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Summer 2002
Who owns the music?
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Such problems predate the global reach of the Internet, of course. Seeger cites Paul Simon's phenomenally successful Graceland album, which came out in 1986 with an infectious mix of rhythms and melodies from South Africa's townships combined with traditional pop, as a watershed that catapulted these issues to a new level. While Graceland didn't make use of actual traditional music recordings, it inspired imitators who, in some cases, have expropriated the real thing, earning vast sums of money for themselves from music that's not their own while putting nothing into the pockets of the actual creators.

"When I started out making field recordings 30 years ago, there wasn't a world-music industry," says Professor Timothy Rice, chair of the Department of Ethnomusicology. "But now, a recording can be unscrupulously 'sampled' by commercial artists and mixed in with their synthesizers and their drumbeats and all of a sudden there's a product worth millions of dollars."

And even when traditional music isn't stolen outright, it can be misappropriated, says Rice, who is an authority on Bulgarian and Macedonian music — a passion that evolved from his love of international folk dancing. In 1990, a recording of Bulgarian choral music hit the international world-music charts and won a Grammy for best traditional music. Trouble was, Rice says, the recording was rife with misrepresentations, including the fact that the music had been modernized and was not really a true version of traditional music.

Adding insult to injury, an Italian music producer in 1993 put out an industrial-dance-music version titled From Bulgaria with Love. Rice was not amused: "It's one thing to make a semi-serious recording, which at least shows that you somehow respect and love the music. It is another to take the music and laugh at it."

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