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Durham University


Music, Media and Technologies

Stephen Wilford (City, University of London) - “This is just a band”: music, representation and digital technologies in the Middle East and North Africa

11:00-13:00 - Session II: Media and transnational flows

The diffusion of digital technologies and Internet access throughout the Middle East and North Africa (MENA) in recent years has radically altered the ways in which music is produced and distributed, both locally and amongst transnational diasporic networks. As social media and file-hosting technologies grow in popularity, musicians across the MENA region continue to find new and innovative ways of getting their music heard, particularly amongst audiences who previously faced difficulties in accessing music. Such practices emerge from the vibrant musical cultures found across the region, in which musical creativity and artistry are part of everyday music-making activities.

However, media depictions (particularly in Europe and North America) of the relationship between music and digital technologies in the MENA region frequently situate such music-making within discourses of violence, political repression and resistance. Such portrayals seemingly reduce the use of technologies and social media by MENA musicians and listeners to acts of defiance against oppressive regimes. Whilst there is little doubt that music in the region is often shaped by politics and social conditions, these media depictions risk reifying notions of the MENA as a place of conflict and violence, and ignoring the creativity and agency of musicians and audiences.

This paper argues that there is a need for new representations of music and digital cultures in the MENA, which both broaden understandings of contemporary musical culture in the region and foreground the agency of musicians and listeners. Drawing upon examples from across the region, the paper seeks to present examples of everyday music-making and consumption that are shaped by digital technologies. Furthermore the paper explores the motives behind the exoticism found within media depictions, considering how representations of different countries and cultures reflect historical and political relationships between the Europe, North America and the MENA region.