Beitrag zur Konferenz Grounding Music, Mai 1996, © Autorin & FPM

Beyond the »World Music« Label
An Ethnography of Transnational Musical Practices


Jocelyne Guilbault (University of Ottawa)

This essay aims to introduce some of the most salient issues associated with so-called »World Music«. The first section focuses on the many contrasting and, at times, controversial, definitions used to explain this label. By studying the politics of labelling, I examine some of the processes involved in what, in some cases, appears to be the »fixation« of musical genres, the racialization of musical cultures, and the »fetishization« of socio-musical practices. To do so, I explore the various kinds of promotional and academic discourses devoted to this label and the ways by which these inevitably position the musics under discussion in terms of power relations in the proliferating world of music industries.

The second section seeks to provide another portrait of world music by giving an ethnographic account of how a world music, such as calypso and soca, is articulated in the socio-musical practices of its superstars.1 The goal is to show how such socio-musical practices cannot be situated simply in opposition to or as a result of what is commonly referred to as cultural imperialism and economic hegemony; nor can they be considered unconditionally in terms of emancipatory politics. The aim, here, is to show how the practices and stars of so-called world music must be addressed »within a historically, socially and spatially interconnected world« (1994: 165), as Veit Erlmann suggests in relation to the production of difference through music.

In the last section, I look at how what is referred to in this paper as the »transnational« practices of Superstars, such as those of calypso and soca, leads us to rethink well-established notions of time, space, and culture, and what constitutes a so-called international market.

Descriptions of World Music

World music, also called worldbeat2, ethnopop, New Age, sono mondiale (World sound-ing), and musique métisse (hybrid music), is usually described in academic publications and magazines as fusion music, as the result of cross-fertilization blending musics from around the world. It is interesting to note that, as one examines the literature on this topic, the wide-encompassing geographic reference »from around the world« to which the label world music is loosely associated comes to be defined in the narrowest of terms, by actually relating world musics strictly to »outside the normal Anglo-American (and Australian and Canadian) sources« (Mitchell 1993: 310), or simply to tropical countries. As Deborah Pacini aptly remarked, since the label »tacitly acknowledges the primacy of rhythm, so essential to African musical aesthetics« (1993: 58), it ends up being implicitly associated with musics from Africa and the African diaspora. One publication which describes how the label has over time become truly inclusive of all kinds of musics adds that »[e]ven some American and European 'minority' musics have been accommodated under the World Beat umbrella« (Goodwin and Gore 1990: 65). What we are led to conclude, then, is that world music is the product of aggrieved populations either from Third World countries (Africans or African diasporas) or from deprived population groups in general (simply called »other minorities«). Given this, it is quite appaulling and yet very telling to read in one publication that, in the context of MTV's (Music Television Video) global economy of popular music, the category of world music represents a »tiny subculture« (Mitchell 1993: 310).

From a musical perspective, world music as fusion music is usually described as the blending of modern and traditional musics, usually implicitly or explicitly associated with first world and third world musics respectively. In graphic terms, this fusion of modern and traditional is often represented through the design of record jackets, picturing the artist on one side of the record sleeve with a Western look through the wearing of Western clothes, for example, and on the other side, with a more exotic appearance either through the selection of Non-Western clothes, mystical symbols, or landscape backdrops characteristically associated with »far away lands« (Mitchell 1993: 316). From a post-colonial perspective, this type of record sleeve design can be read not so much in terms of music fusion, but rather as the marking of the »ambivalence in ... stereotypes, which are a fetishized representation of otherness« (reference to Bhabha in Mitchell 1993: 324).

At the linguistic level, world music is habitually presented as »not in English«, with translations included in the liner notes. In advertisements, in newspapers or magazines, world music is often referred to as a dance music, as a thrill, and as a source of unusual and original sensations.3

As a new category, world music is said to specialize in musics from Third World countries and is associated with the former label »international music« (Goodwin and Gore 1990: 65). It is described as »the outgrowth of an evolutionary process aimed at enhancing traditional non-European musical styles« (Aubert 1992: 24).

Other discourses on world music point to the difficulties of defining the new category. Everybody seems to agree that it is not a genre, that there is no clear definition, that »it does not allow to make an easy case for its coherence or novelty as a musical genre or category« (Goodwin and Gore 1990: 66). And yet, as Goodwin and Gore point out, it is constructed as a genre: »[it has] its own sections in record stores, its own magazines, shops, and labels..., festivals..., radio and television programs, and so on.« The authors conclude, »World Beat is now institutionalized within the music and media industries« (ibid.).

This brief summary outlines some of the ways in which the category of world music is constructed in social terms to include and exclude some population groups. The question is: by associating world music with outside Anglo-American sources, more specifically with tropical countries and minorities, does this mean that world music is exclusive to some territories and spaces, to some racial and ethnic groups, and to some particular classes? In fact, one could argue that the ways in which the new category is constructed tells us little about what it actually »contains« and far more about the orientations of the people making up this category, and how their positions of power are informed by a Euro-American, (post)colonial centric vision. To speak of the musics included under this label as »an outgrowth of an evolutionary process aimed at enhancing traditional non-European musical styles« or to pitch such musics as

yuppie-directed exotica (Le Mystere des Voix Bulgares), 'quality' art-rock (Salif Keita, Youssou N'Dour), dance craze (Manu Dibango, Mory Kante, Ofra Haza, Cheb Khaled), mystical mind-expansion (The Beatles/Brian Jones/Led Zeppelin usage...), and scholarly folklore studies (the Nonesuch Explorer series, the Ocora series) (Goodwin and Gore 1990: 67)

all seemed to refer to an »Other« with rather specific characteristics: not from here (that is, not from Northwestern Euro-American origins or influences), exotic (in the sense of unusual), sensual (in relation to dance), mystical (in terms of its philosophy), attractive and yet not equal (which can be deduced from the terms used in the above quotation on the »outgrowth of an evolutionary process«), and in need of documentation.

