ASA06: Cosmopolitanism and Anthropology

Panel 3

Popular Music and Cosmopolitanism - Sara Cohen

Room: CBA 0.007x40

Panel abstract

The term ‘cosmopolitanism’ has not featured strongly within popular music studies despite one or two recent and significant contributions. This panel will explore the relevance and usefulness of the term for popular music studies, and in turn what the study of popular music can contribute to recent anthropological theories and debates on cosmopolitanism.

Commercial popular music has been described as urban, global, transnational culture and analysed in terms of border crossings, borrowings and appropriations, hybridity, fusion and other forms of musical mixing. It has also been implicated in the promotion of local and national events, discourses and identities that may be described as insular and parochial, or connected to notions of multiculturalism and cosmopolitanism. What role have musicians and their audiences, the music industry and the local State played in this process? How, for example, has musical cosmopolitanism been structured by global capitalism, and how has popular music been co-opted by the State to promote a cosmopolitan agenda? Can certain groups of musicians be described as cosmopolitan or as grounded or ‘rooted’ cosmopolitans’? Do particular popular music genres and styles encourage or discourage a cosmopolitan sensibility? Can theoretical debates on cosmopolitanism contribute to an understanding of the politics and ethics of alterity in hybrid popular musics, and in turn can a focus on the specificity of popular music (as music, for example, as well as something commercially produced and mass mediated) contribute to or challenge such debates?


Sara Cohen
Institute of Popular Music, University of Liverpool


Cosmopolitanism, liberation and racial hierarchy: Colombian popular music, from whitening to multiculturalism

Professor Peter Wade, University of Manchester

This paper will explore changing trends in popular music in twentieth-century Colombia and their relationship to a modernity seen as cosmopolitan, urbane and liberating, to more parochial concerns of national identity, and to national and transnational racial hierarchies. Music identified as (relatively) “black” became nationally popular in Colombia, around mid-century, and was linked to the international music business and to ideas of transnational culture and (especially sexual) liberation. Yet it was also harnessed to projects of nation-building and was shaped by racial hierarchies that were national and transnational in scale. At the end of the twentieth century, multiculturalism has become the new idiom of appealing to cosmopolitan ideals of a common humanity - and this is reflected in new forms of “black” popular music - but an obvious tension between cultural particularism and universalism is revealed. It may be that Latin American ideals of mestizaje (mixture) and hybridity address that tension in interesting ways, without resolving it.

Popular Music in Culebra, Insularism through the Cosmopolitan

Mr Carlo Cubero, University of Manchester

My PhD research has focused on practices and discourses of Caribbean insular identity and their relationship or interplay with practices and discourses of movement and travel that inform a Caribbean transinsular and transnational identity, with special emphasis on the island of Culebra. My project looks at the ways in which the social relations that give shape to an insular Culebra are constituted through a process of movement and interaction with other island spaces, which correspond to different colonial histories, and are involved in their own transnational networks.

In my dissertation, I am arguing that people living on the Spanish speaking island of Culebra produce and reproduce a sense of located island identity that is informed in a historical relation with the neighbouring English speaking United States Virgin Islands and British Virgin Islands. During my year of fieldwork, I collected data that shows different ways in which islanders of Culebra draw on social, political and cultural resources associated with the English and the Spanish Caribbean as well as from global networks of relations in order to shape their sense of island identity.

In this presentation I will be discussing the process by which Culebra musicians compose and perform an island music that is informed by experiences of travel and traversing through different sound spaces. Musicians from Culebra embody and perform an insular musical identity by incorporating a repertoire and instrumentation associated to different linguist and historical regions of the Caribbean, as well as global musical trends. I believe that Culebra musicians employ these musical tropes self-consciously; in doing so they seem to be approaching their music with a pan-Caribbean perspective. I will argue that Culebra musicians articulate a sense of unique insular island identity by making, performing, and embodying music that is the product of movements and interactions which suggest cosmopolitan expressions of Caribbean hybridity.

I will be placing the narratives of Culebra island identity, as it is constituted in movement, in tension with academic and political discourses of island nations that dominate representations of Caribbean cultural production and identity.

Tirando Piedras Por Todos Lados' (1) (Throwing Stones to All Sides): Cosmopolitanism and Music in Cuba with particular reference to race, ethnicity and gender

Dr Jan Fairley, Edinburgh University

How revealing and useful is cosmopolitanism to understand the nature of musical production and cultural capital in Cuba both before and after the 1959 revolution? In 2006, do political, economic and ideological shifts of the 1990s still have to be evaluated through the prism of the Fidel Castro's maxim 'within the revolution everything, outside the revolution nothing' and how has that affected muscial creativity? Can cosmopolitanism help us understand musical phenomenon of the 1990s with its clear references to Black religious musics (pre) dating from the colonial period? Is cosmopolitanism a contested theory: what if anything does it tell us about complex power relationships both within Cuba and between Cuba and the rest of the world as expressed in music? Discussion will be grounded in long term music ethnographic fieldwork / research in Cuba between 1978 to 2005 and in argument of music as prime cultural expression.

