Helping The Story Go On- John Dietrich
HELPING THE STORY GO ON- John Dietrich
Heritage. The idea seems simple: passing on a way of life or traditional culture from generation to generation. The actual role it plays, seems much more weighty. Caught up in a fight over ownership, definition and purpose, heritage has become a diplomatic player, acting as a tool to unite an entire culture, promote nationalism and advance diversity. There is no question about the importance of heritage to the growth of a society and culture, the difficulty is defining something that is considered a collective creation of a people and not an individual. In a time when ownership and copyright bring to mind legal battle, any boundaries placed on the ownership of a folk dance, or musical genre such as Kungu Opera seem impossible and are. In Steven Feld’s article, “A Sweet Lullaby for World Music”, the bottom line is that world music is a means of “celebrating and promoting the study of musical diversity”. The controversy arises when a recording of a traditional African Folk Song is married against a contemporary pop backdrop. The two main issues here are ownership of the African Folk song recording and does this style of composition take away from the pureness of the original work? Does it begin to erase musical diversity and begin to homogenize the traditional performance for reasons of greater commercialization or promotion? For my money, what it does is introduce a particular cultural tradition to a much wider audience then it would ever have reached before. Sometimes the most valuable thing is simply the introduction to something new. So there is appreciation in both, the original and the new. Maybe, it will motivate the listener to seek out and find the original in a need to understand more and there lies the reward in that. Still the question and importance of authenticity exists and the safeguarding of that has equal significance. In today’s world of globalization the key is acceptance by a broader audience, becoming a voice in a global community, perhaps to then have the power to bring greater awareness of something to that many more.
UNESCO, in its’ attempt to help the story go on, or to define the need for Heritage preservation, creates a list of “Masterpieces of Oral and Intangible Heritage of Humanity”. Naturally it is their need to know where to direct resources and assistance, that is clearly understandable. But defining the significance of preserving a specific form of heritage or tradition and not another, and on what grounds, makes the idea of labeling a particular “endangered” culture that much more daunting. In examples such as Kungu Opera the need is obvious. Here is an art form completely banned from society during the Cultural Revolution in China. Unless it is given rebirth and is reintroduced to the generations that completely missed it, it will not be a part of the continuous progression of that society. The preservation of the Song & Dance Traditions in the Baltic States is a perfect example of a heritage that played numerous roles in actual “nation-building”. Under control of the Soviet Bloc, the people of these states were able to unify, to non-violently protest through song, to raise cultural self-esteem, to aspire to freedom, all of this due to embracing their heritage of celebration. It is the human way of uniting a country and that is one of the most valued consequences of heritage. After 9/11, nothing united America better, than the “Star-Spangled Banner” being sung at sporting events throughout that autumn. One people expressing their hope with one voice. WIPO acknowledges the fact that that it is impossible to universally categorize a means of protection, and that it is really a case-by-case situation. The important basis for each organization, UNESCO & WIPO, is distinguishing a culture in need, and determining a means of protection. There is no doubt that heritage preservation has many purposes. Economic advancement and opportunity for a culture can be equally valuable and is directly related to bringing a community a restored sense of identity, purpose and self-esteem. These organizations are an excellent means of insuring “appropriate” rediscovery, redevelopment and resurgence of the worlds’ greatest treasure- its’ people and their past.