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Elizabeth Kinder
 
Photo: Sophie Ziegler

The Elusive Ethnomusicologist

Elizabeth Kinder’s monthly column

Let’s face it – the great British public have not just voted to leave Europe. Because what this actually means has never really featured in the referendum debate. Pitching up to the ballot box they simply saw “Do you like immigrants, yes or no?” – the result of cynical fearmongering by the ‘haves’ in a population that is suffering from increasing social division, a poor education that leaves them mentally and economically disadvantaged, and vulnerable to the downright lies of self-serving politicians seeking only their personal short-term gain.

We are now in a country where those who speak for the people are of a mindset that thinks it’s a good idea to fly Leave banners over a memorial service for someone who died for her belief that to vote Remain was to take the humane road ahead. Jo Cox was brutally murdered by a Brexit believer who sprang straight from Pandora’s box – so cravenly opened by Cameron as he caused the referendum in the first place purely to trouser the keys to Number 10.

And so what’s important about music when there are so many other pressing concerns to be addressed? It’s a question asked by the world-renowned ethnomusicologist, John Baily, in the introduction to his beautiful, thought-provoking book War Exile And The Music Of Afghanistan. He answers “I reply that music does matter for as John Blacking put it: ‘music is essential for the very survival of man’s humanity.’”

Music expresses our creativity, our imagination: it facilitates our connection with place, with our sense of identity and with one another as it eases cross-cultural connection. Through it we are taken beyond ourselves and can experience a transcendent sense of unity that lies beyond barriers of human construction. Some feel this as a connection with the divine whatever they perceive that to be. This understanding underpins Qawwali music, the religious music of the Sufi branch of Islam – music that springs from a belief in peaceful, loving devotion to their particular concept of that divine. Brought to us by wonderful artists such as Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan and the Sabri Brothers from Pakistan – initially via WOMAD and releases on Nonesuch and Real World – Qawwali music resonates with audiences the world over whatever their culture or religion.

Also from Pakistan, Malala Yousafzai – herself a victim of a crazed shooting (for speaking out about the perils of a society that denies a decent or indeed any education) – spoke at Jo Cox’s memorial service, the day before the Taliban shot the beloved Qawwali maestro Amjad Sabri back in the country of her birth. As the streets of Cox’s constituency overflowed with mourners, so did the streets of Karachi.

Like the British MP, Sabri’s life work was dedicated to promoting peace and cross-cultural understanding. His music remains, rooted in that belief that it connects us all in the moment with each other and the divine, there are no boundaries. That’s what the Taliban and Brexit politicians are afraid of. With inter-connection there is no fear of ‘the other’ and with no fear they lose control. Across the globe musicians prove that music is a powerful tool for promoting peaceful co-existence. Like our politicians who strive for peace and cross-cultural harmony they are anti-barbarism. It is barbaric that they are now in the front line.

Elizabeth Kinder


 

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