Friday, August 31, 2007

83. Cultural Equity

As I mentioned last time, I'm planning at least one post, or maybe a series, as a collaboration. The idea was to do some writing on cultural equity and then hand the result over to my collaborator (who will remain a mystery man for now). The problem is that, as usual, I've gotten involved in a long argument that needs a bit more elaboration before my collaborator can be expected to sink his teeth into it with any degree of relish, and contribute meaningfully from his own area of expertise: indigenous rights. So please excuse this non-collaborative post, which will eventually, I hope, morph into the promised collaboration.

As I mentioned in the previous post, Alan Lomax founded the Association for Cultural Equity in 1983. In 1996, after he suffered two debilitating strokes, his daughter, Dr. Anna Lomax Wood, took over the helm and has very devotedly and capably directed it since. For more on this still very active organization, with which I’ve been associated for the last few years, I urge you to check out their remarkably rich and impressive website: Here is an excerpt from their mission statement:

ACE’s mission is to facilitate cultural equity through cultural feedback, the lifelong goal that inspired Alan Lomax’s career and for which the Library of Congress called him a Living Legend. Cultural feedback is an approach to research and public use that provides equity for the people whose music and oral traditions were until recently unrecorded and unrecognized. Cultural equity is the end result of collecting, archiving, repatriating and revitalizing the full range and diversity of the expressive traditions of the world’s people . . .
While Lomax saw cultural equity in terms of justice and equality, I wonder whether he also considered that other meaning of the term “equity,” the one that’s used when we invest in a stock. As he had strong socialist sympathies, this notion, with its capitalist overtones, may not have appealed to him. But aren’t the traditions Lomax championed a kind of equity in that sense as well, as a sort of “common stock” in which our ancestors have been investing since the dawn of humanity, and in which we all share an interest? In that case, what’s at stake is not only a matter of fairness, equal justice for all modes of cultural expression, as important as that surely is, but the preservation of a common heritage, that infinitely precious cultural “equity” of incalculable value to every living human being. As Lomax implies several times in his essay, there is a strong analogy at work linking our efforts to preserve the natural environment, all but universally applauded, with the need for similar efforts on the cultural front, equally important for the well being of our human environment, but unfortunately far less well understood.

If the revisionists of the Kalahari debate are right, then there is no such “equity” to be preserved. If, in the words of Wilmsen and Denbow, “'Bushmen' and 'San' are invented categories and 'Kalahari foragers' an ethnographic reification”; if, as now seems the prevailing ideology among all suitably “postmodern” anthropologists, there is no such thing as “indigenous peoples” at all; if, in fact, the whole idea of culture itself must be understood as an unfortunate illusion, a social construct of dubious value; then what we really have is a relentless process akin, as Lomax suggests, to social Darwinism, in which, since the beginning of life itself, the weakest must inevitably give way to the strongest with the result that only the strongest will survive, to the benefit of all future life forms.

This does indeed seem to have become the prevailing ideology in the field of ethnomusicology, which now sees music as subject to processes of continual change, in force from time immemorial, through which all those traditional forms so beloved by misguided “purists” must inevitably, as has always been the case, give way to those innovations which prove most successful among later generations. To give one example out of a great many that could be cited, here is Michelle Kisliuk’s response to Lomax, from her book on the music of the Aka Pygmies, Sieze the Dance: “Despite Lomax’s good intentions . . . , a study of aesthetics not grounded in lived moments, in the agency of real people, and positioned in terms of the biases of particular researchers, inevitably risks reifying what is by nature specific and ever-changing” (p. 147).

What gives the game away in this case is the word “nature.” All the formidable evidence marshaled by Lomax (and so many others) in support of the notion that certain things may indeed have remained essentially unchanged over countless generations is discounted, and an untested assumption elevated into an eternal truth, by the authority of nature itself! Since “nature” has decreed that all things are “specific and ever-changing,” then all attempts at generalization can be dismissed as “reifications,” continual change from one musical style to another is “only natural,” and thus it is a mistake to argue for either indigenous rights or the preservation of musical traditions. Of course Kisliuk doesn’t really believe all that, as is clear from just about every page of her excellent book, where she continually marvels at the strength and beauty of Aka traditions and defends their indigenous music and belief system against the inroads of over-zealous missionaries: “But the sounds coming at me – loud, forced, unison voices with banging drums – finally so appalled me that I had to escape” (p. 155).

