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FEATURED CONTENT: Global Identities

From the beginnings of the twentieth century to today there has been a fascination with the idea of music as a marker of shared tradition within a nation, and therefore as a builder of cultural identity. In an increasingly globalised world, the connection between music-making and identity has become a more difficult, yet still important, area of study.

Garifuna women (from the Honduran Atlantic coast) attend celebrations of the Columbus day in Tegucigalpa in 2010. ORLANDO SIERRA/AFP/Getty Images

National Identity

National identities are often simultaneously embraced and contested in the practises of popular music, particularly through its fusion of traditional with contemporary or commercial styles. Discover how the creation of Punta Rock in the 1970s and 80s helped to promote Garifuna identity through the maintenance of the Garifuna language and song forms; how Zenji Flava demonstrates the locality of the Isles of Zanzibar through song lyrics, musical patterns, and music videos; and how Moroccan fusion bands have elevated regional and sub-group musical traditions such as gnāwa to a marker of national identity.


Traditional celebration dance in Ihlara, Turkey, 1988. (Getty Images)

Bridging Gaps

Perhaps owing to its ability to conserve cultural memory, and therefore a collective identity, music is particularly important in cultivating ties to the home country of migrant or diasporic communities. Read about how migrants from Turkey, who settled in Berlin in the 1960s, utilise bağlama and Türkü bars in order to keep their cultural heritage and identities alive; and about how Parisian-based Radio ALFA uses fado to establish a contemporary relationship between the Portuguese communities of France and their homeland.

Popular music has also been used to assert a cultural identity that is in opposition to the dominant culture of a country; this is often communicated via hip-hop. Since its birth in the Bronx in the 1970s as a protest medium, hip-hop has been utilized as a mechanism for expression. Discover how hip-hop features in the musical life of individuals from Mexico to Sub-Saharan Africa, alongside how indigenous musicians in Australia empower themselves through hip-hop whilst rejecting the idea that their expression of identity has to be done in a traditional way.

Eurovision Song Contest compere Katie Boyle (on the left) checks the scoreboard for the order of the draw with Katy Bodtger of Denmark. (Photo by Keystone/Getty Images)

The Eurovision Song Contest

Held annually since 1956, the Eurovision Song Contest involves over 50 participating countries and regularly reaches hundreds of millions of television viewers. Over time it has refashioned the national identities of the countries involved, making them appear more attractive through new media, technologies and fashions. Eurovision songs, while derided by some as over the top cultural kitsch, present elements of national and European identity through the selection of music style and performative symbols. Explore Dean Vuletic’s book on how the contest has historically reflected political and cultural shifts across Europe, acting as a vehicle to address topics such as patriotism, European integration, and war.

Tel Aviv, known as the cultural and musical center of Israel, hosted the 2019 contest in May. Read more about Abba, one of the most iconic Eurovision acts, in Elisabeth Vincentelli’s contribution to the 33 1/3 series.

Malawian music artist Gasper Nali performs on stage in 2018. (Photo by C Brandon/Redferns)

Country Focus: Popular Music in Malawi

The history of popular music in Malawi reflects the country’s colonial past, with genres such as malipenga derived from a combination of European traditions and Malawian dance culture. Independence from British rule in 1963 gave rise to music that reflected changing politics and social attitudes in Malawi. Afroma, a combination of the words ‘Africa,’ ‘rock’ and ‘Malawi’, emerged in the 1960s as a modern and distinctly Malawian sound using electronic instruments. Jazz band music also became a popular creative mode of expression in response to limited opportunities in the one-party state, with music often improvised live with homemade drums, banjos and percussion.

The newly published volume XII of the Bloomsbury Encyclopedia of Popular Music of the World explores the range of popular music genres across countries in Sub-Saharan Africa.

Tim Maia

Tim Maia

Brazilian singer, composer and musician Tim Maia enjoyed a long career in which he created music spanning an eclectic range of genres from soul to samba-rock. His memorable musical style and impassioned approach to life were encapsulated by his infamous Tim Maia Racional recordings in particular. Allen Thayer’s 33 1/3 on Racional Vols. 1 & 2 explores Maia’s larger-than-life public persona and pioneering contribution to international soul and the music of his homeland.

At the time of the US civil rights movement, Maia was the first black Brazilian entertainer to thoroughly break from the traditional roles, namely samba, as he introduced American soul music with its outspoken cultural stances to Brazilians of all colours. His blend of modern soul and Brazilian music with elements of samba and baião, led to the development of the so-called Black Rio music scene in the 1970s, which helped to define a modern black Brazilian identity beyond mass culture’s circumscribed role for Afro-Brazilians.