What music will become extinct?

Every day, more bad news on climate change.

Fortunately, we’ve recently begun to initiate the process of agreeing on a framework for the development of a concept that will allow us to frame the discussion which will impact the structuring of a procedure for developing a methodology that makes it possible to begin to finally PAY SOME ATTENTION TO A GLOBAL CRISIS!

I am not a climate scientist. I’m a scientifically literate musician. Climate change scares me for dozens of reasons. And it makes me deeply and terribly sad.

With rising sea levels, many island nations will lose much of their land, or even cease to exist. Which brings me to tonight’s question:

What music will become extinct?

A look at the list of island nations gives you a sense of what’s at stake. A large nation, like Indonesia, will experience incredible economic impacts and the forced inland migrations of entire regional populations. Perhaps millions of people will be forced by rising sea levels to abandon their homes and their traditions. A small island nation may find its land area reduced to the point of unsustainability; its culture and population forced into refugee status.

Languages will become diluted and eventually dissipate. Cultural forms (like dance, drama, traditional storytelling, and music) will lose much of their context and setting, eventually becoming preserved by a few interested afficionadi as “museum pieces” — no longer embodied as living, breathing traditions.

There are a lot of island nations. Let’s listen to a few of them.

For example, in Indonesia, there is an ethnic group called the Sunda:

The Sundanese are of Austronesian origins who are thought to have originated in Taiwan, migrated though the Philippines, and reached Java between 1,500BCE and 1,000BCE.[2]

According to the Sundanese legend of Sangkuriang, which tells the creation of Mount Tangkuban Parahu and ancient Lake Bandung, the Sundanese have been living in the Parahyangan region of Java for at least 50,000 years.[citation needed]

Inland Sunda is mountainous and hilly, and until the 19th century, was thickly forested and sparsely populated. The Sundanese traditionally live in small and isolated hamlets, rendering control by indigenous courts difficult. The Sundanese, in contrast to the Javanese, traditionally engage in dry-field farming. These factors resulted in the Sundanese having a less rigid social hierarchy and more independent social manners.[1] In the 19th century, Dutch colonial exploitation opened much of the interior for coffee, tea, and quinine production, and the highland society took on a frontier aspect, further strengthening the individualistic Sundanese mindset.[1]

Court cultures flourished in ancient times, for example, the Sunda Kingdom, however, the Sundanese appear not to have had the resources to construct large religious monuments similar to those in Central and East Java.[1]

Wikipedia says around 27 million people speak Sunda. That’s a lot of people.

Here’s some of their music. It’s beautiful.

This music is called Kacapi Suling, a style which developed in the 1970s. The name simply refers to the instruments involved. There are two stringed instruments (kacapi) and a flute (suling):

The Sundanese zither (kacapi) often serves to represent Sundanese culture. It plays as either a solo or an ensemble instrument, associated with both villagers and aristocrats. The instrument may take the form of a boat in tembang Sunda, or the form of a board zither in kacapian.


In a typical performance (still primarily in recordings, as kacapi-suling is rarely performed live), the kacapi player outlines a cyclic structure of a song and the suling player improvises a melody based on the original song from the tembang Sunda repertoire. Kacapian refers to a flashy style of playing a board zither, and it is known as one of the sources of Sundanese popular music. It can be accompanied by a wide variety of instruments, and can be played instrumentally or as the accompaniment to either a male or female vocalist.


Check out some sounds from Madagascar:

Traditional singing. Enjoy the complex handclapping!

This is Rossy, a very popular performer of Malagassy music.

How about Haiti:

This is a traditional form of music called Rara.

How about the Solomon Islands?

This is one form of “Bamboo Music.”

Another form is the music I posted a few days back. Here’s that video again for your enjoyment:

Just as countless species go extinct every year, countless musical idioms will dissolve over time. Others will change and adapt, adopting new instruments, new song styles, absorbing new influences. That’s a fact of life; it’s the way that tradition functions. But that does not mean we should be unaware of the impact of our self-destructive industrial economy.

Each and every traditional style of playing and singing is a uniquely human expression, often the result of thousands of years of cultural continuity. When these forms vanish from their original surroundings, something precious is lost.

As the fight over climate change begins to be heard in our pathologically blinkered mass media, let us remember some of the human faces and voices who will be most affected by the looming climate crisis. Listen to their songs.

These are the cultures with the most to lose from rising sea levels and ocean acidification. They are often the cultures which have contributed the least to the economy that is threatening to destroy their homes.

The least we can do is to listen to their voices.

Crossposted at Daily Kos.

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