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My Life in the Bush of Ghosts: World music and the commodification of religious experience

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  • Center for Advanced Study in Behavioral Sciences
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Article
During the 1990s and 2000s, ‘world music’ became a contentious topic in ethnomusicology, with polarised exchanges of ‘anxious’ and ‘celebratory’ narratives. Recently, this debate has subsided, and many academics and industry actors have discarded the controversial label. However, attempts to simply bury the discourse are futile because the politics of ‘world music’ continues to play out within the industry. The problem with the debate was not necessarily the label itself, but the abstract and generalising narratives which simplified discussion of ‘world music’ production and consumption and excluded the voices of its participants. Applying the concept of ‘envoicement’ to WOMAD, I show that musicians value this festival as a platform for getting their voices — literal and metaphorical — heard. I argue that, by revealing perspectives which problematise past narratives, an ethnographic approach guided by envoicement could help to nuance understandings of the industry and break through the critical deadlock.
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Scholars have long known that world music was not merely the globalized product of modern media, but rather that it connected religions, cultures, languages and nations throughout world history. The chapters in this History take readers to foundational historical moments – in Europe, Oceania, China, India, the Muslim world, North and South America – in search of the connections provided by a truly world music. Historically, world music emerged from ritual and religion, labor and life-cycles, which occupy chapters on Native American musicians, religious practices in India and Indonesia, and nationalism in Argentina and Portugal. The contributors critically examine music in cultural encounter and conflict, and as the critical core of scientific theories from the Arabic Middle Ages through the Enlightenment to postmodernism. Overall, the book contains the histories of the music of diverse cultures, which increasingly become the folk, popular and classical music of our own era.
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