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Aaltonen, Lari (UTA): World Music, Exoticism and the “Other” in the 21st Century

This ethnomusicological study explores the current state of world music mostly in Finland and the numerous ways it is marketed as well as received. The phenomenon is studied from four different perspectives in four articles.

The research centres on the practices and manifestations of so-called 'ethnic music' in today's Finland. I investigate the ways is which the term 'ethnic' is valid in the context of world music and how it is understood in world music marketing, listening world music or discussing about it. I am interested in how music is used to exoticise and define the "Other" and how cultural representations are built, negotiated and preserved through music.

My analyses on the manifestations of ethnicity in music are informed by post-colonial theories. The research opens up new interpretations on marketing, othering and exoticising practises in the 21st-century music music business and explores the contemporary musical domain of Finland.

In today's Finland, questions on multiculturalism, the ‘mixing of races' and Finnishness in general proliferates. These questions get a lot of attention in public discussion, newspapers and various Internet fora. The concept of ethnicity has become very narrow and only certain types of ethnicity are ‘accepted' to the canonised notion of ‘Finnish music'. Today, Finnishness debates with multiculturalism, with emphasis on national belonging and the importance of preserving and combining different cultural traditions.

Curiously enough, at the same time, certain ethnic musical traditions are more present and more popular than ever. Exotic elements in music are widely in use and immigrants are present in much of today's Finnish popular music, let alone world music groups. However, these ‘borrowed' music styles are often strongly exoticised, and these elements are mainly used to define what is local, what is Finnish.

There are cases of ethnic music cultures that very quickly become parts of national culture, but they are usually transmitted through some kind of strong mediators like humour or a technological platform. Today's world music means something very different to us what it meant in the early days of the concept in the 1980s or even at the turn of the millennium.

Central issues in this research investigating the concept of world music are, therefore, the relationship between music and humour, the media that transmits modern interpretations of world music (the comeback of the vinyl; new mediators such as YouTube), marketing strategies in music industry and their regulation, and the agency of the musicians who work in the field of world music in Finland. The underlying purpose of the research is to study the relationship between ethnicity and music and to elaborate on the cultural constructions of ethnicity in music.

This research argues that colonial ideas and practises of othering underlie the concept of world music even in the 21st century. Exoticism and banal notions of ethnicity are legitimised by marketing strategies that hide the repressive attitudes towards foreign music cultures.