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© 2019 Neil Chan Music. All Rights Reserved.

Hybrid Music

On Hybridity Theory

Hybridity, a social theory that has its origins in biology, and has developed significantly in the fields of culture studies and post-colonialism. Hybridity is not a new phenomenon as scholar Amar Acheraïou (2011) concretely analyses key figures from ancient Western civilization such as Plato (429-347BC), Aristotle (384-322BC) and Alexander the Great (356-323 BC) having all dealt considerably with the notion of the biological hybrid.

Without getting into too much academic jargon and technicalities, I would like to present the idea that hybridity in music is not just one thing, but a spectrum of fascinating blends and mixtures of various cultures.

Musical Hybridity Spectrum

To illustrate musical hybridity on a spectrum, I adopt a framework to cultural diversity  by ethnomusicologist Huib Schippers in his book Facing the Music: Shaping Musical Education from a Global Perspective (2010). 

 

Schippers identifies four terms used in a spectrum to define various approaches to cultural diversity. This division was derived from a system employed at Dutch teacher-training colleges (Shippers 2010:30). These include, from lowest to highest degrees of blending, monocultural, multicultural, intercultural, and transcultural. While Schippers specifically employs these terms to analyse musical education and transmission, I use it more directly toward the music itself (composition and performance). He defines each of the terms as shown below (Shippers 2010:123).

Monocultural

  • Music is transmitted in the context of a single, dominant music culture

 

  • Often a sense of superiority or belief in evolutional model

 

  • Single cultural reference for quality

Multicultural

  • Music is transmitted without explicit reference to other musics but within an awareness of several other music cultures existing in a single cultural space

  • Multiple cultural references for quality

Intercultural

  • Music is seen in relation to other musics, compared cross-culturally

  • May lead to mixing or fusion

  • Quality is addressed from multiple cultural perspectives

Transcultural

  • Music has taken on in-deptch characteristic of more than one culture

  • Likely to have become a genre in its own right

  • New, fused quality criteria are developed and applied

Schippers also elaborates that ‘... these are not four clear-cut categories, but they tend to blend into one another. Therefore, it is probably more appropriate to present them in the form of a continuum…’ (p. 31) as shown below:

Multicultural

Intercultural

Monocultural

Transcultural

It is important to note, however, that a position toward the left of the spectrum is not necessarily inferior to one toward the right. It wouldn't make sense to suggest that a higher degree of musical hybridity translates into greater levels of musicality; these two things are separate from each other.

My Hybrid Music

With this brief overview of hybridity in music, I will now share the direction of my own artistic endeavours where I make every effort to embrace all four degrees of musical hybridity in different areas of my work.

Transcultural

For my original material, I strive as far as possible to create transcultural music. To achieve this, I require deep understanding and experience in specific musical cultures hence my selection of four to focus on - Jazz, Carnatic, Flamenco, and Andean music. I would not say that I have achieved transcultural music in my work entirely, nor is there a set benchmark where music simply flips into the transcultural realm. However, with the goal in mind I focus my energies on studying each musical culture and the people that create it. As I begin to understand their intricacies I pick out their commonalities and differences, and find ways to compliment and navigate them respectively.

Intercultural and Multicultural

Being in the middle of the spectrum makes it difficult to identify specific practices of mine that lie distinctly in one or the other degree, hence I have combined both categories. Each of my projects could lie anywhere along the spectrum depending on a large number of factors such as timespan, desired outcomes, and nature of the people I work with.

Creating renditions of pre-composed pieces usually fall within this category, as I add in elements of other musical cultures into the pre-existing work. Collaborations with other musicians will also fall into this category, as our skillsets and knowledge in different cultures come together.

Monocultural

While I'm all for hybrid music, I also greatly enjoy and appreciate 'pure' musics. The reality is also that most of these 'pure' musics were hybrid at one point, and over time evolved to become accepted as a genre in its own right. For each of my four main styles, I study each culture individually and learn some of the repertoire in order to delve deeper into them.