Conquest through Music?

To say that music is an international language is understandable; but is there such a thing as international one?

March 29,2013

Not giving an expert opinion, of course. Just expressing my feeling. I have a feeling that the purpose of music is defeated and with that the nature of music itself. The claim of advancement in music has a lot to do with, I would say, the commodification of music, the revenue it generates and the attraction it has got among investors as is the case with some other aspects of societal life. No doubt the music industry has got a very strong financial stand. Perhaps music has become less of a pursuit of passion and art, and more of an enterprise from which lucrative financial profit could be amassed.

So, what investors in the industry do, apparently, create musicians, invest in them and promote them. The point as to whether it is the case that the industry creates musicians or that it is musicians who create themselves as a musician might be debatable for some. I tend to think that it is the former in most cases. Certainly, investors have the capacity to accomplish that due to the power of their financial standing which obviously enables them to create a connection to “influential” media outlets where they sell the created “talents”, among other things. They could simply select a good looking teenager and heavily invest in him or her, sell a “talented and artistic” image of the selected singer and then it is ready for profit and conquest. As was the case in history, profit, in all its forms, comes with conquest.

In addition to the financial motive, ideological value (“freedom” “opportunity” and what have you) will be embedded in the created ‘talent.’ If intended cultural conquest is disguised as “talent,” it could end up creating resistance rather than warm reception and appetite for emulation. In that case, resistance to their production represents both ideological and financial loss. Seemingly, the target of disguised cultural conquest is the section of the population that is otherwise revolutionary and patriotic at the same time. The purpose might be loosening attachment to the things the youth values most: usually country and society.

Often times, the conquest is projected as embracing “modern music.” And with that comes propagation of thinking pattern that seems to accept the rhetoric of music as “international language.” Well, no question that the instruments and the way music is composed could be “international.”  Other than that there is no such thing as “international music”

What is music outside of the message it conveys? Outside of lyrics?  Behind lyrics and messages in music we have songwriters. Are songwriters reflecting the values and cultures of the society from which they came? Or are they glorifying values and cultures of others? Do the things they glorify empower society? Are the things glorified desirable? It may not sound strange, or nor wrong for that matter, to observe a songwriter for example in Florida –Miami glorifying sexuality. Equally, I will not be surprised if dances for such a song glorify sexuality.

The problem is when a songwriter in Ethiopia (maybe with subtle administrative and financial support) imitate Miami and dare to rape music tradition say from Gojjam or Gondor or Wollo or Guraghe and make it essentially Miami rather than the places I mentioned.

With the corruption of the messages in music comes corruption of the originality of traditional dances. The Gonder Eskista, for example, is essentially being deformed.Producers are penetrating the cultural Gonder, pretending as if they care for the culture and deforming it. In fact, this is happening in other parts of Ethiopia all under the pretext of promoting culture and “modernizing music.”

When an Ethiopian Music is deformed and produced in a way to emphasize “modernity” and the cultural context of other societies that have nothing to do with the cultural values of Ethiopia that is called conquest! And the conquest is happening through the agency of locals which is what the British in their history of “civilizing mission” -Colonization.Just observe how the originality, moderation, humility and faith reflected through traditional music is rapidly becoming a thing of the past before our eyes.What is happening to Gonderigna? Oromogna? It is alarming! And this conquest is business for some. Yet, they seem to think that they are “modernizing” Ethiopian music.

Yes, there is something distinctly called Ethiopian music just like there is distinctly Russian, distinctly Syrian, and distinctly Peruvian, distinctly Japanese music and what have you. Do not sell rubbish to your people in the name of “modernity.”

Next time, I will write about the sociology of Ethiopian music the way I understand it. For now, let me just invite you one of my favorite Ethiopian Oldies of the mid 80’s.  “Engdayeneh” Alemayehu Eshete and KuKu Sebsibe




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