A similar problem was encountered by a man for whom I have always had infinite respect, my beloved teacher and mentor, the late David McAllester, whose essay “The Astonished Ethno-Muse” (Ethnomusicology, vol. 23, no. 2, 1979), a paean to the “one great constant in human culture – which is change,” was especially influential in turning the ideological tide of musical ethnology. McAllester woke up one day to realize that the Navaho people, in whose traditions he’d immersed himself, had, for the last twenty years, been ignoring these traditions in favor of the likes of Waylon Jennings and Don Williams. Country and Western, along with Rock, had become as popular among the Navaho as in the nation at large. A trip to Australia, where “Country and Western is the current popular music of both urban Aboriginals and those on the reserves,” confirmed the revelation. This quickly led to another “awakening,” the realization that “all music is ethnic music . . . We are so captivated by the panpipes in the hawthorns that we hardly hear the music on the TV show in the living room.”

McAllester’s call for a new kind of awareness among ethnomusicologists made a great deal of sense at a time when the field was indeed getting all too bogged down in a narrow and ultimately self defeating absorption in the minutiae of the esoteric and remote at the expense of that which was current, lively and popular, yet all too easily – and unfairly -- taken for granted by the scholarly world. Nevertheless, his core argument comes dangerously close to exactly what Lomax had warned against -- social Darwinism:

After all our impulses to cherish and protect, we should realize that human culture is not a flower with fragile petals ready to drop at the first frosty touch of a new idea. Culture is more like an irresistible plague, pandemic to humankind. New ideas are the food it feeds on, and these can no more be stopped than the perpetuation of life itself (p. 181).
But what if certain specific cultures were in fact fragile flowers, which were indeed dropping at the “frosty touch” of new, more popular, and more powerfully connected, ideas? I wonder whether David really thought through the consequences of what he was writing here, because the Navaho traditions that meant so much to him were in fact, along with so many other, equally fragile, yet important, traditions, dropping to the ground all too quickly, as he himself cheerfully reports. Was that really his point, that the demise of certain traditions doesn’t really matter, because something he refers to as “culture” (talk about a reification!) is healthy enough to roll over all such impediments and ruthlessly (“like an irresistible plague”) perpetuate itself through some variant of Darwin’s basic principle: survival of the fittest?

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.

Wednesday, August 8, 2007

81. Taking a break

I'll be out of town for a week or so, taking a hard earned break from my blog madness. I'll have access to computers, so if anyone wants to email me, please feel free. I might even post here from time to time, but nothing extensive I don't think.



Tuesday, August 7, 2007

80. The Power of Cantometrics: 5

Let's now examine the table presented at the end of the last post, on the distribution of interlock and yodel in Africa. Again, I'll remind you to right-click and select "Open in New Window." Those of you who peeked at this yesterday will notice that it's been expanded, as I decided to take as close a look at those groups who do not fit the pattern as those who do.

You'll notice that the Pygmy groups have been divided in two, with the great majority on the first row and only a small 4 song sample from the so-called "Twa" Pygmies in the second. Actually the word "Twa" is misleading as various Pygmy groups have been given that name by various people at various times. What I'm referring to are the "Twa" of Rwanda, who, in the relatively small sample I've been able to find for them, show no signs of either interlock or yodel. They are the only Pygmy group whose music I've heard who (apparently) do not vocalize in this manner.

Not only do all the other Pygmy groups in the sample employ interlock, but, as should be evident from row 1, this mode of group vocalization would seem to predominate (68%). The Ju'hoansi (aka !Kung) Bushmen are also coded with interlock in the great majority of cases (71%). As with the Pygmies, however, not all Bushmen groups vocalize in this manner. I've already discussed the Khwe group (||Anikhwe) included in the sample, who seem to have assimilated to at least some extent with neighboring Bantus, and sing in typically Bantu "call and response" style.

