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Elizabeth Kinder
Photo: Sophie Ziegler

The Elusive Ethnomusicologist

Elizabeth Kinder’s monthly column

“It’s a celebration!” said our Editor, emailing this column back to me: “400th issue! Lighten up!” And he sent me a link to The 3 Mustaphas 3 on Wogan thirty years ago which was brilliant and funny and imaginative but served to highlight the dearth of all that where I was then, in Ibiza, surrounded by four-to-the-floor electronic beats underpinning sampled sounds floating free from their original identity. It’s the sound that’ll be pumping from the Death Star when it comes to lay waste to what’s left of the human race. It’s the sound of the triumph of commerce over creativity, of manufactured artist-brands: sound with no sense of place outside the global music corporations that spawned it, peddled by artists of interchangeable identity.

It’s the soundtrack to a world of interchangeable politicians who make no sense peddling a false idea of place.

Bring on instead the rebel music pounding out in public, music connected to a place that’s real, that puts two fingers up to the inexorably rising sonic swill; songs that shake us from sleep to shout back at the idiocies being touted as the truth. [Steady on there, EK!… Ed.]

Someone’s clearly mentioned the rousing properties of such music to The Donald. I thought it was a joke that Americans don’t ‘do irony’, but no-one on his staff seems to have pointed out the huge dollops of it involved in their appropriation of Neil Young’s anthemic Rockin’ In The Free World to launch Trump’s campaign. Everyone knows the song criticises the first Bush Administration and that its composer, an outspoken Sanders supporter, is a famously liberal Canadian. So who’s surprised at Young’s irony-free “F*** you, Donald Trump!” and saying he won’t “endorse hate, bigotry, childish name-calling, the superficiality of celebrity or ignorance”?

Ironically, to fight the items on Young’s list of non-endorsement we must also question the hegemony of the culture from which his music springs. We need music from all over the world in our daily lives, not simply in the ersatz exotica of sampled sounds but those sounds rooted in their cultural identity. Through hearing music that’s grounded in place from elsewhere, ‘the other’ becomes less alien. Then we would not be so fearful, for whilst those ‘other’ cultural narratives differ from our own, we’d recognise the universal human condition from which they spring. Surely, then, it would be harder for the Trump/Farage axis of insanity to gain traction?

Oh sorry, I forgot the jokes, Farage and Trump apart. Right! fRoots’ 400th edition! Its celebration of music and the humanity that creates it in all its dazzling cultural diversity takes a punch at casual racism and heavily mediated musical mediocrity. As music from other cultures, or even our own traditions, is not widely broadcast – if at all – we have to seek it out. fRoots is a light guiding us to the plump oyster beds so we can find the pearls within. It’s been fostering imagination, creativity and collaboration for years – even before those 3 Mustaphas 3! It stands against the rootless anodyne popular soundtrack to fatuity. [Gordon Bennett!… Ed.] If the music fRoots champions was to swim in the mainstream, this might indicate that we live in a place where the Farage/Trump joke is less likely to be on us.

Elizabeth Kinder


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