Musicologists take note of melodies of diaspora

March 3, 2006

When people move they take their music with them - a phenomenon that will be examined by musicologists in Sicily this spring.

A seminar on "the music of diasporas" will be the first major event organised by a new international university-based network of academics who will study the music of uprooted ethnic groups.

Participants will include Jean-Jacques Nattiez of the Universite de Montreal, considered one of the greatest music semiologists; British musicologist Martin Stokes, head of Chicago University's Middle East Studies Institute; Edwin Seroussi, director of the Jewish Music Research Centre at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem; Max Haas of Basel University, a specialist on the migrations of monks in the Middle Ages; and Nico Staiti of Bologna University, who has researched Roma music. The group is the brainchild of Massimo Acanfora Torrefranca, an Italian musicologist at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem, and Gian Mario Borio, head of the musicology faculty at Pavia University, in Cremona.

"Diaspora music is a vastly rich field," Professor Torrefranca said.

"Beyond the study of the music itself, there is its role in historical migrations and the way it reflects, or contradicts, the integration or isolation of the migrant group in its new host society."

He gives the example of Greek rembetiko . This was originally the music of bars and brothels in Turkish ports. But when the Greeks were expelled from Turkey in the 1920s, they brought the music back to Greece and today it is the essence of traditional Greek popular music.

Algerian rai was Berber music that was influenced by American and other music in the 1940s and 1950s. As Algerians migrated to France, it was influenced by modern French electronic music.

Professor Torrefranca said sometimes an ethnic population's music remained more rigorously traditional among exiled groups than in its original homeland.

"In some cases, the music will directly reflect the degree of isolation or integration of a migrant group in the host society," he said. "But there are instances where the exiles come to behave and dress like everyone else but the music remains rigidly traditional, or vice versa."

Wandering Chants - Diasporas and Transmigrations of Music and Musicians in the Mediterranean Basin , May 25-, www.campusmarsala.it

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