The Mikea and Wayto (or Weyto) each have a row of their own, as it's not clear to me where they belong. Both are hunter-gatherers, but neither is classed with either Pygmies or Bushmen. As you can see, both groups have been coded with interlock (50%), though the Wayto sample is too small to properly assess. Interlock has not been coded for any of the other hunter-gatherer groups in our sample (El Molo, Hadza and Sandawe), though only the Hadza sample is really adequate to date.

The first seven rows represent hunter-gatherers exclusively. The last two enable us to assess the degree to which interlocked vocalizing (and yodel) is found among all other Sub-Saharan groups sampled. As can be seen in row eight, from a total of 873 songs, only 88, or 10%, employ interlock. Row nine represents a subset of the above, all songs from all such groups with at least one instance of interlock. These are the non-hunter/gatherer groups included, in either red or blue, on the map labeled "Interlock & Yodel in Africa" (see previous post). Here we see an important difference between these groups and (nonassimilated) Pygmies and (Ju'hoansi) Bushmen, because interlock is found only 34% of the time among the former, but 68% and 71% respectively among the latter.

Now let's turn to a consideration of yodel, another highly distinctive and also quite rare, mode of vocalizing. It's found among (mainstream) Pygmies 57% and Ju'hoansi 71% of the time, just about as common as interlock in both groups, and 50% among the Mikea -- but not at all among the Wayto, Twa or Khwe groups, nor any of the other hunter-gatherers. (I must add that yodelling has not been found among the Bedzan, the only Pygmy group in our sample, aside from the "Twa," which lacks this very distinctive and characteristic vocal device, suggesting something unusual in their history that warrants further examination.) From rows eight and nine we see that yodel is found in only 5% of our non-hunter/gatherer groups and not much more, 9%, among all such groups using interlock. Clearly, the use of both interlock and yodel is characteristic of most Pygmy and Bushmen vocalizing, yet rare in either Africa or anywhere else.

In post 76, I wrote:
it's not enough to simply identify similarities between one group and another. To establish that such similarities are meaningful, one must also identify significant differences between these groups and all others, then look for patterns based on both. This is where the method Lomax called "Cantometrics" comes in and why it is so important. Using Cantometrics we can search not only for similarities but also differences, seeking out patterns of all sorts, from the strictly local to the most wide ranging, encompassing vocal styles from all over the world.
This is exactly what I've been doing in these last two posts. We can learn only so much from informal listening, as we have no way of knowing about all the many examples we haven't heard, and whether they would be similar to or different from the few we have. Working ones way through the literature isn't much better, because it's all too easy to get lost in all the details and too difficult to keep track of what goes with what and what doesn't. It may seem all too obvious to suggest that some sort of methodology, either Cantometrics or something similar, is needed for meaningful comparisons to be drawn, but the sad truth is that Cantometrics has been rejected and no other methodology has emerged to replace it. I won't comment further on the current state of ethnomusicology in this post.

By using various types of relatively simple, easily understandable statistics, drawn from the Cantometrics database, to assess both similarities and differences, using both the worldwide and African samples, we have been more objectively able, thanks to the power of Cantometrics, to support the claim that there is indeed something very special and unusual about the musical traditions of the Pygmies and Bushmen of Africa.

Monday, August 6, 2007

79. The Power of Cantometrics: 4

At this point, you should have a pretty good idea of how Cantometrics works. Now I'd like to show you how the encoded data can be put to use. Since I've recently been posting on the special connection between Pygmy and Bushmen music, with reference to the Kalahari debate, let's use the database to take a closer look at how two especially distinctive and characteristic features of both traditions, interlock and yodel, are distributed worldwide.