As a whole, one may conclude that the label »world music« is a construction which is oriented to produce: (1) a sense of space articulated as bounded territories; (2) a sense of culture as homogeneous and belonging to particular locales; (3) a sense of race in terms of fixed biological and musical characteristics; and (4) a sense that all those participating into this phenomenon are all disadvantaged people, economically, socially, or otherwise since, in the discourses on world music, Africans and African diaspora are lumped together with Euro-American minorities.

Issues Related to World Music

While many discourses on world music aim at »fixing« these aforementioned traits through writings, others focus on the issues raised by and through the production, marketing, distribution, and consumption of such musics. The issues world musics seem to raise in the discourses examined deal mainly with concerns about the ways local, national, and racial identities are being defined; the effects of what is seen as cultural imperialism and economic hegemony; the new aesthetics and practices that are at work in world musics; and the agencies that are articulating such phenomena.

On the Issue of Identity

The discussions over identities are articulated mainly in terms of first and third world relations. From this perspective, some discourses invoke issues of authenticity, for example, in terms of cooptation and integrity. At the heart of the problem is the perceived loss of hitherto socially significant forms of »roots« musics at the profit of the commercial incentives of the global music industry market (Mitchell 1993: 309). Other discourses are concerned with the implications of the numerous musical interactions involved in the production and consumption of world musics upon concepts of local, national and racial identities (Simon Frith quoted by Pacini 1993: 67). In particular, several statements speak about the risk world music runs of losing its identity and by extension the identity of the people it is meant to represent by assimilating disparate rhythms (Gardinier 1991: 39). In the same vein, the question of identity is posed as the result of deracination related to the technological exigencies of the popular music global economy and the migrant status of many musicians of world music (Mitchell 1993: 319).

From a contrasting perspective, some authors argue that the issue of identity in the same way as the issue of difference in world music must be addressed in relation to the modern world-system in which it is articulated, that is, »as an intrinsic, internal feature of global musical production« (Erlmann 1994: 167).4 In this context, world music artists and fans, it is argued, cannot be defined by national borders nor shared language, but rather as an imagined community in which »one can claim citizenship by listening to and borrowing from others' musics« (Pacini 1993: 67).

On the Issues of Cultural Imperialism and Economic Hegemony

By far the most numerous issues raised in the discourses examined are those concerned with what is seen as the effects of cultural imperialism and economic hegemony over world music socio-practices. They deal mainly with the interrelated issues of power relations, appropriation, and ethical questions. The issues focusing on power relations in connection with world music bring to play some unsuspected elements at times, by featuring on two occasions world music not in its usual position of lower caste or exotic object, but as an important stake in a battle between first world powers over the contested terrain of music market and the domination of one first world language over another. In one case, an author suggests that »many of the African strands of World Music...originated in Paris in the early 1980s as a strategy to assert a French challenge to the Anglo-American dominance of global popular music« (Chris Stapleton's analysis reported by Mitchell 1993: 318). In another case, an African artist has been recorded by Chris Stapleton to say: »[t]he [French] government supports us because they feel that the French language is receding in the world and that French artists are unable to carry the language overseas. The Africans are the people who can do this suddenly they are pushing us« (in Stapleton reported by Mitchell 1993: 321).

Usually, the issues focusing on power relations in connection with world music divide first world and third world countries. They refer to the appropriation by first world countries of musics from third world countries, interestingly enough, as a response to a musical dry-up in Western circles, which is described as »a relatively superficial passing trend reflecting a poverty of ideas in current Anglo-American pop and rock music« or as »providing new sounds for a bored culture« (Mitchell 1993: 317-18), or yet as »a response to a public which has been jaded from the extreme harmonic simplification resulting from the fierce competition to make hit records« (Gardinier 1991: 37). Such views find yet another echo in the following statement: »After exhausting the commercial potential of the American dream, they [musicians] are turning to the delights of a world music rich in unexploited resources« (Aubert 1992: 24). The feared effects of these »borrowings« or »stealings« under this form of cultural imperialism from the West are usually connected to issues such as homogenization through the process of both hybridization and gradual loss of the traditional music cultures.5

The issue of appropriation, which refers more often than not to the appropriation of third world musics, is related to ethical or moral questions such as the use of cheap labor in the hiring of musicians without due pay; the sheer exploitation of human and artistic resources without proper acknowledgement and copyright returns; the misappropriation of musics used in settings going against the original intent of its composers; and the censorship of elements seen by its originators as critical to the meanings or identity of the songs in question.6 The problem here, according to Goodwin and Gore, is that many musicians of world music and writers on the subject confuse these moral issues »by reducing the broad problem concerning the organization of the cultural industries to issues of personal ethics« (1990: 78). In their opinion, »media imperialism is not perpetuated by pop musicians [on their own], but by the Western cultural hegemony inherent in the structure of the global media [or music industry]« (ibid.). In that regard, one author expands this notion by speaking about the problem of cultural imperialism by reexportation in reference to the ways in which »the status and representation of individual elements in the culture of the less developed countries could be influenced by whether and how much these elements have been endorsed in the more developed countries« (Regis 1988: 63).

One other issue related to hegemonic practices by First World countries concerns the inclusion of certain musical cultures and not others under the label of world music. This politics of (re)presentation is discussed here in terms of how commercial labels often extend racist tendencies. In the same vein, the appropriation of musical cultures in multicultural festivals, seen by many authors as simply an extension of government policies of multiculturalism, is severely criticized as the policies of multiculturalism are in many countries for »[being] no more than an appropriation of the cultures of marginal non-Anglo ethnic minorities for the nourishment and enrichment of an entrenched Anglo-centric power base« (Mitchell 1993: 325).7

From the concerns aforementioned, one could conclude that most discourses on world music take for granted the primacy of the bilateral North/South interactions. As a result, as Pacini has pointed out, there is the gross »[underplay] of the increasingly multi-lateral interactions among different regions of the Third World itself« (1993: 49) and the lack of recognition of their participation in the construction of the global music industry.8 Furthermore, by referring exclusively to the exploitation of Third world countries by First world countries, these discourses deal with the issue of appropriation in ways which make usually complete abstraction of other types of ethical problems than those enumerated above. Such ethical problems refer, for example, to the illegal appropriations or (what is at times seen by some of the population members concerned as) the misappropriations of musics from Third world countries by musicians from these very countries (Pacini 1992: 361-62).

