Cities

view of the Liverpool waterfront from across the river including the Liver Building and Albert Dock

© National Museums Liverpool

Some sites are particularly favourable for the making of music scenes. Large cities, for example, have been described as "breeding grounds" for scenes (Blum, 2001: 8). Their dense, mobile populations provide a critical mass of musicians and audiences and new music influences that can inspire the emergence of diverse scenes and sounds.

This is particularly true of port cities. Like Liverpool, New Orleans and other port cities, Oran in Algeria is known for its popular music. The local rai scene is particularly strong. Rai music emerged in Oran in the 1970s and is influenced by a mix of music styles, from Spanish flamenco, French cabaret, Moroccan gnawa, Berber music, and Western soul music. Cheb Khaled, one of the best known rai musicians, explains, "This is how I grew up with everybody mingling. Oran is a port and everybody brings their own traditions and gets together" (quoted in Connell and Gibson, 2003: 167).

Cities also have the business infrastructure and institutions that can support music activity. The headquarters of multinational music corporations are based in a few of the world's capital cities, including London, Los Angeles and Tokyo, but many large cities house clusters of music businesses. In Liverpool and other provincial British cities, small music businesses support local music scenes and sometimes go on to form scenes of their own, created through a network of entrepreneurs sharing similar interests in music. The music business is often characterised as unusually competitive but these scenes also involve a great deal of collaboration and the sharing of contacts, resources and expertise. Together they provide a reservoir of specialist music information and knowledge.

Whilst cities influence scenes, so scenes can in turn influence cities. One common way they do this is by providing a sign of the diversity and vitality of a city's life. Beyond that, in some cases, cities that created a music scene have seen themselves become famous throughout the world because of their association with the music that emerged within that scene. New Orleans is a particularly famous example of this two-way process. Its special character as a city enabled a music scene to develop in which the music first emerged that would later be recognised as jazz. Many years later, after the first jazz scene had spread to other parts of the US and the world, New Orleans found itself famous as the birthplace of the music and in due course became proud of it.

Music scenes can therefore help to characterise and distinguish individual cities, but at the same time they can also connect cities and highlight their similarities. Reggae music emerged from the slums of west Kingston in Jamaica but has become popular in cities all over the world. Algiers, for example, has a 'reggae Islam' scene:

"In the smoky dives known as les bars the disaffected young men of Algiers gather to drink, talk and listen to live music. But close your eyes for a second and you could be forgiven for imagining you were in South London. Blended with the traditional rai music are reggae basslines. 'Reggae Islam' has taken off in the Algerian capital. The inspiration comes not from Jamaica but Brixton, where reggae Islam is also said to be thriving... In Muslim neighbourhoods, Bob Marley posters and marijuana icons jostle for position with graffiti in support of the Muslim guerrilla group GIA." (Guardian, 6 May 1999: 8, cited in Connell and Gibson, 2003: 181)

So, in Algiers, reggae has blended with local traditions to take on a new form that is locally specific. At the same time however Algiers contributes to, and is influenced by, a global reggae scene connecting musicians, entrepreneurs and fans from cities all over the world.