CAIRN-INT.INFO : International Edition
“In my father’s garden
The laurels are in bloom...
All of the birds of the world
Come to build their nests...
‘What would you give, pretty one
To have your husband back?’...
I would give Versailles
Paris and Saint-Denis...
My father’s kingdom
And my mother’s too.”

1“Auprès de ma blonde” (“By my fair one’s side”) is generally attributed to André Joubert du Collet, a lieutenant in the royal navy during the reign of Louis XIV: imprisoned by the Dutch, he is said to have written it after being set free in 1704 to pay tribute to his wife and thank the king. A march played by the military brass bands and sung by soldiers from the beginning of the eighteenth century, it became part of the popular repertoire (including in its pacifist interpretations [1]) at the end of the nineteenth and during the twentieth centuries, and was ultimately categorized as a children’s song. Its success is most likely due to the ambiguity woven throughout: the chorus suggests a masculine subject, although it’s the wife’s voice in the verses; the title fluctuated between the woman’s perspective (the song was initially entitled “The prisoner of Holland”) and the man’s (“By my fair one’s side”); the attachment to the homeland (“my father’s garden”) is intimately linked to an openness to the world (“all of the birds in the world”); and patriotism fades against the desire to be reunited with one’s beloved (last verse). As for the music, although 6/8 time is frequently used in marches, it rings less squarely military than 2/4 time or the C barre, and following a dotted quarter note (long value) with three eighth notes (short value) lends the lead-in to the chorus a unique momentum which might just as easily introduce a march as a dance tune. This example serves as a reminder that music, taken in the general sense of an organized combination of non-verbal sounds, often accompanied by verbal sounds, is always subject to a multiplicity of interpretations (both of the style of performance and the attribution of meaning). [2] “Music”, wrote Vladimir Jankélévitch, “means nothing, so it means everything”; [3] the emotion it awakens “as time passes never ceases to change color” [4] for “[...] music always remains equivocal and disappointing. Always meaningful in general, but never in particular, is music not the realm of ambiguity?” [5] The equivocal, ambiguous, ambivalent, and even contradictory complexity of the meanings attributed to music constitutes the background against which to envision its place and role in how identity configurations are conceived and played out. [6]

2Since the 1950s and the work of Erik Erikson, the notion of identity has become a major theme for reflection in the social sciences. More recently, it has featured in numerous studies on music, and the list of works in musicology, ethnomusicology, and sociology of music discussing the relation between music and identity continues to grow. Summarizing a now widely shared point of view, Simha Arom and Frank Alvarez Péreyre write in their Précis d’ethnomusicologie: “[…] music is one of the means of expression through which a cultural group constructs its identity”. [7] Among a great many other indications of the interest now shown in identities in music, volume 20 (2007) of the Cahiers d’ethnomusicologie extensively covers “musical identities”, and Jean-Jacques Nattiez dedicates an entire section of Musiques. Une encyclopédie pour le 20e siècle to “music and identity”, a question approached over six chapters from a variety of angles. [8] Today, in the fields of anthropology, sociology, and political science, convergences are taking clearer shape, enabling us to better identify what we refer to as identity, the processes of formulation and construction that lend it coherence, and how it is used. [9] On the other hand, in studies on music, “identity” still encompasses a range of meanings and remains often used as an immediate given, whose conditions of production and enunciation are barely taken into consideration. In this literature, music is generally considered as one of the means of expression of “identity”; in reality, many case studies (of which only a small number can be cited in this article) indicate that music, like other symbolic forms, participates in the process of identity configuration from the outset. Thus, if music runs right through the ways in which identities are conceived and shaped, if it contributes to the dissemination of these conceptions and forms to become a part of the strategies of mobilization which these conceptions and forms underlie, then the study of music should allow us to apprehend configurations of identity in all their ambiguity and their contradictions, and to oppose the rigidity frequently attributed to identity in political discourse to the plasticity which characterizes it in reality. From this perspective, it is essential to take into account music’s intrinsic characteristics, because the social meanings in which it is shrouded are the result of complex mechanisms in which music’s non-verbal properties interact with the lyrics and the circumstances of performance.

3Understood in this way, music provides a means of access to social representations of the Self and the Other, and the respective places that they occupy and should occupy in social organization. Representations are “conceptual maps” that individuals have in their heads, [10] they constitute a “[…] form of knowledge that is socially developed and shared, having a practical aim and contributing to the construction of a reality common to a social body”. [11] But they are never spontaneously nor completely verbalized. Music facilitates access to elements of representations – of the Self and the Other, “identities”, social organization – because it possesses the resources to symbolize them and encourage their verbalization. This sociological approach to music rests on the theories of musical semantics proposed by Jean Molino [12] and Jean-Jacques Nattiez. [13] To summarize them very briefly, on the one hand, music is not a language, but a symbolic form with infinite referents; on the other, musical meaning results from interactions forged between the specific organization of the musical material (discernible in the “traces” it leaves), the processes of production of music (“poiesis”), as well as the conditions and effects of its reception (“esthesis”). The musical object’s triple mode of existence explains how the meanings emanating from it can be ambiguous and contradictory. This suggests that, in order to grasp these meanings, we should use a set of methods associating musical analysis (which, from the intrinsic characteristics of a given musical object, aims to reveal symbols, whose interpretation may provide hypotheses as to what the symbols evoke in terms of social representations) and interviews centered on the same musical object (aiming to elicit the verbalization of representations), such that the interpretation of the analyst can be confronted with what musicians or listeners say at a given moment, under particular circumstances. Few works have rigorously adopted this approach, [14] but from the multitude of texts available on music and identity, we can glean information, ideas, and hypotheses that indicate how music forges original paths to access social representations and confirm that the representations of “identities” found there reveal them to be multiple, ambiguous, fragmentary, cyclical, fluctuating, even contradictory.

Thinking through music

4The statement seems self-evident: music is a part of daily life in every society. It connects those who share the same musical tastes and those who practice it together; consequently, it generates or reinforces feelings of belonging. It expresses identifications via quotation, borrowings, and appropriations. It may symbolize a group – to the ears of its members and those outside the group alike – its history, and the places it occupies, wants to go, or return to. Right at the beginning of his Very Short Introduction to Music, musicologist Nicholas Cook specifies:

“People think through music, decide who they are through it, express themselves through it […]. Rather than being something apart, music is in the very midst of things. In fact, it is less a ‘something’ than a way of knowing the world, a way of being ourselves […].” [15]
Music, viewed as a mode of knowledge, thought, and existence, is therefore not the reflection or emanation of existing groups but, in sharing, creating, and imagining, it contributes to their construction and how they function. [16] The musical fact, to paraphrase Marcel Mauss, is a total social fact or rather a total socio-musical fact; in other words, a complex of audible elements and social processes whose components are indivisible from one another. To understand the place of music in identity configurations consequently implies untangling the relations between sound organizations and the social processes of producing and using music. [17]

Belonging and identification: making them heard

5Making music in a group, listening to music, realizing – following Benedict Anderson’s argument – that others, elsewhere, play or listen to identical music, nurtures the awareness of belonging to the same whole. [18] In Nigeria, “Yoruba popular music portrays an imagined community of some 30 million people – a sodality that no individual could know in entirety through first-hand experience – and embodies the ideal affective texture of social life and the melding of new and old, exotic and indigenous within a unifying syncretic framework.” [19] Thus it is not simply an abstract, imaginary group which the music depicts, but also an idealized social order: a past golden era, a dreamed-of future. This is why musical performance, which shows groups in action, does not confine itself to theaters and auditoriums, but is also present during demonstrations or political gatherings which seek to modify social relations. [20]

6However, individuals are never absolute prisoners of a group or culture; they may choose among a large number of potential identities and possible identifications, in the context of constraints that vary according to society and era. Musical taste is one of the ways of projecting an identity: it enables us to classify ourselves and be classified. [21] Daniel Yon, for instance, shows that in a Toronto high school, where the students are from very diverse backgrounds, they play on their musical tastes, both to highlight their attachment to the origins conventionally assigned to them, and to distance themselves from these origins and express their identification with other groups. [22] Michele, one of the students interviewed, explains the subtlety of the positions that music enables her to adopt towards her classmates. Born to a Guyanese father and Jamaican mother, she is more inclined towards her paternal side, because Guyana’s cultural diversity offers her a wider range of possibilities and musical fusion, whereas her brother considers himself more “roots”, more Jamaican. He listens to reggae and dancehall, but Michele, who hangs out with “Hispanics”, is more into hip-hop (the archetypal open genre, in which Spanish-speaking Antilleans in particular shine) and bhangra (invented in Great Britain by Indian immigrants, it melts together elements of Punjabi, rock, and reggae), genres which evoke emigration and the fusion that characterizes both Guyana and Toronto. [23] In a different context, in South Africa, Crain Soudien points to similar behaviors and highlights that music is likewise a means of blending affirmation of local belonging with willingness to be integrated into international networks. [24] Music makes it possible to play around with belonging and identification, to alternate between them according to the situation, to combine them: its plasticity – the fact that it is not a language, but a symbolic system with an infinite number of interpreters [25] – confers in this area a greater capacity for intricate relationships than is to be found in other modes of expression.