(1) song N.G. La Banda circa 2000


"The 'local' and 'global' in popular music", in Frith, Straw, Street (eds) The Cambridge Companion to Pop and Rock, Cambridge University Press, 2001, pp 272-289

Ay Díos Ampárame (O God, Protect Me): Music in Cuba during the 1990s, the 'Special Period', in Dawe (ed) Island Musics, Berg 2004, pp 77-97

Cosmopolitanism and popular music: world music and immigrant music in Dublin

Barbara Bradby and Bart Put, Trinity College, Dublin

This paper explores the intersections, and lack of intersections, between the circuits of 'world music' on the one hand and the popular music of new immigrant communities as manifested in the Republic of Ireland. The new migration into Ireland has had two visible phases as represented in the Irish media. The first one was of 'refugees and asylum seekers' from various African countries and from the state of the former Yugoslavia, which has generated public debate over the last ten years focussing around Racism and anti-racism. The second wave is that of migrant workers from the new states of the EU consequent on their accession in January 2005, and has provoked public debate about economic globalisation and the undermining of Irish workers' rights, as manifested in the current dispute over Irish Ferries.

Ethnographic fieldwork in Dublin and some other towns of the RoI has found remarkably little connection between the popular musics of both waves of immigrants and the public face of 'world music'. Various explanations of this lack of intersection are explored. One is around the aesthetic of 'world music' itself, which tends to be based in notions of 'authenticity', and to rely very much on a musical aesthetic, given that there is little audience understanding of words of songs (even where the languages involved may be 'world' languages). Another is around what Hannerz has pointed to as generational demography, whereby younger migrants adopt global musical styles such as 'rock' of various kinds, and club culture. Hence, circuits of national-language, and even English-language rock bands from the new accession states remain largely hidden from mainstream Irish society in a classic sub-cultural space.

Some sites of intersection are also explored, in particular the minority diaspora audiences found at gigs given recently by the fado singer, Mariza, who addressed the crowd in Portuguese towards the end of her set, and by Rachid Taha, where the stage at Vicar Street was invaded by Algerian members of the audience dancing with the Algerian flag and singing along in Arabic. Such audience segments sit uneasily alongside the predominantly middle-class and white audience.

This fieldwork, both with immigrant communities and with the organisers and audiences for world music, is used to question some of the claims of cosmopolitan theory, and in particular to address the debate between Hannerz and Clifford on elite versus 'discrepant' cosmopolitanisms.


Cultural Activism, World Music and Cosmopolitan Mentalities in Corsica

Caroline Bithell, Martin Harris Centre for Music and Drama, The University of Manchester

Over the past decade, a number of groups from the Mediterranean island of Corsica have made their mark in international festival and concert tour circuits as well as producing a series of prize-winning CDs. Many of these groups now work in collaboration with artists, composers and producers from outside the island. My paper outlines the way in which this new wave of popular musical activity has evolved in response to a series of intersecting trends, including (a) the growth of the world music industry and the transnational fashion for both “ethnic” and syncretic styles; (b) the more specific French notion of métissage, which relates to the trend towards multiculturalism within France as well as serving as a translation for “world music”; (c) the ecumenically and humanistically inclined post-nationalist spirit in Corsica itself; (d) the trope of Mediterraneanism, with the Mediterranean represented as syncretic by nature; (e) interregional alliances promoted via the programmes of the European Union, with collaborative intercultural musical projects being directly supported by the EU structural funds; (f) the Corsican Assembly’s official promotion of a policy of ouverture; and (g) the mapping of postmodern notions of polyphony and intertextuality onto the indigenous multi-part singing style, allowing the recording studio and international stage to be conceived as spaces where harmony can be created out of difference in a way that is in direct continuity with traditional practice. Globalising trends have, at the same time, been held in check by a strong sense of insular identity and deep-seated allegiances that ensure a continued dedication to local community. Groups like Les Nouvelles Polyphonies Corses, I Muvrini and A Filetta have become skilled at controlling the interface between indigenous ways of being in the world and more global modes of operation, their negotiation of the delicate balance between culture as everyday life and culture as transnational commodity being informed by a sensibility that is both aesthetic and moral. I consider the extent to which these groups might be seen to fit Guilbault’s depiction of world music artists as “cosmopolitans who function in and out, at will, of what has been traditionally perceived as the totalizing ‘system’ … controlled by the dominant cultures” (1993, 39), while also evaluating their activities in the context of Appiah’s notion of “rooted” cosmopolitans. My analysis of the motivations and rationalisations underpinning contemporary musical activity draws substantially on the words of the musicians themselves as they reflect on their role as locally rooted but globally active players at the start of a new millennium.


Back to the page listing all the panels