Diaspora Migrating Music And The Aesthetics of Basic Note


  

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An UGC sponsored national level seminar at the Indian College of Arts and Draftsmanship

On

Aesthetics and Its sociocultural Prospect

The session Aesthetics: Visual Art and Music       

Ode to Aesthetics

Aesthetics, the word has been derived from the Greek word Aistheticos, meaning ‘esthetic, sensitive, and sentient’, which in turn was derived from Aisthanomai, meaning ‘I perceive, feel, and sense. The Greek philosophers initially felt that aesthetically appealing objects were beautiful in and of themselves. According to Plato, beautiful objects incorporated proportion, harmony, and unity among their parts. Plato thought that there is a perfect Form of Beauty in which beautiful things participate. Plato’s philosophy enjoyed a noticeable presence during the medieval period, more so in the writings of Augustine and Pseudo-Dionysius. For these thinkers, platonic forms, including the form of Beauty, are, in fact, ideas in the mind of God, and the world is but ‘a shadow of the divine image’. Hence, all beautiful things participate not in some abstract universal, but in God’s beauty.

 

Diaspora

The term Diaspora was first used to describe the shared experience of the Jewish people exiled from Judea in 586 BC by the Babylonians. They were exiled by the Romans again in 135 AD. This was an experience of exile and displacement, but also of continuing connection and identification. Etymologically, Diaspora derives from Greek dia (‘through’) and speirein (‘to sow, scatter’). The word is used more broadly to refer to the cultural connections maintained by a group of people who have been dispersed, or who have migrated for that matter, around the globe. Each distinct group or community is different timescales. A key characteristic of Diasporas is that a strong sense of connection to a homeland is maintained through cultural practices and ways of life. This ‘homeland’ may be imaginary rather than real. Its existence even need not be tied to any desire to ‘return’ home. The maintenance of these kinds of cultural connections can in some cases provoke both nostalgic and separatist emotions in one.

The academic field of Diaspora Studies was established in the late 20th century in regard to the expanded meaning of Diaspora. The 20th century has seen massive ethnic refugee crises due to war, and of course, due to rise of nationalism and racism. The first half of the 20th century experienced how hundreds of millions of the ethnic population across Europe, Asia and Northern Africa became refugees.

 

Migrating Music

We will be coming back to the pre-Christian Greece later again. By this time I would like to introduce Migrating Music, a subject very close to my soul.

Movement of people is perhaps as old as the history of civilization itself. From the time immemorial people are walking down the path of happenings, leaving or losing their home in search of a newer one, with their own desire and dream, longings or desperation, music and amusement; and they are interacting, creating, merging or emerging, in the course.

This movement or migration has shown the path of unknown to the human race, though the elemental urge for them is to settle down. There is the fallacy. The reasons may be as different as natural, spatial, political, economical, social or racial, people have to move toward a new horizon, but with an incessant quest for the root somewhere deep in the mind.

Migration of people and their culture, especially music, across the world has been occurring to an unprecedented extent and in novel ways for some time now. Researchers in a variety of disciplines have also been responding by studying musical flows and the formation of hybrid styles, and the way in which apparently similar music can mean quite different things in different contexts.

The School of Oriental and African Studies, University of London and the BBC arranged an international seminar on Migrating Music recently. The online abstracts of the papers contributed to the seminar showcase some of the contemporary thoughts in the sphere that delineate the pattern of intermingling of migration, music and settlement.

Here, I am to refer to the areas that have mesmerized me since more than five years now. I tried to tread along the paths of the 5th century BC Greece to understand what actually spurred Alexander the Great to move this far with the entire panorama of Hellenic culture, and thereby to lay the foundation of the huge Hellenistic civilization.

Afterwards, these immensely rich, in every possible way, population, living in the areas which the great emperor traversed  and founded habitations in, including Persia, Turkey, and, of course, parts of Indian peninsula, became mere have-nots. With only the glorious cultural heritage as their characteristic, they became commonly known as the Gypsies after their ever migrating character.

