Commentary: Cultural Heritage
European Chronicle: Two Wings of Europe
By Philippe Fanise
At a time when the European Union – currently presided over by Greece, its most easterly country – is preparing to add ten new States from the East and the South to its membership, and when Turkey’s candidacy has sparked a debate over Europe’s geographical and cultural boundaries, it is worth examining the ways in which traditional music and dance can contribute to discussions over European cultural identity – a burning issue that reminds us how Europe is sometimes torn between its ties to the Mediterranean and to the Atlantic worlds.
Several trips to Albania and Bulgaria, and later to Hungary and Greece, as part of my work with the European Network, and particularly in view of coordinating the Europe-Mediterranean multicultural seminar in Provence, have helped reinforce my conviction that it would be a grave mistake to confuse European and Western culture. Current musical traditions continually remind us of this fact.
Traditional music and dance have the power to bring to life artistic practices that were born of or draw their inspiration from sometimes very ancient heritages, in addition to being able to shed stunning light on our deepest, collective and individual identity. Our deepest identity is not external, not what is in view, not something that we have gained through where we were born or where we live, our national, regional or religious affiliations (which are forever fluctuating with the tides of political history and human existence), but rather the identity that lives inside us, permeates and inspires the way we live, talk, eat, create, love and communicate with others and with the world.
This deep-seated identity expresses itself, can be heard in the traditional music of yesterday and today, reveals itself in dance and allows us to become aware, in a non-intellectual fashion, of the diversity of our cultural make-up. Living identity cannot be summarized in a single ethnic, national, regional or religious reference (Tzigane, Portuguese, Breton or Jewish, for instance), but rather nourishes itself with the complexity of our cultural, the food of countless and constant interactions, in both the past and present.
The continual media hype over Western commercial music presents a danger, not because this music is artistically inferior to any other form, but because it threatens our diversity and deprives us of our cultural heritage, turning us into consumers of exported music, and no longer influential players in our own musical history. “Experienced” music therefore runs the risk of becoming music that has been “vanquished” by the power of money, and increasingly considered marginal.
Observing the music of Europe clearly reveals a dual Western and Eastern heritage, not only in terms of geographical origin, but also in terms of musical spirit. The Western mindset favors writing, tonality, harmonic construction, rhythmic simplicity and composition, while the Eastern mindset favors oral expression, modality, melodic artistry, rhythmic complexity and personal expression. Although the spirit of Western music developed more in the Western and Northern Europe, and Oriental in the south and east, the two tendencies are crossing over more and more, and often merging.
The oriental heritage derives not only from influences from outside of Europe, the consequence of long-ago invasions and occupation or of recent immigrations, but also constitutes a true, ancient and deeply rooted component of Europe’s musical identity. This can be heard and seen in a large portion of Europe’s traditional musical cultures, from Spain to Greece, in the Balkans as well as in Central and Eastern Europe, in Russia and Caucasian music, in Jewish and Tzigane music… From flamenco to Rebetiko, from Klezmer music to Balkan fanfares, from the polyphonies of Corsica, Sardinia and Albania to the polyphonies of Georgia, but also, more subtly, in the art of vocal and instrumental ornamentation, the rhythmic accents of a great many existing traditions across Europe; the presence of the “oriental” style becomes clear to anyone traveling in our times across the musical traditions of Europe, and not necessarily in an Eastern nation.
A case in point here is France, where oriental music with Arab and Balkan roots is increasingly prevalent at all levels of musical life, from community gatherings to festivals and recordings. Oriental music is also a vibrant part of musical life in Northern Europe (one of the finest multicultural oriental music groups is from Norway). English musical life has been enriched by the presence of a host of musicians from India and Pakistan.
All across Europe, oriental musical practices go beyond the mere expression of a community’s nostalgia for past identity from which they have been uprooted, and has attracted a great many musicians and listeners who have no personal ties to the countries of the Orient. Oriental dances, whether from the Muslim world, the Balkans or India are popular throughout Europe, and cannot be reduced to a mere fad. This oriental presence in Europe is not confined to the world of traditional music and dance, but can also be found in the work of numerous European composers in a variety of forms, ranging from a simple melodic reference or an oriental rhythm, to a profound incorporation of the aesthetic, found notably in the work of French, Spanish, Hungarian and Russian musicians. The Orient is also increasingly present in Europe’s World Music, in jazz and contemporary song which, up until now, has been primarily influenced by Anglo-Saxon and African sounds.
We could get the sense that Oriental is exotic, that the Orient is outside of Europe. But such is not the case. Europe has two wings, in fact: a western wing and an eastern wing. Two wings that have allowed European culture to soar and if ever it attempts to fly with one wing only, Europe may well end up turning in circles. One of the great founders of European thought, Romain Rolland perceives West and East as “the two hemispheres of human thought.” Deprived of one of those two hemispheres, Europe is in danger of cultural paralysis, in other words the loss of an essential part of its capacities to express, create and think the world. Prior to Rolland, the equally reputed Goethe had already said, “he who knows himself and others also knows this: East and West can never be separated.”
