There is a good reason why most of us have heard very little Oromo, Balochi, Kurdish, or Basque music. The stateless often face enormous obstacles, frequently being denied basic political and economic rights, the freedom to travel, the ability to have their children learn in their native language in school among others. After all, if you are stateless, what state is actually going to promote your music?
These groups are part of the Unrepresented Nations and Peoples Organization (UNPO). UNPO includes dozens of members: indigenous peoples, minorities, and unrecognized or occupied territories who have joined together to protect and promote their human and cultural rights, to preserve their environments, and to find nonviolent solutions to conflicts which affect them.
Despite these obstacles, unrepresented peoples continue to produce some of the world’s greatest folk music. For the small Garfuna community in Central America, the questions in their music are profound, including ‘Who will speak our language when we die?’ Meanwhile, Palestinians living in occupied territories often face comments from members of the Israeli government such as ‘they don’t even have their own culture’, implying that if they don’t have a culture, ‘why do they need a country?’
Unrepresented peoples such as the Roma, Kurds, Corsicans, Uyghyurs and Tibetans face similar obstacles. Without state support for music academies, cultural centres, institutions of higher learning and the like, preserving music, and creating new art forms becomes a key part of their identity, a symbol of defiance against the pressures of assimilation, and one of the only ways to pass on traditions to future generations. While the stateless lack many means of promotion, their personal stake in cultural preservation has played a large role in creating some of the best music… without frontiers.