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The Processes and Results of Musical Culture Contact: A Discussion of Terminology and

Author(s): Margaret J. Kartomi
Source: Ethnomusicology, Vol. 25, No. 2 (May, 1981), pp. 227-249
Published by: University of Illinois Press on behalf of Society for Ethnomusicology
Stable URL: http://www.jstor.org/stable/851273
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Margaret J. Kartomi

With some
tended torecent
disapprove ofexceptions, Western
musics of mixed Western writers on music have
and non-Wes-
tern descent, ignoring or dismissing them as objects unworthy of atten-
tion. 1 Some Western scholars during the first half of this century began to
overcome some of the ethnocentric musical prejudices held in their social
environments, but mostly this was in regard to traditional non-Western
musics that were not apparently influenced by the West, for example, the
courtly musics of Southeast Asia. Although the exact reasons for the
disapproval of musics of mixed Western and non-Western descent were
not normally explained, the vocabulary used by writers to describe them
has generally implied that they lacked authenticity or were degenerate
and oversentimental, having been influenced only by the "lowest" forms
of Western music. Thus, Powne (1968:vii-viii) referred to a "debased or
Westernized music" in Ethopia, and Price (1930a: 16) to "the slovenly and
immoral" music called jazz, which he regarded as "crude, negroid in
form and vulgar" (1930b:65). Even the sensitive scholar Kunst referred to
the partially Western-derived genre of Indonesian kroncong as a "monot-
onous and characterless wail" (1949:4), listing it as one of the causes why
the native art "is either dying away or degenerating" (ibid.) Some writers
have indulged in a romantic zeal to save traditional music everywhere
from the contamination that was often supposed to result from musical
contact between the West and the non-West.


This disapproval was partly a consequence of the fact t

comparatively recently, most references to musical contact be
tures were made with regard to the colonial European empires
Africa and the internal colonial system of the Americas; and i
text, Eurocentric prejudices were rife. A distinction was ofte

Final version, rec'd: 1/27/81

0014-1836/81/2502-227$1.15 O 1981 Society for Ethnomusicolo


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tween "pure, traditional" genres on the one hand

fertilized, pastiche, transplanted, exotic, fused, ble
motic, creole, mestizo, mulatto, syncretic, synthesi
double acculturated2 genres on the other.3 Lacking a
cological terminology, writers borrowed these expr
disciplines as biology, botany, chemistry, the culinar
thropology, linguistics, and mythology, and applied
musical effects which they resembled in one way o
Under certain conditions, culture contact can inde
musical processes in motion, resulting, for example, i
of a repertoire, a reduction of "musical energy," that
and energy spent by a society (Nettl 1978:129), or eve
extinction of a music. But these developments shou
with the negative value judgements that have been
about whole genres of "hybrid" musics. To ascribe in
large genre is to fail to recognize that, although some w
may be of lesser quality than others, any genre in it
many various parts to be judged as good or bad, as
Moreover, blanket judgements made against these
frequently based on Western aesthetic standards, wh
ately be applied to a non-Western music. Europea
constitutes musical sentimentality, crudity, or balanc
cross-cultural. Such associations cannot, therefore,
justification for the blanket disapproval of a genre s
sic, whose vocal lines are often performed with a w
been accused, partly for that reason, of being music
Pejorative expressions that seem to punish the of
"sins" of the parents spring from or lead to a disres
of the musical offspring, as in such phrases as Trac
natural union of two African musics," by which
between "the salt of African country music and the s
of cheap ballads and revivalist hymns" (1948:x-xi), w
country music, was seen as racially pure African m
cheap mixture of Western and African musics.
It is probably true that blatantly discriminatory
these musical genres are made less frequently today
ago. Yet these genres are not by any means generally
art forms in their own right; nor, except in the cas
musicological studies been made of them yet.4 Educa
not normally teach courses on these musics, with the
some institutions of jazz. With a few exceptions,

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hardly given themselves the opportunity to begin to understand t

at work in culture contact situations and have been plagued by
terminological confusion.
A close look at some frequently-used terms suggests they
criticized for possessing some pejorative implications. Ter
cross-fertilized, hybrid, creole, mestizo and mulatto have som
confused in their meanings with negative attitudes to illicit b
interracial liaisons.5 The term "hybrid music" might be defe
light of the analogy with animal husbandry and agriculture,
parent stocks are often mixed to create "hybrid strength" that
to the advantage of the offspring. However, it has not been the
stress the possible "hybrid strength" of such musics in the l
rather the reverse has been the case, and "hybrid music" thus
negative connotations. Terms such as hybrid, creole, and the
also be criticized as incomplete, for they draw attention to t
parentage or ancestors (to use a benign biological analogy) rath
the musical offspring, which is the primary object of interest
the people identifying with it. The union of the parent music
sary but not sufficient condition for musical synthesis and transf
to take place. Thus, terms which emphasize only the procreat
parents are incomplete and can be misleading. Frequently, m
the identifying culture are at most only dimly aware of the ident
parental cultures whose union provided the initial generation
music. Adherents of dondang sayang music, for example,
Malaccan music with its own unique stylistic qualities, and
wish, even if they could, to subtract from it its Indian, Ara
guese, Malay, and other traits. It may be argued that we no lon
refer to these musics by means of undifferentiated terms lik
musics, but that we should simply call them by their proper
as dondang sayang, or spirituals, or ragtime.
When used without qualification, terms such as borrowed
pastiche, blended, fused, integrated, and osmotic are also unsa
for they too imply a preoccupation with the union of the dispa
elements, thus distracting attention away from the unique m
duct. Where "borrowing" ends, creative musical change be
The biological metaphor, "transplanted music," is not always
realized as such by writers who use it. Originally (in 1440), "transplant"
meant removing a plant from one place or soil to another (Oxford English
Dictionary). The process of moving a music into a new cultural environ-
ment does resemble the delicate and sometimes risky operation of trans-
planting a plant, or a tissue or organ as in modern medicine. Like the word
"exotic," which originally (in 1549) meant "not indigenous" and was

