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Toward a model for the evaluation of the cultural strength of various musics

by Brian E. Schrag

Reprinted from Notes on Anthropology and Intercultural Community Work 16:3–14
© 1994 Summer Institute of Linguistics


This paper attempts to define the question "What is heart music?" It is described as the "cultural strength" of a music within the paper. A model is proposed for the evaluation of a particular genre of music within the context of the larger musical whole. This model is then applied to the musical situation in the Ubangi region (northwest Zaire), and conclusions regarding the widespread applicability of this model are drawn based on the results of the Ubangi study.



In the United States, country music—formerly relegated to a relatively small subculture in the south—has grown popular more quickly and widely in the early 1990s than almost any other style. In western Kenya, a young Sabaot musician asked a US student to teach him to play the guitar. Instead, she encouraged him to focus on the dying art of playing the bukandiit, a local harp. He did, and a small but growing revitalization movement is underway. In the Solomon Islands, the traditional music of one language group was pushed underground because of negative pressure from the church. But it remained clandestinely strong.

Why do certain musics become prominent, and others fall by the wayside? Can music introduced from outside become an integral part of a culture? How can one tell how deeply a music is integrated into a culture? The purpose of this article is to propose a method to answer some of these questions by evaluating the cultural strength of a musical tradition within the context of the web of other musics in which it exists. The model will be applied to Protestant church music in the Ubangi region of northwest Zaire, using preliminary, exploratory data. The methodology combines observation, interviews with musical leaders, and reference to sociolinguistic data relevant to the region.1

1Research for this article was conducted between January and May 1993, under the auspices of the Summer Institute of Linguistics. The people interviewed include the following members of an interchurch choir in Gemena: Jose Ndando, Kif Ndando, and Imabe Libuka Bolingo, all musical leaders in their churches. Also interviewed was James Fultz, member of the Summer Institute of Linguistics, and an active participant, director, and composer in Ubangi Protestant choirs.