Questions and Answers

Musical traditions are appearing and disappearing all the time.
Why should we make efforts to ‘save’ them?

Recent decades have seen an enormous amount of global change. Industrial development, international tourism, increased migration, and the advance of global information networks have led to deep socio-economic changes. These have shifted the ‘ecosystems’ of music genres in an unprecedented way.

Human activity has brought about many of these shifts. Along the way, we have disrupted the natural evolution and survival of small cultures. For this reason, it is arguably our moral imperative to help these cultures.

‘[There’s] a real problem in terms of the continuity of traditions, and you could say, “Well that’s OK, it’s natural, music always changes.” The problem is it’s not really an even playing field, it’s not as though these are just disappearing, they’re being disappeared: there’s an active process in the disappearance of many traditions around the world.’ Anthony Seeger

Doesn’t ‘safeguarding’ freeze a tradition? What about change and innovation?

Music genres change naturally over time. No living tradition is exactly the same as it was a hundred years ago. This raises questions about what exactly should be kept for future generations – the tradition as it is now, or as it was some time in the past?

The Sound Futures project accepts the dynamic nature of music. Its aim is not to preserve traditions in frozen form, but to look at how they can best adapt to the fast-changing environment. The wishes of the community itself are foremost.

‘While music will change over time, and I’m not denying that it should, it’s important to find strategies to … give [local states and local groups] the power to promote, preserve, and maintain their musical heritage, allowing that heritage to develop but to maintain their sense of identity and belonging …’ Keith Howard

How do you know communities want their music safeguarded at all?

Not all cultures wish to preserve all aspects of their musical heritage. There are various reasons why this might be so. Perhaps the most common is that the tradition no longer serves a purpose.

In all cases, Sound Futures prioritises the wishes of the culture-bearers themselves about whether or not their music should be sustained. The project allows cultural custodians and carriers to lead decisions about the future of their cultural heritage.

‘[In] my experience with Hawaiian music, and traditional Hawaiian music—there are some culture bearers who think that some aspects of the culture should die . . . So the idea of preserving everything may be something that we, as scholars, think is really important, but often the culture may say, “There are certain things which we think are important for the continuity of our own identity and maybe other things which are not.” So those are ways in which I think we need to also understand what a culture, or what a society thinks.’ Ricardo Trimillos

How do you know communities want “outsider” help to keep their music strong?

Sound Futures is not interventionist. It aims to equip communities with the knowledge, the tools, and the resources to make their own decisions in relation to the future of their music.

The local projects and initiatives for sustainability resulting from the project can be completely initiated and executed by the community, or in partnership with others (like governments, non-government organisations or universities). These partnerships should be driven by the culture-bearers.

‘Our jobs as sympathetic and supportive outsiders is properly that of an on-request caretaker and facilitator, but not as an arbiter of what should be preserved and what should not be.’ Richard Moyle

How are you involving culture-bearers themselves in the project?

Sound Futures is based upon a principle of close liaison with community representatives and culture-bearers. From its beginning, the involvement of custodians and carriers of culture has been an integral part of the project.


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