Preface to the 2014 Edition
This book is a love story. There is no other way to describe our feelings about music. The sounds made by crude flutes, handclaps, archaic percussion and the human voice—some believe that the vocalizations of song were a prototypical language—has for eons created cultures and bound humanity together. Songs of work, despair, family, romance, war—one of music’s main functions was to rally soldiers and scare invading clans—and the myriad of experiences and emotions offer us an identity, personal and cultural pride, grounding in an otherwise vast and frightening universe. Music is our collective home. We don’t need to investigate the mechanisms of old to understand our sonic origins. We merely need to attend a college football game or dance in the midnight desert at Burning Man to recognize music’s inherent unifying potential.
When I began to sketch Global Beat Fusion in 2002, I knew that no matter when it was published, as soon as it hit the stands I would want to add material. Every day incredible new albums hit the Internet, more innovative textures and unique collaborations appearing by the year. The foundation of this book, the computer as the world’s first folk instrument, is as true today as twelve years ago. While the music industry has taken serious blows since that time, music itself is in a fantastic place. The ease of technology has allowed for styles and sounds never before imagined. Making a living making music might be challenging, but making music has never seemed so appealing to such a vast array of people.
Throughout this book you’ll find intriguing cultural connections that you might not recognize from the traditional telling of nations. The original intention of this work was to show how music shapes cultures, and how those cultures then influence others. To accomplish this I traced the classical traditions of India on their journeys to Spain, the Balkans, Jamaica and New York City, as well as diving into what was at the time the nascent domain of global electronica. You might be surprised to learn that many of the social and philosophical underpinnings of hip-hop and reggae point to India, but those are the types of historical connections this book thrives on. Our brains like to compartmentalize. Very often the easiest route is the most quickly accepted. Yet our world is not that easy, and we really do have more of one another in ourselves than we sometimes imagine.
Fueled by interviews with the people creating groundbreaking musical genres around the planet, I was touched by the personal stories and fascinating if undiscussed connections that tie people together. To this day the intimate bond we have with music and the musicians who make it remains the motivating force behind my passion for song. I hope you find a similar resonance from my discussions with these artists.
What I did not know when I first published this book in print edition, however, was how much music means to our brains. Advances in neuroscience have exploded over the last decade, with music being one of the main focal points of many researchers. An entirely new understanding of music’s effects on that three-pound tofu-like organ encased by our skull has opened up. We have learned much about how we process emotions, as well as how a variety of different musics can aid us in attaining focus, clarity and calm, something I discuss in the newly written Chapter 8. Not only was music potentially the harbinger of language, it might very well have helped write the story of us.
And that story is still being written. Never in our brief history on this planet have we been able to carry around tens of thousands of songs in our pocket, flip from bhangra to Beethoven to bebop in a short commute. Music creates and shapes our identity. We have soundtracks for every facet of our lives. It is the only art we have globally deemed essential for existence, even though it serves no biological function. Nothing else utilizes so many regions of our brains at once, and no other art form has the universal impact that music does on the entirety of our beings.
If you have picked up this book, you are already aware of the function music serves in your life. I sincerely hope you find as much joy in reading the history and learning about the passions of these incredible musicians and the cultures they come from as I had reporting them. The more we broaden our sonic horizon, the more we can communicate with the rest of this planet. And if there’s any sort of healing we need most right now, it is this connection with our environment and each other. Let us do so through music and move forward with compassion in our hearts and those songs we hold so dear in our ears.