• Nate Holder

Musical Instruments & The Economics of Colonialism

I was doing some reading recently which made me think (albeit on a surface level) about the economics of decolonisation, in relation to music education, and how these ideas further help to understand the differences between decolonial thought and diversity initiatives.


While many of us seek to change the wording and imagery in various educational resources, I wonder if we are missing something else. How often do we have conversations about the actual instruments we use? Where do they come from? Who makes them? Why is this even important?

Without going into too much detail about the economics of colonialism, we can clearly see how the world has been divided between the haves and the have-nots, or rather, those who had, and those who took. The profits generated from the Atlantic Slave Trade go a long way to explain the vast disparity in GDP between Europe, North America and especially the continent of Africa. The Democratic Republic of Congo is regarded as the worlds richest country in terms of natural resources but is ranked 201st out of 211 countries in the world for GDP per capita. That's 201st for a country slightly larger than Norway, France, Germany, Spain and Sweden combined. Countries in the Global South continue to have their wealth, resources and intellectual property extracted from them, all the while being referred to as corrupt, or ungrateful for the Global Norths intervention. This is why arguments regarding the benevolence of the British in building railways in India are to be dismissed without thought. These railways were set up to extract resources from India back to Britain - an endeavour rooted in imperialism, rather than a philanthropic act to provide indigenous peoples with the infrastructure to aid their own economic growth and stability.


Taking it back to music education, it is perfectly possible that while we move towards inclusive, diverse and culturally sensitive musical offerings, we can still perpetuate the same economic injustices established during the age of the (so-called) Enlightenment. By learning about music from around the world but purchasing djembes, steel pans and maracas soley made in the Global North, money is generated and circulate here, while the peoples who make the music that we learn about and love, rarely see, hear or feel the impact that their cultures and music have upon us. Imagine a scenario where we will have enough information and resources in the Global North, to be able to teach music from India, Indonesia, Ghana, Brazil or Jamaica without ever learning first hand or even engaging with someone indigenous to those cultures, whether one-to-one, in group CPD/training sessions or even casually. Wait a second..........

If we are serious about decolonising music education, we have to be careful that we don’t perpetuate the same inequalities that colonialism has produced.

There is no doubt that the cost of a handmade set of Trinidadian steel pans or a tabla from Mumbai will far outweigh anything bought from Meinl, Yamaha or another other manufacturer based in the Global North. However, that outlay pales into significance when we think about the trillions of pounds that have funded the way of life for many of us who live in the Global North.

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