Category Archives: World music

The global jukebox

The global jukebox is the culmination of a lifetime of groundbreaking work by Alan Lomax, whose efforts to record and compile song and dance from around the world led to this collaborative project—an interactive portal for the world’s music, dance, and speaking traditions from almost every corner of the earth, recorded by hundreds of pioneering ethnographers.

This open-access resource is divided into three broad areas of inquiry: cantometrics, an analysis of the elements of song within and across cultures, and choreometrics and parlametrics, which similarly evaluate dancing and speaking.

Users can search by genre or culture and experience thousands of songs and videos that come from a myriad of traditions; seek their ancestry through song and dance; uncover the roots and connections of their favorite musical genres; take a guided tour through the vibrant musical culture of a single region or style; look at clusters of any tradition’s song styles; or search for their own answers with the site’s analytical tools.

Below, Lomax discusses the background of the project.

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Filed under Ethnomusicology, Resources, World music

Yo-Yo Ma and the Silk Road Project

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In an interview, Yo-Yo Ma discussed the genesis of the Silk Road Project.

“I’ve been traveling around the world for 25 years, performing, talking to people, studying their cultures and musical instruments, and I always come away with more questions in my head than can be answered.”

“One of these is the idea of culture as a transnational influence, and the Silk Road, though basically a trade route, also connected the cultures of the peole who used it.”

“The project started with several symposia of scholars, and it was eventually decided to form a nonprofit, knowledge-based organization that would combine new and traditional information about places where people have been making exciting, wonderful music….Our idea is to bring together musicians who represent all these traditions, in workshops, festivals, and conferences, to see how we can connect with each other in music.”

Excerpted from “Continuity in diversity” by Edith Eisler (Strings XV/8:94 [May–June 2001] pp. 46–54).

Today is Yo-Yo Ma’s 60th birthday! Above and below, performing with the Silk Road Ensemble, an offshoot of the Project.

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Filed under Performers, World music

Folkways in Wonderland

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Folkways in Wonderland (FiW) is a cyberworld for musical discovery with social interaction, allowing avatar-represented users to explore selections from the Smithsonian Folkways world music collection while communicating through text and audio channels. FiW is built on Open Wonderland, a framework for creating collaborative 3D virtual worlds.

FiW is populated with track samples from Folkways Recordings. Since acquiring the label in 1987, Smithsonian Folkways has expanded and digitized the Folkways collection while enhancing and organizing its metadata, all of which are now available electronically.

FiW is collaborative: multiple avatars can enter the space, audition track samples, contribute their own sounds (speech or other) to the soundscape, and also communicate through text chat. Nearby users can hear music together, as well as hear and see each other. Wonderland also provides in-world collaborative applications, such as a shared web browser or whiteboard. Thus users are provided with a real-time, immersive, audiovisual representation of the virtual sociomusical environment, together with multiple means of communicating within it.

This according to “Folkways in Wonderland” by Rasika Ranaweera, Michael Frishkopf, and Michael Cohen (Sound matters 3 March 2015).

Above, a screenshot of a typical session (click to enlarge); below, a brief demonstration.

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Filed under Resources, World music

A lullaby for world music

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The term world music arose among academics in the 1960s as a way to promote interest in the study of diverse musics. By the 1980s, world music was a marketing category whose success was propelled by the interest and involvement of popular music stars; by the 1990s, it had become a booming commercial enterprise on its own. Critical and scholarly responses to this development involve two types of narrative: the anxious and the celebratory.

Creative responses have included examples like the inclusion of Hugo Zemp’s field recording of the song Rorogwela, available on the CD Solomon Islands: Fateleka and Baegu Music from Malaita (UNESCO/Audivis, 1990), as Sweet lullaby on the worldbeat CD Deep forest (Sony Music, 1992), where it was given drum machine and synthesizer accompaniment and backing vocals.

The marketing of tropes like green enviroprimitivism and spiritual new age avant-garde romanticism has created a situation where a “sweet lullaby” is a fitting metaphor for the soothing multicultural aura surrounding the industrialized globalization of music.

This according to “A sweet lullaby for world music” by Steven Feld (Public culture XII/1 [2000] pp. 145–171). Below, the official Sweet lullaby music video. Above, the 30th annual World of Music, Arts, and Dance Festival (WOMAD), which drew thousands of world music fans to Charlton Park in 2012.

Related article: Telek, Bridie, and schismogenesis

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Filed under Ethnomusicology, Popular music, World music

Doc Watson’s oral memoir

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When David Holt asked Doc Watson to write an autobiography, he declined. Holt then said “What if you just tell your stories? I can ask you questions and we can record it and you can tell your stories yourself.”

