British ethnomusicologist John Blacking describes music as a set of sounds systemized by humans for other humans in his book “How Musical is Man?” arguing that it matters to study the relationship between types of sounds created as a result of systemized interactions and human organizational categories. He adds that if there is no sympathy that they share with one another, music of their own will be non-existent.
Western anthropologists in the time of imperialism voyaged to distant areas across the globe to look into colonies. As they spent several years learning native languages and mingling as part of local communities, a bunch of research data was collected to lay the foundation for the imperial domination system.
Imperial states sought to capitalize on data studied by anthropologists to highlight the superiority of modern culture driven by imperialism and demonstrate the primitiveness, barbarism and backwardness of the colonized world. However, not all but most research materials provided by researchers did not meet this purpose from an imperial perspective. In fact, they claimed that other cultures feature reasonability and efficacy not focusing on the excellence of modernism, adding that the values and standards of modern society may lack universality.
Blacking’s “How Musical is Man?” may share a similar viewpoint. Studying music genres of various African tribes as an ethnomusicologist, he got curious about the mainstream viewpoint shared by people of his time. According to him, the Venda in Africa may be a musically enriched and matured community than the city of London as the former requires grown-ups to be capable of performing together with others while the most citizens of the latter society do not know how to play any musical instrument.
Blacking maintains that if the Venda and Londoners have different worldviews and value systems, it is impossible to conclude which society or culture is superior to the other. His book reminds us that we can communicate one another based on novel imagination if we try not to get confused with what’s different and what’s wrong and stop comparing all different beings merely from a single point of view.