Forum “Who is British Music?” Placing Migrants in National Music History

Florian Scheding, Derek B. Scott, Erik Levi, Justin Williams, Catherine Tackley, Tom Western, Florian Scheding (Editor)

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The 20th Century has been called the era of displacement, exile, and mass migration. Bringing their music with them, migrants arrived in Britain throughout the century from all over the world. To this day, however, there has been no holistic discussion of their impact on British musical life. While excellent scholarly investigations of migrations and mobility as crucial factors for music in Britain have been undertaken, the field is fragmented, with insufficient collaboration across discussions of specific musical genres and diasporic communities. More broadly, musicology has long neglected migrations and migrants in its historicisation of a national cultural history.

This forum places the migrant within discourses on national identity. The authors embrace a multi-faceted approach to the history of Britain’s diverse musical immigrants across a wide range of musical styles and genres that span the entirety of the 20th century, reaching into the late 19th and the early 21st centuries. We reveal the impact of immigrant composers and second-generation migrants and diasporic communities with global backgrounds on popular music, musical comedy, jazz, concert music, folk music, and film music. The forum highlights the connections across genres, the time period, and diverse migrant backgrounds, thus revealing a multi-faceted narrative in which debates concerning ‘the national’ form a current in British musical life and open up questions regarding constructions of a national music history and historiography. The forum thus highlights the contributions of immigrants to British musical life; the extent to which immigrants are, or are not, narrated as part of British music history and the extent to which their musics have been marginalised or otherwise; and what opportunities this poses for an understanding of British music. In combination, the contributions challenge the notion that the migrant and the nation are incompatible, highlighting instead a narrative of (musical) diversity.

Discussing the impact of migration as a sonically enriching experience seems urgent given how current debates frame immigration as a crisis at the heart of national socio-cultural discourses more broadly. Putting music centre stage, this colloquy widens the debate on migration as it encourages a discourse that is not restricted solely to economic, legal, and narrow political contexts. The focus on music allows for an exploration of the impact of highly skilled creative migrants on British cultural history. In turn, it sets it against questions of national belonging and the sonic-cultural narratisation of the nation.

The forum includes contributions by Florian Scheding, Justin Williams (University of Bristol), Catherine Tackley (University of Liverpool), Derek B. Scott (University of Leeds), Erik Levi (Royal Holloway University of London), and Tom Western (University of Edinburgh).
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)439-492
Number of pages54
JournalTwentieth Century Music
Issue number3
Publication statusPublished - 29 Nov 2018

Structured keywords

  • Centre for Black Humanities
  • Migration Mobilities Bristol


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