Migrating Music: Media, Politics and Style

An international conference
Venue: School of Oriental and African Studies, University of London
Date: 10-11 July, 2009

Over the last twenty years or so there has been much interest in music and diaspora, that is in migrating music. No doubt this interest is historically grounded. Movement of peoples and their music across the world has been occurring to an unprecedented extent and in novel ways.

Researchers in a variety of disciplines have then responded by studying musical flows and the formation of hybrid styles, but also the way in which apparently similar music can mean quite different things in different contexts. We might sum up the overarching framework as one in which researchers focus on the (largely benign) diversification and pluralisation of musical meaning and experience.

We do not seek to overturn this framework. Quite simply, it taps an important part of the reality of migrating music in the contemporary period. But we do want to bring up a number of problems and issues, and call on colleagues to think about what these might mean.

Media. Mediation has been crucial to the global movement of musics, from the hymnal to the Web 2.0. Diasporas take recordings with them when they move; broadcasters and record companies cater for them in new lands; ‘World Music’ was launched as a marketing and media category. What, then, is the impact of mediation on migrating music, and are diasporas and host communities mere recipients, or rather active shapers of their musical diets?

Politics. The orthodoxy of today is that musical migration is predominantly a Good Thing, and that hybridity always has a progressive dimension. By the same token authenticity has become a straw target. But can the authentic be a significant value for musical cultures as they are relocated around the world? And were early commentators entirely wrong to worry about ‘Americanisation’ or ‘Westernisation’? Indeed are there new models that take into account ‘Bollywoodisation’ and the effects of other international culture industries? Should there be more concern about globalising musical vernaculars? Does a focus on hybridisation sometimes obscure larger relations of economic, cultural, and aesthetic domination?

Style. Hybridity is rarely used in verb form. But arguably the processes of stylistic transformation wrought by musical migration are very much about action – making change. What are these ‘trans’ processes? Do they always depend on mixing, or can new migrant styles emerge from endogenous reference ‘back’ to home styles? And how far are music makers and audiences consciously pushing to create the new?

We invite proposals for papers which address these and related questions from across the disciplines: (ethno)musicology, cultural and media studies, sociology, anthropology, history and performance studies. The conference emerges from the AHRC research project based at the Open University, Tuning In: Diasporic Contact Zones @ BBC World Service. So contributions which concern international broadcasting and/or the BBC are particularly welcome. We are also keen to receive proposals from practitioners – music makers, journalists and broadcasters.

Proposals should be between 150 and 200 words in length. Please send to
Karen Ho. Closing date for submission is Friday, 22nd February, 2009.

Keynote and plenary speakers already confirmed include:

  • Timothy Taylor – Professor of Ethnomusicology and Musicology, UCLA
  • Charlie Gillett – journalist and award winning presenter of ‘Charlie Gillett’s World of Music’, BBC World Service
  • Conference convenors are Jason Toynbee and Byron Dueck, Open University Conference administrators are Karen Ho and Josine Opmeer, CRESC (Open and Manchester Universities)

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