What do you mean by 'endangerment' of a music genre?

UNESCO defines “endangerment” as “under threat of extinction”.

However, it isn’t always clear when a music genre is under threat of extinction. The numbers of musicians isn’t always a good measure – some genres are very vibrant and viable even with only a few proficient musicians.

Perhaps the best indicator of endangerment is whether or not the genre is being passed on to younger generations. If not, it may be at risk.

Music endangerment may best be thought of as a continuum, rather than as black-and-white. It’s also important to remember that endangerment is reversible.

What's the fuss? Don't cultural practices come and go all the time?

They do indeed, just like species of animals and plants.

But this analogy may give a clue as to the problem. In recent decades, there have been massive changes on our planet. We have all heard how environmental changes have led to the endangerment of many biological species.

In a similar way, technological, social, economic and political changes have led to cultural endangerment. The languages, music and dance traditions, world views, and traditional environmental knowledge of indigenous and minority peoples around the world are being lost at a rapid rate.

Importantly, these cultural practices are often disappearing against the will of the communities concerned. In this way, the situation differs from those circumstances where, say, a community decides a music tradition is no longer wanted or needed, and allows it to die out naturally.

Also, the rate of cultural endangerment and loss in today’s world is vastly higher than the ‘natural’ rate at which cultures have come into being and died away again over history. Linguists estimate that over half of the world’s 6000 languages will have disappeared by the year 2100, if nothing is done urgently.

In Australia, an estimated 98% of all ‘pre-contact’ (before white colonisation) Indigenous music and dance traditions have already disappeared.

It's a problem, then. But I'm not directly affected, so why should I care?

Music expresses what it is to be human. Music traditions represent many generations of human creativity, intellect, memory and imagination. They are often closely connected with other kinds of cultural heritage, like story-telling, dance, and ceremony. They carry local knowledge about history, ancestry, and the land. Together, they contribute to the rich diversity of humanity.

Then there’s the role music genres can play in economic growth and poverty alleviation. Or their role in contributing to social cohesion, individual and collective identity, positive health and well-being outcomes, and cross-cultural understanding, exchange, co-operation, reconciliation, and peace.

Music endangerment is something we should all care about.

I get it. How can I help?

There are several things you can do about the problem of music endangerment.

The first step is to learn about it, and about the related issues of language and cultural endangerment. This website will hopefully get you started.

Try also to learn about the situation in your local area. Are there Indigenous or minority groups in your region or your country that are making efforts to keep their culture strong? What steps are they taking? Is there a way you might support those efforts, in respectful collaboration?

Nearly everyone knows about species endangerment, and language endangerment also has a growing public profile. Not many people know much about music endangerment. Share with others what you learn.

Raising public awareness about music endangerment (and cultural endangerment at large) is an important step in helping to address the issue.

This website doesn't only have 'endangered' musics on it. What's the deal?

That’s true. If you explore the ‘map’ or ‘gallery’, you will find music genres at both ends of the ‘endangerment’ continuum, from very vibrant and viable through to highly endangered.

In designing this project, no effort was made to screen out ‘vibrant’ genres, because gauging the levels of vitality or endangerment is one of its key aims.

Also, remember that a single genre can be very strong in some ways (for example, it may have excellent governmental policies supporting it), but very weak, or at-risk, in others (e.g. community attitudes toward the genre may be very negative). So it’s often hard to say categorically whether a genre is endangered or not.

I've got questions about the map itself. Can you tell me more?

Love to. Head on over to the ‘map’ page, where you’ll find a separate list of FAQs that relate only to the map.

How long will this website be available? How stable is it?

Websites (like music genres!) come and go. But this one, at least, is pretty safe.

I (the researcher) have granted the National Library of Australia a licence that permits it to retain and provide public online access to this website in perpetuity, through PANDORA, Australia’s Web Archive. PANDORA was set up in 1996 to enable the archiving and provision of long-term access to online publications.

The website is now accessible through PANDORA. The National Library will re-archive the website periodically to record significant additions and changes. Archiving this website in PANDORA ensure long-term public, open access to this research.