On the Issues of Musical Aesthetics and Practices

Issues related to the new aesthetics and practices that are at work in world musics, interestingly, occupy only a very small portion of the discourses formulated on world music. At the theoretical level, world musics, most specifically those produced through a fusion of musical elements, are said to call for a theory of global discourse. Such a theory would ask, for example, to what extent developments in World Beat are dependent on their compatibility with Western definitions of music (Goodwin and Gore 1990: 75-76); or it would propose interpretive options to discuss aesthetics in world music, as Erlmann suggested, with the notion of pastiche »as an index of the rapid loss of referentiality« in the postmodern global culture (1993: 11). Still at the theoretical level, the issue of meanings in the process of mixing various elements together in various musical contexts is being raised (Goodwin and Gore 1990: 75-76).

The few discourses involving the sound per se of world musics address four different issues. One of these issues is articulated in terms of the musicians engaged in music fusion and their relation to sounds. More specifically, the debate revolves around the issue of appropriation and the motives which encourage such a practice, opposing commercial purposes versus disinterested aesthetic considerations.9

Another issue concerns one of the technical dilemmas experienced in relation to the production of world musics, notably, the difficulty of obtaining the right mix required by the music both in recording studios and at gigs. Lamothe from Formula One of Southern California recounts, for example, »how a preliminary studio mix of one of the band's tunes came out sounding like a rock band, reflecting little of the subtleties of its Pan-Caribbean pastiche« (reported in Cheyney 1993: 88).

Still at the production level, some discourses seek to assess the meanings of some of the strategic moves in the making of some world musics. For example, »the way non-Western music is being used is less mediated than previously« is presented as a response to the belief that »the perceived purity of the music is an important factor in its appeal to Westerners« (Goodwin and Gore 1990: 67).

Whereas such discourses cast the selection of sounds and arrangements of some world musics in terms of marketing strategies, others address it in connection with Western cultural imperialism via the penetration of its musical technology worldwide.10

On Issues of Agency

The issue of agency in relation to world music is addressed in terms of power, more specifically, the musicians' power to offer resistance to Anglocentric hegemony. This is discussed, for instance, in reference to the ways musicians use »new eclectic combinations of world music elements, combinations that contradict the continuing constraints of national boundaries and global capitalism« (Robinson quoted in Mitchell 1993: 326-27). The issue of agency is also connected with the choice of some musicians to refuse to be part of the world music category, a gesture which is viewed as »a [resistance] to the assimilationist melting pot and desire to maintain an independent, separate identity« (Pacini 1993: 57). It is furthermore associated with the appropriation of new technologies by musicians from Third World countries, which is seen as giving them greater independence from, for instance, the First World countries' recording studio facilities and freedom to experiment musically. From another perspective, the musicians' power is constructed in relation to their capacity of turning national minorities into global majorities with political, economic, and social potentials which, it is stressed, should not be underestimated (Lipsitz 1994: 27).

From another perspective, some discourses speak of agency in relation to the impact of transnational and transcultural interactions upon local cultures. Some, for example, refer to the ways such interactions have contributed to the revitalization of some local genres.11 Others point to the new breed of entrepreneurs taking advantage of world beat music's increasing popularity (Pacini 1993: 67). Yet at another level, some discourses refer to the empowered audiences and musicians through what is termed as their »subversive readings« (Cushman 1991: 20-21), or their »strategic anti-essentialist moves« an expression used in reference to music borrowings which may lead to a better appreciation of some aspects of one's own culture, or the formation of new alliances with groups sharing similar material circumstances or experiences (Lipsitz 1994: 78-79).

Other discourses view agency articulated in world music from the alliances it promotes through both its aesthetics and practices. In this case, the issue of agency is expressed in terms of openness to the Other, as a help to discredit racism and intolerance, and as a lack of musical sectarianism.12 Within this perspective, some world music band members are (re)presented as taking social/political activist roles (Cheyney 1993: 88).


It is beyond the scope of this paper to try to assess equally the numerous implications of the various statements made above. From the examination of both the types of issues raised concerning world music and the what and who is at stake in the ways these issues are formulated, I retain that world music is described in terms of power relations and territorial divisions. More specifically, that it is usually constructed as involving both first and third world countries, which in their turn are conceived as distinctive entities, as physically distant from and in opposition to each other in an unfair balance, in reference almost exclusively to North/South relations. The hegemonic practices articulating world musics are exclusively related to first world countries, and the ethical problems that some of these practices entail are imputed to the population groups associated with them only. Within this perspective, the Other is assumed to be passive, unimaginative, and easily deceived, and is given a fixed role.


