Tuesday, August 28, 2007

82. Back

OK, finally, after a really nice vacation visiting with friends and family, and a suitable period of recovery, I'm back. There are several projects I'm currently working on: a revival of the Cantometric teaching system, on which I'm working as a consultant/editor; an essay focused on an in-depth music-theoretic comparison of Pygmy and Bushmen vocalizing -- in part a response to Furniss and Olivier (see some of my earlier posts), but also a demonstration of how remarkably similar the two traditions actually are, not only stylistically, but also in terms of some of the most basic elements of musical organization and structure; and an ongoing collaboration with one of the leading figures in genetic anthropology, Sarah Tishkoff, of the University of Maryland, and her associate Floyd Reed -- a comparison of genetic, linguistic and musical evidence in Sub-Saharan Africa. So I hope you'll understand if I won't be maintaining this Blog as regularly as in the past.

Nevertheless, there are some important topics I am planning to cover here, foremost among them the issue, raised by the Kalahari Debate, of indigeneity, what it means and how it effects "us" -- i.e., all of us now living on this planet. And a closely related topic, "Cultural Equity," a phrase coined by Alan Lomax, who founded the "Association for Cultural Equity" in 1983 as part of an effort to link his research on performance style (of which Cantometrics was only one part) with his long term devotion to advocacy on behalf of traditional and minority peoples and their cultures all across the globe. I'll be saying more about Alan's work in this area in future posts, but for now I want to share an especially eloquent statement by him, from his essay "Appeal for Cultural Equity," as published in the Journal of Communication (spring 1977 vol. 27:2). Please read this with great care, as it's even more relevant now than when it was written:

A grey‑out is in progress which, if it continues unchecked, will fill our human skies with the smog of the phoney and cut the families of men off from a vision of their own cultural constellations. A mismanaged, over‑centralized electronic communica­tion system is imposing a few standardized, mass‑produced and cheapened cultures everywhere. The danger inherent in the process is clear. Its folly, its unwanted waste is nowhere more evident than in the field of music. What is happening to the varied musics of mankind is symptomatic of the swift destruction of culture patterns all over the planet.

One can already sense the oppressive dullness and psychic distress of those areas where centralized music industries, exploiting the star system and con­trolling the communication system, put the local musician out of work and silence folk song, tribal ritual, local popular festivities and regional culture. It is ironic to note that during this century, when folklorists and musicologists were studying the varied traditions of the peoples of the earth, their rate of dis­appearance accelerated. This worries us all, but we have grown so accustomed to the dismal view of the carcasses of dead or dying cultures on the human landscape, that we have learned to dismiss this pollution of the human environ­ment as inevitable, and even sensible, since it is wrongly assumed that the weak and unfit among musics and cultures are eliminated in this way. The same rationale holds that war is a necessary evil, since it disposes of weaker nations and surplus populations,

Not only is such a doctrine anti‑human; it is very bad science. It is false Darwinism applied to culture‑especially to its expressive systems, such as music, language and art. Scientific study of cultures, notably of their languages and their musics, shows that all are equally expressive and equally communicat­ive, even though they may symbolize technologies of different levels. In them­selves these symbolic systems are equally valuable: first, because they enrich the lives of the culture or people who employ them and whose psychic balance is threatened when they are destroyed or impoverished; second, because each communicative system (whether verbal, Visual, musical, or even culinary) holds important discoveries about the natural and human environment; and third, because each is a treasure of unknown potential, a collective creation in which some branch of the human species invested its genius across the centuries.

With the disappearance of each of these systems, the human species not only loses a way of viewing, thinking, and feeling but also a way of adjusting to some zone on the planet which fits it and makes it livable; not only that, but we throw away a system of interaction, of fantasy and symbolizing which, in the future, the human race may sorely need. The only way to halt this degradation of man's culture is to commit ourselves to the principle of cultural equity, as we have committed ourselves to the principles of political, social, and economic justice.

These concerns will be the focus of the next post, which is currently being planned as a collaboration. More on this next time.

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