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later (from 1645) applied to plants or animals of foreign ext

English Dictionary), transplantation can imply negative
pects for an organism in a new environment. Unless plac
hothouse conditions, some transplanted or exotic plants
wither and die, as do some musics. Thus Tunley, referrin
European music in Australia, wrote: "It has been said th
evolution of a transplanted culture tends to come to a sta
environment" (1978:2), and Harris referred to an instan
transplanted European musical culture seemed in danger
Many plants survive transplantation and manage to
mally without experiencing change of form or quality. S
musics survive and flourish too, as in the case of Wester
Japan; but unlike plants, these musics and their contex
subject to transformational change to one degree or an
analogy between transplants and musical transformation
only partially apt, referring as it does only to the initial act
the partial acceptance, transformation or demise of
environment. Transplantation is, at most, a small ini
process of intercultural musical synthesis. While "trans
limited sense is an acceptable term, "exotic" is perhaps
because of its associations with the bizarre.
A close look at the more fashionable word "acculturation" also iso-
lates some problems. Four main arguments may be levelled against the
term. First, it is highly doubtful that any completely isolated cultures exist
in the world today. Thus, there is a strong likelihood that all musics ar
syntheses of more than one cultural (and, in some cases, class)6 influenc
If this is so, then it is unhelpful, even meaningless, to speak of an accu
turated music (as a result of contact) on the one hand and a nonaccul-
turated one on the other. Intercultural musical synthesis is not the exce
tion but the rule. Conflict and change are part of the nature of reality
even in seemingly timeless, static societies. As long as we labor under t
false assumption that there is such a thing as a "pure," "untainted" lin
of musical tradition on the one hand, and an "acculturated" ar "adul-
terated" one on the other (and in so doing imply that the former is more
valuable than the latter), then we must logically expect to disapprove of
all the musics that exist, have existed and will exist in the universe at
large. The exceptions would be those that can be shown to be pristinely
pure, if that were ever possible, given that the musical prehistory of all
cultures is largely unknown.
Second, "acculturation" has a history of contradictory meanings
attached to it. "To the average social worker, acculturation conveys little

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more than a sense of a heterogeneous, unanalyzed collec

ses, any or all of which may be set in train by contacts b
tatives of different societies and cultures" (Linton 1963
gave examples of "the various and often conflicting mean
acculturation" (1958:33), ever since it was first used in
1880. He pointed out that few students of culture chang
define the term or assess its implications before using it" (1958:35).
Wachsmann, on the other hand, suggested that "it may be actually de-
sirable that the definition [of acculturation] is ambiguous in what it says
about culture" (1961:140). While this may have been so at one stage of
our thinking about culture contact, it might now be counter-argued that
we have suffered long enough from the disadvantages of ambiguous defi-
nitions, for terminological confusion implies that we are laboring under
theoretical confusion as well.
Two extremely contradictory definitions of "acculturate" are "adapt
to, adopt a different culture" (Concise Oxford Dictionary, 1976) and
"loss of culture with subsequent proletarianization" (Konig 1967:296). To
continue to use a word with so many different meanings may seem to be
asking for trouble, which is presumably the reason why Nettl avoided the
term altogether in his 1978 article. Hesse, in his dissertation (1971a) on
Cuban spiritist music, also chose to avoid the term, being convinced that
it was inappropriate and that the term "transculturation" was superior.
One way of solving the problem of the term's medley of confused
meanings would be to select an impeccable operational definition, use it
consistently, and hope that others will too. But who can offer an impec-
cable definition? Even good dictionaries find the word ambiguous. For
example, Webster's Unabridged Dictionary (1976) offers two related
definitions, and one quite different one, of acculturation:
la: a process of intercultural borrowing marked by the continuous transmission
of traits and elements between diverse peoples and resulting in new and blended

b: modification of a parent culture resulting from prolonged contact with a more

advanced culture

2: the process of socialization-compare enculturation.

The first of these definitions (la) gives acculturation not only as a

process but also as a result. As has been shown, the use of the term as
result is misleading, based as it is on an improper distinction between
"pure" and "adulterated" music. The second definition (lb) implies
process only, but it is incomplete as it covers only the cases of contac
between a more advanced as opposed to a less advanced culture. And th
last definition (2) may be ignored for present purposes as it refers to
quite different process from the one under discussion.