7Musical meanings, including those touching on identities, are molded in the interaction between the production processes of music, how it is received, and the musical material itself; [26] for this reason, they are never fixed, but rather evolve according to the situations in which this chain of interactions takes place, and how these situations change, notably in the political and social spheres. To take into account simultaneously the specificity of music’s role in identity configurations and the expressive plasticity that allows us to insert, or detect, complex, ambivalent, even contradictory meanings within it, the study of the relationship between music and identity must adopt the musical object approach theorized by Jean Molino and Jean-Jacques Nattiez, and consider music’s triple form of existence: as an object that is produced, received, and leaves an audible “trace” whose intrinsic characteristics can be analyzed. The specificities of each musical object are constituted by systems of difference which organize the instruments, the musical forms and the parameters that characterize them, the names they are given, their symbolic functions, and the circumstances under which they are used. It is important, then, to distinguish those elements (instruments, meters, rhythms, scales, types of melodies) and the combinations liable to be used in specific circumstances as identity “markers”, either demanded by group members, or attributed from the outside. [27]

Categorizing musically to distinguish socially

8The characterization and aggregation of these elements within our analysis serve as the basis for the categorization of music into the styles and genres most often associated with the circumstances under which music is produced and consumed, and thus with the groups involved in this production and consumption. Categorization often relates to a simultaneously musical and social identification: in certain societies, there exist masculine and feminine repertoires; more generally, certain genres are associated with youth (rock, disco, techno, rap) or with immigrant groups or descendants of immigrant groups (rai, bhangra); others are considered as belonging to an elite culture, accessible only to certain classes (“classical” music, whether western or Indian); some genres remain linked to the groups or countries in which they first appeared (jazz to African-Americans in the United States; tango to Argentina; samba to Brazil). But these relationships are far from stable: those who love rock have aged, jazz has become universalized, and the tango is played by musicians who have never set foot in Argentina. We must therefore look more closely at the mechanisms by which social meanings are attributed to musical differences, mechanisms relating to a process of identification-with and identification-by; in other words, on the one hand, the desire to attach oneself to a group, and on the other, the assignment of an identity by an external authority.

9In the early years, even possibly before birth, each individual absorbs musical features which form the emotional soundtrack of the environment in which he or she develops. These features constitute one of the modes of knowledge that enable a distinction between the in-group and out-groups: in most cases, individuals recognize “[…] at the same time that a given parameter constitutes one of their cultural characteristics, relative to those of the neighboring community. Most often they say, ‘this is our thing’, implying: ‘it is not found elsewhere expressed in the same form’”. [28] Similarly, genres and styles are heard as belonging to groups that we are not part of. The association of music with particular groups may be positive, like those of bodily marks with the societies discussed in the work of Claude Lévi-Strauss: it can prevent a group from closing in on itself and foster the recognition of the Other as a potential partner for fruitful exchanges. [29] The music of Others also serves as an instrument of identification with a possibly idealized out-group: the use of the term jazz and the appropriation of the African-American music of the United States have, for instance, in Africa and in the Caribbean, served to imagine counter-modernities essential to the construction of self-esteem, and thus of positively-viewed identities. [30] This music also becomes a privileged vehicle for exoticism, this “praise in ignorance” [31] of which World Music appears as one of the most recent embodiments. [32] Conversely, perceived musical differences associated with an “other” group can also designate it as hostile or dangerous. The music of those thought to be radically different is generally treated as non-music, judged savage or barbaric, even pernicious; such was the case for African music as heard by a number of the first European voyagers; Antillean Creole music whose “lascivity” shocked Catholic morals; Elvis Presley’s rock’n’roll; and the music of the iconoclastic Afrikaners in the South African Voëlvry Movement. [33]

figure im1
Voëlvry, at the end of the 1980s, the rock rebellion of the young iconoclastic Afrikaners (cover of Voëlvry, Die Toer, Johannesburg, Sheer Sound, 2002; from the author’s collection).

10Musical categorization can lead to political categorization. The folk movement in the United States, embodied by Pete Seeger and Peter, Paul and Mary, who supported the unions and civil rights movements, were classified on the “left”, as were Léo Ferré, Jean Ferrat, and their fans in France in the 1960s, whereas, later, Michel Sardou, eulogist of the “Era of the Colonies”, found himself assimilated with a backward-looking right. In Cameroon, the bikutsi of the central region was considered on the coast as both archaic and representative of the power of President Paul Biya (who hails from the Center), whereas coastal makossa, which was cosmopolitan and imbued with external influences, was judged old-fashioned and “prostituted” by the partisans of Paul Biya, who applied the same qualifiers to members of the opposition, notably to those originating from the Coast. [34] In these conditions, listening to or playing politically categorized music leads to being categorized in the same way as a person.

11Yet, social or commercial categorizations of music [35] sometimes have surprising effects. Ronald Radano remarkably describes how the Creole music of the United States, invented from a fusion of African, American Indian, and European elements, was attributed to the African-Americans – because they were mixed, and therefore “impure” – who obviously took ownership of it to turn it into an emblem of identity and a badge of pride demonstrating their creative abilities and thus defying racist stereotypes; while the dominant ideology and the music industry worked to mask the equally crossbred origins of so-called “white” music, such as country music. [36] South Africa experienced the same phenomenon: there, Creole music was attributed to Africans and “coloreds”, who claimed it as theirs, whereas the boeremusiek of the rural Afrikaners was presented as exclusively white. In reality, in colonial eighteenth- and nineteenth-century Cape Town, musical forms invented from repertoires brought by the slaves (Indian, African, Malagasy, and Indonesian) and borrowings from music played in the European pubs and lounges, began to appear. From this shared patchwork sprang offshoots which racial ideology differentiated and isolated. However, the whites’ boeremusiek, the coloreds’ ghoemaliedjies, and the Africans’ marabi not only had shared roots, but continually influenced one another throughout the twentieth century. [37] These Creole creations were the consequence of contacts and exchanges established over the course of many years, most often with a backdrop of unspeakable violence and radical inequality; they did not result from deliberate projects but from the necessity for the oppressed, slaves, the colonized, ordinary overexploited settlers, to survive and express their humanity in the face of those who explicitly or in practice denied them this basic right. In other cases, the musicians themselves chose to create new “indigenous” music by combining elements from local styles and borrowing from international genres. In this way, for example, Australian Aborigine rock was a means of proclaiming to the world at large an identity just as reinvented as the music, as it brought together groups that did not historically share a common feeling of belonging. In this case, rock lent international visibility to peoples who were often portrayed as stuck in an archaic past, and enabled them to demonstrate that contemporary aborigine cultures were capable of producing their own modernity. [38]

12This example suggests that music is not only used to distinguish, separate, and oppose, but also serves to establish connections, to forge bonds. It played this role in the lives of the captives in the slavery societies of the Americas, the Antilles, and South Africa where individuals of diverse backgrounds – uprooted, stripped of their names, and prevented from reconstructing their cultural practices, including their languages, from their regions of origin – managed to achieve a feeling of belonging to groups united by solidarity. [39] Later, musical connections continued to fulfill similar functions for immigrants – for example the West Indians who settled in Great Britain – and provided a means of developing and transmitting memory narratives in which past experiences are reinterpreted to support new pan-Caribbean identity configurations. [40] Nevertheless, music as a bond, as an instrument of the Relation as conceived by Édouard Glissant, [41] is not the exclusive property of groups created from slavery or contemporary migrations. Today, communication techniques mean that musical exchanges and borrowings are potentially unlimited: the musical materials available to imagine and configure new identities are too many to count. [42] These techniques fuel combinations that underlie the invention of unprecedented musical forms. They maintain a synergy between the symbolization of the particular, borrowings from the “different”, and worldwide circulation: there is Chinese rock and Australian Aborigine rock; they both identify as rock, they move in the international rock networks, but are clearly of a particular type; the same goes for jazz, rap, salsa, and reggae.

figure im2
Dou Wei, dark Chinese-style rock (cover of Black Dream, Peking, Rock Music records, 2002; from the author’s collection).

