Review | Music and Globalization: Critical Encounters by Bob W. White (ed.)

Music and Globalization: Critical Encounters. Edited by Bob W. White. Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 2012. [viii, 233 p. ISBN 9780253223654. ebook $20.00, cloth $70.00.] Bibliography, index, companion web site.

Reviewed by Logan Clark

Thirty years after Peter Gabriel’s launch of WOMAD ushered in an efflorescence of global musical collaborations, Bob White's edited volume gathers academic perspectives from all corners of the world to update the academic conversation concerning the relationship between music and globalization. White’s introduction sets the foundation for thinking about music and globalization by emphasizing that world music is not just an outcome of, but is also a vehicle for globalization. Because music is easily commodifiable and social in nature, he argues, it is responsible for facilitating a variety of global interactions. White’s curatorial approach to the different voices included in this volume, bookended by his own introduction and conclusion, offers a synthesis that gives the reader several guiding principles to direct the conversation. In a collection of essays that approach the themes of “music” and “globalization” from a wide variety of theoretical, methodological, and positional perspectives, White’s suggestion that the reader focus on the importance of the “encounter” and the unique capacity of music in guiding these encounters provides a welcome foothold in what might otherwise be a somewhat vertiginous terrain of voices.

White organizes the essays into three parts, which consider musical encounters in different frameworks (historical, ethnographic, and imagined). This emphasis aims to refocus the analysis of global networks on the artists themselves, treating each interaction between musicians as one in which individual agents “negotiate power differentials and different versions of reality” (6). The book is meant to be supplemented by the Critical World website, where multimedia examples accompany the text, albeit in a loose and uncurated fashion.

Part 1, “Structured Encounters,” focuses on the ways in which history is inscribed in contemporary global encounters, and examines the ways that slavery, colonialism, capitalism, and other forms of political economies shape power differentials in the encounter. The first two chapters serve to ground the discussion of global music production in the continuing inertia of slavery and colonialism, while the second two chapters challenge the dominant perspectives of western anxiety about cultural flows from the west to the “rest.”

Denis-Constant Martin's chapter on “The Musical Heritage of Slavery” is an apt introductory piece for Part 1; it grounds all succeeding chapters in the violent past that is the precursor to contemporary discussions of creolization and hybridity. Martin compares the cultural outcomes of slavery in the United States with those in South Africa to create a multi-local demonstration of his main message: that “as a source of immense auditory, physical, and social pleasures, the mass-market music we enjoy today, including ‘world music,’ emerged in and from violence and domination” (33). This viewpoint shifts the normal focus of such conversations from the white European rock-stars-turned-record-producers and re-centers it on the slaves who were the original creators of “fusion” music. Taking a magnifying glass to the original conditions of the encounters between dominant and dominated, he forms a political stance that the dominated are always the owners of creole creation (i.e. jazz, rock, pop—the backbones for global musical exchanges). Unfortunately, as Martin himself admits, the documentary evidence of these processes as they are happening is not very extensive. Therefore, the documentation of the forces acting in the crucible of violent encounter and production of a creole culture is largely replaced by conjecture and educated guessing. Some of the conclusions verge on filling in gaps in documentation with western essentialist concepts of African music. Martin's conclusion, that utopian tropes of “fusion” and “unity” in world music must necessarily be underscored by a history of violence, domination, and social death and revitalization, sets the tone for the critical theme throughout the book. 

If African rhythmic elements pervaded North American creole musics, this was not the result of some sort of atavism but because there were common elements in many African musical cultures, and the link between rhythm, dance, and the body was of prime importance to people whose slave status and dehumanization were denoted by their bodies. (33)

Steven Feld follows up with a chapter that places one of the seminal world music records in contact with its colonial origins. While David Byrne and Brian Eno were applauded for their experimental use of foreign sounds in My Life in the Bush of Ghosts, Feld elucidates the ways in which this album depended specifically on the cachet of world religions. He critiques the ways in which Byrne and Eno commodify religious practices of postcolonial Others, to appeal to “the Western musical avant-garde's well-established primitivist project” (42). While this chapter extracts with an expert's dexterity the problematic recontextualization of religious practice, it fails to consider the fact that Byrne and Eno do not only sample sounds from Oriental subjects, but also from US Christian and other esoteric spiritual contexts.

The regime of value issue is this: in the eyes of the pop music elite, ethnographic recordings are tokens of raw authenticity. But they require civilizing––‘development’ to use the common international aid metaphor––to become dance-worthy and pop sales-worthy. (50)

Chapters 3 and 4 enrich the discourse of colonialism and slavery by considering how former colonial subjects negotiate and respond to imperialist and capitalist power structures in contemporary settings. Philip Hayward’s account in chapter 3 of the local music industry in the island nation of Vanuatu argues that western or global influences serve to strengthen the creation of local identity through a musical hybrid of pre- and postcolonial sources. Both kastom music and string-band music ( represent genres that––though influenced by western colonial and tourist contact––are nonetheless potent expressions of local identity. In chapter 4, on the other hand, Rafael José de Menezes Bastos complicates the characterizations of globalization by reversing the western-dominant power dynamic. In reexamining the criticism of the way in which British musician Sting took advantage of Brazilian indigenous musician Raoni for environmental publicity, Menezes Bastos considers how Raoni was also using Sting and his campaign for environmentalism for his own objectives to elevate the Kayapó-Xingu people. Through a mixture of historical and contemporary encounters, these four authors establish the fundamental axis of a jazz-rock world pop structure that encompasses (cannibalizes) many local idioms, but is based on the survival methods of African slaves in response to violence and dominance of European culture.