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A third objection to the term acculturation is tha

been used with ethnocentric or racist-supremacist o
that its use has been based on negative value judgem
is often regarded as being a largely one-way proces
lower culture" (Gowing 1971:23). Malinowski claim
that the word introduces "moral, normative and
which radically vitiate the real understanding of th
As has been indicated, the term emerged during la
the context of the study of "primitive" cultures. "It
intercultural contacts mostly involved colonial peopl
and required to adjust to the cultures of the Wester
(Spicer 1976:922), that is, at a time when empires wer
missionaries were very actively promoting Christiani
expense of indigenous musics and other cultural expr
other cultural coercion of "primitive races" by "racia
was an essential component of the ideological frame
the word "acculturation" was spawned.
Ortiz's objection to the term is based on its alleg
plications, whereby "the natives" are seen as having
selves in order to receive the benefits of superior W
they have nothing to offer of their own. It may be
objecting to a mere word and that it is possible to ma
term without any racist implications at all. But as M
(in Ortiz 1947:iii), the etymology of words can pl
thoughts, and the term is therefore better avoided.
A fourth objection to "acculturation" is based on i
and the faulty research methods that may ensue if th
Deriving from the Latin colere meaning "to cultivat
prefix ac which is the assimilative form of the Latin
together." Roughly the word means "adding culture
The literal meaning of "acculturation," then, em
ing together" of the parents, not the identity of the of
child and see only the resemblances to its parents is
deprecatory of the child. The opinion that a child "ha
for example, tells us little about the identity of th
recognition of, say, the Portuguese elements in Mal
for example, necessarily enhance our appreciation o
has its own autonomous unity and idiomatic peculia
The process of intercultural musical synthesis, a
borrowing of single discrete elements (such as a mu
not a matter of the addition of single elements of one c
is a matter of setting into motion an essentially cre

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the transformation of complexes of interacting musical

ideas. It is not that the whole equals the sum of its parts
of a few of its parts. If it were simply a matter of add
elements that were added together could logically be sub
new whole and be identifiable again in their original form
tion, like any other phenomenon of cultural dynamics, i
(Herskovits 1972:171). It serves no useful purpose to try
the musical elements from their new cultural matrix and trace them back-
wards, because they are intermeshed and reorganized on entirely new and
specific lines. To extend the biological metaphor, the "hybrid" has be-
come a new species.
The argument against "acculturation as addition" has important im-
plications for research method. It throws doubt on Wachsmann's state-
ment that "demarcation of these [parent] cultures in musical terms is the
central problem for the musicologist" (1961:148). It is, of course, histori-
cally interesting to try and establish a music's parentage and, in cases
where sufficient historical evidence is available, to establish credible
hypotheses as to the precise contributions of the parent musics. In such
cases the historical data can sometimes be confirmed, partly by musical
analysis. But musical analysis cannot by itself yield this information about
parental traits. This is not only because the object of investigation is
always a new, independent musical synthesis that, despite its mixed heri-
tage, must be regarded as a primary music worthy of study in its own
right. It is also because the new music is now housed in a new social
context with its own set of extramusical meanings.
For example, African drum rhythms may be at the base of many
syncopated rhythms idiomatic of jazz. But their musical and extramusical
meanings have all been changed in their very essence in the new context.
An investigation into jazz that simply involved the mechanical invoicing
of its African, European, and other musical traits would be missing the
point of the whole process that brought this music into being. And it
would also be a highly unreliable means, by itself, of establishing the
musical history of jazz.
Perhaps the most acceptable term with which to refer to the complete
cycle of positive musical processes set in motion by culture contact--as
opposed to the results of contact-is "musical transculturation." This
term is not typified by a confused or ethnocentric etymological history, nor
is it oriented toward the union of the parent cultures as opposed to the
musical product. "Musical synthesis" and "musical syncretism" are
very similar terms which are reasonably acceptable. All three contain the
meaning of a complex process of fusion and transformation of impinging
musical cultures, which according to Linton (1963:492) is "the logical end

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product of reciprocal cultural borrowing." These ter

work in the negative. To speak of a "nonsynthesize
turated" music would be to imply unwarrantedly t
pure and others impure.
The term "synthesis," meaning the "putting tog
elements that make up a complex whole" (Oxford E
defined in the Hegelian sense (Webster's) as meaning
the partial truths of a thesis and its antithesis into a hi
In the musical sense, it may be given to mean the w
dictory elements between two or more impinging m
tical process into a new musical whole.7
Syncretism, which from 1840 was given to mean
union or reconciliation of diverse or opposite tenets
English Dictionary), has been defined by Merria
blending together of elements of two cultures, cha
values and forms." It may be argued, however, that i
a religious context gives it connotations that make
present purposes than the'term "synthesis."8
Transculturation has been defined (Webster's) as
tural transformation marked by the influx of new cult
loss or alteration of existing ones." Malinowski supp
term (for example, in Ortiz 1947:xvi) on the ground
implications of one standard, the European, dominat
change. Coined in 1940 by the Cuban anthropologis
relatively free of ambiguous meanings. And as defin
is limited to the transformational processes engend
like the word acculturation, it does not attempt to
confuse, the processes and responses to contact.