What is at issue here is not only a geographical East and West, that can be difficult to trace on a map of the world (this is where East begins! Here ends the West!) but also Western and Eastern values that can co-exist within a same culture, a same city, an individual. In the same way that one needs not be born in a Western country to adopt a Western lifestyle, one does not have to be born in the East to develop an oriental artistic or spiritual sensibility.
The future of the world lies not in a war of civilizations, in a cultural clash between the dominant modern Western world and the Eastern world of the past, between a new world and an old world but, quite the contrary, in the recognition and mutual contribution of both Western and Eastern values for which Europe, at the crossroads of the Mediterranean and the Atlantic, should be the laboratory.
Those who claim that Europe’s cultural identity is founded essentially on Christian civilization should perhaps recall, on the one hand, that Jesus was born not in Rome, nor in Lourdes, but in Palestine and that Christian culture is originally oriental (a fact which can be heard in the still very vibrant Byzantine songs of Greece) and, on the other, that Judaism and Islam both contributed a great deal to cultural emergence in Europe, particularly in the arts and sciences. Andalusian music stands out as a precious witness for over ten centuries of the fertile and creative encounter of Christian, Jewish and Muslim cultures. Europe’s most precious contribution to religious life is ultimately the principal of a true secularity that is not an opposition to religion, but rather the right to believe or not believe and, above all, to live freely the religion of one’s choice.
Those countries that will enter the European Union – whether, like Malta and Cyprus, they belong to the Mediterranean world or, like Hungary and Poland, to Central or Eastern Europe – will considerably enrich Western Europe with musical and cultural traditions which have flourished under the combined influences of East and West. Eminent Hungarian composer and collector, Bartok once said: “My true guiding thought, the one that has possessed me completely since I have been a composer, is that of the fraternity of all peoples, opposed to and against all war and conflict. This is why I refuse no influence, be it Slovak, Romanian, Arab or other, provided that the source is pure, fresh and healthy…”
For these countries, and for the whole of Europe, it would be a terrible loss for them to turn their back on their rich and subtle musical complexity in favor of purely consumer-oriented Western music, thinking it will make them more European, more modern, more free than before… The traditional music of the past and present that is being expressed in Europe must not be perceived, presented or used as the music of refuge, of a return to the past but, on the contrary, as the music of diversity, of freedom, of respect for others, a window on the world, and a resistance to global cultural uniformity, dilution and music as a mere merchandise. We must act so that in the world of music, Macdonald’s will never replace Meze.
Expansion should never be perceived as merely the extension of Western Europe to the east and south, or simply the incorporation of new countries into a Western cultural model, but rather as an historic opportunity for Europe to reclaim its full scope and thereby its full cultural dimension, which encompasses something much more vast than its politically-drawn borders.
By using music to renew awareness of the oriental side of its culture, Europe
will rediscover a forgotten resonance of its original Indo-European and
Eurasian heritage. A sea separates us from Africa, an Ocean from America, but
nothing separates us from Asia. Europe is a virtual, conceptual continent, in
other words cultural and not natural, in fact. It is therefore through culture
that Europe can open itself up or turn its back on the world, and not by
inventing imaginary borders.
In the 80’s, through the Departmental Association for Musical Initiation and Broadcasting of Haute – Savoie, he organized an annual program for the discovery of World Music for schools, libraries, music schools, hospitals and establishments for the handicapped with the help of many traditional musicians of various origin and also organized several dance and world music festivals at Evian-les-bains.
In 1992 he received his Higher Specialized Education Diploma in Management and Cultural Development from ARSEC/Lyon University of Anthropology, which deals with the cultural collaboration across the borders of Europe. The same year, he sojourned for several months of study at the European Centre of Culture in Geneva where he elaborated the European Federalist thinking of Denis de Rougemont.
In 1994, the French Ministry of Culture gave him the task of setting up and directing the Regional Centre of Traditional Music of Languedoc-Roussillon, where he developed a project for education, broadcasting, research and information dealing essentially with occitan, catalan, gypsy and Mediterranean traditional music. In1997 he cooperated with FAMDT when the city of Perpignan hosted the first European Traditional Music and Dance Forums, which brought together over 250 participants and gave birth to the European Traditional Music and Dance Network.
Since 1999 he is the Artistic Director of the Mission of European Traditional Music and Dance in Arcade which lies in the area Provence-Alpes-Côte d’Azur and concerns himself mainly with the meeting of regional traditions of Provence and the Alps with multicultural expressions born from immigration and world cultures. Being a member of the international co-ordination team of the European Traditional Music and Dance Network which is sponsored by the European Commission, he travels frequently in Europe and especially the Balkans, working through music for the construction of a culturally united Europe based on diversity and openness.
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