World Music Never Right In The First Place
On January 8, 2007, LGF had a post named, “World Music Gone Horribly Wrong”, featuring a music album on the Smithsonian Center for Folklife and Cultural Heritage titled, “Palestine Lives!: Songs from the Struggle of the People of Palestine”. Among the tracks are, “The Testament of a Martyr” (“martyr” is Islamspeak for suicide-bomber), “The Road of Dignity” (once again, honor is shown to be of utmost important to them, more important even than the lives of their children) and “I am Enduring” (enduring self-inflicted suffering, if anything). I have already written of this “indigenous freedom fighter chic” (on December 5, 2006 and on November 17, 2006). But Charles’ title, “World Music Gone Horribly Wrong”, sent my thoughts darting in far-flung directions just as surely as Leto Atreides’ words, “The women are beautiful at this time of the year” sent Stilgar’s thoughts to faraway places in Children of Dune. This is about the phenomenon of World Music as a reflection of the relations between the “colonials” and the “indigenous”.
For the purpose of this post I have used the magazine Masa Acher, the Israeli equivalent of National Geographic. Geographic magazines, and this I realized quite from my beginning of reading them, a lot of years ago, are supposed to bring information about strange peoples and places, but in most cases fall very, very easily into the trap of value-judgments, usually the trap of Reverse Discrimination, in which they try to make up for past bias against the non-Western natives by heaping gory details of Western colonialist oppression of them. This is issue 90, from March 1999. It may seem too old to be useful, and indeed I had that thought as one of my first upon recalling it, but on second thoughts its being from pre-9/11 days makes it even more useful than if it were a recent issue, because that shows how deeply ingrained the PC (post-colonial or politically correct) attitudes are.
“World Music” means non-Western native music. The term is effectively the musical equivalent of Affirmative Action, since it seeks to redress the situation (whether true or false) that Eurocentrism is blocking any chance of non-Western music gaining the same high profile as Western music. The term proves problematic from the very start, as Masa Acher makes clear (pp. 18–19):
Many oppose the term, arguing that it puts world-encompassing music in a ghetto of sorts. It is also argued that the term is meaningless, because so many sorts of traditions, rhythms and instruments are concealed in it, such that it is too small to contain them all.
In other words: the push to remedy Eurocentrism has succeeded only too well in perpetuating it! Which needs to kept in mind when we come to next accusation upon “World Music” (p. 19):
And there are those who argue World Music is a Western invention, a new kind of colonialism (and on that [see] the following).
That takes us to the elaboration on pages 21–22. Here is the meat of that issue (p. 21):
This cultural colonialism expresses itself also in thefts of music from the Third World, the “primitive” [world]. White man comes with sophisticated recording instruments, and records a bunch of monks in Tibet or a tribe of pygmies in equatorial Africa, comes back to his sophisticated studio in Berlin, in Paris or in London and samples that primal music into a new hit which he sells for millions. And what about copyright? The original creators of the music are not aware of the theft, and of course not of their rights.
This single paragraph opens a whole can of worms. The only undisputed thing is the fact of Western people making money of music they did not originally create. But the argument against this practice is presented in the framework of Western copyright law. How does the writer of this article (Dubi Lenz) know Western copyright law would even be desirable to the original creators? Judging from numerous statements of spokesmen standing for the rights of indigenous peoples (the most prominent exemplar being the Declaration of War Against Exploiters of Lakota Spirituality), the original creators will have nothing to do with Western copyright law—they don’t want anyone to profit from their music, and that includes themselves, for they do not see music, or indeed cultural artifacts in general, as something to reap monetary gains from.
Needless to say, not all indigenous peoples think the same way as the authors of the Lakota Declaration of War. Some are quite for standing up for their right to be the only ones who profit from their music. However, whether the original creators are against all profit from their culture or just against foreigners profiting from it, the fact today is that both employ Western copyright law to their favor. And this, for anyone who at this point may already have come to ask what this subject has to do with the current global conflict, is the heart of the matter.