13Music, because of its nature as a “total social fact”, participates in the creation, functioning, and production of representations of human groups: it contributes to the awakening of feelings of belonging, and to the learning of the distinction between “Us” and “Them”, and consequently transmits pride in being what one is as well as the identification with an Other, plus all possible combinations of these two attitudes. It can project the nostalgia of a past golden era that experiences the group’s glory as the hope of a marvelous future, and enables bridges to be built connecting these imaginary times. In the other direction, from the outside, it can be used as the marker of difference connoting inferiority or impurity and, consequently, become a stigmatizing, sometimes internalized, mark, always resisted by its victims. These possible combinations, these mythic bridges, these ambivalences acquire a social efficiency because music, not as a language but a symbolic form, permits complex games and elicits infinite interpretations. Associating a genre, style, or repertoire with a group is thus always a function of the social environment and systems of power, linked to particular conditions and times; the association changes, and its meanings are transformed as conditions and times change. However – even in societies where everything was done to separate human beings and create hostility among them, as evidenced in the case of South Africa – music plays a connecting role, a vector of the Relation, forging infinite networks that encourage increasingly intense exchanges from which innovations likely to contribute to the development of new identity configurations take form.

The social frameworks of music

14The contributions of music to identity configurations draw on particular symbolizations that music achieves in those areas where artisans of identity configurations work to bring them about. In other words, identity configurations bring into play and give meaning to relations to time, space, and social groups [43] that music symbolizes by conferring on them a particular emotional dimension. This symbolization operates from the musical material itself and sparks the discourses that take place among the narratives referred to in the process of identity construction and with regard to the identities configured.

Musical “madeleines” [44]

15Music, and discourse on music, are part of the development of collective memories which reorder the history of a group in order to render it significant and useful in the present. Memory proposes a “present of the past”, [45] it selects facts and intertwines them with new rationales, with a view to producing relevant representations to explore and act in the present world. Music intervenes in the representations of the past because it works with time. By articulating temporal parameters (meter, rhythm, tempo), musicians provoke in their listeners feelings of continuity and discontinuity, of speeding up and slowing down, giving them the sensation of being liberated from chronometric time. [46] This occurs within forms that are themselves historically marked, because they are inherited from the past or aspire to break with the past: the musical images of earlier times are visible behind the operations being carried out on time and forms. [47] They overflow with emotion and recall the pleasure of the past; music, writes psychoanalyst Alain de Mijolla, leaves “mnemonic traces” assembled in networks of associations that attach sounds to past events, real or imaginary, to which social or political meaning is attributed. [48]

16The idea of trace [49] is essential to understanding the role of music in memory because, for Paul Ricœur, trace and forgetting are indivisible: the trace makes forgetting possible and can reappear when conditions demand it and when the producers of memories (artists, historians, political persons) rediscover them. Music leaves traces and is among the treasures buried in the attics of the forgotten. [50] Music intervenes in the three mnemonic modes distinguished by Edward Casey and discussed by Paul Ricœur: reminding of the past; reminiscing, or giving a new life to the past via collective recall; and recognizing, that which reintroduces into the present what seemed to have expired, that shrouds “with presence, the alterity of the past”. [51] Music reminds us of past realities by recreating past genres, marked by features symbolizing the times during which they first appeared. Music stimulates reminiscence in the sharing of previous forms, which contains the potential for rediscovery of connections established in days past, a rediscovery that is necessary to overcome the separations and antagonisms of yesteryears. Music thus offers resources for recognition because it bears witness to the creativity, therefore the humanity, of those who have been debased and humiliated, and reveals the existence, always and everywhere, of exchanges and fusions.

17Thus, in the late 1980s, the South African group Mango Groove brought back kwela, street music from the 1950s played on pennywhistles and guitars by Africans (often very young, such as Lemmy “Special” Mabaso). Constructed on the typical cycles of popular urban forms, kwela achieved a sort of cross-over: a product of the intense musical fusions for which the South African metropolitan areas had been the crucible, played by Blacks, it also seduced a White audience at a time when the implementation of apartheid was still running up against multiracial opposition. Then, after falling into near total oblivion from the 1960s, kwela re-emerged with Mango Groove just as the “pale power”, to use Serge Thion’s term, was crumbling, to awaken a reminiscence of what had previously united South African democrats of all backgrounds and create for the “new” South Africa a recognition (in French a “re-connaissance”: a rebirth together).

figure im3
Lemmy “Special” Mabaso, young kwela star (cover of Something New From Africa, London, Decca, 1959; from the author’s collection).

18However, musical traces are not always called upon to encourage recognition (or “reconnaissance”). They are also used, on the contrary, to buttress exclusivist conceptions of group identity. They inspire talk of tradition that invokes the age and permanence of cultural practices in order to proclaim the purity and authenticity of the group. However, musical traditions, like others, are reinvented in order to be integrated into memory narratives. [52] Age is supposed to confer authority and rights that legitimize changes undertaken in the present that weigh on the future. The discourses surrounding tradition, notably where music is concerned, constitute “established structures of creativity” that impel transformations and innovations by marking them with truth and legitimacy. [53] Musical traditions are invoked as proof of the group having been long-established and confer prestige by the historic depth attributed to them. Hence reordering musical traditions and endowing them with new meanings supports the redefinition of groups and their political reorientation: musicians become the spokespeople for communities in the process of rethinking themselves and identity entrepreneurs do not hesitate to delve into musicological studies to find arguments liable to support their claims. [54]

Sound landscapes

19Sounds characterize the social spaces where human production, natural sounds, and mechanical echoes crisscross, together producing soundscapes, sound landscapes, that serve to identify places to the ears of those who live there, as well as to “strangers” who enter them or pass by. Music contributes to the construction of place [55] and can be understood as a “sonic projection of territory”. [56]

20Playing music and singing are ways of marking territory and proclaiming ownership rights. When groups – colonizers, occupants, migrants – move into a space, they establish their music there, which is then transformed by the new circumstances which their settling there creates; such was the story of the beginnings of salsa in the Latino neighborhoods of American cities, where Puerto Rican, Dominican, and Cuban repertoires were transformed from contact with jazz, then rock, to satisfy an audience that strove to conserve a “Hispanicity”, reformulated on the continent while still affirming its presence in North America. In situations of hostility between groups, music, even in its most rudimentary forms, becomes an instrument of the dramatization of space: the ta-ta-ta-ta-ta of the partisans of French Algeria in the 1960s, the concerts of clanging pots and pans in the Chilean opposition to Salvador Allende being examples of this. In a more elaborate form, Hindu militants have made chants to the glory of the god Ganesh resonate in Muslim neighborhoods [57] since the late nineteenth century, and the Northern Irish unionist parades made the tumult of a desire for domination be heard by those who did not adhere to the Orange ideals. [58]

21The social meaning of spaces can also be modified by less aggressive sound interventions. The music that is played there, as a function of the particular specialism and origins of a given space’s inhabitants, is indivisible from the forms of sociability that end up being identified with it, and finds itself in narratives that romanticize the place in question. Musette, rue de Lappe, and the Bastille neighborhood in Paris thus became the characters in a myth of working-class Paris where “Parigots de souche” [slang for native-born Parisians], Italians, Auvergnats [people from the Auvergne region of France], and Gypsies gathered. The musically transformed spaces are not necessarily homogenous, they may host diverse scenes and actually be characterized by a variety that attracts residents and visitors of different backgrounds and generations, as is the case around Lapa in Rio de Janeiro where, between the choros and the pagode, the historical strata of Brazilian music vibrate and interconnect. Elsewhere, powerful loudspeakers flood the streets with contrasting streams of music in a competition of intensity that generally remains peaceful.


