4 - Singing Exile of Progress and Nostalgia
Published online by Cambridge University Press: 19 March 2020
‘MODERN Western culture’, Edward Said has famously argued, ‘is in large part the work of exiles, emigres, refugees.’ Said references Hannah Arendt's point that those on the most marginal fringes of societies, refugees, occupy a paradoxical centrality and suggests that migration, as a human condition, influences, reflects, and can be traced in the arts, for example. Indeed, it seems to be a truism that music dealing with migration, speaking of it, performing it, or bearing traces of it abounds. With Homer's Odyssey, the dawn of European literature breaks with the story of a migrant, and that of music, too, for the Odyssey was recited. And it seems safe to assume that migrants, or those who experience exile or some sort of displacement, whether physical or virtual, might be driven to reflect on their situation creatively. But it is equally obvious that it would be too simplistic to label every work by a migrant composer migratory music, just as it is clear that conceptual engagements with migration, exile, and diaspora are not the sole domain of migrants. How, then, does migration manifest itself in music? How, if at all, can it be traced, and what are the premises for tracing it? As I have argued elsewhere, much writing engaging with the music of migrants or diasporic communities takes the migratory premise for granted and sometimes fetishises it. Besides the implicit danger of thus disempowering artists as human beings unable to rise beyond their migratory status, assuming music to be diasporic because its author is or was a migrant at the time of the creation of the work (and consequently arguing that it confirms the author's migratory status) is problematic logically. It takes the outcome of analysis for the process of analysis.
Even though such a debate may appear old hat, it is worthwhile to briefly discuss the relation between a migrant composer's biography and the analysis of their works on a theoretical level to form a methodological basis for this chapter, before focusing on some specific compositions. Given the well-established premise of contextuality and performativity in musicological discourses over the last thirty years or so, musical analysis has more and more turned to addressing the existence or appearance of music within its performative contexts, frequently positing hybridities and cautioning against essentialisations. Much of musicology has shifted from ontological to phenomenological approaches.
- Publisher: Boydell & BrewerPrint publication year: 2019