Ethnomusicology, Folklore, and Social Relevance. By Josep Martí. Translated by Peter Collins

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Josep Martí
Peter Collins


This article raises the need for (Spanish) ethnomusicology to replace rigid nineteenth century approaches with renewed anthropological and sociological concepts and analytical tools, Through the notion of “social relevance,” the author responds to this need and advocates for the study of horizontal influence (dynamic, meaningful), rather than vertical roots (ancestral, quasi-sacred) in a musical repertoire. “Social relevance” would be the academic opposite to “cultural paternity” (as ethnic ascription), prioritizing the importance that a song, instrument, or dance has for a community in a specific moment. Therefore, the main task of an ethnomusicologist is to understand the musical life of a society, because the relevance does not depend on music itself, but on its context. Consequently, the concept of social relevance rejects perceptions of popular music studies as marginal, and instead accepts the study of popular music as a discipline that deserves full scholarly attention, eliminating mythologized hierarchies of elite groups. The article discusses how social relevance manifests in three interrelated dimensions: meaning, or how a musical piece is perceived; the uses to which it is put; and its social functions. These analyses apply to different genres such as opera, jazz, rock, folk, classical, and avant-garde music, and point out the universal attributes they all share according to the principle of their social relevance.


Originally published in Spanish as “Etnomusicología, folklore y relevancia social.” In Actas del I Congreso de la Sociedad Ibérica de Etnomusicología, edited by Jordi Raventós, 11-22. Barcelona: La mà de Guido, 1996.



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