A Global Perspective on the Subtle Politics of (Un) Popular Music
The canon of Western art music is often perceived as a benchmark for musicological expertise that defines scholarly worthiness. Such worthiness is thereby, subtly, denied to popular and non-western musics. Thus, the canon becomes a tool of social distinction (Bourdieu 1984) and privileges the narrative of the individual genius (Elias 1993). Even though this exclusionary focus is increasingly seen as outdated, engagement with both popular and non-Western musics is still quite marginalized.
In former colonized countries of the Global South such as South Africa, cultural Eurocentrism in music education persists. Musicological curricula marginalize local popular musics despite their meaningfulness for the country’s inhabitants, and in some cases their role in the struggle against apartheid. This marginalization is surprising, given the increasing popularity of Amapiano or songs such as “Jerusalema”. This cultural Eurocentrism in music education has been identified as one motivation for students to join the 2015 “Rhodes Must Fall” protests (Daniel 2021: 18). Protesters not only criticized the fact that monuments of colonizers such as Cecil Rhodes ‘decorate’ South African university campuses and the economic- and culture-based exclusion of non-white South Africans from scientific research; they also found fault with the continual domination of musicological curricula by the canon of Western art music.
The centrality of the canon in curricula of historical sociology entails the extensive exclusion of people commonly seen as female, queer and non-white (Bloß 2006). Building on these insights, we furthermore question the gendered and racialized marginalization of popular and non-Western musics.