Watson agreed, and in 2002 they released Legacy, a three-CD set that comprises an oral memoir by the country music legend; it won the Grammy for Best Traditional Folk Album the next year.

This according to “Doc Watson and David Holt” by Carol Mallet Rifkin (Acoustic guitar XXII/6:228 [December 2011; online only]).

Today would have been Doc Watson’s 90th birthday! Below, Watson and Holt perform together in 2007.

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Filed under North America, World music

Folk lexicon

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Folk lexicon: Lexicon of the modern folk fan was published by Caffè Lena in 2013.

This free online resource provides information on the folk music scene as it has evolved (mainly in North America) since the 1950s. Categories include awards, folk festivals, instruments, musical styles, publications, radio shows, and record companies, along with discussions of terminology and corny nicknames.

Above, the Weavers were influential founders of the contemporary scene. Below, the group’s 1980 reunion at Carnegie Hall.

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Lloyd Miller and Oriental jazz

A multi-instrumentalist and multi-linguist who has lived and performed in Tehran, Paris, Geneva, Brussels, Stockholm, and Frankfurt, Dr. Lloyd Miller has been fusing jazz and world music since the early 1960s.

The California native finds that the modal music of Asia is completely compatible with the African American tradition. “It is all the same musical system,” he says. “The same spirit, the same feeling, the same notes, and some of the same melodic patterns and repetitive and mirroring phrases.”

Long documented only by rare recordings, Miller’s music can now be heard in the compilation A lifetime of Oriental jazz (Jazzman JMANCD 208).

This according to “Jazz in an unfamiliar key: The wanderings of Lloyd Miller” by Francis Gooding (The IAJRC Journal XLIV/2 [June 2011] pp. 9–13]). Below, a compilation of Miller’s broadcasts.

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Filed under Jazz and blues, World music

Jazz and globalization

The music of the South Korean vocalist Na Yun-seon may be understood as challenging which sounds may be classified as jazz, and who may be included in its audiences.

Na may also be seen as negotiating the increasing freedom of jazz that stems from the proliferation of media globalization to imagine new interrelations between the political and economic hierarchies that influence the flow of such media objects. She thereby addresses a tension fundamental to the dynamics of globalization.

This according to “Jazz at large: Scapes and the imagination in the performances of Moses Molelekwa and Nah Youn-Sun” by  Jan Harm Schutte (Jazz research journal IV/1 [May 2010] pp. 43–56). Below, Na’s Calypso blues exemplifies some of the challenges that she proposes.

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Filed under Jazz and blues, World music

Grainger and world music


Today, on Percy Grainger’s 130th birthday, let’s recall his reflections on the two broad stylistic groups he discerned in world music.

Grainger believed that strong musical and human characteristics unite the musical output of the Nordic countries, which include Scandinavia, the Netherlands, Great Britain, Ireland, the United States, Canada, Australia, and several others.

The melodic habits of Nordic music are more like those of China and other Mongolian countries than those of such European countries as France, Italy, Spain, Germany, and Austria. The Mongolian-Nordic musical tradition favors solemn or spiritual unadorned melodies with long sustained notes, gapped scales, and a tendency to underlying polyphonic thought. The Nordic musical mind seeks inspiration in nature.

In contrast, the southern or Mohammedan tradition favors nervous, excitable, and florid tunes with quickly fluctuating notes, closely filled-up scales, and a tendency to seek surface complexity in technical passagework rather than in harmony.

This according to Characteristics of Nordic music, a talk broadcast on New York’s WEVD radio on 4 July 1933. Grainger’s talk is reprinted from a typescript held by the Grainger Museum, Melbourne, in Grainger on music (Oxford: Clarendon 1999, pp. 258–266). Above, Grainger with a radio microphone in 1928; below, some vintage recordings.

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Filed under 20th- and 21st-century music, Curiosities, World music

The first Karnatak music conference

On 27 May 1912 the first Karnatak music conference was convened in Thanjāvūr.

Hosted by the celebrated practitioner of Siddha medicine and devotee of Karnatak music Abraham Pandithar (inset, 1859–1919), the conference’s stated purpose was “to promote an academic interest in and to diffuse a knowledge of all that was best in the science and practice of Indian Music; to correct all conflicting notions in regard to Ragams and determine the precise and scientifically correct methods; to concert measures to the advancement of Indian music.”

At the conference Pandithar established the society Sangeetha Vidhyalaya Mahajana Sangam; the group met five more times between 1912 and 1914.

This according to “A centenary of music conferences” by Sriram Venkatakrishnan (Madras heritage and Carnatic music, 25 May 2012). Above, the society’s group photograph, taken after the first morning session; below, Pandithar Thottam, the farm in Thanjāvūr where Pandithar grew traditional medicinal plants.

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Filed under Asia, Ethnomusicology, World music