“Music, then, plays a significant part in the way that individuals author space, musical texts being creatively combined with local knowledge and sensibilities, in ways that tell particular stories about the local, and impose collectively defined meanings and significance on space. At the same time, however, it is important to note that such authorings of space produce not one, but a series of competing local narratives.” [59]

23This is the case in Djenne, in Mali: there, music tells who is who and who comes from where, but it not only distinguishes, it also possesses a potential for connections because it highlights reciprocal borrowings. [60]

24In diasporas, for the immigrant communities, music can also symbolize the region of origin, but its insertion into a new environment inevitably transforms it. In Trinidad, as in Mauritius, descendants of indentured Indians perpetuated repertoires of songs in Bhojpuri (the language spoken in Bihar and in the Uttar Pradesh); however, the conditions of their interpretation forced them to evolve (these were female repertoires initially, until the men took hold of them) and the social dynamics led to changes in the music: the original forms are now infused with sega in Mauritius and soca in Trinidad. Genres such as chutney appeared, characterizing the creolized Indians. The chutney-soca was finally recognized in Trinidad as national and worthy of its own competition during the carnival. Chutney, chutney-soca, and sega bollywood constitute the sound emblems of groups who do not reject their Indianness but henceforth intend to build it in the very space where indenturedness drove them to settle, in Indo-Trinidadian or Indo-Mauritian configurations. [61]

25The indentured Indians could keep a precise memory of their place of origin and preserve the use of its language. For the slaves, Africans in the Americas, Asians and Malagasies in South Africa, this was impossible, and the representation of the “old countries” had to be developed from fragments of sounds, gestures, and images that had been conserved and transmitted, and that necessarily fused over the course of their time in servitude. These fusions – also incorporating elements of the masters’ culture and other populations the slaves interacted with: American Indians in the Americas, the Khoikhoi and the Bushmen in South Africa – nevertheless led to innovations which expressed their Creole nature in variable combinations, and which were identified, depending on the case, as being closer to the music – real or fantasy – of their homeland or to the country of the colonists. Thus, different meanings could be attributed to different genres, themselves likely to evolve. The Guadeloupian gwo-ka, rural music for voice and drums, a reminder of Africa, was execrated by the authorities and labeled archaic and shameful by the urban high society; it became the emblem of a nationalist movement, momentarily shattered by the repression in the late 1960s, reappearing in another form in late 2008 in the Liyannaj kont pwofitasyon (LKP). Its Creole roots are certainly not denied by those who play it, but the European part of this Creoleness – which its links with biguine music, judged “doudouiste” [a word connoting a simplistic view of African culture as exotic] reveal – is forgotten. [62] So, when the biguine element found itself magnified – for instance, as portrayed by Guy Deslauriers [63] – as the sign of an ability to adapt driven by a purely Creole resilience, then the gwo-ka or the bélé in Martinique became established as symbols of an originally African resistance. The insular space is here the locus of diversely interpreted Creole inventions, although this diversity permits political identification of musical genres that are classified regardless of their affiliations.

figure im4
“Memorial of the eternal flame to the unknown slave”: a west-African djembe symbolizes “the old country”; sculpture by Jocelyn Pézeron, unveiled on the 7 June 1994 at Petit-Canal (Guadeloupe) to celebrate the bicentenary of the first abolition of slavery (photo: the author).

26The assimilation of music to a territory naturally generates forms of musical nationalism, in other words, movements that want to assert their specificity, and therefore the right of their “homeland” to exist or survive. In addition to Bedřich Smetana – who acquired fame through Ma Vlast (“My homeland”), a series of six symphonic poems written between 1874 and 1879 – Antonín Dvořák, Edvard Grieg, Mikhail Glinka, Isaac Albeniz, and a great many others set out to affirm a nation’s right to existence through the music that characterized it. In order to do this, they drew on rural repertoires, those that were thought to be the closest to the “earth”, to “ennoble” them, take them out of their local landscape and transform them into national odes. The approaches of Béla Bartók and Zoltán Kodály were slightly different: even if the idea of glorifying national sentiment was not absent from their search, for them it was more about finding in rural music (including North African, in the case of Bartók) the materials capable of enriching “great” music. Louis-Moreau Gottschalk in Louisiana, Ignacio Cervantes in Cuba, and Ernesto Nazareth and Heitor Villa-Lobos in Brazil did likewise, but drew their inspiration from urban genres. In Brazil, in Argentina, Trinidad and Tobago, the Dominican Republic, and Zaïre, the new creations derived from urban fusions – samba, tango, calypso, merengue, rumba – were, without being reshaped by “classical” musicians, elevated to the rank of national symbol and instrumentalized to varying degrees by those in power. [64] It is interesting to note that the governments of these countries, like the national composers in Europe in the nineteenth century or in America at the beginning of the twentieth century, considered that the musical symbols fit to become national treasures could only come from the popular classes, rural or urban. For them, national pride, the sound image of the cultural singularity of a nation, should be constructed on the basis of the “popular tradition”. In this case, the national narrative – that traces the path from the past towards the future via the present – finds in music a raw material mined by the “ordinary people”, the social group largest in number, from the innermost depths of the territory: music puts into sound the synthesis of time, space, and the cultures that humanize it. Nevertheless, the borrowings of “classical” musicians from the popular stock, generally rural, [65] show that music has always circulated, despite the racial, religious, social and national identifications it has been subject to. Bulgarian musicologist Adela Peeva has retraced part of the journey taken by a particular piece [a bluette], widely disseminated under the Ottoman Empire, showing how in different parts of the eastern Mediterranean it had been appropriated to the point of being considered the indisputable evidence of an exclusive religious or national patrimony. [66] The history of the song “Corrina”, as recreated by Christopher Waterman, similarly demonstrates that a blues song with a country and western feel, recorded in 1928 by African-American guitarist and singer Armenter “Bo Carter” Chatmon literally “proliferated”, as much in the race catalogues (for Blacks) as in the hillbilly catalogue (for Whites), until it was recorded by Bob Dylan in 1962 then put on screen in 1994. [67] The trajectories of “Corrina” confirm that “[…] musical units are assemblages of elements from a variety of sources, each with a variety of histories and connotation-clusters, and these assemblages can, in appropriate circumstances, be prised open, the elements re-articulated in different contexts”. [68]

Social and political anthems

27Musical tastes are partially linked to social hierarchies but sometimes disrupt them: the working-class people of Marseilles, just like the “colored” people of the Cape, had a particular predilection for opera, despite its being considered particularly elitist. Popular musicians willingly seize elements from the culture of the dominant classes to counteract the contempt they are subjected to. “Do-it-yourself” instrument-makers living in the poorest working-class areas of the outskirts of Port of Spain invented the steel drum, or pan, using oil drums. The steel bands that made it famous were initially bands of young people who mostly played calypsos and never missed a chance to escalate musical rivalry into a fist fight. But, progressively, the possibilities of the instrument extended, its repertoire grew, and its playing techniques were refined, so much so that, a few years after its appearance, the steel drum could play arrangements of pieces from the pinnacle of the classical repertoire. [69] Eric Williams and the nationalist leaders of Trinidad and Tobago saw in the pan proof of the creativity and cultural autonomy of a country that had just achieved independence: it informally became a symbol of the two-island state before being officially proclaimed “national instrument” in 1992: “The ability to render the classics credibly has thus been a critical factor in transforming pan’s status from nuisance to national instrument.” [70]

28Within the national whole, more limited groups project through music the image of themselves that they wish to portray, or are characterized by the music they enjoy, practice, and invent. In earlier times, corporations and professions had their own repertoires; peasants and workers had their songs for work or leisure. Later, the working class accumulated songs that told of its tribulations and hopes – metaphorically, as in “Le temps des cerises” or more openly, as in “L’Internationale”, whereas in the countryside, amateur “routine” musicians [71] played by ear dance tunes that were considered native to the region, and others from elsewhere; which did not prevent it being the case that in Gascony, for example, polkas, mazurkas, two-steps, or schottisches were considered indigenous, as well as the branle, bourrée, rondeau, or gigue. Always on the lookout for what they might enjoy playing and what would please their listeners, these performers at balls and weddings paid attention to what was being played in the bourgeois salons or turned on the wireless to glean something that might spice up their everyday repertoire of familiar melodies. [72]

