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Harmonising cultures and borders: When live music drives migration, tourism and territorial promotion

By Charles Mbatsogo | Issue 24

Music has long been a universal language that transcends boundaries and brings people together. It has the power to bring together individuals from diverse backgrounds around a common passion. In recent years, this intrinsic ability of music to create bonds and evoke emotions has evolved into a powerful tool for promoting tourism, facilitating migration, and showcasing the cultural richness of various regions. Based on key statistics and live music reports’ analysis, this article explores the multifaceted relationship between music, migration, and the promotion of territories, highlighting case studies of urban live music, benefits, effects, challenges and future prospects. Specifically, it explores how music acts as a determinant of migration through music tourism but also delves into how music icons have become ambassadors for their respective regions and how concerts serve as focal points strengthening social and cultural cohesion for diverse communities united by their shared passion for music.

Image by ktphotography from Pixabay.

The potential of music to affect human mobility

Music, often defined as the organised sound that evokes emotions and communicates meaning, is a universal language that transcends geographical, cultural, and linguistic boundaries. Music has always played a role in human mobility. Migrants have often brought their musical traditions with them, creating a rich blend of musical cultures in their new homes. For instance, during the Great African American Migration in the early 20th century in the United States, music was a crucial element in the transmission of black culture and identity in northern cities.

Today, music tourism has become a significant driver of migration, not only at the local level but also the regional and global sphere. International events like music festivals and concerts attract visitors from around the world. International artists tour in multiple countries, generating excitement among fans who are willing to travel to attend their shows. For example, the Coachella music festival in California draws thousands of foreign visitors every year, boosting the local tourism industry.

Talented musicians often migrate to larger cities or music hubs to pursue their careers. Countries and regions use music as a form of cultural diplomacy to promote themselves on the global stage. Governments often support musicians and orchestras to tour internationally, showcasing their culture and artistic talent. These cultural exchanges can foster goodwill, improve international relations, and encourage tourism and business partnerships. In the last decade, due to visa facilitations, many African musicians have migrated overseas for Europe and US tours and residences, thus promoting Afrobeat music and their countries. This movement of musicians contributes to the cultural richness of these destinations and attracts music enthusiasts and industry professionals. Los Angeles and Nashville are perfect illustrations of this purpose. These two US cities have thriving music scenes partially due to the migration of artists and industry professionals.

In connection with the statements developed below, the concept of "musical tourism" has gained traction over the years as individuals travel to attend concerts, festivals, or musical events in different parts of the world. This form of tourism is driven by the desire to experience music in its authentic cultural context, leading to a fusion of tourism and migration. Case studies like the annual Samba Parade in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, or the pilgrimage to Nashville, Tennessee, underscore how music becomes a magnet for travellers, contributing to local economies and cross-cultural exchanges. In 2019, the global music festival market was valued at approximately $25 billion, with an estimated 25 million people attending festivals in the United States alone.

Music icons as territorial ambassadors

In an era where place branding is crucial for economic development and cultural preservation, musicians have emerged as potent ambassadors for their home regions. Music icons like Bob Marley for Jamaica, Ricky Martin for Puerto Rico, Fado musicians for Portugal, and K-pop groups for South Korea (PSY "Gangnam style", viewed by more than a billion Internet users, sparked an extraordinary interest in Seoul's Gangnam district), Manu Dibango for Cameroon (among others) have significantly contributed to the global recognition of their respective territories. They carry the essence of their culture through their music, making them cultural icons that promote not only their own art/work but also the regions they hail from.

Artists definitely play a vital role in promoting territories. They become cultural ambassadors, spreading the music and identity of their region globally. Other notable examples include The Beatles from Liverpool, who helped popularise the city on an international scale, and Icelandic singer Björk, who showcased Iceland's rich music scene. Rihanna, Barbados's most renowned resident, was designated an official ambassador for culture and youth in 2018. She has steadfastly retained her Bajan accent and her music, while drawing inspiration from pop, R&B, and dance genres, continues to reflect her deep connection to her Caribbean roots.

Furthermore, some artists actively engage in social and environmental initiatives in their home region. For instance, Colombian singer Juanes has been a staunch advocate for peace and human rights in his home country, using his global fame to raise awareness about these issues. In the same vein, Miriam Makeba, a prominent South African singer and advocate for human rights, achieved the distinction of being the pioneer vocalist who introduced African music to the global stage during the 1960s. She gained worldwide recognition under the titles "Mama Africa" and the "Empress of African Song", making her a widely celebrated figure across the globe. In addition, numerous places draw upon the affection of admirers of iconic music figures who have passed away. A multitude of Elvis Presley fans, often referred to as the king of rock 'n' roll, choose to stay in Graceland, Memphis, Tennessee, visiting his former residence and purchasing mementos adorned with his likeness.