The results for Interlock are presented on this table, broken down according to area. (Those areas where no interlocked performances were coded are not included in the list.) I suggest right clicking on the above link and choosing "Open in New Window," so you can examine the list and continue reading here. The leftmost column lists area names, the middle column total sample size for each area, and the rightmost column the percentage of interlocked performances from each sample. "African Gatherers," a little more than halfway down the list, has by far the highest percentage: 57.78%. Interestingly, the next highest area is among native Americans in California, where 30.56% percent of the sample is coded as interlock, thanks largely to a very unusual tradition of interlocked vocalizing among the Hupa. Such a practice is not at all typical for native Americans north of Mexico, but not uncommon among the Inuit, far to the north, as well as the Ainu of Japan. (See my comments on "shouted hocket," below.) Next highest is 28.8% for the Horn of Africa, largely due to the many unusual tribal groups in southwest Ethiopia who sing in a type of interlocked polyphony very similar to that of Pygmies and Bushmen (though mostly without yodel), as discussed below. No other area is represented by more than 17%. I've already written a fair amount regarding interlock as part of an "African signature" found among various indigenous groups worldwide, so it isn't surprising to see it cropping up in areas like Melanesia, Indonesia, South America, etc., as well as various parts of Africa, as already discussed. Nevertheless, what remains especially important with respect to the interpretation offered here of the Kalahari debate, is the extraordinarily high percentage of interlock among African Gatherers.

Let's take a look at a very similar table, depicting the world distribution of yodel. Again, the African Gatherer sample stands out, at 52.22%. No other area is represented by much more than 13%.

Now that we have some idea where interlock and yodel would seem to fit in the world picture, let's return our attention to Africa, taking another look at a Cantometric-based map I presented in an earlier post, indicating the distribution of interlock and yodel on that continent.

While the map shows us where interlock, both by itself and combined with yodel, can be found, it's somewhat misleading, because, even if only one instance of interlock (or interlock + yodel) was found in a particular sample, that group was included.

Here's a table that provides much more detailed information on the distribution of both interlock and yodel in Africa. I'll let you ponder this on your own for now, but promise to discuss it in some detail in my next post.

Sunday, August 5, 2007

78. The Power of Cantometrics: 3

I'll now describe two more Cantometric parameters, lines 4 and 5, each of which present somewhat different problems. Line 4, labeled "Vocal Org." or "Vocal Organization," asks the coder to choose between five basic modes of musical presentation in the voice(s): 0 (with a slash through it) for Uncoordinated, M for monophony, U for Unison, H for Heterophony and P for Polyphony -- numbered 1, 4, 7, 10 and 13 respectively. As with the first line, on those rare occasions where a purely instrumental performance is being encoded, slash/0 is treated as a null case. Otherwise, it is coded when two or more singers are performing independently from one another, in an uncoordinated manner. Monophony is coded when only one vocalist is heard at a time, singing one note at a time. Unison is coded when a group of singers perform the same melody "in unison," i.e., all in the same rhythm, and with no harmonization. Heterophony is coded when all singers are singing essentially the same melody but not in unison, i.e., with some coming in a bit later than others, to produce a kind of staggered effect -- or some voices more active or ornamented than others, etc. Polyphony is coded when there is a relatively consistent use of multipart singing, i.e., where at least two different pitches (other than octaves) are heard at once. This can be either "chordal," with two different notes sung simultaneously counting as a "chord," or "contrapuntal," where at least two different parts are sung with independent rhythms. (The various types of polyphonic singing are coded on line 22.)

Line 5 is labeled Tonal Blend-V, i.e., Tonal Blend-Voices. Unlike lines 1 and 4, this is a scaled variable, where the coder is asked to rate the relative degree of vocal blend on a 5 point scale. Point 1 is the null case, when there are either no vocalists at all (very rare), or no vocal group -- i.e., monophony (see above). Point 4, "b," indicates minimal blend, where there is no attempt by the singers to match one another's voices, resulting in a harsh effect. Point 7, "b" underlined, stands for "medium" blend. Point 10, "B," stands for "good" blend and point 13, "B" underlined, is "maximal" blend.

Line 5 is an example of the sort of rating often criticized as overly "subjective," and also "ethnocentric," so I'd like to say a few words regarding both issues. It should go without saying that what one person may hear as "harsh" blend, another may hear as "medium" or even "good." And this might, indeed, reflect the rater's own cultural background. All raters are therefore prepared, as part of the training process, by being asked to listen to a great many examples of different types of vocal groups, blending in a variety of ways, so they will get a feel for the overall range of possibilities, worldwide -- a process intended to serve as a counterbalance to any biases they might have had previously with respect to any of the Cantometric parameters.

