Ethnicity, Identity, and Music: The Musical Construction of Place edited by Martin Stokes engages the multifarious experience of music and performance vis-à-vis social identity and cultural subjectivity working to clarify an argument for music and all its by-parts (e.g., listening, dancing, arguing, discussing, thinking, and writing) as a powerful “means by which ethnicities and identities are constructed and mobilized”; moreover, establishing ethnomusicology as a relevant and proficient voice for postcolonial studies.[1] Steeped in social anthropology, this collection focuses on themes of (1) Performance and Place, (2) Ethnicity, (3) Identity and the Nation-State, (4) Hybridity and Difference, (5) Ethnicity, Class, and Media, and (6) Gender and Identity, all of which coalesce into an expansive yet particular ideology of ‘music as culture’.  In other words, music and performance are not simply an experience that transpires inside or outside of ‘culture’ but are themselves a means of cultural maintenance, for better or worse.

In the midst of a growing trend to commercialize local identities through popular festival performance(s), etc., an indigenous understanding of  Place is easily divorced from the experience and left behind for the ‘benefit’ of becoming a palatable commodity for both local and global audiences.  Malcolm Chapman (University of Leeds) posits the corollary consequence of such an evasion as creating “make believe” identities that local people “either know nothing about or dislike.”[2] Specifically, in the case of Celtic preservation, Scottish Gaelic knowledge is deemed unnecessary to the performer and audience, “pentatonic tunes of great beauty are de-natured” by opting for a popular twelve-note scale, and the “social context” of what used to be primary is lost.[3] Consequently, traditional Celtic folklore gives way to becoming a transplanted, meaningless reproduction that waves goodbye to socio-cultural memory due to the internal and external “hierarchies of place.”[4]

From here John Baily (Goldsmiths, University of London) opens up the socializing effect of radio; particularly, as a powerful tool for both expressing and forcing, uniting and dividing national identity, i.e., identity construction.  Baily, whose extensive research resides in Afghanistan, addresses pragmatic “group identity in a multiethnic society” by recalling the challenge and success of Pashtun, Tajik, and Uzbek tribes, despite linguistic and cultural difference, coming together and sharing in music.[5] Zdzislaw Mach (Jagiellonian University, Krakow) builds on this theme of identity construction via music with a caveat for the inclusion of openness of interpretation displayed in peasant, bourgeoisie, communist regime, and anti-communist regime Polish identities all using Frederick Chopin for stability and promotion.  Ultimately, Mach shows how much power national anthems hold whether they are promoted or overthrown!  “Revolutionaries often deliberately desecrate symbols which for them represent the state but have nothing to do with the nation, as they define it, or with a particular social class.”[6] Finally, Suzel Ana Reily (Queen’s University, Belfast) outlines the struggle experienced by Brazilian author and music composer, Mario dé Andrade, in breaking out of a colonial induced “inferiority complex” and running to the “the interfaces of the different ethnic groups that inhabit the country” for aid in constructing authentic, Brazilian folk traditions.[7]

Martin Stokes (University of Oxford, UK) dives into the function of musical meaning and exchange, both of which surface in the documented journey of a small group of Black Sea Turk musicians traveling to Western Ireland for musical interaction and discovery.  Consequently, Stokes concludes that music performance “reorganizes and manipulates everyday experiences of social reality” through its “games of prestige and power” revealed in the confusion and loss of control felt by the Black Sea musicians during a climactic Irish pub ‘jam-session’.[8] Boiled down, Place, an anchor for music/culture construction, becomes transitory for migrant communities in exodus who desire to preserve “collective and private memory” necessary to avoid sinking into Place-less identity.[9] Hybridity and Difference address the problem of a present “globalization of cultural forms and localization of cultural identity” which hold potential to either liberate or perpetuate postcolonial structures.[10]

Enter Fiona Magowan (Queen’s University, Belfast) and her reflection on how the indigenous Yolngu in Australia have used music and performance to “maintain a separate identity…in order to resist colonial influence” by asserting a particular cultural ideology of yothu-yindi/mother-child relationships.[11] Using ritual music to structure both internal and external relationships, Yolngu people openly call on a unifying Ancestral knowledge to strengthen identity while actively speaking out against Euro-Australian political power.  Magowan includes an emotional quote from Stephen Yunupingu: “Through words and feelings in the songs we show our political history.  We claim the rivers and the land through song.  You can change the song but not the land.  The land is our marr (essence) – it stays forever.”[12] Peter Parkes (University of Kent, Canterbury) bolsters the reality of music as a unifying component for oppressed people groups in his essay on the Kalasha, a non-Islamic “enclave” struggling to conserve its egalitarian society amidst a dominant Muslim Pakistan.

