Globalization and the music in Greenland

Popular music in Greenland has played, and continues to play, a significant role in the construction and negotiation of Greenlandic identities and of Greenlandic place. Greenland, and experiences of being a Greenlander, are narrated in popular music, and though the most explicit medium for doing this is through song lyrics, a sense of place is sometimes included in musical sounds, just as I would argue that using Greenlandic language can in itself be seen as a national sound.

Over the decades, musicians in Greenland have attempted to perform a sense of distinct Greenlandic place in their production of popular music, but if one does not understand the language or the history of music in Greenland, it can be difficult to trace these elements in popular musical forms. Globalization has dispersed these cultural forms into various corners of the world, but this has not resulted in popular music being the same all over the world. The reason for this is, of course, that people produce music and even though we might spend a significant amount of time on the internet, or watching the newest Hollywood blockbuster, or listening to international hit music, we live in places, speak different languages and identify with certain ways of life. Viewing globalization as only a force of homogenization is thus missing sociologist Roland Robertson’s significant observation, that homogenization and heterogenization are mutually-implicated features of life (Robertson 1995: 26-7), something Massey also touches upon when noting that “The global is in the local in the very process of the formation of the local” (Massey 1994: 120).

Having said so much about the performance of place, it may be time to give some thought to how non-place is performed. In the logic of Massey’s global sense of place, there should be no such non-place, though at the same time all places are more than local. However, we may consider some popular music to be placeless (often done by referring to it as ‘international’), but the claim is as absurd as claiming that a white man is not of color. Music perceived as place-less will usually be that which is identified as ‘pure’ Anglo-American popular music, but this probably only bears witness to the dominance of Anglo-American culture. If we look into the history of how Anglo-American popular musical forms came into being, dialectics between people and places, stretching across oceans and continents, will be revealed as their very foundation, thereby illustrating that human worlds are deeply entangled across geographical and political locations.

As this article has touched upon, there is not necessarily an explicit connection between places and musical production. Though a widely-acknowledged repertoire exists for performing a sense of Greenlandic place in music, it is not necessarily used by all artists from Greenland. Listeners might however still be able to hear how popular music has developed local particularity in Greenland, even when listening to some of the music in which place is less explicitly performed. But knowledge and technique is what constitute this particularity and this can be moved across places and transferred between people. That does not, however, render places insignificant, because we invest places with meaning, even if this is not represented in musical productions. Though we may only take his word for it, even the cosmopolitan Greenlandic artist Angu does this, as he has explained in an interview:

If I had not been growing up here and if I did not have my language (…), then perhaps the songs would not have sounded like they do. Then they would have been completely different, you know.

(Interview with Angu Motzfeldt, conducted by Iben Andersen, 3 May 2009, my own translation)