The aim of this second section is to challenge many of the aforementioned statements articulating the currently dominant regime of truth operating in the discourses examined (Foucault 1991). As argued elsewhere (Erlmann 1993; Goodwin and Gore 1990), all the issues raised above in connection to world music should be addressed not in opposition to, but from the world-system in which it is articulated. From this perspective, I propose to look closely at not local, but localized practices of production and consumption and the ways in which they participate in the workings of the modern-world system.13 More specifically, I want to look at calypso and soca Superstars of the English Caribbean in relation to their ideologies, lifestyles, activities, and networks that span their countries of origin and their host countries. To do so, Caribbean superstars and their musical practices are here presented »from an explicity transnational perspective.«14 Rather than looking at the musical practices and the lives of Caribbean superstars as fragmented social, political, and cultural experiences, this ethnographic study introduces the stars' mentalities and activities as articulating and being articulated from a single field of social relations. Indeed, most superstars from the Caribbean move so frequently and, as in the case of migrants, are seemingly so at home in either New York, Toronto, or Port-of-Spain their society of origin that at times it becomes difficult to identity where they 'belong'.15 As the authors Linda Basch, Nina Glick Schiller, and Cristina Szanton Blanc indicate in their book Nations Unbound, »researchers begin to use the terms 'transnationalism' and 'transnational social field' to describe this interconnected social experience« (1994: 5). In relation to the migrants they study, the authors define »transnationalism«

as the processes by which immigrants forge and sustain multi-stranded social relations that link together their societies of origin and settlement. We call these processes transnationalism to emphasize that many immigrants today build social fields that cross geographic, cultural, and political borders. ... An essential element of transnationalism is the multiplitciy of involvements that transmigrants' sustain in both home and host societies... Transmigrants take actions, make decisions, and develop subjectivities and identities embedded in networks of relationships that connect them simultaneously to two or more nation-states. (ibid.: 7)

Whereas many of the Caribbean superstars have elected their homes in the United States, Canada, or England, several others are not migrants, in the sense that they still have their permanent homes in their society of origin. However, regardless of the location of their permanent homes, they all seem to share much of the experience of the migrants described above. That is, their lives are stretched across geographic, cultural, and political borders. Within this context, it could be argued, Caribbean superstars live as »transnationals«. (The term »transnational« is preferred over that of »transmigrant« since the reference to Caribbean stars, unlike that to migrants, does not aim to indicate where the permanent home is in the country of origin or in another nation-state.)

To refer to Caribbean artists as »transnationals« aims not only to emphasize the »lived« and fluid experiences of such artists but also to avoid the conflation of geographic space and social identity. It aims to call our attention to the ways such artists must be situated in relation to the increased internationalization of capital, the restructuring of production processes, and interrelated to this, the disruption of local economies. And perhaps most importantly, it leads us, as it did in the aforementioned study on migrants, to acknowledge the ways Caribbean superstars as transnationals are transformed by their transnational practices and how these practices affect not only the artists' nation-states of origin but also the other nation-states where they live. Borrowing the framework used for the study of transnationalism in Nations Unbound,16 this ethnographic account speaks of the practices of Caribbean superstars in terms of transnational practices situated within the global music industry, makes central the agency of Caribbean superstars as transnationals, and contextualizes the ongoing debates over the authenticity and identity of such artists.

The term »transnational« is not new.17 It is used here to highlight not the practices that are the same everywhere, but rather those which cross borders, be it nations, nation-states, or other traditionally-defined closed spaces. It is used here to show how the constructions of world music articulated by and through the rigid dichotomy of third world and first world countries themselves thought in terms of different locations, distant from and in opposition to each other are not adequate to describe the locations, positionings, and agencies of socio-musical practices dubbed world musics of several population groups and individuals.

The present-day transnational practices of Caribbean artists must first be viewed in relation to the specific historic circumstances from which they have emerged. In large measure, they build on a particular migration tradition, which has been woven into Caribbean lives for over a century and a half. To take one specific case, in Trinidad the colonialization period, followed by the decolonization of the 1960s and the restructuration of the local economy, and the on-going battle to redress it since the fall of the oil price in the 1980s, have constituted the impetus for many Trinidadians, including artists, to emigrate as both response and resistance to their marginal positioning in the global political economy and, in the case of artists in particular, in the global music industry. As explained in the case of migrants, transnational practices, however, have not been nurtured solely because of affective ties, cultural practices, or lingering political attachments (ibid.: 75). Racial discrimination as well as the hegemonic emphasis on ethnic identification in the countries where Caribbean diasporas mainly live (through the policies of multiculturalism, for example) have provided serious incentives to cultivate ties at home.

Within this context, Caribbean superstars have developed complex networks of transnational relations and activities. These are articulated as much through the production, as through the distribution, marketing, performance, and consumption of their music. In that regard, the production of a typical album by the calypsonian Arrow is most telling. Arrow is a calypsonian from Montserrat who does most of his recordings in New York, often at the recording studio owned by Frankie McIntosh, a musician from St. Vincent. For each track, Arrow often uses two arrangers, one for the brass parts and another one for the rhythm and bass arrangements parts, who do not necessarily originate from the same country. Regularly, Arrow asks Leston Paul from Trinidad, one of the most-sought-after arrangers of the English Caribbean, to fly to New York to write and direct the horn parts for his songs. Moreover, Arrow always uses a mix of musicians from the United States and the Caribbean to feature a special sound in the horn section. As Leston Paul explained,

[Arrow] always uses an American horn section, especially with the trumpets and trombones (expensive!, you know), and on sax, you could always use a West Indian..., but for that punch there, that, sometimes what we do, we use an American for the first [trumpet], a West Indian for second trumpet, and an American trombone...We're looking for that high pitched sound.

And also, we need to lock into the soca groove. Because the music is also a groove, you know. Sometimes, if we would use all Americans in that horn section, it would sound a little too funky over the rhythm and it would sound a little alienated. We need to get that swing feel that we still do, a kind of dance feel. So we mix [the musicians]. (personal interview, 22 February 1996)

The production of Arrow's recordings described above, which can be said to represent a fully developed transnational practice, is not unusual. The production of Caribbean recordings typically involve musicians from different nationalities and territories, and various stages of the recordings often take place in different locales (the recording of the rhythm section may be done in one studio in Trinidad, and while the horn section and the final mixing may both take place in New York, they may be done in two different recording studios).