Ethnicity, Identity, and Music closes with a historical survey from the late Héléne La Rue critiquing Western socio-gender expectations vis-à-vis musical performance and etiquette that continue to bleed out of 16th century England.  La Rue brings into the light historical inequalities plaguing the relationship(s) between music, gender, and power; specifically, the structural disadvantage experienced by female musicians.  Delving into sources bearing titles such as The Necessary, Fit and Convenient Education of a Yong Gentlewoman (1598), The Instruction of a Young Nobleman and Easie Introduction to Practicall Musick (1607) there is no mistaking where particular Western gender ideologies come from and where they have reified, musically/culturally, e.g., instrument selection, modesty, female subservience, humiliation, etc.

First and foremost, while this collection represents a seminal break from classic, euro-centric musicology there still remains an overwhelming presence of European ethnomusicologists speaking on behalf of Indigenous cultures.  This ‘gap’ has been acknowledged through the cultural sensitivity displayed by all of the authors in this anthology and should continue to be addressed in a way that opens up the door for the great music cultures of the world to speak for themselves.  How this affirmation of communication transpires is a vital question for the future of ethnomusicology.

In the end, Stokes does a great job pulling out overarching themes that work to keep this diverse anthology connected, successfully avoiding the pitfall of leaving the reader with loose ends.  Furthermore, the level of depth reached by a majority of the included authors is commendable in light of the limited amount of space one book holds.  For this reason, Ethnicity, Identity, and Music functions as a comprehensive primer for ethnomusicology and establishes the importance music has upon pragmatic postcolonial trajectories.


[1] Martin Stokes, “Introduction,” in Ethnicity, Identity and Music: The Musical Construction of Place. ed. Martin Stokes (Oxford/New York: Berg Publishers, 1994), 5.

[2] Malcolm Chapman, “Thoughts on Celtic Music,” in Ethnicity, Identity and Music: The Musical Construction of Place. ed. Martin Stokes (Oxford/New York: Berg Publishers, 1994), 31.

[3] Malcolm Chapman, “Thoughts on Celtic Music,” in Ethnicity, Identity and Music (Oxford/New York: Berg Publishers, 1994), 39.

[4] Martin Stokes, “Introduction,” in Ethnicity, Identity and Music (Oxford/New York: Berg Publishers, 1994), 4.

[5] John Baily, “The Role of Music in the Creation of an Afghan National Identity, 1923-73” in Ethnicity, Identity and Music. ed. Martin Stokes (Oxford/New York: Berg Publishers, 1994), 47.

[6] Zdzislaw Mach, “National Anthems: The Case of Chopin as a National Composer,” in Ethnicity, Identity and Music: The Musical Construction of Place. ed. Martin Stokes (Oxford/New York: Berg Publishers, 1994), 62.

[7] Suzel Ana Reily, “Macunaíma’s Music: National Identity and Ethnomusicological Research in Brazil,” in Ethnicity, Identity and Music: The Musical Construction of Place. ed. Martin Stokes (Oxford/New York: Berg Publishers, 1994), 81.

[8] Martin Stokes, “Place, Exchange and Meaning: Black Sea Musicians in the West of Ireland,” in Ethnicity, Identity and Music: The Musical Construction of Place. ed. Martin Stokes (Oxford/New York: Berg Publishers, 1994), 97.

[9] Martin Stokes, “Place, Exchange and Meaning,” in Ethnicity, Identity and Music (Oxford/New York: Berg Publishers, 1994), 114.

[10] Fiona Magowan, “’The Land is Our Märr (Essence), It Stays Forever’: The Yothu-Yindi Relationship in Australian Aboriginal Traditional and Popular Musics,” in Ethnicity, Identity and Music: The Musical Construction of Place. ed. Martin Stokes (Oxford/New York: Berg Publishers, 1994), 133.

[11] Fiona Magowan, “The Land is Our Märr (Essence), It Stays Forever,” in Ethnicity, Identity and Music (Oxford/New York: Berg Publishers, 1994), 145.

[12] Stephen Yunupingu quoted in Fiona Magowan, “The Land is Our Märr (Essence, It Stays Forever,” in Ethnicity, Identity and Music: The Musical Construction of Place. ed. Martin Stokes (Oxford/New York: Berg Publishers, 1994), 147.

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