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Musical Acculturation

  Musical acculturation is a process whereby a society\'s music, or part of it, undergoes changes that are directly attributable to the influence of a foreign culture. One of the study areas for ethnomusicology, for example, has been the examination of the impact of Western music on non-Western musical cultures. It is generally accepted that musical acculturation depends on the compatibility or similarity of the two cultures, and on whether the exchange is through essential or non-essential musical characteristics. Essential characteristics concern the musical language itself and may include harmony, tonality, modality, rhythm and metre. Non-essential characteristics, drawn from the musical context, may include instrumentation, tuning and temperament, amplification, musical notation and the social and behavioural features of musical performance.

Within the broad spectrum of musical acculturation several processes have been identified, of which syncretism, modernization and Westernization appear to be most influential. Musical syncretism occurs when the encounter between two musical systems results in a new, hybrid style. This seems to happen most naturally when there are recognizable musical similarities between the two cultures and, in particular, when they share essential characteristics. The distinction between modernization and Westernization, so crucial in the development of today\'s so-called ‘World Music’, is less easy to define. Modernization occurs when a society creates a new, adapted, revitalized version of its traditional music by adopting similar but non-essential elements of Western music. On the other hand, Westernization occurs when a society changes its traditional music by taking what it considers to be essential elements from the Western musical system, even though they may be incompatible with that tradition.

Acculturation can occur over an extended period of time as a cyclic, regenerative and reciprocal process. For example, because of the transatlantic slave trade African music was introduced into the New World, where it eventually merged with European and Hispanic elements and created syncretized Afro-American and Afro-Caribbean forms. These new forms, conveyed by the Western commercial recording industry, were reintroduced to Africa as compatible and modernizing influences on its developing urban popular music. This subsequently induced new hybrids of African music in the 1950s and 60s—and these, in turn, were to be vital influences in the development of new Caribbean pop and jazz forms in the 1970s. The process continues today with African pop music absorbing these new Caribbean styles.

Acculturation also embraces the musical changes within a society brought about by economic, technological and political developments, for example, the effect of urbanization and industrialization on rural and agricultural work songs, or the control of disc or cassette format on the duration and structure of musical performance. The growth of tourism has also had some effect: for instance certain non-Western cultures have accommodated Western preconceptions by exaggerating or distorting their traditions, or by artificially preserving those elements by which they believe Western tourists are attracted. Throughout this century authoritarian regimes, such as some eastern European Communist states, have tried to create national musical identities. This process involved forging together diverse and often incompatible musical elements from the various regions and cultures within the regime\'s control, without regard to retaining their original identities.

There is some concern that musical acculturation, affected by the rapid technological advances in global communications, can only lead to the contraction and loss of musical diversity, resulting ultimately in what has been described as ‘cultural grey-out’. SSt



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