EOL 3: Music, Myth, and History (Bohlman)


2. Diaspora and the Mediterranean

Consciously, I weave narratives of myth and diaspora together so that the disciplinary borders between history and anthropology blur. I do not necessarily move away from anthropology or toward history. Instead, I see my reflections here moving us toward a musical anthropology (see the development of this concept in Seeger 1987 and a concise application in Seeger 1991), where history and anthropology dovetail, and where ethnomusicology opens up a richly textured representation of past, present, and future along and beyond the borders of the Mediterranean.

There are two issues about diaspora that are fundamental to our imagination of the Mediterranean. First, my choice of diaspora as a metaphor representing musical histories and musical anthropologies of the Mediterranean is not simply random. Diasporas, one might say, historically give the Mediterranean an ethnographic unity, and ethnographically they give the Mediterranean an historical unity. Diasporas effect these processes of representational unity, nonetheless, despite their inherent diversity.

Trade Map Stained Glass Window
Illustration Two: Mediterranean Trade Routes

Second, representations of diaspora connect the Mediterranean both historically and ethnographically to world history. More than this, diaspora reveals the ways in which these world-historical connections are fluid and changing. We recognize that history is dynamic and multi-layered, interconnected yet contradictory.

By examining the representational qualities of diaspora, therefore, we construct approaches to the music in the Mediterranean that emphasize connectedness and contradiction. We initiate a disciplinary transformation that both sharpens our focus on the Mediterranean itself but provides new points of departure for studying world music and rethinking music history on a world level.

Diaspora has numerous forms and historically has come to represent diverse European phenomena, but "in the beginning" it separates more limited stations of exchange between myth and history. Diaspora has frequently been the result of contested borders and cultural landscapes on the land masses bounding the Mediterranean, not only the Middle East but also Europe and Africa. Especially since the Age of Discovery, in other words since the onset of modernity, entire groups of Europeans have responded to this contestation by leaving, by searching elsewhere for a place to settle, and by establishing new communities and mapping out new cultural landscapes in promised lands, whenever, that is, promised lands are discovered or constructed.

I mean something straightforward, here, and refer to the types of migration and emigration that Tullia Magrini and Karl Signell describe in their papers in this journal. In modernity, diaspora unfolds as emigration and immigration, and it reestablishes the borders between self and other through the formation of modern processes of identity, for example, ethnicity and racism, but also double consciousness in the African diaspora (cf. Gilroy 1993). The settling of North and South America has historically been a product of various diasporas. No less so, the use of African slaves to fuel the engines of the New World came also to fuel the Early Modern Era, culturally and economically. Assuming a somewhat different form, not least because of its brutality and human cruelty, the African diaspora will provide a further template and additional metaphors for the myths of modernity in this essay.

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