Category Archives: Ethnomusicology

Bhāgavata purāṇa as performance

Bhagavatapurana

A week-long festival centered on stories about the deity Kṛṣṇa is held in the hamlet of Naluna, Garhwal district, Northern India; this practice (known as a saptāh) is primarily a product of an elite Hindu community of the North Indian Plain.

Two loci of power are salient: the village deity representing local authority, and the text-as-artifact of the Bhāgavata purāa, the metonymy of the authority of the recently imported cultural practice.

The local community comprises modern subjects and empowered agents, accounting for the nature of the interaction between the village deity and the sacred text, and the new cultural synthesis that emerges.

This according to “Village deity and sacred text: Power relations and cultural synthesis as an oral performance of the Bhāgavatapurāa in a Garhwal community” by McComas Taylor (Asian ethnology LXX [2011] pp. 197–221).

Above and below, the saptāh in Naluna.

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Taarab redux

bi kidude

Taarab’s performers and audiences consider the genre to be a link to Egypt as another powerful place of coastal imagination, but it demonstrably owes more to centuries of exchange across the Indian ocean.

Despite the political agendas that engulfed Zanzibar in the mid-20th century, Swahili musical and urban sensibilities prevailed, and taarab continues to flourish. However, the older style of song text, which thrived on social commentary and improvisation, gave way in the 1950s to songs about the human condition, particularly romantic love songs.

This according to “Between mainland and sea: The taarab music of Zanzibar” by Werner Graebner, an essay included in Island musics (Oxford: Berg, 2004).

Below, Culture Musical Club performs old-style taarab with the legendary Bi Kidude (also above, ca. 1910–2013).

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Wrapping llamas in song

llama+woman

The women herders of ayllu Qaqachaka in highland Bolivia sing to their llamas in various ceremonial occasions during the year, and also on a more pragmatic daily basis to accompany their herding activities.

But their songs have other, more magical functions, involving the increase of the flocks, when they become a part of the body-centered knowledge and practices that comprise a female aesthetics and poetics of creation that parallels men’s more destructive activities in war.

Many of the principal singers are elderly midwives, and in a lifetime of learning they practice the art of wrapping their animals in song. This wrapping in song also serves to transform and domesticate the spirits of dead enemies, embodied in the animals, and to rebirth them into human society.

Key concepts such as jawi, that glosses as both fleece and river, are ontological expressions of flowing musical sound in woven substance. A mating song for the female llamas, a marking song for the ewes, and a song of blessing for the female llamas reveal how specific musical and lyrical structures express the women’s preoccupations with the generation of beautiful fleece and its weaving into sung wrappings.

This according to “Midwife singers: Llama-human obstetrics in some songs to the animals by Andean women” by Denise Y. Arnold, an essay included in Quechua verbal artistry: The inscription of Andean voices/Arte expresivo Quechua: La inscripción de voces andinas (Aachen: Shaker media, 2004, pp. 145–179).

Below, a visiting delegation passes through Chucura.

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Computational ethnomusicology

Block diagram

The June 2013 issue of Journal of new music research (XLII/2) is a special issue devoted to computational ethnomusicology.

The editors, Emilia Gómez, Perfecto Herrera, and Francisco Gómez-Martin, explain that the term computational ethnomusicology is over 30 years old, but it has recently been redefined as “the design, development, and usage of computer tools that have the potential to assist in ethnomusicological research.”

Above, a diagram of the Tarsos platform from “Tarsos, a modular platform for precise pitch analysis of Western and non-Western music” by Joren Six, Olmo Cornelis, and Marc Leman (pp. 113–29). Below, a vintage computer cover of The house of the rising sun.

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C. Saraswati and harikathā

C. Saraswati

C. Saraswati Bai (1874–1974) began studying Karnatak music at the age of 6, and by the time she was 9 her exceptional talent was so evident that the harikathā guru Tiruvaiyaru Krishnachar took her under his wing.

By the age of 11 she was gaining local notoriety, and as it became clear that she was contemplating a professional career the established performers of this male-dominated genre moved to undermine her, effectively blackmailing performance venues into refusing to engage her. Saraswati persevered, and public support for her grew; at last, those who had sought to squelch her career relented and tried to make amends.

In early 1911 she embarked on a highly successful tour of India and Sri Lanka, and by the age of 22 she had become one of the most acclaimed harikathā performers of the time.

From 1913 through the 1930s Saraswati traveled almost continually, performing standing up for six to seven hours in a different town each night. She recorded nine successful records for Odeon, and often performed on the radio; she was also in great demand for performances at weddings. At the height of her career she earned 2000 rupees each night, more than any other harikathā performer at that time.

