Tuesday, July 10, 2007

56. Our Story So Far -- An Overview

I started this blog with the intention of presenting an overview of my research, but at this point it looks like we need an overview of the overview. Over the last few weeks especially, I've been trying to develop a simple, step by step argument, but by now some of these steps may be missing from your brain. Mine too. So let's review:

1. Fundamental are the remarkable similarities, stylistic, structural and conceptual, among the musical practices of (most of) the various Pygmy and Bushmen groups scattered through vast regions of central and southern Africa, as discussed in section 5 of this blog. I failed to mention that the literature dealing with this issue, including the theories of Rouget and Lomax, was thoroughly reviewed in a 1971 paper by Charlotte Frisbie (Ethnology v. 10, no. 3), who concluded as follows: "The comparative analysis of Bushmen and Pygmy music shows overwhelming similarities . . . [I]n view of the attributes of music which make it a valid tool in reconstructing culture history, these findings would present a serious problem to anyone who tried to deny an earlier historical connection between the two groups." I must add that the prevailing view is not shared by everyone, and that, as I mentioned in post 39, two of Arom's students, Susanne Furniss and Emmanuelle Olivier, have concluded that the basic concepts behind the music of the two groups are in fact "radically opposite." Needless to say, my interpretation of their research is "radically opposite" to theirs, but this is not the place to deal with such a dispute. A refutation has already been published in the same issue where my essay appears, and I am currently preparing a more thorough one, to be published, I hope, without too long a delay.

2. The next important piece of evidence stems from the genetic research, as discussed in post 6, which over and over again points to certain Pygmy and Bushmen groups as representing the oldest, most ancient populations on Earth, with an estimated date of divergence running from roughly 76,000 to over 100,000 years ago.

3. Taken together, the musical and the genetic evidence point to a time tens of thousands of years ago when the ancestors of both groups must have been part of the same culture, perpetuating the same musical tradition -- a tradition that appears to have been handed down essentially intact to their descendants of the present day. If that were not the case, and the ancestral style had been significantly different, that difference would almost certainly have resulted in differences between the two groups that would be apparent now. While some differences do exist, they are not, at least in the view of the great majority of investigators, of any fundamental significance.

4. We can conclude from the above that, contrary to the opinion prevailing today among ethnomusicologists and anthropologists alike, certain cultural practices can be perpetuated essentially unchanged over remarkably long periods of time. Whether there is something special about music in this respect remains to be seen, but, as I argue in post 9 ("Is Music a Neutral Marker?") that may indeed be so. In any case, this new and rather surprising finding requires us to recalibrate our thinking regarding the possibility of similarly archaic musical survivals among indigenous peoples in all parts of the world (see post 11, "Standard Candles").

5. I then presented a Phylogenetic Tree (posts 12 - 19) which encapsulates much of my thinking on the history and distribution of several musical style families -- reinforced by, though not completely dependent on, certain Cantometric findings. This must be understood as a somewhat speculative overview, tentative and subject to revision. I've presented it here basically for the sake of clarity, so it would be easier for me to discuss certain relationships I find particularly interesting.

6. In post 20, "P/B Survivals," I used the Phylogenetic Tree as a starting point for a discussion of a key aspect of my research, the survival of certain elements of Pygmy/Bushmen style beyond Africa -- what could be called an "African signature," to be found in many places along the path most investigators see as most likely for the "Out of Africa" migrants. The presence of P/B style in places such as southeast Asia, Indonesia, the Philippines, New Guinea and Island Melanesia suggests a strong musical-cultural link between the "Out of Africa" migrants and the ancestors of the Pygmies and Bushmen, with so much of the evidence, both genetic and musical, pointing, once again, to a common root.

(to be continued)

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