In the same way Pacini noted in her research on Spanish Caribbean (1993), the Caribbean superstars of the English Caribbean do not limit their transnational practices to North/South relations. In fact, the polylateral exchanges among third world countries in the New World as well as those among southern third world countries and Asian countries constitute a growing commercial market. For example, among the 80 artists with whom he works annually, Leston Paul wrote arrangements last year for a Japanese group, while Kenny Philips, an equally famous musician from Trinidad, wrote arrangements for calypsonians from St. Kitts, Antigua, Dominica, St. Lucia, Barbados, and Grenada.

From this, it could be deduced that Caribbean superstars have explicit transnational agendas, which articulate and are articulated by the global music industry. The artists strive indeed to increase their options and revenues and to enhance their social status, both locally and internationally. At the same time, they need to use this pool of relations to increase their knowledge of the international scene, so that they can respond to and resist the exigencies of the global music industry.

The transnational practices of Caribbean superstars, by facilitating the flow of ideas and products across nation-states boundaries, have played a key role in reinforcing the ties between the emigrants and those who remain in their countries of origin in the islands. In 1995 alone, the five-time Calypso Monarch Leroy Calliste named »Black Stalin«, did over 100 shows spread over the Caribbean islands, Canada, and the United States. One can obtain a better idea of what this entails in the following summary of Black Stalin's description of his shows between February and early September, 1995.

Immediately after Carnival in February, I went to Antigua for a concert organized by the ministry of Education; a few days later, to Barbados, for the Spektakula yearly show which features »the cream of the Trinidad carnival calypso«; in April, back to Antigua for the Spektakula second anniversary show. This show in Antigua was on Saturday night and then I played the Sunday night in Brooklyn for Isaac MacLeod's birthday, the guy that organizes the shows at the Madison Square Garden; then I went back to Trinidad and, at the end of April, I went back to New York for a chutney show with Sundar. We did that on Saturday night and the Sunday, I went back to Trinidad and did the celebration show in San Fernando for Black Stalin Victory [Black Stalin won the Calypso Monarch competition that year]; then I went to St. Lucia for one night, which was Sandals' hotel [ownership] first anniversary a private show that night. Then I went back to Trinidad for the sixth of May and did the Chutney final in San Fernando. Then, I went back to New York for Mother's day [third week of May]; for that, we try to bring artists from all the Caribbean islands...So not everybody will fall on the same night. [In connection with that], this year, I did three shows in all, one in Madison Square Garden and two in Brooklyn. After Mother's Day, I stayed in New York and did two concerts in Atlanta for the Peach Tree Carnival in the last weekend of May.

Well, I miss out something, you know...The show, the end of April at the SOB [Samba of Brooklyn], one night; I did that the day before the New Orleans show; then I went back to Trinidad and then another show in Barbados for a private organizer; then in Toronto for a one-night show for an independent organizer mid-June a show which we usually do the eve of Confederation Day on the first of July. Then I went to St. Thomas with Sparrow for a one-night show, on a Friday; and then on Saturday, for a beauty parlor in Miami at a yearly show organized by a friend of mine; After that, I went back toTrinidad, and around the 6th of July, I went to St. Vincent for a celebration of Becket's twentieth anniversary [as a calypsonian]; then on the 16th of July, there was the Central Park concert, a summer stage concert; then I had one Family Day show organized by the police department in San Fernando, and one show organized by the government for Emancipation Day on the 1st of August at Laborie [in Trinidad]. And then two nights for Caribana in Toronto in the first week of August; After that I am flying to New York where the 13th I have two shows to do, one for Labour day Festival Committee and another one at a high school in Brooklyn; then on the 25th of August, I am working in Houston for a pre-carnival something they have with the Carnival committee; the 28th of August, I work with Sparrow for the last summer show that the city gives; then later on,I am playing on the 31st for the Soca Chutney show at the Brooklyn Museum; then on the Friday night, I am going to do a Chutney jam in Calypso City [in Queens'] with Sundar; on Saturday night, I am working for Spektakula at the Rose Bowl in Manhattan for two nights; and on Labor Day, I work at three o'clock in the evening and then that morning I fly to Atlanta for a Family evening show. (personal communication, 4 August 1995)

Black Stalin sees his touring as »servicing« the Caribbean communities wherever they are. As he explains, »[a] show is like a roti, it feeds people. It is a piece from home. It stays with the people for weeks, for months« (personal communication, 5 June 1995). In the process, Black Stalin and other transnational Caribbean artists like him could be said over the years to have contributed to a large extent to the development of pan-Caribbean identity and also to have given voice to an identity that reflects the transnational experience the artists and migrant populations all share.

For this to happen, though, the key element here is »circulation«.18 For Caribbean artists to circulate, they must be connected to the entertainment industry of which they are tributary. By facilitating the flow of exchange between various nation-states in and outside the Caribbean, the entertainment industry creates a transnational field for both transmigrants and Caribbean artists. For example, artists hired by Trinidadian-owned Spektakula Promotions have greatly benifited in recent years from its organized shows not only in Trinidad, but also in Barbados, Antigua, Toronto, and, since 1995, in New York as well. By enabling calypsonians and other musical entertainers to circulate among these various locations with the same hit tunes, Spektakula Promotions and other organizations like it could be said to have contributed to bound the experiences of physically-distant Caribbean communities. On a larger scale, the numerous Caribbean carnival organizations around the world (especially in England, Sweden, Canada, the United States, and several Caribbean islands) have been key to furthering the circulation of commonly appreciated cultural representations by providing the top calypsonians with performing venues.