The terms transculturation, synthesis and syncretism shoul

plied, then, only to the processes of intercultural contact, no
varying types of results. But clearly, terms are also needed to d
varied results of, or responses to, these processes. The respon
not be seen as static entities but as changeable moments in tim
In recent years, terms have been coined or borrowed to co
of the many types of musical adjustment or response that occu
feasible here to present a complete list of all the possible resp
intercultural contact, because it is impossible to know or predi
variable responses. The present aim is to comment on some

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allowing for the possibility of multiple responses in a single ca

ber of types of response have been listed by Nettl (1978:130-4),
of them are applicable only to cases of non-Western contact wi
music.10 Some additional types of responses are discussed
namely: rejection, transfer of discrete traits, pluralistic coexist
partmentalization, and nativistic revival. Further thought is al
two of the responses on Nettl's list, namely: abandonment an

Virtual Rejection of an Impinging Music

Under certain circumstances, a culture may largely reject the musical

influences of an impinging culture. Reasons for this may include ecologi-
cal impediments, political separation, and conceptual barriers. In the lat-
ter case, for example, a culture may resist foreign ideas of large orches-
tras or musical hierarchies for reasons of class and economy, or for
technological reasons, when the impinging music requires a technology
that is not available to that culture. Rejection may be caused by an emo-
tional resistance to the "borrowing" of musical ideas from a "barbarian"
people. It may also be caused by a culture's concern for its own cultural
"purity," or by its ethnocentric pride. Ethnocentric views, which may in
some cases be censured on the grounds that they imply limiting, negative,
even narrow-minded attitudes towards other musics, may also serve a
positive function, as a means of defense against foreign musical domina-
For example, the belief of traditionally-minded Javanese in their own
cultural superiority has protected their musical tradition from stylistic
European influence, both in court and village. After centuries of Euro-
pean contact, gamelan music still sounds totally Javanese, with no con-
cessions made to European harmony or other musical stylistic aspects.
Yet subtle Western influences of far-reaching consequence have crept in,
including: (1) the gamelan's secularization in some urban contexts (partly
as a result of the Western-led commercialization of music and contact
with the Westen concert hall tradition); (2) the partial consolidation of the
gamelan's many regional styles (largely through the influence of the
media); and (3) the introduction of musical notation along western lines
(partly in order to preserve the music for posterity, thus limiting impro-
visation) (Becker 1980:1 1ff). Nor is it purely coincidental that the gamelan
ensemble doubled and even tripled in size at approximately the same time
as Wagner's and Mahler's orchestras were expanding in size in Europe.11
Despite the resistance by Javanese musical culture to Western syntactical

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musical ideas, general ideas of individualism, preserv

mercialism have made their impact on Javanese musi
implies, the total rejection by a culture of the music
with which it is in long-term contact probably never o
seems to succeed in doing so. Some degree of symbio
bound to take place.

Transfer of Discrete Musical Traits

Throughout history, single discrete musical traits have been adopted

by cultures from foreign sources. "Enough cases of culture transfer hav
been observed to make it clear that the borrowing of single elements i
much more frequent than that of trait complexes" (Linton 1963:485
Transfer and incorporation frequently happens in a peaceful context. 1
For example, the incorporation of a few Indian musical traits into pop and
rock music in the 1970s reflected the burgeoning interest of the West in
Eastern religions.
But the transfer of single elements does not by itself cause major
evolutionary or revolutionary change. Transfers are not necessarily ac-
companied by significant or large-scale changes of musical taste, atti-
tudes, or concepts, such as the adoption of the European harmonic sys-
tem. Thus, the transfer of discrete traits can, at most, be regarded as
preliminary prerequisite for eventual musical transculturation.
The intercultural exchange of musical instruments, for example, has
frequently occurred throughout history. The diffusion of bowed strings
throughout the world is an example of a chain of such exchanges. How-
ever, when these instruments cross cultural barriers, they do not neces-
sarily bring the old musical concepts with them. Thus, the rebab (bowed
fiddle) in the Middle East inhabits a very different conceptual world from
that of the rebab in Java, or Kelantan.
Single musical traits such as melodic idioms or rhythmic motives may
also be adopted from foreign musical sources by innovative composers
and other individuals. This may be a significant process as regards the
particular piece of music in question, as in Peter Sculthorpe's incorpora-
tion of Balinese rhythmic and melodic ideas into his composition, "Sun
Music III." The use of a single trait can also be important in the overall
development of a composer and may even influence quite a few musician
and audiences in the long run. But the use of foreign musical traits in a
new context automatically implies that new musical and extramusical
meanings are attached to them, and innovative composers or other indi-
viduals in question do not necessarily understand these meanings in thei
native context, nor do they, of course, need to. Thus, these small trait

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innovations, minus concepts, are not comparable to the tran

processes of creative contact between cultures. At most, th
regarded as a small part of potential transculturation.