Raters are asked to rate blend on a relative, not absolute basis, depending on where any given performance seems to fall within the above mentioned range. The terms "minimal," "maximal," "harsh," "good," etc. are intended as general guidelines, not absolutes. While terms like "harsh" and "good" may seem judgmental and potentially ethnocentric, they are simply the most convenient and straightforward terms we have for describing various degrees of blend. It's important to understand that in certain cultural settings what we would call "harsh" blend is regarded as good, in the sense that it is what is expected in a particular tradition. All musical traditions are assumed, in the context of the social sciences, to be based on what is considered good and proper within their traditional setting.

Scales of this kind are routinely used in similar types of rating system in the social sciences generally, and have proven reasonably accurate in a wide variety of different types of research. In an independent consensus test conducted under the supervision of Norman Markel, at the University of Florida (see Chapter Five, of Folk Song Style and Culture), Tonal Blend achieved a reliability rating of 92%, indicating that different raters from different backgrounds can indeed, when properly prepared, achieve a significant degree of consistency. The mean reliability for all 13 Cantometric parameters tested was 84.7%. Subsequent consensus tests have produced similarly impressive results.

Saturday, August 4, 2007

77. The Power of Cantometrics: 2

This is what a Cantometrics coding sheet looks like:

If you click on it you'll see an enlarged version you can actually read. Better still, right click and select "Open in a New Window," so you can go back and forth between this text and the coding sheet.

The leftmost column contains the numbers and labels for each line. The area on the right contains mnemonic symbols representing each of the traits from which the coder will choose. The area in the middle contains the numeric equivalent for each symbol. For each line, the coder circles each relevant symbol and its equivalent number. The number is what is entered into the computer.

To give you an idea of the how the system works, I'll take you on a tour of the first line, "Vocal Gp." or "Vocal Group," which encodes various ways in which the vocal group can be organized. I'll take you briefly through this line for now, but to actually encode this or any other line properly you'll need the coding book, which provides full explanations and instructions. A copy of the coding book was published as Chapter 3 in Lomax et al., Folk Song Style and Culture (AAAS 88, 1968, pp. 34-74), still available as a paperback from

The first symbol on the left represents the null case, i.e., no vocalizing at all. Since Cantometrics was designed to encode vocal music this point was very rarely coded, but occasionally we wanted to encode a purely instrumental performance. Point 2, an L with an N under it, signifies a solo performance with no group. (L was the symbol chosen for a single individual, and N for a group.) Point 3 originally referred to a solo performance with an audibly responding audience, but since this aspect proved impractical, it was quickly discarded and should be ignored. Point 4, symbolized as -L, refers to alternating solo singers. Points 5 and 6, L/N and N/L, stand for what we called "social unison," where all performers sing together in the same rhythm, either in harmony (as in a hymn) or unison. Point 5 is coded when a leader's voice is prominent over all the others and point 6 is coded when no one voice stands out. Point 7, L//N with N//L under it stands for what we called "heterogeneous group" singing, a situation where the singers appear to be discoordinated, either singing totally different things at the same time or the same thing with no apparent coordination. Point 8, L+N, signifies a type of "call and response" or "leader- group" antiphony in which there is no overlap between the solo part and the responding group. Point 9, N+N, is the same as point 8, but between two groups. Points 10 and 11, L(N and N(L, encode solo-group call and response as in 8, but this time with overlap between the "leader" and the "chorus." We code on point 10 when the solo part seems more prominent and on point 11 when the group seems more prominent. Point 13, an underlined W, was originally two overlapping N's, an attempt on our part to symbolize interlocking, which this point represents. W was chosen because it looked to us like the overlapping N's and was much easier to get printed. Point 13 represents a situation where the various parts are interwoven or interlocked, rather than simply alternating, as in points 8-12.

