' and it helps them keep up with the texts, most of which are in Latin. The choir’s full Holy Week repertoire, if sung continuously omitting repeats, would lasts around six hours, all of which has been memorised over years of performance.

The population of Campanha, especially those belonging to the local elites, are proud to claim that the town was the cultural centre of the region during the gold era, and the baroque nature of the Holy Week celebrations is viewed as a testament to this. The festival, therefore, is a central marker of local identity, highlighting the town’s cultural achievements. To use Bourdieu’s terminology, the choir and its repertoire are markers of distinction circumscribing the discerning tastes of those involved.

Holy Week in Campanha is, however, now under threat due to shifts in the church’s orientation from a paternalistic stance to a preferential option for the poor. Musically, this has meant the encouragement of ‘popular’ congregational singing, giving preference to a 'modern' repertoire that is 'easy' to sing, as well as its efforts to ban the use of Latin, precisely the language used in the choir's repertoire. The shift reached Campanha in 1999, when the priest who had been in the town for over twenty years, was substituted by a new priest aligned with the so-called ‘liturgical renovation’. It was re-invigorated by the next priest, whose crusade against ‘elitisms’ within the church has been even greater. The past eight years, then, have been marked by considerable tension and debate within the parish, since many locals feel that what is at issue is nothing less than a threat to the town’s major emblems of local identity. But it is not just any identity: the musical repertoire they are now being offered by the church is seen as an offence to their aesthetic sensibilities, and understandably, such feelings are strongest amongst choir members and their families. Most of them have flatly refused to lead congregational singing at mass within the current aesthetic environment.

In effect, the modes of religiosity that have sustained the baroque experiences are now being challenged by a ‘modern’ and ‘popular’ church, headed by a clergy intent on redefining the role of the church. Consequently, some lay communities are seeing their parish roles erode. Indeed, in Campanha the Coral Campanhense is losing control over their performances, and given that they are so functionally related to the celebrations of Holy Week, the extended repertoire that was so painstakingly memorised over decades may be left with no other context in which to be performed. At least not by this choir: more and more, the main arenas in which barroco mineiro is being heard are universities and concert halls. Thus, a distinctly community-based musical universe, functionally linked to its locality, the source of considerable aesthetic satisfaction, may buckle under the onslaught of the ‘popular’ that is arriving from the outside, as dictated by a central and global ecclesiastical authority.

While Holy Week has been dominated by ensembles whose membership belong primarily to the local privileged sectors, during the Festival of the Rosary music is provided by several African-Brazilian dance and percussion ensembles known as congados, whose members come almost exclusively from the subaltern classes. As in other parts of Brazil, the troupes are associated with blacks, and a black presence is evident in most of the groups. None of them, however, exclude people on the basis of skin colour. In Campanha, blackness is as much a social as a racial category; as a social category, it is constructed through an identification of the experience of poverty with the historic subjugation of blacks in the country.

The festival is a legacy of the black confraternities of the colonial period, which served as acceptable spheres for social activities amongst slaves. The members of the confraternities elected their leaders each year, one of whom would be crowned, and to celebrate the occasion, percussion ensembles paraded through the streets. The legacy of these black courts is still evident in contemporary festivals in honour of Our lady of the Rosary, as in Campanha, where royal symbolism, in the form of crowns, sceptres and capes, is still very much a part of the congado tradition. These insignia have persisted because they ennoble those who wear them and dignify the group they represent. Furthermore, ritualized inversions call attention to social hierarchies.

In the last few years there have been from three to five active congados in Campanha at any given time, ranging in size from around twenty to fifty people or more. The groups are dominated by drums, including several large bass drums known locally as treme-terras (literally earth-quakes), various caixas (cylindrical double-headed drums) of different sizes, and a few snare drums (tarois). Other percussion instruments used include tambourines (pandeiros), reco-recos (cylindrical scrapers) and shakers. Congados are not exclusively percussion ensembles; they also employ string instruments, such as violas (five double-coursed instruments slightly smaller than guitars), guitars, bandolins (mandolin-type instruments with four double courses) and violins, as well as an accordion or two and a pair of brass instruments, such as cornets, trombones or tenor saxophones. Over the instruments short verses, rarely more than four phrases in length, are sung responsorially by two duos, firstly in parallel thirds, then in parallel sixths.

