If The Music of the Other is not a book about Central Asia, it gives keys to understand interaction between European ‘Orientalism’ and traditional cultures getting their own place within European ‘modernity’. It consists of a compilation of several previous publications by L. Aubert, the Curator of the Ethnomusicology Department at Museum of Ethnography of Geneva. In these publications, the author discusses the place and issues of world music in a globalised world, and the role which can be assumed by ethnomusicology in regard to phenomena such as hybridity or transculturality. The debate deals with the interactions between extra-Western cultures (entered here through music), on the one side, and on the other side the audience of the European “multicultural society” (p. 1). The author, following a structuralist cultural anthropological line, opposes traditional societies (where music serves as a collective social function) to modern societies (supposedly governed by individualism and liberalism). Identity is the first addressed issue, and constitutes in the author’s view, a “source of schism” (p. 2) in our present post-colonial and globalised world. As music represents most of the time a cultural identity, L. Aubert criticises the “de-culturation” process initialised by the creation of nation-states, which can be seen in music through imposed modern production tools. Even if concerts of extra-Western music on Western stages have “allowed some of them to survive transformations or even to evade the decay and impoverishment of their environment (p. 6),” Western music managers and researchers should also think about promoting these music through other ways, in line with performers, so that the “local” can “appropriate the global” (p. 8). Ethnomusicology should play a key role in this process: “The ethnomusicologist’s work will then consist of considering the effects of a transfer of world music styles to a new context and, as far as possible, acting in these contexts to assure that the place they deserve is granted to them (p. 14).”
In chapter 3, L. Aubert tries to define the complex link between music and tradition through three distinctions usually observed in the music of the world: traditional music (tradition considered as authenticity), folkloric music (tradition as eclectics), and world music (tradition as syncretism). He then defines tradition as a “specific inheritance of a collective phenomenon (p. 16)” and searches for tradition’s boundaries, asserting tradition is a key concept in cultural diversity. Looking for criteria of traditional music, he lists: ancient origin and respect of old principles, oral transmission, function and value in a defined cultural context, links with a network of practices and beliefs: this music’s very raison d’être. Even if he does not oppose progress and tradition, the author seeks the ultimate limit of modernisation that can be accepted in traditional music. The fourth chapter deals with traditional music on Western stages, through concerts of “traditional music” and the forms they can take. L. Aubert recognises different ways of representing a chosen “authenticity”, from art to ritual, folk or ethnic genres. He also gives a fine analyse of audiences’ wishes, underlying “the viewer’s desire to return to origins (. . .) and to be involved in and identify with what is proposed”. This exoticism’s desire leads to rules and constraints for musicians, who should not show any sign of Westernisation, and sometimes are pressured to folklorise their shows. Chapter six follows on a typology of the audience, inspired by Adorno but commented in world music’s context. In his seventh chapter, the author comes back to history and to the uses of the concept of folklore and of its “nostalgic” content. He then comes to world music as symbol of hybridity, stressing that globalisation does not mean Westernisation, to the extent that every society is being globalised today: “We are in the other and the other is in us (p. 53).” Still, L. Aubert does not believe in the existence of a fashion of hybridity, which he believes to be an illusion useful for economic market’s rule. Even if he notes interesting “transcultural” experiences, and highlights the “social dimension of world music (p. 67),” economical statistics on world music sales show that the real “authentic” traditional music does not make benefits. That’s why he proposes, in chapter 10, another “transcultural itinerary”: westerners learning traditional non-western music. Still, he does not forget the huge cultural background needed for this perilous exercise, and also points out difficulties and best-adapted methods (master, oral transmission, necessity to leave down the previous knowledge, etc.). In the final chapter, L. Aubert offers his own story and route, starting from fascination for Indian music to apprenticeship of sarod (Indian lute) till his personal and professional engagement for traditional music in Europe. He concludes that Indian music offers “a universal model, a nearly perfect model of synthesis between classicism and modernity, between tradition and creation, between fundamental structures and individual expression (p. 83).”
This collection of articles by L. Aubert offers essential keys on the globalisation process of traditional music at work in Europe, and on comprehension of traditional cultures by Europeans. It also gives a crucial internal view of formatting practices while representing traditional non-Western cultures, and ways European audience listens and sees their idealised “lost paradise”. However, the a priori is that globalisation takes place only in West, in a movement initialised by the West towards ‘other’ cultures, which consists of a partial point of view. Although L. Aubert sometimes stays in an idealistic view of ethnomusicology—and then puts some harsh judgements on “world music” (for example on what he sees as a gap between Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan’s faith and his collaborations with Western artists)—this book stays a necessary overture to ethnomusicology’s coping with both colonial past, spiritual dream and contemporaneous exigencies of economic cultural market.