Pluralistic Coexistence of Musics

A culture may continue the full-scale practice of its own music while
tolerating the parallel musical practices of other ethnic groups, keeping
the various musics largely or completely separate from each other. Thus,
traditional Eskimo music coexists on the east coast of Greenland with
Western music, but each is kept intact and autonomous (Olsen 1972:32
Musical pluralism is especially likely to occur in bi- or multi-ethnic
urban situations, but it normally lasts only as long as the interplay be-
tween the adherents of each musical culture is strictly limited. Sometimes
this can last a long time. Eventually, some musicians may combine and
transform the elements of two or more musical sources, thus creating a
new synthesis. For example, a young Melbourne rock band leader has
produced a unique Greek rock sound that contains both rock and Greek
folk ideas, the latter absorbed during his childhood. The music has been
accepted by a group of young followers in Melbourne. Since it is in the
early stages of acceptance and transformation, it can only be regarded at
this stage as an example of potential transculturation. Its main motivating
force is the desire to be "with it" while preserving some continuity with
the Greek heritage.
Musical compartmentalization13 may be seen as a subcategory of
pluralistic coexistence. Members of a bi- or multi-ethnic society may
absorb during childhood the musical styles of their own as well as of
another ethnic group with which they have lived in close contact, keeping
each music separately compartmentalized in their minds. For example,
some people living near the border of Central and West Java can sing in
both Central and West Javanese musical styles, much as a child living in a
bilingual situation can learn to speak two languages well.

Nativistic Musical Revival

This is a special subcategory of musical preservation (Nettl's term

1978:131). A culture that has been dominated by another and has neg-
lected its own music eventually may become aware of the danger of th
music's possible extinction and make efforts to revitalize it. A so-call
nativistic14 revival of this kind may be made for nationalistic, racial pr

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tige, historical, nostalgic, touristic, and artistic reas

the instigation of interested individuals, the Malay
Culture, Youth and Sport made efforts in the 1970s t
music and dance of the gamelan joget gamelan (d
Trengganu and other courts. This was part of a cultu
Malay artistic forms in the multiracial Malaysian situ
the above-mentioned reasons.
With a similar degree of patriotic fervor, Israel has been attempting
to revive its ancient folk dance, which is frequently mentioned in the
Talmud and the Bible, in a form that is suitable for modern audiences. Th
revivalist Israeli folk dances combine Chassidic and Yemenite Jewish
elements with those of various of their host nations while in exile, an
with modern, work-inspired musical ideas (Kaufman 1951:55-7). As th
example shows, it is often in fact not possible to revive a dance or piec
its ancient, so-called authentic form, not only because ancient styles a
no longer known, but also, as has been argued above, because the con
cept of pure, primeval authenticity is an unrealistic one.

Musical Abandonment

Musical loss may occur as a result of coercion, or it may happen

naturally, as when social institutions and their associated musics die o
and are replaced. In cases where intense coercion is applied by one gro
of people to another, whether this be military, religious, socio-political
cultural, or a combination of these, the interacting contradictions in th
situation will intensify the impulse toward radical change of a negativ
kind. This may take the form of the wholesale or partial extinction of o
culture's music by another, a process that may be called musical aban-
donment (Nettl 1978:130).
If the subordinate culture is unable to make any compromises wit
the superordinate group, the survival of the music is jeopardized. The
total loss or extinction of a musical culture apparently occurs only when
whole populace dies out, as in the case of the Tasmanian Aborigines,
whose full-blood population died out as a result of the deprivation of
traditional sources of livelihood and systematic killings by White Aus-
tralians during the 19th century.
But the complete loss of a music rarely occurs. Even in the case of
the extinction of a music in its proper context, traces of the music often
remain, or it may live on through its influence on other music. For ex-
ample, the European sea shanty was virtually eclipsed when the tall ships
and the social institutions with which the sailors were associated disap-

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peared. But quite a large part of the repertoire has been art
served, as in an anthology published by Hughill (1977), and it
lived on to affect other musical idioms.

Musical Impoverishment

Especially in cases of successful coercion, the "abandonment of

components, or substantial impoverishment, resulting from shifts in
musical energy" (Nettl 1978:131) may occur. This may accompany the
process of assimilation, whereby immigrants contribute to, but are finally
absorbed into, the culture of the dominant society. This occurs especially
in cases where a high reward is placed on the achievement of the domi-
nant society's culture, life styles and tastes, even when these traits do not
coincide with indigenous traits. In some cases, a culture may experience a
degree of repertoire loss, or traditional technology and instruments may
be lost and replaced. "Standardization and simplification may release
energy .. ." (ibid.), which may be expended on the absorption of other
For example, some groups of ex-tribal Australian Aborigines living
on the outskirts of cities have, in conforming to an urban life style, suf-
fered an almost total loss of their tribal musical identity, performing a
limited repertoire of country-and-western music instead. The total
amount of musical energy spent today, as compared with tribal times, has
apparently greatly diminished.
The term "impoverishment" should not, however, be used to imply a
negative value judgement of the quality of such music practices; country-
and-western is not inferior per se to tribal aboriginal music. A state of
impoverishment results from a substantial loss of or reduction in musical