From the same perspective, the Caribbean music organizations on which Caribbean superstars depend on many levels, such as Spektakula, Caribana, or the Labor Day festival, which have also taken on transnational dimensions, could also be seen as important contexts in which the collective identities of diasporic populations as well as Caribbean artists have been defined, mediated, and contested. Through the transnational performances they have promoted, they have effectively contributed, it could be suggested, to reconfigure social and political spaces. In relation to the Labor Day festival, for example, the authors of Nations Unbound remark,

These public expressions of West Indian collective identity are also the statements of a group making claims to political space in the ethnicized structure of New York politics. Within this milieu, ... eating a Jamaican pattie on the Eastern Parkway assumes a symbolic significance it never had in Jamaica. The annual outpouring of tens of thousands of West Indians on Labor Day, claiming the Eastern Parkway in Brooklyn for their strut in full carnival regalia, is a further staking of political ground. Their ownership of this day has become so complete that now even New York City's mayor and national political leaders like Jesse Jackson take their place at the head of the parade. (1994: 74-75)

The transnational fields from which Caribbean superstars operate, which encompass many nation-states, are the contexts in which they construct, contest, and reformulate their identities and strategies, interacting with the hegemonic processes generated in the various locations in which they live. For the Caribbean superstars, their transnational experiences are articulated as much in the artistic decisions they make in creating their music as in the subjectivities and identities they develop from the networks of relationships that connect them simultaneously to many nation-states. At a practical level, their transnational experiences shape their musical creations not only in relation to the choice of topics in their songs which must take into account the political, economic, social, etc. experiences of the various population groups with which they interact but also their choice of sounds, tempi, and musical instrumentations, so that these become coterminus with the various soundscapes and ideoscapes which may not only impress them as artists, but also press them to make certain decisions and to take actions.

The point of the following musical examples is to show how musicians participate in the global industry, how in particular, calypsonians respond to and resist some tendencies. It is also to show how their musics are in dynamic interaction with and influenced by many musics, not all coming from the so-called mainstream.

The first song, »The Doctor Daughter«, released in December 1995 for Carnival 1996, is by Lord Kitchener19 a legendary and most revered figure, pillar of the calypso artform, competitive in stature with Mighty Sparrow, who is now seventy-years old and still active in the musical scene. This song illustrates how the use of the latest »sound« in the global music industry on the veteran Calypsonian's last album has not prevented the artist from using the traditional format of calypso song. In »The Doctor Daughter«, the audible use of the drum machine, synthesizers, and more generally, the reproduction of particular timbres in fashion over the past few years is indeed combined with the characteristic verse and refrain and sensually-oriented topics of calypso lyrics, and call-and-response arrangement distributed typically among the various parts of the brass section and between the song-leader (Kitchener in this case) and his choir of responders.

The second example called »Out de Fire« is also by a veteran calypsonian, Roaring Lion, who, after being away from the limelight for several years, has reemerged on the airwaves with an astounding success over the past four years through the remix of some of his old calypsoes. »Out de Fire« shows how calypso arrangers are influenced by some of the musical genres most prominent on the global and local Trinidadian musical soundscape of the 1990s genres which, as will next be described, do not necessarily come from the usual Euro-American musical centres. Re-presented on a 1996 Carnival Special compilation,20 the new release of the old calypso »Out de Fire« mixes the singing of the veteran calypsonian Roaring Lion with an arrangement which could be said to be influenced by »dub« the internationally acclaimed musical genre (also called dancehall) from so-called Third world country, but nonetheless, recognized world musical center of Jamaica through an ensemble of characteristics including the slow tempo at which the song is performed, the use of a prominent and singful bass line, and the sparse and carefully distributed instrumentation to emphasize the rhythmic section.

The third example shows how, through lyrics, calypsonians integrate their transnational experience and that of a great number of Caribbean population members. In »Iron Band Jam« released in the summer of 1995,21 calypsonian Black Stalin recounts in the same verse how Trinidadians belong to several worlds, and celebrate their carnival in Brooklyn, New York, as well as in Point Fortin, one of the most southern village of Trinidad.

Jean she went back to Brooklyn last year and hear how she boasting How Trini Carnival she really had a bachanal. Joyce she went with the steelband, May she went with the brass-band. She went Point Fortin for Jouvert, just to hear the engine room play.22

The fourth example features a soca song played at an extremely fast tempo a recent tendency in Trinidad since the 1990s. Instead of being played as in the former years at the usual tempo of = 110 or 120, this song called Bounce by Superblue which won the Road March competition in Carnival 1996 is here played at = 144.23 The ways in which the fast speed of soca songs since the 1990s is explained by West Indian musicians are worth telling to show how musics outside Euro-American mainstream can inlfuence each other. The 1990s tendency in Trinidad to play soca songs at fast tempi is said to have been influenced by soca bands such as Burning Flames from Antigua, which have been using fast tempi since at least the mid-1980s. In turn, such bands from Antigua are said by musicians from both Guadeloupe and Dominica to have developed their fast speed through the influence of zouk music from Martinique and Guadeloupe. The fast pace of zouk from Martinique and Guadeloupe, in its turn, is said to have been influenced by soukous from French Africa, via the close collaboration of zouk and soukous musicians in Paris.

The fifth and last example shows how some of the decisions and actions taken by some superstars may at times voluntarily go against what seems to be the common trends, by creating a type of song which could be read either as a resistance or challenge to the exigencies of the global music industry. Black Stalin's song Man Out for Change released in 1995 on the album aforementioned seems to be doing just that. In contrast with the usual instrumentation including brass section, rhythmic and solo guitars, synthesizers, bass, drumset, cowbell, and conga, Black Stalin is accompanied solely by an accoustic guitar and a drum beat produced by a drum machine and sings at an unhurried pace ( = 76) a text which seems to be produced more for listening than for dancing a kind of calypso song which is not too often featured in the 1990s.

From these examples, one could say that as a whole with a few notable exceptions the musical styles and cultural tastes developed by and reflected in calypso and soca recordings of Caribbean superstars articulate a transnational social, musical, and political field that spans and bounds the experiences and outlooks of Caribbean people living in Caribbean nation-states and other nation-states.


What is missing so far from this ethnographic account is the mention of the many struggles involved in the transnational practices of Caribbean superstars and the double-edged implications these practices have, both at home and in the various nation-states where the artists are involved.