29For a long period, from the Middle Ages until the beginning of the twentieth century, young people enjoyed their own repertoires associated with the particular roles they held, notably during celebrations and carnivals. The Abbayes de jeunesse [societies of young bachelor men, often involved in organizing carnivals and charivaris] publicly denounced abuses (notably in matters of marriage) and criticized the existing order; later, the Conseil de révision (which decided whether young men were fit for military service), the rite of passage from adolescence to adulthood, provided the occasion for draftees to compose and sing their own songs. The commercialization of music, the development of recording, and airing by radio, television, and the internet meant that the possibilities were infinite for discovering music from elsewhere and disseminating music created at home (including in one’s basement or garage), but did not annihilate the reality of musical generations. On the contrary, youth became a market, with its own specific characteristics, which the music industries strive to harness. As time passes, genres change but young people continue to distinguish themselves by the music they listen to; they do so by (re)working the local musical inheritance or by seizing on music from farther away. Rock, reggae (and ska), rap, and techno have served, or still serve, as a means of affirming a distinction from the world of adults. [73] In Senegal, as in other colonized African countries, Afro-Cuban music served simultaneously to proclaim youth and modernity, before rap became the vector of aspirations for change. [74] Nearly everywhere, rap – an eminently plastic genre whose sound substrates are capable of absorbing all sorts of references, and rhymes flow in every language – has proclaimed the anxieties, anger, and hopes of young people in an international language infused with a multitude of local contributions. [75]

figure im5
In 1936 Mistinguett sang in support of the Popular Front (cover of the Illustré du Petit Journal, reproduced in the pamphlet Le Front Populaire, Paris 1934-1939, Vincennes: Frémeaux et Associés, 1996).
figure im6
“Rap’adio, the most dangerous rap group ever to exist in Senegal”, according to, accessed 27 December 2011 (cover from the audio cassette of Soldaaru Mbèd, Dakar: KSF, 2001; from the author’s collection).

30The rap example indicates that young people use music not only to express discontent or revolt, but above all to negotiate their place in a society dominated by “old people”; to do so, they invent new styles or genres and, through music, identify with groups from elsewhere that they idealize in a register of protest (a new form of “praise in ignorance”). Indeed, a rigorous analysis taking into account musical symbolism as well as lyrics demonstrates that “young people’s music” such as reggae or rap, expresses many more concerns, uncertainties, and shifts in value systems than unambiguous sentiments of rebellion. [76] “Young people’s music” is on the one hand distinctive and transgressive, but is also about making connections and integrating, because its aim is more to carve out a place in society rather than to dismantle it.

31Music also plays an important role in the way that women are represented. The existence of exclusively female repertoires indicates a separation, at least under certain circumstances, but also opens up spaces for creativity in which women can externalize their specific problems amongst themselves. This is the case for marriage songs in which feminine sexuality is explicitly addressed, as in Lamu, Kenya, and in the regions of India where the Bhojpuri language is spoken. [77] Adopting a wider perspective, Guy Poitevin has analyzed how song can confer a capacity for action on the most oppressed of the oppressed, the untouchable women of the Maharashtra (India): the “reflexive autonomy” conferred on them by the distichs they sing as they grind grain enables them to acquire a form of self-esteem that may lead them to engage in local or national struggles. [78] In a very different fashion, the role of music in changing the ways women are represented and their place in society can also be apprehended in situations where music enables female artists to access celebrity and wealth. While this sometimes leads – despite the excellence of female singers and instrumentalists on stage – to a perpetuation of their subordination, and to the categorization of their work as akin to prostitution, it also means that, as a consequence of their talent, they are accorded dignity and respect as women in spheres in which they are usually denied this: thus we have Mahalia Jackson in gospel or Queen Latifah in rap in the United States; Oum Kalthoum in the Arab world; Miriam Makeba and Yvonne Chaka Chaka in South Africa; or even Queen Jane who, in Kenya, succeeds in projecting the image of a modern, responsible woman. [79]

32Musical categorization, as we glimpsed previously, leads in certain circumstances to political categorization. More generally, music and power have always been linked, and political life is today drenched in music: gatherings, protests, election campaign videos, ring out with songs and sounds. Activists and leaders often recycle existing tunes to turn them into political anthems. This was the case of “We shall overcome”, an old union song reclaimed by the civil rights movement.

figure im7
The Civil Rights Movement: fighting whilst singing (cover of Voices of the Civil Rights Movement, Black American Freedom Songs, 1960-1966, Washington, DC: Smithsonian Folkways, 1977; from the author’s collection).

33In other cases, sentimental songs can acquire a political dimension thanks to their power of symbolization. “Le temps des cerises” called to mind spring, thus renewal, and its association with the Paris Commune sealed its revolutionary character for many years. In Greece, Στρώσε το στώμα σου για δυο (“Prepare your bed for two”), a banal love song, did not seem a likely candidate for political usage, but the combination of a story of reunion, the promise of a new future, and the political position of its composer, Mikis Theodorakis, meant that it was sung during the left-wing protests in Athens in the early 1960s. [80] This example demonstrates that music’s power of attraction, what gives it potential for political mobilization, rests simultaneously on its musical characteristics and lyrics, on the possible interpretations of their symbols, as well as on the shared representations of its authors and composers. These factors lend a song, and also a style or genre, a power to touch and to move that constitutes their political potential. This power is even more potent because the musical togetherness of meetings and demonstrations, and the awareness of feeling the same hopes at the same time which recorded music kindles, fosters the blossoming of a feeling of belonging to a group, a feeling that underpins identification with a movement and its leaders. Political forces work to harness music’s power of attraction: those in power consolidate their position by promoting certain genres and censoring others; [81] the opposition associate certain repertoires, styles, or genres with protest and revolt. But, in all cases, music in the narrow sense of humanly organized sounds is necessarily “politicized”: specially fashioned to serve political uses. Its intrinsic characteristics give it no ideological or even moral orientation; it is the lyrics, the network of meanings resulting from the interaction between the musical object, its conditions of production, and how it is received, that position it politically. For this reason, political interpretations of musical symbols are contextual and ever-changing. Nathalie Dompnier has shown how the Vichy government, powerless to get rid of La Marseillaise, attempted to give it a meaning that conformed to the ideology of the national revolution. By emphasizing certain couplets, notably the “couplet du Maréchal” (“Pétain’s couplet”: “Amour sacré de la patrie…” – “Sacred love for the homeland…”), the government attempted to make it an extension of prayers to Jeanne d’Arc, which would express its conception of France’s immutable identity. During the same period, those in the resistance emphasized the chorus, “Aux armes citoyens…” (“To arms, citizens…”), asserting the national anthem as a battle song against the occupying forces and collaborators. Between 1940 and 1944, “the 1792 song was thus the object of a struggle of appropriation and each party claimed this political symbol, this heritage, this instrument of legitimization of the ‘good side’, the side of the ‘true patriots’”. [82] This competition over the interpretation of musical symbols is far from exceptional; it is found in many another circumstances. While there remains a left-wing anti-racist rock, there also exists an ultra-nationalist extreme-right rock, as is the case in Hungary. [83] In Cameroon, Anne-Marie Nzie’s song entitled “Dieu Merci” (“Thank God”) then “Liberté” (“Liberty”) was successively sung to celebrate independence and Ahmadou Ahidjo, then to celebrate Paul Biya, who had overthrown Ahidjo, before it became, with modified lyrics, an anthem of the anti-Biya opposition. [84] It is what is done using the musical matter, and around it, that gives meaning to music, associates it with a social group or political movement, because nowhere is this meaning written within the musical matter itself.

figure im8
Anne-Marie N’zie, the “mother” of Cameroonian music (cover of Anne-Marie N’zie, un secrèt caché derrière 20 ans de gloire, Paris: Pathé Marconi EMI, 1976 ; from the author’s collection).

34Music is one of the instruments of symbolization of time, space, and social groups. But, because it is a symbolic form, it is subject to multiple and changing interpretations. Moreover, music being an “impure mix” [85] in which different parameters intervene (temporal, scalar, melodic, relative to timbres and instruments), the symbolizations it generates vary according to the group of parameters symbolized. From music, more than from other means of expression, ambiguities, ambivalences, and contradictions may simultaneously arise. As a mixed symbolic form, music leaves mnemonic traces which produce conflicting memories; it allows us to write in space, and from this emanates a plurality of identity narratives; it gives rise to categorizations used in opposing, sometimes even frankly antagonistic, social and political identifications.