Waterman, writing about the synthesis of European and African

characteristics in American Black music, proposed that a certain degree
of musical similarity must exist between the impinging cultures before the
processes of musical syncretism can be set in motion: "there is enough
similarity between African and European music to permit musical syn-
cretism" (1952:207). The problem with this theory is that, though it seems
to possess some intuitive truth, it is difficult to show convincingly in
actual practice that a certain degree of musical similarity is a factor or the

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factor that allows the ensuing changes to occur. For

gests, syncretism may well result from a different f
high reward that "the contact milieu places . . . on
Western traits regardless of whether they coincide w
acteristics" (1961:147). Although Merriam's applic
(1955), in a case of mainly North American and Afri
may seem to support it, many other cases, inclu
Wachsmann (ibid.), appear to dispute it. In some cas
ties may facilitate and hasten the process of syncret
motion. But such musical similarities do not in gener
ating agents of syncretic processes, given the fact th
most cultures are musically conservative and inward
that some individual composers occasionally borr
ideas for purely musical reasons, though they prob
quently for extramusical reasons such as fashion, or e
But when whole cultures are involved in the interact
sical factors may serve only as a small, additional m
change. There can be no valid musical reason why an
principle be part of a transculturation process involv
All musics can be said to be similar and compatible
Nettl's most recently stated theory on this questi
brid styles seem to have developed most readily wh
ties between non-Western and Western cultures can b
the musics are compatible, and most important, whe
traits" as, for example, "functional harmony, the id
semble . . . and simple but stable metric rhythms,"
central traits such as "slight adjustments to scales, co
musical notation" (1978:134). 15
The theory of central traits has the quality of an ins
on the credible hypothesis that in any one culture, some
of its music are in general regarded by its members
central than others. But like Waterman's theory, it i
Nettl's theory in practice, to translate it into a wat
analysis. The main problem is that it is not normally
any certainty which are the central traits in a given
because it is difficult to know whom to accept as cre
the issue. "The explicit or implicit word of the info
(Nettl 1978:126) is frequently difficult to assess, fo
say, on class or on intellectual grounds, or be ambig
of an impinging music-be incorrect from the viewpo
the impinging culture. 16

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Both Waterman's and Nettl's theories were conceiv

to musical syntheses involving two cultures, Western
But if they are applied to syntheses involving several
they raise insurmountable practical difficulties. For ex
disentangle the origin of all the contributing traits in
Cuban spiritist music, which combines the traditions
pean, African and Asian nationalities living in Cub
197 1b: 1), would be a hopelessly complicated task. Even
somehow to divide all these cultural influences into their similar and
central traits as opposed to their dissimilar and noncentral traits, the
exercise could only lead to dubious results. This is partly because it would
be based on too many hypothetical decisions and uncertain choices to
lead to acceptable conclusions, to say nothing of the analysis that would
then be required to trace and explain the interaction between the traits
belonging to each of the impinging cultures in the long historical process
of transculturation. And more importantly, even if a precise knowledge of
all the sources of the traits were obtainable, this would not in itself in-
crease our understanding of the resulting music, which has been the ob-
ject of profound creative transformation. The reason why we can neither
predict the results of syncretic processes nor unravel the details of the
exchanges post mortem lies in the adventurous, expansive, open-ended
nature of human creativity itself. This is as true in the case of two inter-
acting cultures as it is in the case of several.
In the opinion of Linton and Malinowski, trait interchange should not
be given importance in studies of syncretism, for particular traits and trait
complexes cannot normally be linked to the satisfaction of particular
needs or historical processes (Linton 1963:485ff). Thus, the delineation
of specific traits in musics and other cultural expressions developed in
contact situations does not necessarily lead to any clearcut conclusions,
for it is often "not a matter of indiscriminate give and take but is directed
by definite forces and pressures on the side of the donor cultures and
well-determined resistance on the part of the recipients" (Malinowski


If it is not degrees of musical similarity or compatibility that

control whether certain impinging musics are initially more or
to the forces of syncretism, then what are the determinants likel
The parallel between language and music may offer a
commonplace that music, like language, is conceived of not on

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pure and simple but also as a symbolic expression of

