Call for papers: “Sing a simple song” An international colloquium on representation, exploitation, transmission and invention of cultures in the context of world music festivals

“Sing a simple song”
An international colloquium on representation, exploitation, transmission and invention of cultures in the context of world music festivals
Neuchâtel, Switzerland, the 15th and 16th of September, 2011

Since the late 1960’s, fueled by the international impact of events such as Woodstock, the concept of the “music festival” has experienced a massive boom in the western world. In the 1990’s, “the festival” became one of the most common and popular forms of public-musician interaction, and has continued to assert itself as a vital part of the music economy, especially over the past 15 years with MP3-file exchanges on the internet crippling records sales.
The changing context in which music is performed and consumed is, of course, far from innocuous. Adapting McLuhan’s well known dictum, Owe Ronström (2001) defines the festival setting as a complete “medium”, the requirements and constraints of which lead to a “festivalization” of content. In a musical perspective, these transformations include: standardization of performance and staging, competition for audiences among acts, and inflation in the use of technology to capture and renew audience attention.
In a broader sense, the festival setting also encourages a particular type of musical experience that is quite different from the standard concert experience. Because of the richness and variety of programming, listeners are not necessarily familiar with or even interested in all of the performing artists. Their attention is easily distracted by what happens around the stage. Aural production shifts from being the central concern to a mere component of a participative happening in which socializing, food, drink, partying, shopping and various other side attractions become equally important.
These features are especially salient in the field of so-called “world” or “traditional” music. Indeed, contrary to western “pop” or “classical” styles, this music appears to suffer from a deficit, incapable of supplying sufficient meaning in and of itself. With this worry in mind, promoters invest considerable energy in developing contextualizing elements such as food stalls, dance shows, street entertainment, thematic decoration, handicraft sales and/or demonstrations, lectures, workshops, partnerships with community-based associations and/or humanitarian causes bound in one way or another to the region where the musicians come from (Aubert 2001, Thoroski & Greenhill 2001). According to Thedens (2001), even festivals of northern European folklore receive this treatment, as most people in the audience do not share these codes and social references anymore.
This trend is nourished by another well documented feature in the area of world music – the display of a form of anthropological utopianism, embracing music as a vehicle to promote intercultural experience and understanding (Aubert 2001, Denis-Constant Martin 1996). Accordingly, additions of any kind bring a welcome extra, facilitating “encounters” with “the people behind the music”. The result amounts to a cultural assemblage with all-encompassing ambitions that claims “authenticity” as its central if hazy tenet (Taylor 1997). Though this basic pattern takes its roots in 19th century folklore shows addressed to urban elites (Elschek 2001, Thedens 2001), the size, technology, impact, actors and concerns are definitely new, if only because of the general decline of scientific influence in the process (Ronström 2001).
Among scholars, festival settings have already proven to be an extremely rich field of investigation. Various authors have convincingly argued that festivals offer a site where local-global representations are not only put forth but actively negotiated, experienced, acknowledged and transformed, with concrete results, for better or for worse. Take, for example, Bachir-Loopyut’s analysis of the integrative potential of Creole in Germany (2008) or, in another vein, Thoroski & Greenhill’s diagnosis of stereotypisation and diverging interests among actors at Winnipeg’s Folklorama (2001).
Generalization remains hazardous, however, as festivals are various and changing, be it in form, structure or goal. Consequently, research has been mostly limited to case studies thus far. With this in mind, this colloquium offers a rare opportunity to exchange in a broad, transcontinental perspective and to forge some common knowledge based on in-depth empirical studies and comparison. Furthermore, the moment is appropriate for such an undertaking: issues addressed some 10 years ago in pioneer work such as The World of Music’s special issue “Folk music in public performance” (2001) now offer a landmark for formulating a mid-term perspective and some new working hypotheses.
Under the title “Sing a Simple Song” (a reference to Woodstock and its ideals of simplicity, innocence and emancipation through music), the colloquium will take place in Neuchâtel, Switzerland, the 15th and 16th of September, 2011. Discussion will be conducted within the exhibition “Bruits” (, which uses the festival as a central metaphor to question the stakes surrounding the emerging notion of intangible cultural heritage.

The presentations will principally develop the following points:
a) the influence of festival settings, both in situ and in the home country of invited musicians;
b) the various typologies of festivals, from proto-scientifically driven folklore to the rock paradigm and onwards to new emic or participative forms;
c) the contrasting goals and strategies pursued by organizers, the public, musicians and ethnic representatives in a single event.
d) new stakes that arise with time, commercial success, institutionalization or through the involvement of sponsors, authorities and the tourism industry.
The organizers have invited a series of key note speakers. The present Call for Papers opens the colloquium up to all interested researchers and participants. Please submit proposals of 250 words to by the 1st of June, 2011. These proposals will be evaluated by our scientific commission and applicants will be notified by the 1st of July if their papers have been accepted. All colloquium costs will be covered by the organizers.
Contact :
Yann Laville
Musée d’ethnographie de Neuchâtel
St-Nicolas 4
CH-2000 Neuchâtel
++41 (0)32 718 19 65

Afro-Pfingsten 2010, Winterthur, Switzerland (photo Y.L.)

Aubert, Laurent
2001.- La musique de l’autre : les nouveaux défis de l’ethnomusicologie. Genève : Georg/ Ateliers d’ethnomusicologie,160p.

Bachir-Loopuyt, Talia
2008.- «Le tour du monde en musique : les musiques du monde, de la scène des festivals à l’arène politique». Cahiers de musique traditionnelle (Genève),n. 21, pp. 11-34 [numéro spécial Performance(s)].

The world of music
2001.- «Folk music in public performance». The world of music (Berlin), vol. 43, nr. 2/3, 312 p. [Max Peter Bauman éd.]

Denis-Constant, Martin
1996.- «Whos’s afraid of the big bad world music?». Cahiers de musique traditionnelle (Genève),n. 9, pp. 3-23 [numéro spécial Nouveaux enjeux].

Elschek, Oskár
2001.- «Folklore Festival and their Current Typology». The world of music (Berlin), vol. 43, nr. 2/3, pp. 153-171 [numéro special Folk music in public performance].

Ronström, Owe
2001.- «Concerts and Festivals: Public Performances of Folk Music in Sweden». The world of music (Berlin), vol. 43, nr. 2/3, pp. 49-65 [numéro special Folk music in public performance].

Taylor, Timothy Dean
1997- Global Pop: World Music, World Markets. New York [etc.]: Routledge, 304 p.

Thedens, Hinrich
2001.- «How funny – I’m at a folk music event and I don’t know a soul here! : musicians and audiences at the international folk music festivals in Norway». The world of music (Berlin), vol. 43, nr. 2/3, pp. 171-181 [numéro special Folk music in public performance].

Thoroski, Cynthia & Greenhill Pauline
2001.- «Putting a price on culture : ethnic organisations, volunteers, and the marketing of multicultural festivals». Ethnologies (Québec ), vol. 23, no. 1, pp. 189-209.

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