The path to epiphany: musical appropriation and creation

35Aesthetic intention always lies at the origin of musical creation: musicians invent new pieces, styles, or genres, because they wish to distinguish themselves by bringing something “new”. An innovation will be accepted as a “creation” if one can hear a discernible difference from what has gone before. But aesthetic choices are never independent from the conditions in which they are made, and their results incorporate symbolizations of these conditions: any and all objects recall the time and place of their creation, and suggest the development of diverse representations of these times and places. When these conditions include processes of identity configuration or reconfiguration, music seeps into the small events of daily life where identities are shaped and expressed [86] and thus participates in the emergence of new configurations and signifies them in each particular situation of interaction, by playing with bodies, on multiple temporal registers. In the United States and South Africa, for instance, the advent of a new group consciousness was accompanied by the appearance of new musical styles or genres. The civil rights movement took old religious hymns and modified the lyrics; its activists also created new songs modeled after spirituals and gospel songs. Without a direct connection to this movement, but in the same period during which it was gaining momentum, artists broke with pre-existing aesthetic codes, symbolically asserting the coming of age of young urban African-Americans aspiring to new ways of life and demanding the respect of all around them (“Black and proud”; [87] “Young, gifted and black”): [88] soul music abandoned the structure of the blues; free jazz rejected the harmonic and rhythmical confines of classical jazz improvisation. In South Africa, an African jazz was born from the conjunction of marabi music of the urban African proletariat and the music played for the “Concerts and Dance” of the Black lower middle class that had emerged at the beginning of the twentieth century; when the latter’s efforts to make the White ruling class recognize its rights to dignity and political participation came to nothing, it moved closer to the working class in order to form a more solid African bloc, and their preferred musics melted into one another. [89] Following numerous other musical mutations, after the abolition of apartheid, kwaito and rap celebrated new conceptions of emancipated “Blackness”, in a more or less playful vein, more or less concerned about the problems of the “new” South Africa. [90]

figure im9
Nina Simone, the song of a new generation “Young, Gifted and Black” (cover of Gifted and Black, Villetaneuse: Vogue, 1971); from the author’s collection.

36 The examples of South African kwaito (inspired by international house, garage, funk, and techno) and rap, but also reggae, raï, bhangra, diverse styles of chutney, Colombian champeta and, finally, of all music resulting more or less directly from the experience of slavery, confirm that creation always begins with the rearranging of pre-existing elements: endogenous and exogenous. It draws on its inheritance and appropriates external features to assemble them in unprecedented combinations that provide the basis upon which the unheard of may be imagined. Contact evidently fosters appropriations; where once such contact was limited to situations of physical co-presence, today it is mediatized and multiplied by communication and information techniques. The mechanisms have not fundamentally changed, even if the resources available for combinations have exponentially accrued. All stakeholders in a relation of acculturation find themselves transformed by this relation; their music too. Strategies of appropriation imply making choices in the music of Others, selections that are dictated by an inseparable combination of aesthetic and symbolic preoccupations. Subalterns who poach cultural features from the dominant group’s culture simultaneously assert that they possess the same qualities as those who oppress them, and that they are able to distinguish themselves from the dominant group by what they create. Paul Ricœur emphasizes that appropriation is different from ordinary borrowing, in that it confers on the subject an autonomous capacity for action that allows him to act with regard to how his life, and that of the groups to which he belongs, develops. The notion of appropriation suggests a relation of synergy between musical innovations and identity (re)configurations since it implies the (re)construction of the subject and its relations to the groups it belongs to, as well as the reassessment of its relations with Others. This is why there can be no appropriation without reassessing meaning. On one hand, borrowings from the music of Others intervene in the identity configuration of the borrower; on the other, “[…] appropriation is a socio-musical process, involving the resignification of the borrowed idiom to serve as a symbol of a new social identity”. [91] Appropriation leads to reassessment of conceptions of identity and alterity, it unveils “oneself as another”, since what was taken becomes the property of those who have taken it, such that the Other who carried it is thus integrated in the Self. The musical creations stimulated by appropriation contain within them the traces of all the exchanges which generated them, thus proving that exchanges between humans, without discrimination or hierarchy, are possible and fruitful since they ultimately result in creation. These traces are capital when obliviousness to these contacts and fusions casts its shadow on the identity of groups for whom their ideologues proclaim purity and immutability. They remain a resource, so that the work of reminiscence and the willingness of recognition may one day triumph over exclusivism.

37Original musical forms do not reflect the new social organization; they contribute to their construction and the representations that are developed of it. But they can emerge at the surface of societies even when the processes of social transformation are not mature enough to be visible and have an obvious impact on social realities. Georges Balandier noted that “(…) the processes of social change are not ‘given up’ directly to the sociologist, they have a ‘subterranean’ existence before becoming manifest and provoking the transformations of which they are agents”. [92] From this perspective, music does not possess any “prophetic” power, contrary to Jacques Attali’s argument; [93] it is instead one of the “social indicators” mentioned by Georges Balandier, one of the phenomena which we study in order to “[…] detect the currents of change under the dead waters of continuity”. [94] A stakeholder in the processes of identity (re)configuration, music conveys an echo of these changes before they are accomplished.

38However, to rigorously appreciate the place that music occupies in identity phenomena, we must take our cue from the theories establishing that identity is never a given, a pure, unalterable, and immutable essence, but rather one that updates itself socially and in contextual, plural, and evolving configurations, which vary depending on the situation. [95] Given that music is a mixed symbolic form, and that each piece uniquely combines a series of parameters in a singular manner, it is capable of creating – in the relations established between its production, reception, and material – multiple symbolizations within which ambiguities, hesitations, ambivalences, and contradictions manage to coexist, to a greater degree than inmost other forms of expression. It offers, then, a malleable material to play with belonging and identification, and their intersections, even more so because new communication and information techniques have opened up an almost endless array of choices among accessible musical elements. The result is that the identity and political meanings of music are always the consequence of the way it is shaped: music by itself contains no moral, identity, or political orientation; the political and social uses of music require the attribution of particular meanings on the basis of the interpretation of the circumstances in which it was produced, the lyrics that accompany or surround it (i.e. discourse on music), and the features which lend themselves to symbolization within it. Consequently, if music transmits mnemonic traces, “writes” spaces, and is used to characterize social groups, it never does so in an unequivocal manner. It leaves bundles of traces, inspires competing narratives, allows for the construction of unstable, even contradictory customizations. This is why it is essential to treat music as a “social indicator”. The study of music and what is at stake around it allows us to detect – including in the ambivalence and contradiction that enshroud them – the dynamics of change affecting human entities; to discover reconfiguration processes as they happen, to reveal the interweaving of alterity and identity, to bring to light the choices and combinations that never stop making and remaking individuals in the image that they wish to give of themselves in society and the affiliations that they wish to display, according to the situation and what they perceive to be at stake there.