of which wider connotations are attached to its sou
cause of these and other similarities between music
conceivable that the early stages of musical transcul
ble the initial stages of linguistic syncretism. In the
adjustment, the music and language of one, usually
power, generally predominates over the other and c
larger amount of ideas to the newly emerging music
theses. The conflicts begin to be resolved by une
tween the interacting groups.
It stands to reason that where a subordinate gro
encouraged to practice the music of the superordina
will at first be grasped and performed in a reduced for
by the cultural vision of the subordinate group and
(which is likely to be unfavorable) to the superordin
of people in the first or even second generation
sufficiently motivated or able to comprehend anoth
completely that it would completely forget its own
tendencies and replace them entirely with the newl
reduced conception of an impinging music is rough
development of a pidgin language.
Linguistic theory holds that pidgins orginate larg
with no language in common need to communica
(Whinnom in Hymes 1971:105ff). A Mexican and a
for example, may try to communicate with each ot
quately at first. Thus they begin to create a pidgin
linguistic backgrounds to bear on the newly-develo
larly, diverse peoples in early contact situations may
music together, partly in order to communicate wit
People thrown together from multiple musical backg
learn to practice music of their common experience
be the music of the dominant culture, for relaxatio
crisis ceremonies, social dancing, and the like. For
Southeast Asian slaves in South Africa long ago pra
song, which their descendants still sing, in male ch
In cases where one culture is dominant over ano
their later developments--creoles-have frequently sp
tial, non-intimate contacts between speakers of diff
example, in a trading, plantation, or slave situation,
been considered mongrel or bastard languages, not
taught at school or made official languages of a reg
1975:101). A pidgin is a "lingua franca native to none

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with a sharply reduced grammar and vocabulary," surviv

of initial contact only in special circumstances," that is,
nant group regards another as childlike" (Hall 1976:452).
limited, both lexically and structurally, that it is therefor
Camp in Hymes 1971:16). As contacts become closer, one
learns the other's language more fully, and "when a who
munity gives up its former language or languages and tak
mother tongue, the pidgin becomes a creole. .. ." (Hall 19
creoles differ from pidgins partly by their possessing th
native speaker.
It is not difficult to find examples of musics parallel
guages, that is, of autonomous styles that originally spran
intimate contact between different cultures and that ar
group of people as being representative of their cultural ident
difficult to find precise examples of musics paralleling th
ment of pidgin languages. This is partly because new pla
situations involving musical coercion do not tend to arise
we know very little about such situations in the past.
Commercial pressures, however, somewhat resembl
forces that produced pidgin languages and comparable m
ments in the past, for example, when Black Americans o
encouraged to conform to White taste or vice versa for th
sales or other commercial purposes. The mass media may
catalysts for such developments (see Gray 1961:12-15) as
nological innovations as electronic instruments. But until
to light showing what actually happens in the early stage
commercially induced musical contact, we can only re
hypothetical reconstructions of relevant situations.
For example, a Portuguese-Malay language evolved
turies in the village of Tugu near Jakarta, alongside a Po
music called kroncong asli ("authentic kroncong"). Some
musical data are available with which to make broad comp
developments, for example, Schuchardt (1891) and Kor
Kroncong, like the Tugu patois, developed there among f
Indian and Malay slaves who had been owned by the Port
ous parts of Southeast Asia. They were set free largely o
that they embraced Christianity, whereupon they were en
sified as Portugis, which gave them some social status. P
they originally had no common language in which to com
one another and with the Portuguese, and partly because
desire to adopt symbols of Portugal and Christianity in
their own freedom, they attempted to speak Portuguese a

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Portuguese music and dance. There is no evidence tha

another's traditional Indian, African and Malay musi
is not surprising for they would have had little pract

The idiomatic Portuguese-Malay patois which people in Tugu speak

today, like the originally Portuguese-based kroncong music that they
play, is, of course, far removed from the 16th-century Portuguese mode
There is no way of knowing today exactly how the freed slaves' variou
indigenous musical ideas would have influenced their original perception
of this Portuguese music, nor the performance styles which evolved in th
early stages of contact. Their informal beginner-learner experience of
Portuguese music would presumably have proceeded by an incomplete
process of trial and error, shaped by their ingrained musical ideas and
preferences. It is possible that they performed adapted Portuguese folk
songs in an even more relaxed tempo than was usual among the Portu-
guese, in keeping with their relatively relaxed, tropical life style.19 They
may have found Portuguese performance styles to be too strait-laced, an
therefore have changed them by adopting a highly rubato style, or hav
adorned the simple melodies with turns and glides, or have anticipated th
metric beat on occasions with early entries (as in present-day kroncong)
Singers in Tugu today frequently use a wide vibrato, which may have
long history reaching back into early contact days, but it is notable tha
they have not accepted the European association of a wide-amplitud
vibrato with pronounced oversentimentality. It is impossible to know no
how these developments occurred in the case of kroncong. But it is likely
that in this and other cases of contact, aesthetic tastes and standards,
together with many of the extramusical meanings attached to music, have
tended to cross cultural boundaries with far greater difficulty than have
tangible objects such as musical instruments. More studies of contem-
porary cases of musical transculturation need to be made before we can
know how the early stages of adjustment are made and what, if any, the
general tendencies are.


Transculturation occurs only when a group of people select

tion whole new organizing and conceptual or ideological p
musical and extramusical-as opposed to small, discrete alien t
motivation to adopt new, broad music principles, such as equ
ment or harmony, may be (1) the halo of dominant culture
colonial situations; (2) the need for artistic communication am

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lacking a common culture; or (3) material or political advanta

forces of commercialism. The initial and sustaining impulse a
for musical transculturation is normally extramusical.
The final stages of a complete process of transculturation a
after the tensions between two or more musical cultures have interacted
and been resolved into a new unity, through successive generations. Such
musical interactions creatively unite and transcend the partly antithetical
parent musics to create a new, independent style or genre that is accepted
in its own right by the relevant group of people as being representative of
their own musical identity, whereupon the processes of musical transcul-
turation may begin all over again.