In many ways, the transnational practices of Caribbean superstars could be said to help reinforce the very system which has forced them to adopt transnational practices in the first place. Through their transnational practices and numerous concerts, Calypsonian artists give the impression of a far healthier Caribbean music industry than is actually the case. (Most Caribbean musicians must still hold a daily job to earn their living.) By doing so, they do not lead the people living in the home-societies to reckon with the needs of musicians locally which could involve, to give only two examples, the enforcement of copyright laws or the creation of some regulations regarding the artists' work conditions in terms of salary as well as adequate spaces. As a result, musicians continue to be forced to live as transnationals to make a living. Moreover, as mentioned above, in that process, they contribute to reinforce the hegemonic cultural and economic practices of the very nation-states which have been part of the historic circumstances which have forced people to emigrate or become transnationals and this, by feeding these nation-states' own music industries through, for example, the rental of their facilities and the performance of other musical activities.

From the same perspective, while transnational musical practices have allowed the Calypsonian superstars to resist subjugation in host and home societies, these practices have also contained the seeds of their present situations and have perpetuated the need for living as transnationals. Because they allow them to move between host and home societies emotionally, culturally, and materially when conditions in either become intolerable, transnational musical practices diminish the likelihood that Calypsonians will collectively challenge either system.24

At another level, Caribbean superstars as transnationals are to a large extent dependent upon the Caribbean diasporic populations and organizations for their living, more specifically for their concerts and record sales. Apart from the affective, cultural, and political ties that bound them with many members of the diasporic populations, Calypsonian artists need to maintain their social relationships with many of these people to be able to continue their transnational practices, which means, regular phone calls and other forms of reciprocity. Yet, at the same time, they help perpetuate the long-held protectionist measure which consists of having to win or at least participate in a calypso competition in the home societies, before any artist can gain recognition. This implies that a migrant artist relatively successful in nation-states other than the home countries, while being appreciated for the moral and economic support he or she may provide to Caribbean artists from home during their transnational performances, is not extended the same opportunity at home in return. Furthermore, this hegemonic practice is reinforced through its exportation among the diasporic populations which, in practice, means that Caribbean transnational organizations usually invite exclusively Calypsonian superstars from home to perform in their concerts.25

At another level, while Caribbean artists have been instrumental in making strides in relation to the reconfiguration of social and political spaces in some instances such as during the aforementioned Caribbean carnival on Labor Day in New York they have not been at all times successful in their efforts to be heard, to be taken seriously, and to be respected. More often than not, they have been engaged in an on-going struggle against some of the long-lingering stereotypes about Caribbean communities and individuals. In this connection, Anne-Marie Gallaugher argues that:

[T]he types of reductionist practices that the [Toronto, Canada] mainstream press uses in its representations of Caribana and calypso music are, in effect, a barricade to any deeper meaning or understanding of it. The history and the identities of the people who make it and for whom it is in their own words a way of life are largely prevented from reaching Toronto's dominant culture which relies principally on what the papers say to shape their view of the local Caribbean community. (1995: 402)

In such cases, the process of representation of Caribbean cultural forms is often reduced by the same press to mere touristic commodities, that is, how many millions of dollars Caribana has injected into the city's economy.

From such descriptions, once could conclude that, even in cases of social inequalities and racial discrimination, Calypsonian superstars cannot indeed be thought to be outside of the global music industry they help to produce and which articulate their practices. Their transnational practices, which have been here described through their recording production, their performances as well as the material from which they draw, inform and are informed by the global music industry socio-political and economic exigencies.

In concrete terms, we have traced what could be seen as some of the emancipatory effects of the transnational practices of Calypsonian superstars in milieus such as New York, in the ways they have helped claim political spaces and reinforce collective identities in face of adversities such as racial discrimination and ethnic ghettoization. And at the same time, we have observed how transnational artists can also contribute to the reinforcement of hegemonic practices in both the society of origin and other nation-states in which they operate, in the role they have played, for instance, in the enforcement of protectionist measures or the perpetuation of an exploitative system. We have also seen how their efforts in bringing local communities to become engaged in the imaginatively socially conscious, lively and creative participation (Gallaugher 1995: 398) in events such as Caribana can be easily undermined or misinterpreted by the local maintream press.


As Goodwin and Gore contended, the world music label and whatever music it includes or excludes cannot be interpreted through the reductionist lens of a Marxist perspective, nor can its politics be celebrated unconditionally. It cannot be interpreted from a Marxist approach, because its basic premises based on a world neatly divided, articulated in terms of bounded categories, of homogenous groups made of either dominant or dominated, of spaces designed as either centre or periphery, of cultures defined as either first world or third word, are now being challenged. There are third world spaces in the United States and Canada, as there are world centers of music, say, in cultures that are usually referred to as periphery, such as in the case of Jamaica, for example. Furthermore, those spaces traditionally thought as centers are being displaced in the restructuring process of the global music industry. It is indeed no longer the case that the best studios are exclusively located in London, Paris, and New York. In the same vein, as was noted above, the usual definition of the international market au singulier (most of the time, referring implicitly to North/South relations) is no longer valid, and, as we saw, the so-called dominated people are not the passive recipients they have long been assumed to be.

Having said that, the world music label and the products and people it purportedly embraces cannot be celebrated unconditionally as the sign of liberatory politics. There are still, within the world music industry, many musicians who are denied opportunities on accounts of race, audiences which are manipulated to cultivate orientalist attitudes, and musical practices which are appropriated to do exactly the opposite of what they were meant to achieve, as in the case of reggae music used in Coca Cola adds, for example.