The power of live music events in shaping human connection

Concerts are more than just musical performances; they are gatherings where people from diverse backgrounds come together, united by their shared love for music. History has proven that this convergence of individuals with varying cultural, ethnic, and linguistic backgrounds fosters social and cultural cohesion. Festivals such as Woodstock in the 1960s or Tomorrowland (Belgium), Field Day (London, UK), Glastonbury (UK), Outlook (Pula, Croatia), Primavera Sound (Barcelona, Spain), Coachella Valley Music and Arts (Indio, USA), Fuji Rock (Niigata, Japan), We Love Green (Paris, France) in the present day exemplify how music can serve as a catalyst for building connections and promoting mutual understanding among attendees. According to a 2018 survey by Eventbrite, 76% (of  the 2039 respondents from the US who attended at least one live music event in the past 12 months) said they attended live music events to connect with friends and like-minded individuals, emphasising the role of concerts as social gatherings.

Concerts and music festivals are spaces where people from diverse backgrounds come together to share a common experience. Music transcends linguistic and cultural barriers, creating a sense of unity and social cohesion. Festivals like the Glastonbury Festival in the UK or the Rio Carnival in Brazil illustrate how music can bring diverse crowds together in a spirit of celebration. These music events also have a positive economic impact on host territories, generating income not only for local businesses, but also improving the hospitality industry, and the food sector. Local authorities increasingly recognise the economic value of music tourism and invest in infrastructure to accommodate these events. Music thus appears as a hybrid culture-nature product that has become an inspiration that stimulates tourism, making music tourism a prospering niche market.

Nowadays, music fans across the globe don't hesitate to move (travelling thousands of miles and crossing national borders) in order to meet their favourite artists on stage. This helps to boost the economy of the country concerned. as fans book travel and hotel reservations, purchase food and drinks, visit beauty salons and indulge in local shopping. The most recent illustration of this rising phenomenon is undoubtedly Taylor Swift’s and Beyoncé's 2023 world tours. It is estimated that the Renaissance World Tour boosted the American economy by $4.4 billion overall. The tour has become a "global economic powerhouse", from record-breaking ticket sales to its impact on tourism and local economies. Based on information from STR, a data-benchmarking firm, the Renaissance world tour had a noteworthy influence on hotels, leading to increased occupancy rates across European cities as shown below:

Source: STR, 2023.

Thus, the fusion of music, migration, and territorial promotion brings forth several benefits. Firstly, it bolsters local economies by attracting visitors and generating revenue. Secondly, it facilitates the exchange of ideas, traditions, and customs, promoting cultural diversity and understanding. Additionally, it enhances the global visibility and appeal of regions, thereby boosting tourism and attracting investment.

Key inputs for musical tourism governance: Framing the future of temporary migration

Despite their positive aspects, music festivals and concerts can sometimes create environmental issues, such as noise pollution and litter left at the venues. In a pre-covid study, researchers found that music festivals in the UK produced an estimated 20,000 tonnes of onsite emissions (excluding travel) annually, highlighting the environmental impact. Additionally, excessive commercialisation of music can lead to the gentrification of artistic neighbourhoods, displacing local artists.

Looking ahead, the role of music in tourism, migration, and territorial promotion is poised to expand further. As technology continues to shrink the world, virtual concerts and online music experiences are likely to play a more prominent role in connecting global audiences to distant regions. Furthermore, governments and organisations should recognise the potential of music as a soft power tool and invest in supporting their local music scenes and artists.

Regarding migration, it is essential to ensure that migrating  artists (transborders icons) have fair working conditions and social protection while preserving their cultural identity. It is also crucial to mitigate administrative and legal barriers that may hinder the mobility of international musicians. Overall, music tourism offers countless opportunities to promote territories and strengthen social and cultural bonds. By investing in the preservation of musical diversity and supporting artists, governments and local communities can harness this powerful cultural resource to stimulate economic development and enhance intercultural understanding.

Music's ability to transcend borders, connect people, and promote regions is a testament to its power as a cultural and economic force. As we continue to explore the dynamic interplay between music, tourism, migration, and territorial promotion, we can appreciate how this harmonious relationship has the potential to bridge divides and create a more interconnected and culturally rich world. By promoting music tourism and artists’ mobility, it’s possible to support and improve the development of poor, unknown or neglected destinations especially in low- and middle-income countries.

Music acts as a catalyst for migration and artists become modern ambassadors of territories, while concerts and music festivals create spaces for meeting and social cohesion by connecting people from various backgrounds and countries. To maximise the benefits of music tourism, it is essential to address the challenges associated with this form of migration and support musical diversity. Leveraging music tourism governance is therefore one of the major stakes in the line of modern temporary migration. Ultimately, music continues to transcend borders and promote intercultural understanding, strengthening our global connection through the notes and rhythms that unite us.

Dr Charles Mbatsogo is a junior researcher specialising in migration governance in sub-Saharan Africa. He is a laureate and graduate of the YALI (Young African Leadership Initiative) Programme and holds a double master's degree in Geopolitics and International Relations from the Academy of Diplomacy of Cameroon (IRIC) where he grew up as well as a PhD from the University of Poitiers (France). Charles has over 5 years of experience in corporate communication, project management, creative writing, data collection and analysis, leading to various scientific publications in the field of return migration and development, as well as international communications and positions. He is currently working for a non-profit in Paris (France). In his free time, Charles loves travelling, exploring new cultures and sharing good vibes but also painting landscapes and writing song lyrics and scripts for musicals.


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