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The problem of preservation of traditional African music under the influence of globalization

Since the middle of the last millennium, as Europeans were discovering new lands and establishing new cultural and economic relations, alien culture and religion have started to spread across the African continent. Initially, it used to be a mutual acquaintance with foreign customs and traditions which later, and especially in the colonial times, took the form of substitution of the western cultural values for traditional African ones and eventually led to the cultural disorientation of African people and to their aspiration for leaving their uncivilized past through acceptance of modern culture of the western civilized society.

Upon declaration of independence in African countries the process of cultural assimilation hasn't stopped. More and more Africans had an opportunity to study in Europe and America where they could hear new musical forms that seemed more intelligible and attractive than those that surrounded them since childhood back in the homeland. In fact, it was American music that influenced the musical preferences of African youth through the second half of the last century. Generations of such worldwide known African musicians as Miriam Makeba, Angelique Kidjo, Manu Dibango grew up listening to Afro-American music performed by James Brown, Stevie Wonder, Aretha Franklin, Diana Ross and many others.

By the end of the XX century the development of new information technologies and mass media speeded up the globalization process, and one of its most significant consequences has become the commercialization of culture. Culture was turned into a popular consumer product whose value is mostly measured by its price in the world market. Local African TV companies fearing of the outflow of their audiences and ratings lowering, started broadcasting foreign music channels more and more often, and left Africans without the idea of any other music, in particular, from other African countries.

One of the most noticeable indicators of the impact of globalization on the African culture and music in particular is its anglo- and francophonization. Many African performers tend to sing in a more universally understood language for which lingua franca is the best choice (English and Swahili in East Africa, French, Hausa and Fula in West Africa, as well as Portuguese in 5 other African countries).

Nowadays, western record companies own the copyright to most African music records, and the more famous musicians live and work in New York, London and Paris. This is partially caused by the lack of sound recording equipment of high quality as well as the piracy problem which is by far the greatest barrier for the development of music industry in Africa. According to the report published by the IFPI (International Federation of the Phonographic Industry), the piracy level in 2001 in such countries as Ghana, Zimbabwe and South Africa varied between 10% and 25%, and the highest rate (over 50%) was registered in Kenya and Nigeria. These indices basically concern production of audio tapes aimed at the local music market. Most Africans prefer tapes to CDs and the selection of tapes in Dakar, Abidjan or Lagos is much larger than that of CDs.

Moreover, it's almost unamenable to estimate the amount of music distributed through the network in MP3 format. Popular music servers Mzibo, Darhotwire, KwetuEntertainment (Tanzania), Kelele, Kenyan Madness (Kenya), as well as Holland-based servers AfricanHipHop and Madunia promote new African musicians, however the impossibility of finding certain albums in local music stores creates prerequisites for trading music records via Internet.

Albums recorded at European and American studios are commercially successful due to their proper positioning in the world market. African music is very often aimed at so-called "western ears" (this term is often used in critics' reviews of ethnic music releases), i.e. adapted for the audience that hardly get used to ethnic musical instruments, rhythms and vocals. In many respects the commercial success of the final musical product depends on the extent of such an adaptation. For instance, even though the latest releases of such stars of African music as Johnny Clegg & Juluka (South Africa), King Sunny Ade (Nigeria), Geoffrey Oryema (Uganda), Mory Kante (Guinea) and Angelique Kidjo (Benin) are quite popular among the fans and selling well, they're somehow inferior in its beauty and naturality to their earlier records that brought them fame and popularity they have now. And only a few musicians after releasing some non-traditional albums to please the western audience ("Nomad Soul" (1998) by Baaba Maal (Senegal), "Papa" (1999) by Salif Keita (Mali), etc.) manage to find strength and desire to get back to the roots.

However, one can't assert that the problem of preservation of traditional music in Africa is really the consequence of westernization. The opposite process of africanization takes place as well, especially when it concerns French and American music. Many music genres, e.g. reggae and rap, have African roots and their popularity in Africa can be considered as going back to the roots rather than following the fashion and blind imitation of foreign music. Many African musicians deliberately experiment with new music styles and genres and are helped by exchange of experience with western colleagues as well as getting supplementary musical education in Europe and America. Thanks to the use of adopted musical instruments along with traditional ones African music finds a new sound thereby enriching African culture. Thus, a famous composer named Wally Badarou, born and educated in France but having lived a long time in Benin where his father had been working, used to compose music for American movies and perform with many famous musicians such as Grace Jones, Herbie Hancock, Robin Scott a.k.a. M, Caribbean bands The Gibson Brothers and Kassav, and later as a member of Level 42, but he was always faithful to African musical traditions. "Now that the world is becoming more aware of African music," he says in his interview, "I felt [as an African] that it was important that this interest did not become a simple fashion or fad. There are two ways to confirm one's authenticity: to do what's expected of your background, or to go beyond that, and do what is not meant to be your music. Because no matter what you do, you're different from the white pop world, anyway. I want people to be aware that Africans can be sensitive to other forms of music, too."

Catégorie: Acts and proceedings | Ajouté: Lim (26.12.2009)
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