Doubtless there are other ways in which vocal groups can, in theory, be organized -- but these were the basic types we found coming up over and over again as we made our way through a great many recordings from all over the world when the system was being planned. In retrospect, I think we did a good job of accounting for the vast majority of cases actually in use among the great majority of traditional peoples (though clearly not for classical Western music, which can be far more complex). There will, of course, be situations where more than one trait on each line may be equally applicable. For example, you might have a situation where a performance begins with solo-chorus alternation, but ends with interlock; or where an interlocking chorus alternates with a solo voice, etc. In such cases, it is permissible to "double code" or even "triple code" for all relevant cases. While this is not an ideal solution, an attempt to account separately for every single possible permutation of all cases would have made the system completely unwieldy.

Which brings me to what I consider one of the great virtues of Cantometrics, it's acceptance of crude and in some cases ambiguous distinctions. It's only by "glossing over" certain things that traditional musicologists had attempted to fully account for, that we were able to create a widely applicable and practical system for broad-based comparative research.

Thursday, August 2, 2007

76. The Power of Cantometrics: 1

Still not convinced? I can't blame you. Because it's not enough to simply identify similarities between one group and another. To establish that such similarities are meaningful, one must also identify significant differences between these groups and all others, then look for patterns based on both. This is where the method Lomax called "Cantometrics" comes in and why it is so important. Using Cantometrics we can search not only for similarities but also differences, seeking out patterns of all sorts, from the strictly local to the most wide ranging, encompassing vocal styles from all over the world.

In future posts I plan to explain how Cantometrics works, how performances are "coded," how the codings are put together into a database, how the data can be queried -- and how a statistical analysis of the data can help us evaluate similarities such as the ones I've been pointing to in the last few posts. Don't be afraid. I'm not a statistician either, so none of this is going to be all that technical.

Many questions have been raised in the past regarding the validity of both Cantometrics and many of the conclusions Lomax reached based on it. There's no need to deal with the latter issue here, that's a whole other story for another day. In my view, the methodology per se is, despite some weaknesses, a viable, reasonably consistent, and indeed powerful tool for systematic research in comparative musicology. And that is as true today as it was back in the Sixties when we created it. Very sadly, and for a variety of reasons, some good, some terrible, both Cantometrics and Lomax were soundly rejected by most ethnomusicologists, to the point that few today are willing to consider it at all.

I could write a lot more on this history, to which I've already alluded a few times on this blog. But for now, I'll share with you an article in which I respond to some very insightful criticisms of Cantometrics by folklorist Fred McCormick, as published in the remarkable online journal, Musical Traditions (which anyone interested in traditional music should be aware of): Cantometrics:Song and Social Structure -- A Response.

Wednesday, August 1, 2007

75. The Power of Music -- 3. The Kalahari Debate Resolved

What the genetic evidence does to establish a genealogical "pedigree" for Kalahari Bushmen, the musical evidence would appear to do for their cultural "pedigree." In both cases, the roots may go very deep indeed, perhaps all the way back to the original band of "first people." There is a difference, of course. The genetic conclusions are supported by a large consensus of recognized authorities, while there is no such consensus supporting the musical conclusions -- possibly because there are no longer any "recognized authorities" in an area of musicology all but abandoned many years ago.

It would be nice to say that the musical evidence is too new for a consensus to have formed, but in fact it is not new at all, antedating the genetic evidence by several years. It would also be nice if I could claim priority in resolving the Kalahari impasse with such evidence. But there never should have been an impasse or even a debate in the first place, since the musical evidence was already there for all to see -- and hear -- long before the debate got going. Distinguished figures in ethnomusicology, Gilbert Rouget, Alan Lomax and Charlotte Frisbie, published their Pygmy-Bushmen comparisons during the period 1956 to 1971. Lomax pointed to the unity of Pygmy/Bushmen style in several publications, beginning in the mid-Fifties, backing his assertions up with solid statistical results drawn from his Cantometrics research. While working as Lomax's assistant, I published a Cantometric study of my own, in 1965, arriving at more or less the same conclusion via a different statistical route. The musical evidence was not exactly ignored by the anthropologists -- it was invisible to them. If you want to know why, take another look at posts 2, 3 and 8 below.

