An Overview of Fusion
In a nutshell, a simple definition of fusion is that two or more different musical styles or genres are combined in one piece of music, which is the case for African and Celtic music in this piece. With such a broad definition, there are clearly many examples of fusion in all kinds of music, going back a great many years. Composers of Baroque, Classical or Romantic times who travelled, for example, picked up influences from around the world and incorporated them into their music. If you are interested to learn more about this kind of fusion, listen to any of the following pieces:
Handel: Concerti Grossi op. 6 – this German composer spent time in Italy before settling in England and his music was a rich combination of styles from these countries. His Concerti Grossi were very Italian in style.
Mozart: Rondo Alla Turca (Turkish Rondo) from Piano Sonata in A K.331 imitates the sound of the Turkish military bands that were all the rage in Vienna in Mozart’s time.
Brahms: Hungarian Dances are a set of 21 lively pieces for piano duet (and later arranged for all kinds of instruments, and orchestra) based on Hungarian folk tunes.
Debussy: Pagodes from Estampes for piano – in 1889 Debussy attended a major exhibition in Paris where he heard Asian music such as gamelan for the first time. Pagodes is just one example of many pieces of Debussy’s influenced by Asian music.
In the 20th century composers like Bartok and Kodaly in Hungary and Vaughan Williams and Holst in England collected and studied the folk music of their countries and incorporated it into their own music – setting the agenda for a strong folk influence in much of the 20th and 21st century’s fusion music.
It was jazz that really took the concept of fusion forward, particularly after the Second World War when there was increased interest in world music – the indigenous music of different regions of the world. American dance bands of the 1930s and 40s, such as Duke Ellington’s band, incorporated Latin and African rhythms into their arrangements (listen to Caravan or Black and Tan Fantasy by Duke Ellington as an example). In the 1950s and 1960s jazz become more and more preoccupied with the dance rhythms of Latin America, and sambas, rhumbas, tangos and bossa novas became all the rage in jazz arrangements. Sonny Rollins is a good example of this – try St. Thomas.
Leading jazz musicians like Miles Davis began to experiment in the 1960s with electronic instruments and amplification, combining them with jazz harmony and improvisation and incorporating emerging pop and rock styles into his jazz compositions. Davis became one of the leading exponents of jazz fusion and on his album Miles in the Sky you can hear a lot of rock grooves underlying the jazz-influenced improvisation of Davis, sax player Wayne Shorter (who co-founded a 1970s jazz fusion band called Weather Report) and pianist Herbie Hancock.
The kind of fusion we are interested in here – the fusion of different world music styles – is also very prevalent and there are a number of well-known bands and artists who have made their names by finding new combinations of music from different parts of the world. There are some suggestions of these in the ‘wider listening’ section at the end.