Global impact, local sounds

pile of various magazines including 'Beatles around the World', 'The Beatles in America', 'Beatles on Broadway' and 'The Beatles at Carnegie Hall'

Various American magazines about the Beatles.
© National Museums Liverpool

The enormous success of the Beatles in the early 1960s encouraged major record companies to continue to extend their geographical operations. By the late 1970s several companies were active in what they referred to as all of the major 'territories'. The introduction of satellite television and then the CD made profits even greater. Several of the major companies either merged with each other or were taken over by larger companies. For example the German publishers Bertellsman took over RCA Records and Sony bought CBS records. Each company had its own production, manufacturing, promotion and distribution facilities. This enabled musicians such as Michael Jackson and Madonna to be promoted through a wide range of music and media outlets and to become global stars.

Many commentators have feared that this kind of global impact will lead to a standardised repertoire of musical sounds, styles and images. In other words, the same global sounds and styles are heard all over the world, overshadowing and perhaps even threatening the existence of local music. However others have argued that this kind of global impact also encourages musical difference and diversity because local versions of global sounds emerge. Moreover, local and global sounds mix together to create new sounds (Wallis and Malm, 1984). Musicians also react against global sounds and styles by trying to create something completely different or locally distinctive.

In the early 1960s, for example, groups in Merseyside imitated a range of different US styles of popular music and fused them into what became known as Merseybeat. In 1971 the guru Sri Chinmoy from Bangladesh inspired guitarist John McLaughlin to establish the Mahavishnu Orchestra, one of the world's first and foremost jazz-rock fusion bands. The band's album titles, such as 'Birds of Fire', came from Chinmoy's poetic writings.

Today Middle Eastern and North African Islamic heavy metal bands combine Western rock and heavy metal music with local traditional music (LeVine, 2008). The music of Lebanese hard-rock band the Kordz, for example, blends together hard-rock and funk guitar riffs with a 'Gnawa' (Moroccan blues-style Sufi music) bass line and vocals, Lebanese-inflected melodies and a hip-hop beat. Rap music, which began in urban US communities, has spawned distinctive genres in French, Cuban, North African, and Armenian communities.

In addition to this the global distribution of music technologies has enabled the development of new and alternative music industries that operate relatively independently from major music companies and cater for audiences seeking something different. In India and the Middle East, for example, a cassette industry developed to sell music at a lower cost than that available on record or CD. This helped to promote local sounds and styles that were not supported by international record companies, such as Turkish arabesk music (Manuel, 1993).

Finally it is important to emphasise that whilst audiences all over the world might be listening to the same global sounds, they may nevertheless use that music in different, creative and sometimes unexpected ways. US country music, for example, has been adapted by different groups to suit different circumstances, including lesbian groups, aboriginal peoples, Liverpool seafarers, and Irish communities.