What is new is a particularly meaningful fit between the musical evidence, the genetics, and the "traditionalist" position in the Kalahari debate. In a by now classic study of African genetics, "mtDNA Variation in the South African Kung and Khwe" (Am. J. Hum. Genet. 66:1362–1383, 2000), Yu-Sheng Chen et al. reported the following results:
Besides revealing the significant substructure of macrohaplogroup L* in African populations, these data showed that the Biaka Pygmies have one of the most ancient RFLP sublineages observed in African mtDNA and, thus, that they could represent one of the oldest human populations. In addition, the Kung exhibited a set of related haplotypes that were positioned closest to the root of the human mtDNA phylogeny, suggesting that they, too, represent one of the most ancient African populations. Comparison of Kung and Khwe CR sequences with those from other African populations confirmed the genetic association of the Kung with other Khoisan-speaking peoples, whereas the Khwe were more closely linked to non–Khoisan speaking (Bantu) populations.
This remarkable study was among the earliest of many to propose a "pedigree," not only for Bushmen, but Pygmies as well, since both groups are described as being among the "oldest human populations." Needless to say, the musical evidence is consistent with these conclusions. Especially noteworthy with respect to the Kalahari debate is the distinction drawn between two groups of Bushmen, in this case the !Kung, associated genetically "with other Khoisan-speaking peoples," and a group of Khwe speakers, also Bushmen, "more closely linked to non–Khoisan speaking (Bantu) populations."

In his essay "Foragers, Genuine or Spurious" (Current Anthropology 31-2, 1990), "traditionalist" Richard Lee makes a point of distinguishing between the !Kung speakers (Ju'hoansi) of Dobe, who appear to have maintained a traditional foraging lifestyle in relative isolation, and the Kweneng, whose history reveals long association with neighboring Bantu tribes. It is the Kweneng, not the !Kung, he argues, whose history accords with the "revisionist" scenario, an interpretation of the past that ought not be applied wholesale to all Bushmen groups.

A similar distinction exists with respect to the musical evidence. We've already heard examples of Ju'hoansi (!Kung) vocalizing in Pygmy/Bushmen style, including one example from the same place referenced by Lee, the village of Dobe. On the same CD, entitled "Mongogo," the music of two Khwe speaking Bushman groups, the Bugakhwe and ||Anikhwe, from another region of Botswana (the Okavango Panhandle), is also presented. Ethnographic evidence indicates that, like the Kweneng studied by Lee, these are also "assimilated" groups. According to Matthias Brenzinger, "||Anikxoe are never included when Kxoe talk about Kxoe 'proper.' Even the Kxoe in Botswana, where the ||Anikxoe live, exclude the latter when referring to Kxoe as an ethno-linguistic entity" ("Moving to Survive: Kxoe Communities in Arid Lands," in Language, Identity and Conceptualization among the Khoisan, ed. M. Schladt, 1998, p. 324). While it isn't clear from the notes which of the two Khwe groups is represented on which track, all the music in this section is very different from the examples I presented in the last post and, in fact, much closer in style to what could be called "mainstream" Bantu. Here's one typical example, an excerpt from track 12: Taa khwena li ye te. Note the completely different, relatively harsh, vocal timbre and typically Bantu "call and response" interplay between solo voice and chorus. There is no trace of interlock, yodel or polyphony, unison singing being the rule on all the Okavango tracks.

To summarize, the musical evidence establishes a powerful behavioral/semiotic link between Bushmen and Pygmies, strongly suggesting a common cultural ancestry as remote in time as the genetic one. Moreover, it distinguishes between groups like the Ju'hoansi, regarded by both anthropologists and geneticists as representing an extremely old, isolated population, and at least one Khwe group, apparently more closely aligned, culturally, genetically -- and musically -- with Bantu speakers. The musical evidence would therefore seem to establish the cultural indigeneity of certain Bushmen groups as firmly as the genetic evidence establishes their biological indigeneity, thus settling the Kalahari debate firmly on the side of the traditionalists. Thanks to the power of music, what seemed impossible now looks highly probable: a corrider in both space and time may have opened, through which the striking affinities between certain indigenous groups of today, their cousins in remote parts of the world, and our most distant ancestors, can be discerned.