Popular and Traditional Musics of Indigenous Peoples
Andrew Killick [+]
University of Sheffield
In contrast to the far-flung cultural connections of Southeast Asia and the advanced technology required to produce the precisely-tuned metallic instruments of the gamelan, indigenous peoples around the world are often regarded as culturally isolated and technologically simple. This stereotype is dispelled by considering how popular music styles like country and rap have been embraced by Native Americans and Australian Aboriginals, in each case adapting the style to suit their own concerns and identities. Thus we raise a general theme that is crucial for understanding today’s musical world: because the music people value is that which best expresses their sense of who they are, and because people around the world increasingly see themselves as modern and connected to international currents while still rooted in distinctive locales and communities, the music that is more and more in demand is music with both modern (international) and traditional (local) elements. And because these identities are constantly changing, new forms of music are constantly being created to express them, contrary to long-held fears of cultural homogenization. Returning to particular cases, the older elements in the current musical cultures of Native Americans and Australian Aboriginals are traced back as far as possible to what they might have been before contact with Europeans, revealing in particular how these musical cultures were related to their living environments and subsistence patterns. Extending that process, we consider whether the music of societies that do remain relatively isolated and technologically simple, for instance in the Amazon rainforest and Papua New Guinea, might have anything to tell us about what the earliest human music was like, on the archaeological principle of “ethnographic analogy.” But we find that even the remotest societies have some music in their repertoire that they recognize as having come from other groups, and the likelihood is that no human society has ever formed an isolated “music culture” like those imagined by some Western writers.