Music for cultural continuity and civil society

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MCCCS (short link:

a project of the Canadian Centre for Ethnomusicology


Music changes. Trying to freeze music-- out of nostalgia for what it once was -- or to restore music to a former state is a hopeless task, not only because music always changes, but because "freezing" and "restoring" themselves entail change. Music is never frozen and cannot be restored. Rather music flows, and in that flow music carries a sense of the past into the present, with expectations for the future, holding an identity of form through time.

Music changes, but there's a difference between continuous change within a musical tradition, and discontinuous change in the music heard in a particular culture or place. When the airwaves are flooded with commercial music -- often from afar -- radical displacement results: local music production ceases, or is dramatically transformed, often practically overnight. Typically generational splits result, dividing the population horizontally (into marketing segments) rather than vertically (into musical locales). Furthermore, the effects of such media are to render former musical participants into passive consumers.

Music engages. In some societies, participation is sonic/social; in others simply social. Engagement may happen via face-to-face participation, or via mediation, but it's engagement when participation is active. Music thereby supports social cohesion.

Music engages, but there's a difference between real, activating engagement and commodified, passivating engagement. The latter, separating an inert consumer from a profit-seeking producer, and aiming at economic rather than human values, deadens music's social potential. And there's a difference between traditional frozen forms, reinscribing traditional social distinctions, and new fluid forms, capable of constructing something new.

The "developing world" is developing most rapidly along its economic and technological axes, at speeds that are much faster than the developed world, through injection of foreign content -- and unsustainably so. The new techno-consumer model threatens to pull developing societies apart, both through consumerism and westernization, destroying the localized bonds of culture and society. To avoid anomie and identity loss what is required is local social strength, across the warp and woof of society, through intergenerational cultural continuity, social cohesion, and civil society participation, fostered by music, forging a new layer of collective social energy.


MCCCS aims at cultural continuity and strong, participatory civil society by supporting continuous musical flows and active social engagement through musical participation in the public sphere.

This project seeks to maintain not simply a musical tradition for itself, but rather its continuity and broad social relevance, by firing up interest in participation, particularly among the youth. Through musical continuity comes continuity of identity and social cohesion. Ironically this task is often best accomplished by injecting such music into the media space, thereby displacing musical intruders, at least enough to make space for locality; mediation ensures broad presence, and respect. Maintaining continuity ensures longitudinal strength, across generations, of social relations and cultural self-image. Maintaining relevance and participation ensures social strength and solidarity, a musical form of civil society through musical participation. Taken together, cultural continuity and civil society through music provide the warp and woof of a stronger, more independent, more human community, one that can resist the depredations of global industry and uphold the humanity of the other.


We are currently working collaboratively through a participatory action research (PAR) methodology towards MCCCS in three regions:

We are also collaborating with like-minded organizations, such as the Aga Khan Music Initiative (AKMI) and the Foundation for Arab Music Archiving and Research (AMAR), towards similar means and goals in Central Asia and the Middle East.

Other collaborations are envisioned around the world...


For more information please contact Michael Frishkopf,