Begin typing your search...

Looted music: An issue that requires considerable attention

To define his idea of looted music, Bhagwati provides an example: “Let’s say a composer travels somewhere for a full three weeks and then writes a composition that uses elements of the music he heard there. He is the only one to profit from the financial gains and recognition obtained through that music,” says the musicologist.

Looted music: An issue that requires considerable attention
X

Chennai

Looted statues, sarcophagi or paintings: the return of looted colonial art and artifacts is an ongoing issue in Germany. As activists and researchers have repeatedly pointed out, numerous museums feature exhibitions filled with items that were stolen from other cultures, often through violent means. But until now, little attention has been given to “looted music.” The term itself seems confusing at first glance: While a painting is a material object that can be stolen and kept in a European museum, music is an intangible asset.

But that’s not the point, says musicologist and composer Sandeep Bhagwati, who came up with the term “Raubmusik” (looted music) in German. He understands it less as a material theft — he’s not referring to sound archives with recordings from former colonial areas — but rather as a “colonial approach” to Western music that is still ongoing to this day.

To define his idea of looted music, Bhagwati provides an example: “Let’s say a composer travels somewhere for a full three weeks and then writes a composition that uses elements of the music he heard there. He is the only one to profit from the financial gains and recognition obtained through that music,” says the musicologist.

This phenomenon is particularly widespread in so-called world music. For Bhagwati, the problem is not only taking over other people’s creations, but also the fact that the music is stripped of its spiritual or social context. “It’s often used just to add an exotic touch,” he points out. The history of such forms of “exoticisation” in the West is at least as long as the process of globalization itself. Mozart, Beethoven and Debussy already referred to foreign continents and cultures in their works — the same phenomenon also appears in classic literature and visual arts.

While borrowing from exotic cultures, these works often promoted Western cultural hegemony. To this day, Western classical music is still viewed as the ultimate music, says Bhagwati, while elements borrowed from other cultures only appear as “special effects,” that are also represented primitively, explains the musicologist.

The discussion surrounding looted music poses many difficulties. References to existing works are at the heart of music, and all forms of art. How do you differentiate inspiration and plagiarism? Heiko Maus, a legal advisor specialized in music copyright issues, says there is no simple rule of thumb to answer this question: “Of course composers are allowed to be inspired by other music.” However the reference work needs to fade into the background and not lead the piece, he explains. To determine if this condition has been fulfilled, each case must be clarified individually on the basis of various criteria.

In copyright law, the fact that a piece has been removed from its original context is initially irrelevant. To illustrate this, Maus refers to a well-known copyright dispute.

The song Brown Girl in the Ring by Boney M. was recorded in 1978 and quickly became a worldwide hit. It is originally a Caribbean children’s song that German composer Peter Herbolzheimer rearranged for the Caribbean musician Malcolm Magaron from St. Lucia in 1974. When Boney M producer Frank Farian rediscovered this song, he created his own version of it, and obtained the credit as “songwriter.” Herbolzheimer accused Farian of stealing his arrangement for the song, leading to a spectacular copyright dispute that dragged on for over 20 years.

— This article has been provided by Deutsche Welle

Visit news.dtnext.in to explore our interactive epaper!

Download the DT Next app for more exciting features!

Click here for iOS

Click here for Android

migrator
Next Story