I majored in Humanities as an undergraduate because it was broad-based and I could take many courses, from California Geography to Entomology to history, philosophy, languages and literature. Later, I took an MA in Comparative Literature for similar reasons: I could read the great writers from around the world, learning from epistolary novels (novels of letters e.g. Les Liaisons Dangereuses, Goethe’s Sorrows of Young Werther). Historical novels, Tolstoy, Dostoyevsky, and a lot of French writers (favorites were Balzac, Stendhal, and Flaubert). You learn about 19th century Paris from reading Balzac. You learn about Napoleon from reading Tolstoy’s War and Peace, 19th century England from Dickens, psychology from Flaubert. You learn so many things about history, sociology, and especially psychology, human behavior, dreams, our collective aspirations, longing, the whole panoply of human existence.
The same holds true for world music. You learn about geography, something Americans could use more knowledge about. I am quite knowledgeable about African history because of my fondness for its huge variety of music. Additionally, I know all about Cape Verde, for instance, because I love its music and met and interviewed Cesaria Evora many times. Now I can tell anybody about where it is–300 miles off the coast of Senegal. In 2 weeks, I’m actually going to Cape Verde for the Atlantic Music Expo and Kriol Jazz Festival. I’m really looking forward to it.
Because music is such a basic expression in all cultures, it necessarily teaches us about those cultures: again, history, psychology, anthropology, geography, customs, mores, everything.
I say don’t confine yourself to just one kind of music. Like all the varieties of food we can now enjoy, why just eat one kind? World music is about exploration, finding joy and delight. Why deprive ourselves of such valuable lessons? For me it has enriched my life beyond measure, which is why I’ve been a world music cheerleader for the past 30 years.
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