The model of world music

The change in perception of music by Estonians after the disintegration of the Soviet regime was explosive. It could not have been otherwise considering that people very suddenly had access to the music of the whole world, but in a scrambled way, without any historical hierarchies or causal logic — large numbers of different styles, eras, aesthetic choices appeared on the market simultaneously… Then again, this breakthrough should not be depicted as overly powerful. Estonia had not been as closed as some would suggest.

Central to the term ‘world music’ is the question of how a peripheral culture can retain its identity regardless of the omnipotence of the centre and, at the same time, be able to compete on the world market and according to its rules. This relates to many important questions of cultural sociology (How does the simple self-expression of a person become a commodity? What is the price of professionalism? etc.). Under present conditions of economic openness, Estonia is nothing but a new market, no matter how small. However, the merging of the local audience with the large international consumption process is not all there is to it. Such openness also results in the local musicians being, to a greater or lesser extent, internationally guided in their activities and aesthetic choices and defined by the imaginary centre: pop music of international stature is first imported and consumed, then copied and finally mixed with the local traditions to produce something that may be considered original work.

Approximately at the same time when the Republic of Estonia regained its independence (and around the time when our academic music made a breakthrough in the world), the term ‘world music’ was established in the Western cultural awareness. Initially ‘world music’ denoted the popular self-expression (folk music) of peoples and regions which were removed from metropolises, far from the centre, from the mainstream of the global music industry and all the privileges conveyed by such position, but that nevertheless had to search for their identity under the cultural oppression of the forces that aspired to be universal. From the Western point of view, this way of thinking also signifies the key to Estonian music.

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