1. The use of the terms "Western" and "non-Western" here is not meant to i
that any real dichotomy exists between them.
2. "Double acculturation" means a second stage of cultural synthesis, accultu
occuring twice over. A synthesis, once reached, breaks again into a thesis and ant
which may eventually resolve into a new synthesis, and so on. Multiple syntheses
referred to, for example, as "double" or "triple" acculturation, or "acculturatio
3 . . ." These terms are referred to in Hesse (1971b:1) and are particularly appa
societies such as Cuba. Ortiz wrote, for example, that "the real history of Cub
history of its intermeshed transculturations" (1947:98).
3. These expressions may be found in many articles in the press, in missionary
cations, and in scholarly works, especially in prewar times but also in the postwar
4. Recent detailed studies have included Nettl (1972), Kauffman (1972), and
hauser (1978).
5. Admittedly, some of these terms have been given specific meanings which
made them acceptable in some disciplines, for example, "creole" in linguistics. But
not happened in the case of musicology.
6. Charles Seeger regarded "acculturation as operating not only in contacts be
more or less distinctive culture groups, but also between more or less distinct soci
within each culture group" (1952:2). True, the intermeshing of court and folk mus
music of different ethnic groups in some urban situations does resemble intercultu
sical contact, in the selection, adaptation and transformation in which they engage.
literal meaning of acculturation precludes its usage for interclass contacts in the one c
It is inappropriate to use a word meaning the addition of cultures for the interaction
social strata. Some other phrase or term needs to be coined to cover it, for ex
interclass musical synthesis.
7. A slight problem is involved with the term "synthesis," however. Adje
formed from it such as "synthetic" (artificial) and "synthesized" (artifically produ
not acceptable; the term may only be used as a noun, applying to the process of c
8. Syncretism may refer to "the reconciliation of differing beliefs in religion"
ster's New World), and has been applied in Protestant-Catholic, African Christian an

9. Categories given by Nettl (1978:130-4) include abandonment ("tota

poverishment ("abandonment of components" of a musical tradition), pre
relegation of musics "as it were, to a museum"), diversification ("the co
diverse elements into a single musical or social context"), consolidation (the
"nationally recognized music from a number of once distinct traditions"), r
("the return of musical styles to their place of origin after a sojourn elsewhe

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tion (musical change "in order to conform to the European an

conception of what the traditions should be"), satire ("the
Western and non-Western elements"), modernization ("the
Western Culture"-see note 10), and Westernization (change
music those elements which [societies] consider to be central
gories are so closely related to each other that they may be co
categories (for example, diversification and consolidation are
10. It may be argued that we do not need special terms
Westemrn/non-Western musical contact, as if this were to co
case. For example, Nettl's definition of modernization as "the
Western technology and other products of Western culture, as
an insistence that the core of cultural values does not change gr
match those of the West" (1978:127) may be criticized for being
that is, the act or state of being modernized, simply means adap
situation, whether the West is involved or not. As has been
modernization may either be an unintentional, unwitting ada
stances (which, as such, is always happening automatically),
planned "updating."
11. The combining of slendro and pelog gamelan accomp
several forms of Javanese musical theater from the late 19th
bonang, kempul, and kenong also increased. As Kunst notes (1
13 kenong were included in a court gamelan made in 1907.
12. As the Encyclopaedia Brittanica (Micropaedia, under Ac
free 'borrowing' and modification of cultural elements may o
of military or political domination of one group by the other
incorporated into the existing culture in a process called incor
in frequent and varied contact with the Spanish colonists in
elements of Spanish culture . . . that were integrated into their
13. See Merriam (1964:303, 313-7) and Spicer (1954:663-84
14. Ralph Linton (1943:230) defines a nativistic moveme
organized attempt on the part of a society's members to r
aspects of its culture." He points out that nativistic movem
inequality of societies in contact, and that in class society, nativ
in those classes that occupy a favored position and feel threa
15. Compatibility, according to Nettl, "may just mean degree
(1978:125). "But we must also be concerned about the compatib
their musical cohesion and their attitudes are concerned" (19
16. The "ideal of the large ensemble" (Nettl 1978:134), for e
to be central in early 19th-century European music, but to othe
be the ideal of solo, virtuoso performance. Moreover, in the c
that either of the contributing African and European cultur
ideal of the large ensemble to be more central to Western cl
formance ideals, as jazz is not normally played by large ens
17. The terms "donor" and "recipient" cultures are not i
imply one-way rather than two-way intercultural interchang
18. One example of this is Dixieland jazz, which was origina
in New Orleans. Another example is ghazal, which is a musica
Arabic, Portuguese, and other characteristics, and is regarded by
as a unique expression of their cultural identity.
19. Compare Wachsmann's comment (1961:147) that the
manner in which church hymns in the vernacular were ex
previously did not know what a slow tempo was," may have d
sate for an "inability" on the part of the Ganda.

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