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    Here, configuration is used in its double meaning of the shaping process and the result of shaping; on the notion of identity configuration, see Denis-Constant Martin (ed.), L’identite en jeux. Pouvoirs, identifications, mobilizations (Paris: CERI/Karthala, 2010), especially pages 122-3.
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    Stuart Hall (ed.), Representation. Cultural Representations and Signifying Practices (London: Sage, 1977).
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    One of the few who did follow this model is Panagiota Anagnostou, “Les représentations de la société grecque dans le rebetiko”, doctoral thesis in political science, Pessac, Université de Bordeaux, Sciences Po Bordeaux (LAM), 2011; see also Denis-Constant Martin, Sounding the Cape. Music, Identity and Politics in South Africa (Stellenbosch: African Minds, 2012).
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    Nicholas Cook, A Very Short Introduction to Music (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1998), ix, emphasis in the original.
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    From this perspective, it is important to clearly distinguish group from category: “group” refers to social entities resulting from “[…] the subjective identification of group members with spokespersons and symbols that lend the group unity” and “category” refers to aggregates formed by “[…] a bureaucratic effort of identity assignment that necessitates ‘objective’ identification of the individuals belonging to the abstract entities as defined by law” (Gérard Noiriel, “Représentation nationale et catégories sociales, l’exemple des réfugiés politiques”, Genèses, 26, April 1997, 25-54 (31), emphasis in the original).
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    Steven Feld, “Sound structure and social structure”, Ethnomusicology, 28(3), 1984, 383-409; J.-J. Nattiez, Music and Discourse…, ix.
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    David B. Coplan, “Sounds of the ‘third way’: identity and the African renaissance in contemporary South African popular traditional music”, Black Music Research Journal, 21(1), 2001, 107-24; and In Township Tonight! South Africa’s Black City Music and Theatre (Chicago: The University of Chicago Press, 2nd edn, 2008), 405.Online
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    Pierre Bourdieu, La distinction. Critique sociale du jugement (Paris: Editions de Minuit, 1979).
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    Daniel A. Yon, Elusive Culture. Schooling, Race, and Identity in Global Times (New York: State University of New York Press, 2000).
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    N. Fernando, “La construction paramétrique…”, 40.
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    Claude Lévi-Strauss, La pensée sauvage (Paris: Plon, 1962), 201.
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    Tzvetan Todorov, Nous et les autres. La réflexion française sur la diversité humaine (Paris: Seuil, 2004; 1st edn 1989), 356.
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    Simha Arom, Denis-Constant Martin, “Combining sounds to reinvent the world, world music, sociology, and musical analysis” in Michael Tenzer and John Roeder (eds), Analytical and Cross-Cultural Studies in World Music (New York: Oxford University Press, 2011), 388-413.
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    Which must be distinguished from categorizations produced by the systemic analysis of musical parameters.
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    Ronald Radano, Lying up a Nation. Race and Black Music (Chicago: The University of Chicago Press, 2003).
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    D.-C. Martin, Sounding the Cape….
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    Peter Dunbar-Hall, “‘We have survived’: popular music as a representation of Australian Aboriginal cultural loss and reclamation”, in Ian Peddie (ed.), The Resisting Muse. Popular Music and Social Protest (Aldershot: Ashgate, 2006), 119-31.
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    Paul Gilroy, “Sounds authentic: Black music, ethnicity, and the challenge of a ‘changing’ same”, Black Music Research Journal, 11(2), 1991, 111-36.
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    Édouard Glissant, Poétique de la Relation. Poétique III (Paris: Gallimard, 1990); and Une nouvelle région du monde. Esthétique 1 (Paris: Gallimard, 2006).
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    Timothy D. Taylor, Strange Sounds. Music, Technology, and Culture (New York: Routledge, 2001).
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    Denis-Constant Martin and the IPI group, “Ecarts d’identité, comment dire l’Autre en politique?” in D.-C. Martin (ed.), L’identite en jeux…, 13-134 (52-76).
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    Alain de Mijolla, “En guise d’ouverture…” in Jacques Caïn, Anne Caïn, et al., Psychanalyse et musique (Paris: Les Belles Lettres, 1982), 7-17 (13).
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    Marie-Claire Lavabre, “Entre histoire et mémoire, à la recherche d’une méthode” in Jean-Clément Martin (ed.), La guerre civile entre histoire et mémoire (Nantes: Ouest Éditions, 1995), 39-47.
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    Jacques Caïn, Anne Caïn, “Freud, ‘Absolument pas musicien’…” in J. Caïn, A. Caïn et al., Psychanalyse et musique, 91-137.
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    Paul Ricœur, La mémoire, l’histoire, l’oubli (Paris: Seuil, 2000).
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    A. de Mijolla, “En guise d’ouverture…”, 12.
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    In the meaning that Ricœur gives it in his reflections on memory, and not the use made by Molino and Nattiez in their model of tripartite analysis. But the two meanings undoubtedly converge.
  • [50]
    P. Ricœur, La mémoire, 374.
  • [51]
    P. Ricœur, La mémoire, 44-53.
  • [52]
    Christopher A. Waterman, Jùjú. A Social History and Ethnography of an African Popular Music (Chicago: The University of Chicago Press, 1990), 8.
  • [53]
    David. B. Coplan, “Sounds of the ‘third way’…”, 113; Judith Schlanger, “Tradition et nouveauté” in Vincent Dehoux et al. (eds), Ndroje Balendro. Musiques, terrains et disciplines, textes offerts à Simha Arom (Louvain: Peeters, 1995), 179-85.
  • [54]
    David B. Coplan, “Ethnomusicology and the meaning of tradition” in Stephen Blum, Philip V. Bohlman, Daniel M. Neuman (eds), Ethnomusicology and Modern Music History (Urbana: University of Illinois Press, 1991), 35-48; Hebe Maria Mattos, “Terras de Quilombo: citoyenneté, mémoire de la captivité et identité noire dans le Brésil contemporain”, Cahiers du Brésil contemporain, 53-54, 2003, 115-47.
  • [55]
    Martin Stokes, “Introduction: ethnicity, identity, and music”, in Martin Stokes (ed.), Ethnicity, Identity and Music. The Musical Construction of Place (Oxford: Berg, 1994), 1-27 (3).
  • [56]
    Ian Biddle, Vanessa Knights, “Introduction. National popular musics: betwixt and beyond the local and global”, in Ian Biddle, Vanessa Knights (eds), Music, National Identity and the Politics of Location. Between the Global and the Local (Aldershot: Ashgate, 2007), 1-15 (14).
  • [57]
    Christophe Jaffrelot, “Processions hindoues, stratégies politiques et émeutes entre Hindous et Musulmans” in Denis-Constant Martin (ed.), Sur la piste des OPNI (Objets politiques non identifiés) (Paris: CERI/Karthala, 2002), 133-71.
  • [58]
    Aisling Healy, “Parades nord-irlandaises: le discours des parcours”, Cultures et conflits, 56, 2004, 183-207.
  • [59]
    Sheila Whiteley, Andy Bennett, Stan Hawkins (eds), Music, Space and Place. Popular Music and Cultural Identity (Aldershot: Ashgate, 2004), 3.
  • [60]
    Emmanuelle Olivier, “La petite musique de la ville. Musique et construction de la citadinité a Djenné (Mali)”, Journal des Africanistes, 74 (1-2), 2004, 97-123.
  • [61]
    Denis-Constant Martin, “‘No Pan-Dey in the Party’. Fusions musicales et divisions politiques à Trinidad et Tobago” in D.-C. Martin (ed.), Sur la piste…, 365-95; Catherine Servan-Schreiber, Histoire d’une musique métisse à l’île Maurice. Chutney indien et séga bollywood. Essai (Paris: Riveneuve, 2010).
  • [62]
    Marie-Céline Lafontaine, Alors ma chère, moi… Carnot par lui-même. Propos d’un musicien guadaloupéen recueillis et traduits par M.-C. Lafontaine (Paris: Éditions caribéennes, 1986).
  • [63]
    Biguine, film by Guy Deslauriers (Paris: © Kreol productions, 2003).
  • [64]
    This instrumentalization is illustrated by the promotion of samba exaltação by Getúlio Vargas’s government in Brazil – whose ambassador, paradoxically, was Portuguese-born Carmen Miranda (Hermano Vianna, The Mystery of Samba. Popular Music and National Identity in Brazil (Chapel Hill: The University of North Carolina Press, 1998)) – or by the ambiguous relations between musicians in Zaïre with President Mobutu (Bob W. White, Rumba Rules. The Politics of Dance Music in Mobutu’s Zaire (Durham: Duke University Press, 2008)).
  • [65]
    The working classes or industry were represented instead in works claiming to be modern and drawing little inspiration from popular music, like Pacific 231, Arthur Honegger’s symphonic movement (1923) or Machines agricoles, six pastorals for voice and seven instruments by Darius Milhaud (1919). The insertion of “Elle avait une jambe de bois” (“She had a wooden leg”), a song by Émile Spencer, in Petrouchka, ballet music by Igor Stravinsky (1910-1911), causes – regardless of the composer’s intentions – a parodic effect. The references, by composers of the same period, to what was supposed to be jazz, translated an ambivalence where fascination for mechanical modernity was intermingled with the desire to rediscover the “primitive purity” of savages (Denis-Constant Martin, Olivier Roueff, La France du jazz, musique, modernité et identité dans la première moitié du 20e siècle (Marseille: Parentheses, 2002)).
  • [66]
    À qui est cette chanson?, a documentary by Adela Peeva (Berlin: © ORB Fernsehen, 2003).
  • [67]
    Christopher A. Waterman, “Race Music: Bo Chatmon, ‘Corrine Corrina’, and the Excluded Middle”, in Ronald Radano, Philip V. Bohlman (eds), Music and the Racial Imagination (Chicago: The University of Chicago Press, 2000), 167-205; Corrina, Corrina, a film by Jessie Nelson, with Whoopie Goldberg and Ray Liotta (Los Angeles: © New Line Cinema, 1994).
  • [68]
    Richard Middleton, “Articulating musical meaning/re-constructing musical history/locating the ‘popular’”, in Richard Middleton, David Horn (eds), Continuity and Change (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1985), 5-43.
  • [69]
    Stephen Stuempfle, The Steelband Movement. The Forging of a National Art in Trinidad and Tobago (Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 1995).
  • [70]
    Shannon Dudley, “The steelband ‘own tune’: nationalism, festivity, and musical strategies in Trinidad’s panorama competition”, Black Music Research Journal, 22(1), 2002, 13-36 (19).
  • [71]
    In other words, without ever having had formal teaching.
  • [72]
    See, for example, in the vast literature on French regional music: Lothaire Mabru, Musique, musiques… Pratiques musicales en milieu rural (19e-20e siècle), l’exemple des Landes de Gascogne (Belin-Beliet (33): Centre Lapios, 1988); for the portrait of a routine musician: Adiu Nadau, Noël Bordessoules, une histoire d’accordéon, a film by Patrick Lavaud et Joelle Duparc (Langon: ©Les nuits atypiques, 2005).
  • [73]
    Andy Bennett, Popular Music and Youth Culture. Music, Identity and Place (Basingstoke: Palgrave Macmillan, 2000).
  • [74]
    Ndiouga Adrien Benga, “‘The air of the city makes free’. Urban music from the 1950s to the 1990s in Sénégal: variété, jazz, mbalax, rap”, in Mai Palmberg, Annemette Kirkegaard (eds), Playing with Identities in Contemporary Music in Africa (Uppsala: Nordiska Afrikainstitutet, 2002), 75-85; Abdoulaye Niang, “Bboys, hip-hop culture in Dakar, Senegal”, in Pam Nilan, Carles Feixa (eds), Global Youth? Hybrid Identities, Plural Worlds (London: Routledge, 2006), 167-85.
  • [75]
    For France, see the bibliography compiled by Denis-Constant Martin (with Laura Brunon, Mariano Fernandez, Soizic Forgeon, Frédéric Hervé, Pélagie Mirand, and Zulma Ramirez), Quand le rap sort de sa bulle. Sociologie politique d’un succès (Paris: Irma/Melanie Seteun, 2010); for the internationalization of rap, see: Tony Mitchell (ed.), Global Noise. Rap and Hip-Hop Outside America (Middleton: Wesleyan University Press, 2001).
  • [76]
    D.-C. Martin (with L. Brunon, M. Fernandez, S. Forgeon, F. Hervé, P. Mirand, and Z. Ramirez), Quand le rap sort de sa bulle…
  • [77]
    Francoise Le Guennec-Coppens, Femmes voilées de Lamu, Kenya. Variations culturelles et dynamiques sociales (Paris: Editions Recherches sur les civilisations, 1983), 127-32; C. Servan-Schreiber, Histoire d’une musique métisse…
  • [78]
    Guy Poitevin, The Voice and the Will. Subaltern Agency: Forms and Motives (New Delhi: Manohar, 2002); and Ambedkar! Des intouchables chantent leur libérateur. Poétique d’une mémoire de soi (Paris: Karthala, 2009).
  • [79]
    Herve Maupeu, “La ville dans la chanson kikuyu contemporaine”, Journal des africanistes, 75(1), 2005, 255-92.
  • [80]
    In particular, the lyrics say: “The road is dark/Until I meet you/Show yourself in the middle of the path/And I’ll take you by the hand/Prepare your bed for two/For you and for me/That once again we embrace/That everything comes back to life…” (Tatiana Yannopoulos, personal communication).
  • [81]
    An extreme form of the relationship between political power and music is provided by the definition, under the authority of the Emperor, of musical scales authorized in China in the second century AD (see Sabine Trebinjac, “Une utilisation insolite de la musique de l’autre” in François Borel et al. (eds), Pom pom pom pom. Musiques et caetera (Neuchatel: Musée d’ethnographie, 1997), 227-41).
  • [82]
    Nathalie Dompnier, Vichy à travers chants. Pour une analyse politique du sens et de l’usage des hymnes sous Vichy (Paris: Nathan, 1996), 65.
  • [83]
    See Rocking the Nation (Dübörög a Nemzeti Rock), a film by Balázs Wizner (Budapest: © Metaforum Film, 2007); I would like to thank Antonela Capelle-Pogăcean (Sciences Po Paris, CERI) who allowed me to view this documentary.
  • [84]
    Anja Brunner, “Anne-Marie Nzié’s song ‘Liberté’: popular music and politics in post-colonial Cameroon”, paper presented to the Congress of African Studies in France, “Recherches et débats: réinventer l’Afrique?”, Bordeaux, Sciences Po Bordeaux, 6-8 September 2010 (see <>; accessed online 1 August 2011).
  • [85]
    J. Molino, Le singe musicien…, 55.
  • [86]
    Rogers Brubaker, Margit Feischmidt, Jon Fox, Liana Grancea, Nationalist Politics and Everyday Ethnicity in a Transylvanian Town (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 2006).
  • [87]
    “Say it loud: I’m black and I’m proud”, song by James Brown and Alfred Ellis, 1968.
  • [88]
    Title of a song (1970) interpreted by Nina Simone, then Donny Hathaway and Aretha Franklin, music by Nina Simone, lyrics by Weldon Irvine.
  • [89]
    Denis-Constant Martin, “Our Kind of Jazz. Musique et identité en Afrique du Sud”, Critique internationale, 38, 2008, 90-110.
  • [90]
    Adam Haupt, “Black thing: hip-hop nationalism, ‘race’ and gender in Prophets of da City and Brasse Vannie Kaap”, in Zimitri Erasmus (ed.), Coloured by History, Shaped by Place. New Perspectives on Coloured Identities in Cape Town (Cape Town: Kwela Books, 2001), 173-91; Simon Stephens, “Kwaito”, in Sarah Nuttal, Cheryl-Ann Michael (eds), Senses of Culture. South African Culture Studies (Cape Town: Oxford University Press, 2000), 256-73.
  • [91]
    Peter Manuel, “Puerto Rican music and cultural identity: creative appropriation of Cuban sources from danza to salsa”, Ethnomusicology, 38(2), 1994, 249-80 (274).
  • [92]
    Georges Balandier, Sens et puissance. Les dynamiques sociales (Paris: PUF, 1971), 86.
  • [93]
    Jacques Attali, Bruits. Essai sur l’économie politique de la musique (Paris: PUF, 1977), 23.
  • [94]
    G. Balandier, Sens et puissance…, 86.
  • [95]
    Martina Avanza, Gilles Laferté, “Dépasser la ‘construction des identités’? Identification, image sociale, appartenance”, Genèses, 61, 2005, 134-52; D.-C. Martin and the IPI group, “Ecarts d’identité…”.

