A New Nationalism for a New Millennium

March 1, 2000

Several months ago in The President's Comments (October 1999), I expressed my views on "globalization," which I defined as "the ways in which music and other aspects of culture have fewer borders and boundaries than ever before." Numerous examples of this phenomenon were made known to me and perhaps to you on the all-day and all-night "Millennium 2000" broadcast on PBS, December 31, 1999, and into January 1, 2000. I wonder how many of you watched that continuous show of music, dance, commentary, and technology.

Although this around-the-world and around-the-clock concept (other versions with commercials were on ABC and CNN) was panned by Pulitzer Prize-winning commentator E.R. Shipp in New York Daily News (quoted in Tallahassee Democrat, January 9, 2000) as "a Super Bowl-like advertising campaign for the tourism industry," I found the PBS show to be important for at least two reasons. First, I witnessed music and dance that I had never seen before; second, what stood out as being even more vital to my interests as an ethnomusicologist was the following: specific examples of music and dance were selected by each country to be representative of what that country wanted the rest of the world to know was its music and dance. At least I assume that to be true, although one question remains. Who determined what is representative: the musicians and dancers, government officials, a king, departments of tourism, or musicologists? However the choices were made, I was impressed with and sometimes surprised by the results. Let's examine some of these examples of what I call "new nationalism for a new millennium."

I found it interesting thatw most of the independent Polynesian, Melanesian, and Micronesian countries chose traditional music and dance to represent them. The Kingdom of Tonga, one of the first to welcome in 2000, was an exception because King Taufa'ahau Tupou IV himself apparently selected Wesleyan-type music and Handel's Hallelujah Chorus, sung by the royal choir, to represent Tonga.  Approximately twenty-two hours later, Easter Islanders performed traditional dances to represent their culture, rather than the often seen Chilean-influenced ones (Easter Island is a Chilean colony.)

The larger oceanic countries of Australia and New Zealand selected Aboriginal and Maori expressions, often fused with European-derived ones. In all cases, landscape was important, as it often is in expressions of nationalism. Australia's use of landscape included Ayer's Rock and the Sidney Opera House, both formidable and respective symbols of Aboriginal and Australian culture. The performances at the base of Ayer's Rock featured traditional and newly created Aboriginal music and dance by a contemporary Aboriginal dance troupe whose name translates as "Creative People," while the newly-nationalistic performance at the Sydney Opera House featured one musician on each of the upper- and outermost tips of the sail-like roof structures and a children's chorus down below. The celestial musicians performed on didjeridu, saxophone, gong, voice, and Japanese shakuhachi (Riley Lee, an American of Chinese heritage, is currently Australia's foremost shakuhachi artist; he is a good example of a globalized musician). New Zealand's choices included Maori ceremonial chants to welcome the sunrise, and Westernized compositions featuring opera diva Dame Kiri Te Kanawa (who is of Maori heritage), accompanied by the New Zealand Symphony Orchestra and a Maori chorus.

The Japanese, with their interests in technology, in bridging the present with the past, and in cuteness, celebrated the change to 2000 (which neither corresponds to their traditional New Year's eve nor their traditional calendar) with a gala performance that included the Japanese hit tune "La La La" by pop singer Maki Oguro (who turned 21 the same night). This celebration was Japanese globalization at its best, with a stage erected next to Todaiji temple in Nara, puffs of smoke and flashing lights everywhere, the great bronze Buddha looking on (approvingly, no doubt), many Buddhist priests and Shinto shrine maidens standing in rows, and the singing Pokemon-like Oguro-chan.

Korea celebrated with an elaborate video-art performance on the side of a building in Seoul's equivalent of Times Square. This was a lengthy electronic work, with human sound effects by a Western female singer in European dress singing imitations of electronic sounds and a Korean male singer in Korean clothes singing Sousa-styled march melodiesa little theater of the absurd, perhaps, but yet another example of musical globalization.

In Beijing, the Chinese chose to celebrate by displaying their political leaders and fireworks to the accompaniment of festive Western-styled music with operatic and pop-singer voices—there was no sign of traditional Chinese music. In Hong Kong, just before midnight, pop singer Jackie Chan (known in the US for his movies) sang a song composed just for the millennium. He was accompanied by several dozen Hong Kong pop singers; and again there was no traditional music. By contrast, at the stroke of midnight in Pin Shi village in Taiwan (where a devastating earthquake struck on September 21, 1999), a celebration featured traditional Chinese music with dizi (bamboo flute) and a children's chorus singing "Love of the World" with the message of "peace and hope," according to the PBS announcer.

Singapore featured traditional drumming, accompanied by a Western orchestra, in a jazz-styled composition that segued into the Ricky Martin hit, "Live and Love, Vida Loca." This inspired the PBS announcer to say, "We have seen repeatedly how small of a world we have become and how influences spread across cultures."

The PBS musical and dance tour continued late into the night and the next day, with many countries musically telling us (PBS viewers) about themselves as the world turned, the zeros appeared, and the dawn broke. My reading of what some of them were saying is "we are modern" (Argentina, China, Japan, Korea, India, Singapore), "we are beautiful and life is beautiful" (Australia, New Zealand, Philippines, Tonga), "let's all get along in this world" (Sri Lanka, Taiwan), or "this is how we express ourselves" (Easter Island, Kiribati, Inuit). In all the cultures, with the possible exception of those that were simply trying to express themselves in traditional ways, globalization was apparent, musical borders were blurred, and examples of new nationalism were being projected. Perhaps the musical and dance products were made for tourism or other extra-musical purposes; however, I learned something about how some world cultures currently view themselves, how entertainment technology can bring the world closer together, and how musical nationalism takes on a new meaning in this post-modern era.

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