Among the local elites congados are viewed with some disdain. Indeed, I was repeatedly warned to be cautious during my research, because the social space was considered to be dangerous, a notion premised on the perception that violence and fighting occurs frequently amongst congadeiros, instigated by excessive drinking and rivalries between the groups. But they are especially feared as spaces marked by the practice of black magic, or macumba. Even during the main procession of the festival, in which the congados process through the town bearing Our Lady of the Rosary on their way to the church, the sound of their drums completely dominating the soundscape, the ensembles attract limited attention outside their own communities.

Congados have frequently been the target of suppression. Indeed, they were systematically persecuted by the church, and only the oldest members of the ensembles in Campanha can still recall being allowed to enter the church building with their instruments to salute the saint. Despite what one might expect, the ‘popular’ church seems to have chosen to ignore the congados, as their projects can’t be easily reconciled with the ‘unorthodoxies’ of ‘folk’ catholicism. Thus, as long as they remain in the streets, church authorities are happy enough to leave them to their own devices. Nonetheless, the congado’s public performance retain a carnivalesque ethos as a means of communicating to the dominant sectors that they are there solely to have some fun; they need not be feared.

The disparaging attitudes held toward congados are off-set by yet another set of local discourses. Here the ensembles are placed in the category of local folklore, which represents them as valuable repositories of local heritage and potential tourist attractions. Respected voices in Campanha claimed that ‘their’ congados should receive local support, but because they are represented as local heritage - that is, collective town property - the responsibility for supporting them is made a matter for the state, exempting the individual citizen. Although the dispensation of municipal funds is mediated by individuals through clientelistic networks, state representatives can - and do - invoke the complexities of government to distance themselves from any direct link to the funds held by government, and can thereby keep donations to a minimum. Nonetheless, in recent years the municipal government have become the major patron of the congados, taking on some of the financial responsibilities associated with the Festival of Our Lady of the Rosary: it now serves meals to the congadeiros during the festival; it provides transport for the ensembles from their neighbourhoods to the church yard; and it supplies each group with a few instruments each year.

When I asked one of the local leaders of a congado whether his activities in the ensemble could be considered folklore, he responded: Eles fala que é froclore (sic), mas pra nós é religião (“They say it’s folklore, but to us it’s religion”). This exchange took place at a ‘folklore demonstration’ organised by the local culture secretary at one of the town’s secondary school. So I pushed the issue further, and asked, if that was the case, why had he agreed to participate in the event, which clearly classed the congado as folklore. The response: Veio convidar nós pra gente poder mostrar o congado, então a gente não pode negar. O santo é de todos (“They invited us so we could show the congado, so we couldn’t refuse. The saint belongs to everyone”). This episode highlights a dilemma facing the congados: that of finding ways of securing support for their associations, which is being achieved to some extent through folklorization, and yet ensure they preserve autonomy and control over their activities.


Concluding remarks

Now that the musicological research emphasis has shifted from ‘the music’ to musical processes and the ways in which music is conceptualised, the division of labour circumscribed by the categories ‘historical musicology’, ‘ethnomusicology’, and ‘popular music studies’ seems redundant. Yet the perceptions of the musical sphere that originally established these divisions are still current in many parts of the world, informing people’s ideas about music as well as their musical choices. Although they may now appear to be little more than ‘folk’ labels, which, along with others, are scattered around music stores to assist consumers in their musical choices, their deployment can also be far more sinister, as the very legacy from which they emerged was premised on conceptions linked to the inherent value of different modes of musical expression.

While it may be self-evident to some that the complexity and sophistication of western art music is the source of its inherent value, to others its elitism and exclusiveness constitute signs of a non-democratic social orientation that needs to be resisted. While subaltern modes of musical expression might be easily romanticised and conceived as ‘the soul of the nation’ by those whose experiences are removed, be it temporarily or geographically, from the original producers, these same groups appear quite differently to those living near them, such that marks of distinctions and prejudice can be all too visible and entrenched in the modes of interaction across the divide. Popular music too can be conceived as the ‘easy’ sounds that hinder critical thinking and a ‘true’ aesthetic experience, or the sphere in which one can experience modernity and construct a sense of ‘the true self’.

In the western world, such forces as commoditisation, individualism, and cosmopolitanism may have created a social sphere in which people have a wide range of musical styles to choose from to provide a soundtrack to their lives. But in poorer parts of the world, local modes of musical life may not be strong enough to resist the onslaughter of external and global forces. In such cases people may only have the choice of accepting or rejecting the choices made for them by powerful others, and their notions about what should reach people’s ears will dictate what prevails in the sound spaces under their control. How such categories as ‘art music’, ‘folk music’ and ‘popular music’ are conceptualised may strongly impact upon how control of the public soundscape is exercised.