Part 2, “Mediated Encounters,” focuses on individuals and the ways they negotiate these various historical forces. Artists and producers mediate between consumers’ desire and artists’ authenticity. Daniel Noveck’s “‘Beautiful Blue’” follows in the same footsteps as Menezes Bastos, but emphasizes the usefulness of ethnographic description in addressing the particularities and paradoxes of the “encounter.” This engrossing chapter tells the tale of a Rarámuri musician who journeys from northern Mexico to Italy to learn the Italian tradition of violin-making. Noveck identifies the violin as the locus in which indigenous vs. European-American identities compete for dominance. He highlights the farcical actions of elitist do-gooders in showing that, while the Italians see the violin as an entry-point for indigenous cultures to learn about European high art, for Rarámuri men, the violin is a way to use western guilt for indigenous gain, to “claim the powers of ‘the colonizer’ and reuse them in the making of productive local spaces, and, in the process, to make themselves Rarámuris” (108).

Chapters 7 and 8 both address the place of Afro-Cuban music in the global production arena. Ariana Hernandez-Reguant focuses on the politics of representation for various independently produced Cuban music projects in the emerging World Music market (, and Richard Shain shows how the career of Senegalese salsero Laba Sosseh challenges the notion that market power flows from the global North to the global South ( Hernandez-Reguant offers a historical tour of Cuban albums produced after the Revolution, highlighting the role of African musicians and foreign independent producers in re-popularizing Cuban music abroad. Whereas many producers initially prioritized local aesthetics for connoisseurs of Afro-Cuban music, she underscores an increased catering to novices and non-specialists, as exemplified by the huge commercial success of the Buena Vista Social Club in the nineties. Comparing the production techniques of the Buena Vista Social Club (advanced production techniques, celebrity “ambassadors,” and the catering to upper-middle class cosmopolitans) with an almost identical album with the same format (Vieja Trova Santiaguera), which was aimed at connoisseurs of Afro-Cuban music rather than novices, Hernandez-Reguant illuminates those local and foreign producers and artists whose important work is often overshadowed by Ry Cooder's project in the world music discourse. This important genealogy of Afro-Cuban music production falls in line with the importance that Shain gives the career of Laba Sosseh in Chapter 8. Focusing on the musical and commercial interchange between Africa and Cuba, Shain gives proof that Laba Sosseh’s orientation toward Afro-Cuban musicians forges “a spatial reorientation of dominant world music models [that] restores agency to non-Western performers” (136), and considers the potency of “south-to-south” trade, which avoids the western record production complex altogether.

Part 3, “Imagined Encounters,” considers the imagination of the other in terms of what it says about the self. Barbara Browning sets off on a daring journey to tie three seemingly disparate frames of reference--political, biological, and cultural--together through the consideration of first Fela Kuti’s, and then Gilberto Gil’s approaches to the topics of slavery, the AIDS epidemic, and digital transmission of music ( If wonderfully written and composed almost as a musical “mash-up” of seemingly unrelated phenomena, the chapter leaves the reader wanting a deeper analysis of the processes of viruses, biological, digital, or cultural, and how medical knowledge might serve as a reference point for cultural and political panaceas.

The last two chapters of the book relate to the imagined encounter by bringing agency to the consumer/listener in the regulation of that imagination. Tim Taylor’s chapter on “World Music Today” and Bob White’s concluding chapter reconsidering “The Promise of World Music” encourage the reader to apply the critical perspectives discussed above to a practice of conscious consumption and non-essentialist listening. Taylor focuses the reflexive lens on who exactly is buying world music records. Once he has identified the majority of world-music consumers as “mostly white, college-educated adults looking for something different,” he focuses on the importance of what he calls global informational capital, or “the increasing importance in developed countries of possessing a kind of capital that stands in for real knowledge of the world in the current so-called information age” (182). Taylor’s perspective on the consumer of global music is fitting as the penultimate chapter. It introduces a form and substance to the oft-generalized force driving record production––those by whose demands Byrne and Eno, Sting, or Ry Cooder were ostensibly driven.

Yet, White, in the last chapter reminds us that this book is not meant to be an anti-Putumayo manifesto or a disparagement of Peter Gabriel, David Byrne, and all Buena Vista Social Club fans. Rather, it is a call for us to place in conversation what Feld identifies as the “anxious” and the “celebratory” analyses of global music consumption and to arrive at a more responsible listening. He offers eleven strategies for non-essentialist listening that aim to unlock the full potency of music to determine the course of globalization through informed encounters. Arguably, White is preaching to the choir; those who are reading his book are likely to be academics already involved in critical discussions of music and essentialism. They could have great potential use, however, as a beginning structure for University-level music courses. These strategies, offered as an initial step in deconstructing the complex power dynamics highlighted by the book’s contributors, have the potential to cultivate an informed and critical listener base for an increased occurrence of critical encounters through global music.

Editor's Note: This review has been updated to correct an error in the original piece.

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