The back streets of the poorer districts of Lisbon, Portugal, are often considered home to the urban folk music genre, fado. But fado is, in many ways, a cultural export of Portugal, earning a place on UNESCO’s list of Intangible Cultural Heritage, and becoming part of the tourist experience in Lisbon. One of the results of this is that the performance and nature of fado have changed over the years. While it is still possible to experience what many may call ‘authentic’ fado in some tavernas, the majority of fado performances that take place in Lisbon – at least those that can be easily found without insider knowledge – occur in a restaurant setting, where the instrumentalists wear suits, and the fadistas perform, perhaps not out of a sense of saudade, but out of a sense of showmanship, in order to entertain the tourists with songs that are stereotypical of the genre, the sort of songs that appear on virtually all recordings aimed at the foreign markets.
When I write about ‘world’ music, it is often styled with quotation marks. The term can be problematic, because virtually any music which is considered the least bit exotic, or different to that to which we have become accustomed is pigeon-holed into the category of ‘world’ music. This category of music is wide-ranging and expanding to suit the demands of a consumer market. While the original purpose for this interest in the music of the ‘other’ may have been anthropological, the commercial production of music necessitates a shorthand, a catch-all term that can be used to classify a certain type of music and meet consumer expectations. A 2019 article in The Guardian speaks about the “flawed and problematic” nature of the term. Yet it’s continued to be used. Is the term relevant, and how can it be understood?
About six years ago, I moved to Singapore from the UK, where I had lived all my life. As much happiness as the move brought, it also involved saying goodbye — or at least au revoir — to Unlock the Music Singers, the choir I had formed and trained. My final concert with them was at the parish church in which I grew up and had been musical director, a building which boasted arguably the finest acoustics in Coventry for choral music. We performed Kodaly’s Pange Lingua, my favourite choral piece, and one I had fallen in love with whilst studying it during my Masters, and Purcell’s Come Ye Sons Of Art, which had become the choir’s signature piece.Continue reading “When conducting meets teaching, or the other way around”