This article is a study of the interplay between globalization, music and place in the history of music in Greenland, with a particular emphasis on popular musical forms. Through a brief introduction to styles and trends in Greenlandic music, I illustrate how in particular geographical locations, globalization manifests as an unmanageable entanglement of places, histories, people, goods and information, but that this interconnectedness takes place differently in different places, thereby shaping these places and the cultural forms produced there. Thus places earn their particularity by being meeting points, as cultural geographer Doreen Massey has pointed out (Massey 1994: 154). Such a sense of place often finds its way into music production and perception, and music is also sometimes used to narrate places in particular ways, highlighting some connections and ignoring others, thereby performing a particular experience of that place. Through a brief introduction to styles and trends in Greenlandic music history, this article thus illustrates the importance of music and musical styles as symbols of national culture. It also looks at how different ways of performing place in popular music relate to the history of globalization in Greenland, and how music continue to play a significant role in the creation and negotiation of the nation Greenland and of Greenlandic identities.

Connection between music and place as an area of research curiously seems to be both thoroughly studied and somewhat neglected. On the one hand, one of the founding fathers of ethnomusicology, Alan P. Merriam, has identified the discipline as one occupied with studying ‘music in culture’ (Merriam 1964: 6), and these cultures have traditionally been seen as confined to certain geographical spaces (Hastrup 2003: 11-2). Most ethnomusicological writing studies music in places delimited by scaled geographic places, my own being no exception to this trend. But while connections between music and place seem to act as a backdrop in many of these studies, the connection is only rarely theorized (cf. Krims 2012: 142, 147). One exception to this is the work of ethnomusicologist Martin Stokes, and the papers from other researchers featured in his edited book “Ethnicity, identity and music – the musical construction of place” (1994). Another important contribution to the theorizing of music and place is the book “Sound tracks – popular music, identity and place” (2003) by geographers John Connell and Chris Gibson. Like this article, their book draws on Doreen Massey’s theory of a ‘global sense of place’ (Connell and Gibson 2003: 14; Massey 1994).

A field outside of traditional academia where music and place is heavily debated is music journalism. Music journalists often make connections between bands and artists, places, nations and sounds (Connell and Gibson 2003: 91, 124), but the connection is often treated as direct and natural, which is an essentialist view that offers limited agency to bands and artists in terms of musical production or identity construction. Though a band or artist’s cultural roots no doubt affect their musical choices and production, producers also have agency in what music they make and this is not necessarily limited by the places to which they ‘belong’. Popular essentialist discourse is concerned with authenticity and reflects the sometimes problematic way that people think of places and cultures. I often encounter this discourse in my own work, as people (both in and outside academia) question the fact that I am researching popular music in Greenland rather than focusing on ‘traditional’ music. However, the population of Greenland has over the decades produced a large body of popular music, and I consider this cultural field worthy of study, despite essentialist thinking that suggests that Inuit popular music is inauthentic, while ‘traditional’ styles are authentic.

Place does however remain a source of identity and meaning (Connell and Gibson 2003: 70), even though some theories on the impact of electronic media has called the continued existence of place into question (cf. Meyrowitz 1985: 308, Connell and Gibson 2003: 270), and music simultaneously plays a part in the way places are performed. Therefore music, just like place, is subject to political practices (cf. Oakes and Price 2008: 5). How places affect music and how they are performed in music, thus remain important questions in critical understandings of societies.