Why Music Can Export Anywhere
Indigenous African people who have never heard a tune on a radio can still pick up on happy, sad, and fearful emotions in Western music, according to research in Current Biology
). The study shows that those three basic emotions in music can be universally recognized.
"These findings could explain why Western music has been so successful in global music distribution, even in music cultures that do not as strongly emphasize the role of emotional expression in their music," said Thomas Fritz of the Max Planck Institute.
The expression of emotions is a basic feature of Western music, and the ability of music to convey emotional expressions is often regarded as a requirement to its appreciation in Western cultures. In other cultures, music may be appreciated for other qualities, such as group coordination in rituals.
The research team sought to find out whether the emotional aspects of Western music could be appreciated by people who had no prior exposure to it. Fritz enlisted members of the Mafa, one of about 250 ethnic groups in Cameroon.
Both Western and Mafa listeners, who had never before heard Western music, could recognize emotional expressions of happiness, sadness, and fear in the music more often than would be expected by chance. Both groups relied on similar characteristics of music to make those calls; both Mafas and Westerners relied on temporal cues and on mode for their judgment of emotional expressions, although this pattern was more marked in Western listeners.
By manipulating music, the researchers also found that both Western listeners and African listeners find original music more pleasant than altered versions. It seems not liking a remix is also universal.