Welcoming Voices: Memory, Migration and Music

Symonds, Dominic (2019) Welcoming Voices: Memory, Migration and Music. Performance Research . ISSN 1352-8165

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Abstract

There are many studies of migration that focus on the economic and social impact of immigration, but the effect that migration has on cultural practices is less explored. This article considers the relationship song plays in the experience of migration. It focuses on the recent migration of Eastern European communities to the UK, played out against the backdrop of tensions surrounding Brexit. It explores how engaging with song plays a role in assimilation, reorientation, and displacement processes.

Song has had a profound historical significance for Eastern European nations and their identity, demonstrated vividly in the events surrounding the collapse of the USSR in the late 1980s. Throughout 1987, the Lithuanian Rock March Festival toured the country to perform forbidden (“Western”) songs by way of political protest; in 1988 the anti-Soviet rock musical Lāčplēsis took Latvia by storm playing to over 180,000 people; and in the same year, Estonian musician Alo Mattiisen’s “Five Fatherland Songs” formed the basis of the Tartu Music Days festival, constructing a powerful song-cycle of anthems against the oppression of the Soviet state. Following this concert, the journalist Heinz Valk penned a celebrated article crystallizing the significance of these events in the evocative term “The Singing Revolution”. In this context, song became for these nations a deep expression of identity, a force for non-violent protest against oppression, and a communal bond whose articulation in mass singing events created a powerful voice enabling their emergence onto the stage of the coveted West.

Thirty years later, the relationship of Eastern Europeans with the West continues to be tested as the world’s borders become points of tension and as the identities of nation states and national identities become scattered. With accession to the EU in 2004, a surge of movement beyond national boundaries created diasporic populations of Eastern Europeans in the UK. Here, encountering the tensions of immigrant life, the barriers of linguistic and cultural currency and the challenges of assimilation, migrants experience both individual and communal dynamics that influence their sense of personal and national identity.

Informed by a number of ethnographic projects with migrant populations, this article explores some of the ways in which that sense of personal and national identity is played out through music and song. Working principally with Lithuanian and Polish communities in Lincolnshire between 2016 and the present, and engaging with local community events, outreach activities and interviews, the article will listen to the migrants’ own voices in exploring the subtle, personal and communal ways in which song informs their sense of self.

Keywords:Migration, Music, Song, Eastern Europe, Lithuania, Poland, Welcoming Voices
Subjects:L Social studies > L711 Human and Social Geography of Europe
W Creative Arts and Design > W300 Music
Divisions:College of Arts > School of Fine & Performing Arts > School of Fine & Performing Arts (Fine Arts)
ID Code:34798
Deposited On:18 Feb 2019 11:10

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