First published in fRoots issue 378, December 2014
Living Politics, Making Music: The Writings of Jan Fairley
Edited by Simon Frith, Stan Rijven and Ian Christie
Ashgate (218 pages)
In 2012, world music lost one of its greatest writers. Even before the term ‘world music’ was coined, Jan Fairley was writing about the music that she loved, regardless of their place or time. Living Politics, Making Music has been compiled from Fairley’s works spanning 28 years (1984 to 2012) and it serves as a great tribute.
Although this book is presented as an academic work (and with a price that would indicate the same – hardback copies are on sale for £100 or more), the collection features writings from popular journals, such as fRoots and Songlines, as well as more scholarly publications. Fairley’s writing is a good mix of the two – the more academic-leaning texts do not approach the dryness that other ethnomusicologists seem unable to escape, and the more popular articles contain an impressive depth in their brevity.
The book is divided into sections, for each of the areas Fairley covered most extensively: writings on Chile; discussions of ‘world music’; writings on Cuba, and a selection of artist interviews conducted for fRoots. The eclecticism of Fairley’s topics is also very impressive – although she mainly examines Latin American styles, she writes with equal authority, passion and imagination on topics of folk, classical or pop music, of the meanings of dance, the mechanics of radio or the workings of the music business.
This book isn’t just useful as a tribute to a great writer, it also genuinely works well along a theme. The chapters are compiled in a way that leads the reader through the most important points about music and politics in Latin America, and the role that world music and ethnomusicology can play in both. In the end, readers will no doubt be enlightened on the subjects that Fairley so eloquently explained, through a book that highlights, if it were needed, what a loss Jan’s was to the world music scene.