Diversity is not just for plants

A beautiful book that pays hommage to Ateliers d’Ethnomusicologie and celebrates 35 years of this legendary institution.

Elisabeth Stoudmann - 2018-07-03
Diversity is not just for plants - ©Jonathan Watts
©Jonathan Watts
Diversity is not just for plants - ©Isabelle Meister
©Isabelle Meister

This wonderful book, “Genève aux rythmes des mondes”, by Arnaud Robert comes at a time when Laurent Aubert, founder of Les Ateliers d'ethnomusicologie, is retiring, just as this major institution of world music celebrates 35 years of existence, It’s a feel-good book that timely highlights Switzerland’s important position as a geographical and cultural crossroads.

"A centre of cultures, peoples and moving identities" the ethno-musicology workshops set up their headquarters in a small dead-end street near Cornavin train station in Geneva. The international city of Geneva, where some 190 nationalities coexist. Just get on any bus and tune your ears to the city of Calvin that has turned into a tower of Babel. By focusing on world music, Les Ateliers d'ethnomusicologie have reinterpreted this global and local cultural diversity in their own way.

Khaled Arman, Hossein Arman (links) and The Kabul Ensemble ©Isabelle Meister


From rubab to djembes

Arnaud Robert's book does a magnificent job of showing this sprawling world in sixteen chapters where the musicians like the famous Indian percussionist Zakir Hussain, the Irish Cretan lyra player Ross Daly, the maestro of the original rubab Khaled Armand, Kerala songstress Parvathi Baul, and wild percussionist Vincent Zanetti … all meet and interplay with each other from one page to the next.

Thanks to the voices of their peers and their entourage, those who are no longer here but have left their mark on history are also referenced: the percussionist Soungalo Coulibaly, Dumitru Cacuricà Baicu and Nicolae Neacsu (from Taraf de Haidouks), Ali Akbar Khan and many others.


Those who make music possible

The template set up by the ethnomusicology workshops is widespread: there are live concerts of course, but there’s also the school where teachers in exile work, the Cahiers d'ethnomusicologie (reference scientific journal) and the recordings. Lastly, there’s A La Croisée des Cultures’ internship, a legendary yearly meeting that happens at the beginning of summer conceived as a moment of discovery of the unknown and a place where "oral cultures communicate naturally between each other" according to its manager Astrid Stierlin. Its doors will open in a few days’ time at the workshops’ HQ and surroundings.

Arnaud Robert's book is a delight, from its cover - which looks like it’s made of wood - to its content which takes the form of an evocative narration rather than a historical discourse. Starting in Geneva, he takes us on a trip around the world. It’s a book to read this summer, something to give you hope in humanity through the music and the people who agitate for it to happen. As the former mayor of Geneva, André Vaissade, a historical ally of the ethno-musicology workshops once said : "diversity is not just for plants".

Arnaud Robert, Genève aux rythmes du monde, une histoire des ateliers d’ethnomusicologie, Labor et Fides, 247 pages.