participation - who - what - why ...
towards a definition of community music
Community music, ie.music that encourages participation at any level, not dependent on technique or
experience, used to occupy a shadowy space on the edge of mainstream music in britain. Its non-hierarchical process and staunch belief in individual creativity was not acceptable to many who felt that music could only be played by
qualified or experienced musicians.
Now however it has become a much-hyped cultural phenomenon that is all too easily manipulated by
government and big business.The 'creative industry' is full of managers, policy advisors and government
ministers who perceive music as a form of social control. Kids busy playing music will have less time
for messing about with drugs or mugging old ladies...people living in a lousy physical environment
can take their minds off it by singing or learning african drumming patterns..etc etc...
But dj-ing workshops and choir practices do not of themselves create community, though they may help
to develop or affirm a community identity. 'Community' music imposed from without is the antithesis
of true folk music, which expresses the aspirations and concerns of a people while drawing on a
long-established and valued musical tradition, and is often fiercely critical of the establishment.
'Music providers' make much of the inclusivity of contemporary music practice – it is a place where
cultures can meet, mix and interact. And in many respects this is true.
But these rich cultural mixes do little to shift the entrenched power structures on which our society
is based. Instead, they are up for grabs in a rabid global market that sees and commodifies anything
that can be sold as a fashion. And since all governments are now answerable to the corporations that really rule the world, something calling itself 'creative industry' can only reinforce the perception that 'he who has
the gold rules' ...and promote an increasingly nauseating cult of celebrity.
Meanwhile our society is no kinder to refugees and the gap between the richest and the
poorest continues to widen.
Truly participatory music cannot follow a corporate or government agenda. Nor, if we
perceive our community as global, can music institutions accept money from multinationals
who are anxious to divert attention away from their malpractice in distant countries.. this is
just playing into old colonialist ideas that value western cultural life more than any other.
People play and sing because they want to and it is fun. In the process they may discover
different ways of perceiving and creating relationships. They may discover a personal creativity
they did not know about. Music that really values community and participation does not try to impose
cosmetic social change, or divert people from thinking clearly about what is happening in the world.
Rather it subverts, undermines and ultimately transforms the hierarchical structures that oppress us all.
It extends the boundaries of imagination and gives hope and inspiration.