At an analytical level, the notion of world music stars as transnationals, articulated here through the example of Superstars of the English Caribbean, becomes key to our understanding of the socio-political, economic, and cultural constraints and opportunities to which these stars are confronted at a local and global level. It allows us to appreciate better the interconnectedness of people and practices on and out of which the global music industry is built. More particularly, It helps us to see how musicians participate in the global music industry, by changing it and at the same time complying with it in other respects. In concrete terms, it leads us to observe how artists such as superstars help develop what Paul Gilroy calls diasporic intimacy (1992: 193 ) and to examine also how these same stars gain from it. It is through this examination, it could be argued, that one can begin to see not only the agency of artists, but at a global level, the various mediations and other agencies which inform both the transnational practices and the construction of the transnational fields which they inhabit.

Moreover, in political and social terms, the examination of superstars as transnationals allows us to see how, along with transmigrants, superstars have contributed to the construction of deterritorialized nations and, by so doing, it could be suggested, to the reinforcement of a nationalist identification. Like the authors of Nations Unbound, I do not agree with those who believe that, by having entered the age of transnationalism, members of transnational communities ... escape the power of the nation-state to inform their sense of collective identity (Kearney quoted by Basch et al. 1994: 30). In contrast, I want to argue that the construct of deterritorialized nations through various agencies, including that of artists, can best be conceived as the moment of a new nationalism.26 What can indeed be observed from looking at Caribbean superstars as transnationals is that, while they may be not contained or restrained by national boundaries and while they can be thought of as contributing to the construction of a pan-Caribbean identity, they are paradoxically constantly reminded through their own transnational practices that the world is still very much divided politically into nation-states that are unequal in their power and that serve differentially as base areas of international capital (ibid.). It is precisely in response to this that Caribbean superstars, in and through (not despite) their transnational practices,27 it could be surmised, have been engaged in a new form of nation building and the strengthening of national identity.


1 I chose to focus on superstars because, as opinion leaders, focal points of media attention, and chief representatives of fashion and conventions, these artists provide an ideal means of studying the politics of transnational practices in the Caribbean popular music industry today. ( zurück)

2 For an informative discussion of how these two terms have been constructed in the United States, see Feld (1994).

3 See, for example, Gardinier (1991: 37); Cheyney (1993: 88); and Feist (1994).

4 See also on the same issue, Garofalo (1991: 252) and Goodwin and Gore (1990: 73).

5 See on this issue Mitchell (1993: 334); Simosko (1990: 9); and Aubert (1992: 24).

6 For further information on these issues, see Cushman (1991); Meintjes (1990); and Mitchell (1993: 320).

7 For further information on the debates over government policy of multiculturalism, see, for example, Bissoonadath (1994); Nettleford (1993); Basch et al. (1994: 286-89).

8 On this issue, see also Wallis and Malm (1984) and Guilbault (1993a).

9 For a discussion on this subject by World Music musicians, see Cheyney (1993).

10 On this issue, see Erlmann (1994: 166); Goodwin and Gore (1990: 68, 73-74, 78).

11 On the subject, see Pacini (1993: 63-64), Guilbault (1993b: 177-99).

12 These points were expressed by AngÄlique Kidjo, a singer from Benin, in an interview with Aubert (1992: 25).

13 I formulated my aim after this remark made by Veit Erlmann and whose words I borrowed: it has seldom been possible to combine the study of closely observed local practices of production and consumption with a more general view of the workings of the modern world system (personal written communication, 12 October 1994).

14 This is drawn from Paul Gilroy's own words, quoted by Basch et al. (1994: 290).

15 The same observation is made in relation to transmigrants by Basch et al. (1994: 5).

16 See Basch et al. (1994: 22).

17 The term transnational was first used in 1916 in reference to what was then called transnational America in order to highlight the fact that immigrants in America (United States) are not the only ones who are transformed in the process of migration: their countries of origin as well as their host country, America, are also being transformed in the process. For further information on the etymology of the term, see Michel Laguerre's Diasporic Citizenship: Haitian Americans in Transnational America (Greenwood Press, in press).

18 On the issue of circulation in relation to world music, see Grenier and Guilbault (in press).

19 The Doctor Daughter is from Kitchener's album entitled Incredible Kitch , produced by JW Productions, JWI018CD, 1996

20 Out de Fire by Roaring Lion was released on Carnival Special '96: Ringbang, Ice Records Barbados Ltd, RDRCD-2379, 1996.

21 This song appears on Black Stalin's album entitled Black Stalin: Message to Sundar, Ice Records Ltd, 951402, 1995.

22 The engine room refers traditionally to the rhythm section of the steelband.

23 Bounce by Superblue was released on Carnival Special '96: Ringbang, Ice Records Barbados Ltd, RDRCD-2379, 1996.

24 This paragraph is based on the analysis by the authors of Nations Unbound on transmigrants's situations, whose wording has simply been adapted to apply to the Caribbean superstars (1994: 92).

25 In Montreal, this situation almost led to a confrontation between Caribbean artists residing in Montreal and some local Caribbean organizations which, after having organized a huge concert with artists from home (the islands) only, were threatened by the artists in Montreal to have this concert boycotted (personal communication from an artist who chose to remain anonymous, August 1996).

26 This position contrasts from that originally formulated by the authors of Nations Unbound (1994:30). In their work, the authors refer to the construct of the deterritorialized nation-state instead of that of the deterritorialized nation, as I indicated above. In my view, the construct of deterritorialized nation-state is problematic. One cannot talk about the deterritorialization of a nation-state when that said state cannot enforce its own laws over its citizens in another nation-state. Want it or not, the permanent residents of any given territory are under the exclusive laws of that nation-state which rules this territorial division. I am grateful to historian Michel Laguerre from Haiti who brought this matter to my attention (personal communication, Berkeley, California, May 1996). For further information on the subject, see Laguerre's Transnational Citizenship (A keynote address delivered at the Annual Meeting of the Sociology of Education Association, Monterry, California, February 1995).

27 This expression comes from Stuart Hall and was originally used in the following expression: in and through (not despite) differences (quoted in Basch et al. 1994: 35).

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© 1997  Jocelyne Guilbault