Don’t Appropriate in Ghana

Totnes, Devon – I was privileged yesterday evening to hear a brief presentation by Dr. Trevor Wiggins, who is head of the Dartington music department, an ethnomusicologist, and an acknowledged master of the drumming style of Ghana. I was struck by a fact he told us. There have always been ethical issues involved in taking the traditional music of another country and using it for your own purposes. The best-known example is Paul Simon’s use of South African music in his Graceland album – Simon supposedly paid the musicians whose songs he appropriated, but not everyone has been so scrupulous. But now, according to Professor Wiggins, Ghana has become the first country to charge royalties for use of its culture’s indigenous music. In other words, if you visit Ghana, learn a traditional tune, and go back and use that tune on a recording or concert, you’ll owe some fee to the state of Ghana. It’s an interesting new model, because no one individual is responsible for traditional music, and other countries are likely to pick up on it. Among other things, it means that ethnomusicologists will acquire a new role: as legal experts in court cases over the unremunerated theft of ethnic musics.