Toward the end of the 14th century, and early into the 15th century, Taimur’s conquest resulted in immense destruction and loss of life in Persia, and in India. And the poorest of the poor people of the areas, i.e., the Gypsies, were the worst sufferers. Many of these wanderers, or the Gypsies, headed west, and some of them finally ended up in the early 15th century in Spain, and, in particular, in Andalusia… And Federico Garcia Lorca had to pen his essay on the Andalusian Gypsy Music (Deep Song), and had to compose number of Gaceles (ghazals) as the outcome. This part of the world, the corridor of the Gypsies, incidentally, has been the cradle of mysticism.

This stretch of land experienced wars, aggressions, migrations, agonies and pangs for quite a long time. From the time when Ancient Civilizations of this world were searching for almost the same truth at almost same point of time to these days of unrest, lack of trust or catastrophe this place is shedding tears, or elemental fluid.  

There emerged a number of musical forms which spelled out the agony of the suffering souls. All these musical forms were hybrid in nature that tells themselves their pattern of birth and growth. There was Manele in Romania, Chalga in Bulgaria, Turbo Folk in Serbia, Rembetika in Greece, Rai in Algeria, or Fado in Portugal during the 19th and 20th centuries. Afterwards, since the late 20th century all these forms have been known worldwide as World Music.

In the 19th century, our country, too, witnessed unrest in national and social levels, impact of colonial power, and obviously, wars. There were great souls suffering profusely, and as the offshoot creating immortal pieces of arts in this era of insecurity.

There was I, hopelessly attracted to this cultural phenomenon- Diaspora, and its magnificent outcome Migrating Music. It may be the Roma Music of the Romani people, Fado of the Portuguese, Flamenco from Spain, Turkish Music of Persia, Jazz or Blues and so on. Wherever there is migration, partition, yearning for the loved ones, there are the forms of soulful music. Here, a very important observation may be cited. This is the land that has been the cradle of Mysticism. We know that almost all the structured religions have their mystical offshoots. The world of mysticism- the Kabbalah in Judaism, or Gnosticism with Christianity, or Sufism in Islam, or, else, Vedanta with Hinduism, or so on- is so varied, and yet emanating perhaps the same spirit- yearning to be re-united with the Ultimate Reality through the path of love and devotion. The relationship between the Mysticism and the Migrating music may seem to be somewhat eerie though, yet the basic note has been similar. All the mystical forms of religion and musical forms associated with them, viz., Qwaali, Kirtan, Baul, search for someone who is the Ultimate Being. And the search for one’s root and identity is the soul of Migrating Music, which is the quintessence of the Upanishads. Philosophically these two are close companions, reflecting each other, searching for the greater Truth.

To go back to the ancient Greece again now with this search for Truth. A very important concept relevant for medieval aesthetics is found in the Metaphysics (sec III.3), where Aristotle presented the foundation for the medieval notion of transcendental. He specifically highlighted the interchangeable relationship between ‘being’ and ‘one’. Though Aristotle never called them transcendental, he prompted this conception by claiming that the notions ‘being’ and ‘one’ are the same. “[Being and Unity] are implied in one another as principle and cause are” (Metaphysics, 1003b23).Aristotle’s Poetics also contains several ideas that were important for medieval aesthetics. Aristotle emphasized some characteristics that art requires in order to be good. Order concerns the relationship of the parts with each other and with the whole, which was very important to medieval philosophers and artisans.

 

The Aesthetics of Basic Note

Now in this world of apparent lovelessness and cruelty in social scenario, somehow these two forms, i.e., Mystical Music and Migrating Music, are gradually and immensely being popular. Be it Sufi Songs or Flamenco or Jazz, however high-sounding the philosophy is the future generation is finding solace in these forms of soulful music. For, our sweetest songs are those that spell out our saddest thoughts.

We cry in the same note. That has been the basic note. And to pine for the Ultimate Being or for our root finally transcends us to a sense of positivity, beauty. Why not then? If the world can cry together, can go through a sense of catharsis, and finally can feel the togetherness this way, and can reach out to a better world, therein lies the keynote of all aestheticism.

 

 

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