From the 1940s until the early 1960s Saraswati performed less and less, due partly to a decline in audiences with the advent of sound films, and partly to the intense physical demands of traveling and performing. She took a keen interest in developing cultural organizations, and was an ardent supporter of Gandhi.

This according to “C. Saraswati Bai” by Sriram Venkatakrishnan (writing as Sriram V; Sruti 262 [July 2006] pp. 21–31 and 263 [August 2006] pp. 17–38). Below, one of her Odeon recordings.

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Zoomusicology

howling-wolves

Zoomusicology is an area of intellectual endeavor that developed outside of music studies, among scholars interested in animal behavior.

Although this field is almost 30 years old, people operating in ethnomusicology, who are potentially the better equipped to understand the goals and challenges of zoomusicology, are often not aware of how compatible the two fields are.

Zoomusicology and ethnomusicology have much to gain from each other. Moreover, if ethnomusicology indeed has the ambition to be a field that brings together musical knowledge in a worldwide perspective, then one would have to maintain that zoomusicology should be seen as part of ethnomusicology.

This according to “Zoomusicology and ethnomusicology: A marriage to celebrate in heaven” by Marcello Sorce Keller (Yearbook for traditional music XLIV [2012] 166–83). Above and below, lupine group vocalizations.

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Ngariwanajirri (Strong kids song)

Ngariwanajirri

The Strong Women from the Tiwi Islands (northern Australia) are concerned that young Tiwi people are straddling two cultures, losing their language and their Tiwi identity.

To address this problem, the women and their grandchildren have composed a song that emphasizes connection to the ancestors, to country, to language, and to the elders. With lyrics in English, traditional Tiwi song language, and the contemporary spoken language, and with a hip-hop dance-mix sampling an ethnographic recording made in 1912, Ngariwanajirri (Strong kids song) is an example of new music helping to preserve tradition.

This according to “Ngariwanajirri, the Tiwi Strong kids song: Using repatriated song recordings in a contemporary music project” by Genevieve Campbell (Yearbook for traditional music XLIV [2012] 1–23).

Below, a music video of Ngariwanajirri; the song changes dramatically around 2:00.

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Bert Jansch’s legacy

Bert-Jansch-2010

The guitarists’ guitarist and the songwriters’ songwriter, Bert Jansch (1943–2011) influenced musicians as diverse as Jimi Hendrix, Jimmy Page, Paul Simon, Sandy Denny, Nick Drake, Donovan, Pete Townshend, Neil Young, Bernard Butler, Beth Orton, and Laura Marling.

Unassuming, enigmatic, and completely focused on his music until his untimely death, he remained singularly resilient to the vagaries of fashion, being rediscovered and revered by new generations of artists every few years.

Born in Edinburgh, Jansch became an inspirational and pioneering figure during Britain’s folk revival of the 1960s. In 1967 he formed the folk/jazz fusion band Pentangle with John Renbourn and enjoyed international success; when they split in 1973 he returned to his solo career, securing his standing as one of the true originals of British music.

This according to Dazzling stranger: Bert Jansch and the British folk and blues revival by Colin Harper (London: Bloomsbury, 2000, 2nd ed. 2006).

Jansch would have turned 70 today! Above, Jansch a year before his death, when he was touring with Neil Young; below, his classic version of Black waterside.

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Pungmul and dance

pungmul

Pungmul is played with your heel!” say many celebrated performers of this percussion genre, underscoring the inseparability of the music and the musicians’ dance moves.

Merely listening to the music of pungmul is not sufficient for differentiating between passages where the meter does not change but the instruments play cross-rhythmically and those where the meter does change and the instrumental parts reflect this change. Such passages can only be differentiated through a choreological analysis that demonstrates the relationships between the stepping patterns of the dancing musicians and the music that they are simultaneously playing.

This according to “‘Pungmul is played with your heel!’ Dance as a determinant of rhythmic construct in Korean percussion band music/dance” by Nathan Hesselink (Eum’ag gwa munhwa/Music and culture IV [2001] pp. 99–110). Below, a taste of pungmul from the Gungnip Minsok Bangmulgwan (National Folk Museum) in Seoul.

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Ethnomusicology Ireland

ICTM Ireland

Launched in 2011 by the Irish National Committee of the International Council for Traditional Music (ICTM Ireland), Ethnomusicology Ireland is a peer-reviewed online journal edited by Colin Quigley.

The journal aims to reflect the range of music played, studied, and researched in Ireland, providing a regional forum for scholars. While PDFs of the articles are open-access, enhanced versions with links to sound and video illustrations are only available to members of ICTM Ireland.

Related article: The Joe Heaney Archives

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