Globalization, more than it is expressed through a McDonald’s in every corner, and more than it appears in the uniformity of housing and TV shows, shows itself in the ubiquity of the PC discourse. It shows itself in the readiness of many “fronts for indigenous peoples” to use Western tools, especially the courts, in order to reap gains, some of which are far beyond the requirements of “redressing past wrongs”. As Mark Steyn puts it in America Alone (p. 84):
When they want to, Islamists can assimilate at impressive speed. So we have fire-breathing Imams milking Euro-welfare and litigious lobby groups with high-rent legal teams. Neither of these are features of Arab life. Rather, they illustrate how adept Islam is at picking and choosing what aspects of Westernization are useful to it. Whatever the arguments are for and against “gay marriage,” there are never going to be many takers for it. But the justifications for same-sex marriage are already being used to advance the cause of polygamy, and there are far more takers for that. It’s already practiced de facto if not de jure in France, Ontario, and many other Western jurisdictions, and government agencies, such as the United Kingdom’s pensions ministry, have already begun according polygamy piecemeal recognition for the purposes of inheritance law. Neither feminists nor homosexuals seem obvious allies for Islam, but lobby groups have effortlessly mastered the lingo, techniques, and pseudo-grievances of each.
Whether you want to “keep your music unsullied by capitalistic greed” or to “exercise your rights to it as original creator”, you have the benefit of Western courts, together with a public climate now sympathetic to it, at your disposal. And whether you want to equalize the rights of same-sex couples to those of other-sex couples or to legalize the right of a man to marry four women, you have those same courts and that same friendly climate at your disposal, again. Impalement by one’s own sword of a guilty conscience for past wrongs.
Where to now? Any attempt to cut this state of affairs short, to go cold turkey on this rampant Affirmative Action and resultant Reverse Discrimination, would send the cries of, “Neocolonialism! Racism! Cultural imperialism! Apartheid!” going through the roof, with stymieing through pressure groups soon to follow. It’s a Gordian knot: letting that very category, “World Music”, stand fuels the charges of colonialism, but banning it would raise the same charges. Honor-killings, if permitted under the guise of non-interventionism (or “multiculturalism”, as it is now dressed), fuel the charge that “Westerners think the lives of immigrant girls are worth less than the lives of their own girls”, whereas if they are prohibited, the charge that “Westerners fail to show sensitivity and respect toward other cultures” is levied. How do we get out of that?
My proposal is fiendishly simple, though it requires undoing the PC-wrought total self-skepticism in order to carry out: if you can’t beat ’em, join ’em. Join ’em by declaring, as British colonialist governor Sir Charles Napier did, that you too have a culture that needs to be shown sensitivity and respect. That you too have a heritage, and that that heritage deserves to be acknowledged and defended at least on its homeland, if not more so. We should say that it is part of our culture for a woman to show her face, and insist on visitors and immigrants respecting that, just as female tourists to Saudi Arabia are required to cover themselves up. We should say that the churches in Europe (as are the temples in India—again, it’s not about “East vs. West”; I’m using this Leftist anachronism because that’s the dominant discourse nowadays) are part of Europe’s heritage, and mosques do not belong in Europe any more than churches do in Saudi Arabia. If the West’s post-colonial guilt can be turned against it, then so can multiculturalism and indigenism be turned against those who use it to nefarious purposes.
Of course, the problem is the loss of cultural consciousness in the West. It used to be Christianity; for the purpose of cultural consciousness it doesn’t have to be Christianity, old European heritages like those of the Celts and Greeks could be just as good for that job, but the fact is “post-Christian Europe” doesn’t mean a Europe come back to its pre-Christian heritage, it means a Europe with nothing. Nothing to resist being killed or live for, in a tragic inversion of the words from John Lennon’s pathological song. Years upon years of, “We have been evil, we have done wrong, we are trash, we are nothing” have taken their toll.
“World Music” was never right in the first place—born in the sin of Western self-flagellation. It forms a vicious circle in providing a basis for continued accusation of “Western colonialism” and, subsequently, further allotment of time and space for that same “World Music”. The only way out of this circle is to declare Western music to be yet another form of World Music, and from there, to insist on its being played even to the ears of those who consider its enjoyment to be the beginning of treason.
I enjoy various kinds of music, including Arab music (as I said so many times: my writings are not against Arabs, they’re against Islam), and it is with deep regret that I have to use this topic as a springboard toward political commentary. However, I have only politicized an already politicized subject, and it is my hope this sad state of affairs will soon be put behind us by taking corrective steps. And, of course, the big picture is more important than the small sample of it, which is there only for the purpose of increasing clarity and understanding.