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Diaspora 3:3 1994 Music in Diaspora: The View from Euro-America Mark Slobin Wesleyan University Guest Editor Diaspora has been kind enough to host a small set of articles focused on diaspora and music in Europe and North America, to which these essays can serve as introduction. Music is central to the diasporic experience, linking homeland and here-land with an intricate network ofsound. Whether through the burnished memory of childhood songs, the packaged passions of recordings, or the steady traffic of live bands, people identify themselves strongly, even principally, through their music. Yet ethnomusicology came late to the notion of diasporic musics. Trained in the standard ways of cultural anthropology, researchers looked for the indigenous and the ancient. Tradition-and-change models emerged strongly in the 1960s, but were still locally based. From the 1970s on, diasporic studies have appeared with increasing frequency, but have not kept pace with the burgeoning literature in other disciplines on deterritorialization and postcolonialism. No one has formulated a worldwide viewpoint on music in diaspora, most work being done in the United States among "ethnic groups," with more recent efforts being made in Europe to look at "immigrant/guestworker" contexts. Newer work, such as Jay Pillay's,1 on Indian music in South Africa, is starting to expand the geographic horizon. Part of the delay in producing a scholarly literature is due to the sheer complexity music offers. Live or recorded, public or private, for parties or prayers, government-fostered or internally generated, tied to homeland heartstrings or tossed at target markets—music is a cultural shape-changer that baffles the easy approach, stymies the straightforward. The advantage, though, is that music offers a richness of methodological possibilities and points of view, opening new windows on diasporic neighborhoods. So it seems entirely fitting for Diaspora to present an issue that samples some of the approaches and issues emerging from younger scholars, and to locate the studies regionally, where most of the work has been done: EuroAmerica . Below, I frame the essays by pointing to the perspectives on diasporic life and diaspora studies that music so distinctively offers. Diaspora 3:3 1994 Music is both highly portable and multilayered. It is literal "cultural baggage" in terms of the electronically coded packages people find it impossible to live without as they move from place to place, assembling and reassembling past and present identities. But even before the microchip, music has always been wired into the mobile body, forming earliest memories and later evoking deep-set emotions . Perhaps only the aroma of familiar foods has the same visceral power as the hearing of tender tunes. Beyond food's more general evocation of linkage, music makes specific connections with family members, politics, and significant moments for which melodies are the milestone. So at this rock-bottom level of diasporic consciousness , music makes a strong claim for attention on the plane of study and analysis. Music offers the researcher much more than the opportunity to study rootedness and mobility. It is an extraordinarily multilayered channel of communication, nesting language itself, that primary agent of identity, within a series of strata of cultural meaning: the erotic potential of the voice, the organizing capabilities of rhythm and tempo, the time-stopping movement of melody, the spacesubduing powers ofinstrumentation and sonic architecture, and the collectivist thrust of the dance. Every musical item is a complex bundle of sonic and kinetic forces that simultaneously order a unique set of independent variables, brought together for purposes ofentertainment, socialization, and memory. Each individual makes a distinctive selection of such items to form a personal storehouse that both partakes of and separates from the collective pool of resources ; music lives at the margin ofthe person and the people, so it forms a particularly crucial point of articulation in viewing diasporic life. For both individuals and groups, taste has become recognized as an important dimension of identity. Beyond the block-patterning of Bourdieu's "distinctions," rooted in seemingly intractable class and habitus formations, diasporic communities' choices mark more subtle distinctions of ours/theirs, mine/ours, yours/mine, yesterday/today , here/there, and others that bring in gender and generation. Limited incomes, limited options, internal division—these...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1911-1568
Print ISSN
1044-2057
Pages
pp. 243-251
Launched on MUSE
2011-07-06
Open Access
No
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