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Cosmopolitan Locavores and Alternate Visions of Global Music

Cosmopolitanism 2Writer and thinker Kwame Anthony Appiah, who was recently awarded the National Humanities Award, made a thoughtful argument in favor of cosmopolitanism in a recent interview. In his vision of this ancient thought tradition, Appiah sees cosmopolitanism as “universality plus difference,” our shared humanity plus the specific habits, objects, sounds, and creations of people in different locations.

Appiah talks a lot about film in this chat, but in many ways, Appiah’s thoughts echo the gut feeling of many DJs, musicians, label folks, and presenters in the U.S. Musical creativity is popping up everywhere, using very local resources. There are still gatekeepers and bigwigs involved, but it’s no longer about a few big players calling the shots. Gone are the backroom pub conversations that could launch new musical genres. Music is being made everywhere, and increasingly breaking out of the post-colonial back-and-forth between the West and the Rest.

In fact, music is a wonderfully fluent medium for cosmopolitan evolution and development. Unlike film, music is easily portable, quickly made and relatively easily distributed. Music can be about a place, a moment, a locale, and yet be wide open to listeners from elsewhere. Global music fans and artists, as the ultimate cosmopolitans, are perhaps not the denizens of a homogenizing globalizing planet, but the sonic equivalent of locavores, folks who savor the delights of a certain place yet incorporate them into a larger context, into their own cuisine. Maybe we aren't xenomaniacs, but cosmopolitan locaphiles.

--Tristra Newyear

Tristra is lead writer and campaign manager at rock paper scissors, inc. While on her way to work at a major New York concert presenter, she took a seriously wrong turn and spent way too many years in Siberia. A PhD later, she's doing the only logical thing: working to create buzz for the world's amazing musicians.