Opportunities for intercultural collaboration provide fertile ground for exploration by creating a space for open dialogue and the mutual exchange of ideas. However, questions arise here in terms of how mutual, balanced and equal an exchange process may actually be in reality. To what extent are all parties benefitting from a collaboration and how can we ensure that each voice heard and valued? To what extent can we even refer to the exchange as being ‘intercultural’?
Collaborative processes are well documented in many areas of society and human interaction, from educational practices (Robinson, 2010, Renshaw, 2013), theatre (Sawyer, 2009), multidisciplinary arts practices (Barbour et al, 2007) to organisations and institutions (Sawyer, 2015). As educator Ken Robinson points out ‘you have to recognize that most great learning happens in groups, that collaboration is the stuff of growth’ (Robinson, 2010, 10:44).
The act of bringing together musicians from different backgrounds also creates new challenges. Inherent within these challenges is a window of possibility and degree of freedom in which to explore areas outside of one’s normal musical framework. This can create a space for new musical ideas to emerge and take shape, resulting in musical outcomes that would not have been imaginable by any one person in isolation. It could therefore be argued that the chances for new discoveries to be made are heightened in an environment made up of musicians from diverse backgrounds, who may approach musical exploration from numerous, contrasting points of view. This may only be the case, however, if the space created for a collaborative process is indeed established on equal ground, rather than being overly driven or dominated by a particular musical language, aesthetic or approach. On the other hand, we must also question whether true equality is always possible or even desired in this process. If roles are established clearly from the beginning, a meaningful collaboration may take place successfully with one voice taking more of the leadership role, for example, resulting in work that still has a sense of shared ownership and meaning, regardless of the respective roles.
Negotiation is common in creative, collaborative processes and may move through many phases of exploration before solutions are found. The result is something that would not have existed if this particular process, between these particular people, had not taken place. Analysing the musical dialogues presented in this exposition, I observed that the process of two elements interacting resulted in a third element, which does not belong to either party, but is the direct result of the exchange. Consequently, the musical outcomes contain new musical ideas that were not necessarily present within the two distinctively different elements that existed before the encounter and interaction took place.
This experience resonates with key concepts of hybridity and third space developed by Indian English scholar and critical theorist Homi K. Bhabha, who claims that there is a space ‘in-between the designations of identity’ and that ‘this interstitial passage between fixed identifications opens up the possibility of a cultural hybridity that entertains difference without an assumed or imposed hierarchy’ (Bhabha 1990, p.4). Bhabha elaborates on this concept further in his interview with British academic Jonathan Rutherford stating, 'for me the importance of hybridity is not to be able to trace two original moments from which the third emerges, rather hybridity to me is the ‘Third Space’, which enables other positions to emerge’ (Bhabha, 1990, p. 211). This thinking leads to conceptualising the possibility of an international culture, which, rather than being based on exoticism or multi-culturalism of the diversity of cultures is instead the ‘inscription and articulation of culture's hybridity’ (Bhabha, 1988, p. 22).
These particular statements are very relevant to the collaborative processes presented in this exposition, clearly articulating a phenomenon that arises through intercultural musical dialogues that are founded on mutual respect, openness and equity. The idea of engaging in a collaboration without an assumed hierarchy, and operating in-between fixed identities is crucial to a true, meaningful and engaging musical collaboration. This in-between space is the place where the actual communication and co-creation begins to take place.
These concepts resonate with me, having experienced this phenomenon personally as a musician during years spent living in culturally diverse environments and engaging in collaboration with musicians and other artists from diverse backgrounds. Hybridity and the Third Space begin to move from theoretical concepts on the page to embodied experiences when engaging in collaboration through the vehicle of creating music. This experience then remains in the body as a known entity, with the possibility of re-creating it again and again in new environments. However, issues of ethics, mutuality and equality must be acknowledged and constantly questioned in this process. This requires ongoing re-evaluation to ensure that the voice of each collaborator is heard and valued in any given collaborative process. Within the context of the musical case studies presented in this exposition, my aim was to establish musical frameworks that would provide space for each musician to offer something of themselves and engage in dialogue. This methodological approach will be unpacked in the following musical case studies sections.