For the past twenty years, studies of music have more and more frequently made use of the notion of identity. Yet the meanings given to “identity” in these studies, and the functions ascribed to it, have not always been precisely defined. This paper tries to clarify the relationship between music and identity configurations. Based on studies dealing with the theory of identity and with musical identities, it suggests that the social significations of music – including signifiers of identity – must be understood as resulting from the intertwining of production, reception and the musical object itself. Music is not a language, but a symbolical system with an infinite number of interpreters; it can consequently generate many diverse interpretations, which vary according to the situation and what is at stake, and needs to be specifically fashioned to be put to political uses.

Denis-Constant Martin
Denis-Constant Martin is Director of Research (FNSP) at Sciences Po Bordeaux (LAM, UMR 5115 within the CNRS), where he teaches political anthropology. His publications include: (with Olivier Roueff) La France du jazz, musique, modernité et identité dans la première moitié du 20e siècle (Marseille: Parenthèses, 2002), and Coon Carnival, New Year in Cape Town, Past and Present (Cape Town: David Philip, 1999); and he has edited Sur la piste des OPNI (Objets politiques non identifiés) (Paris: Karthala, 2002); L’identité en jeux, pouvoirs, identifications, mobilisations (Paris: Karthala, 2010). His research focuses on social representations of the political, insofar as they can be reconstructed from the study of cultural practices (Sciences Po Bordeaux, LAM, 11 allée Ausone, Domaine universitaire, 33607 Pessac Cedex).
Translated from French by 
Claire Morel
Uploaded on on 03/03/2014
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