Category Archives: Ethnomusicology

Chile’s bailes chinos

 

Chile’s bailes chinos are ritual musician-dance brotherhoods in the country’s Central Zone. They express the religious fervor of campesinos (peasant farmers) and artisan fishermen who get together for religious fiestas celebrated in small villages and coves, where groups from the neighboring towns congregate.

The bailes chinos feature Native American contributions, which include dance, instruments, and a direct relationship with the supernatural through ritual incorporating special states of consciousness. Hispanic contributions are also present, such as prayers, the Holy Scriptures, sacred images, the Catholic ritual calendar, and other elements of Christian expression.

Due to their strong dependence on nature and themselves, these fishermen and farmers are especially fervent in their religious devotion. The members of the bailes chinos dance, play flutes, and sing to help secure their fundamental needs: health, rain, and a good harvest in the inland valleys; protection and abundant fish in the coastal waters. In addition, their fiestas serve as occasions for strengthening the social and family bonds that unify the inhabitants of the area.

This according to I humbly pray: Central Chile’s bailes chinos by Claudio Mercado Muñoz and Victor Rondón Sepúlveda (Santiago de Chile: Museo Chileno de Arte Precolombino, 2003). Below, a brief documentary (in Spanish).

BONUS: A full performance of canto a lo poeta, a related Chilean tradition.

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Filed under Dance, South America

Ralph Stanley and “O Death”

ralph-stanley

In a 2008 interview, Ralph Stanley recalled his participation in the soundtrack of the film O brother, where art thou?, which brought him a level of international recognition that he had never dreamed ofparticularly for his haunting rendition of the traditional Appalachian spiritual O Death.

T-Bone Burnett had several auditions for that song. He wanted it in the Dock Boggs style. So I got my banjo and learned it the way he did it…I went down with my banjo to Nashville and I said, “T-Bone, let me sing it the way I want to sing it,” and I laid my banjo down and sung it a cappella. After two or three verses, he stopped me and said, “That’s it.”

Quoted in “Old-time man” by Don Harrison (Virginia living June 2008, pp. 54–57).

Today would have been Ralph Stanley’s 90th birthday! Below, a performance from later in his career. (Can anyone tell us the place and date? We wonder if it’s his performance for the 2006 National Medal of Arts ceremony.)

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When women play

kulintang

In many societies musical roles are divided along gender lines: Women sing and men play. Men also sing and women sometimes play; yet, unlike men, women who play often do so in contexts of sexual and social marginality.

Contemporary anthropological theories regarding the interrelationship between social structure and gender stratification illuminate how women’s use of musical instruments is related to broader issues of social and gender structure; changes in the ideology of these structures often reflect changes that affect women as performers.

This according to “When women play: The relationship between musical instruments and gender style” by Ellen Koskoff (Canadian university music review/Revue de musique des universités canadiennes XVI/1 [1995] pp. 114–27; reprinted in A feminist ethnomusicology: Writings on music and gender [Urbana: University of Illinois Press, 2014]).

Above and below, kulintang, a women’s instrumental genre discussed in the article.

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Filed under Asia, Curiosities, Instruments, Women's studies

Silvesterklausen, a New Year’s Eve ritual

silvesterklaus1

On New Year’s Eve men and boys in Urnäsch, Switzerland, disguise themselves in various costumes and, bearing harnesses with heavy bells, walk in groups from house to house; at each house they sing wordless yodels. The custom is called Silvesterklausen, and the men and boys are known as Silvesterchläus.

At the crack of dawn they march off in single file. Arriving at a house, they shake their bells rhythmically to announce their presence. The inhabitants are expecting them, and the husband and wife step out to greet them; the wife bears a tray with a bottle and glasses.

The Silvesterchläusen then form a circle and sing polyphonic yodels, which are received with great favor by the household. Each visitor is offered a drink; the yodelers accept their drinks, shake hands with their hosts, and march off to the next house.

silvesterklaus

This according to Progress and nostalgia. Silvesterklausen in Urnäsch, Switzerland by Regina Bendix (Berkeley and Los Angeles: University of California Press, 1985). Below, Silvesterklausen in 2013.

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The Krk kolijani season

dubasljanski-kolejani

The kolijani-koleda event on Krk, which takes place in the Christmas and New Year period, is marked by processions moving from house to house expressing good wishes, together with a choosing-the-king custom. Through changes and innovations this ritual has ensured its firm entrenchment in the consciousness of the people.

The symbolic presentation of village unity moves from the secular to the religious sphere; their mutual permeation is constant and inseparable, and the performance of the ritual is the present expression of collective identity and feelings. The dialectical relationship between tradition and revival is confirmed in the interweaving of the old pre-Christian symbols (although they are expressed with new meaning or just repeated as a rule) with the most contemporary expressions of identity.

This according to “The kolijani ritual event on the island of Krk, Croatia: Continuity or revival?” by Tvrtko Zebec (Yearbook for traditional music XXXVIII [2006] pp. 97–107). This issue of Yearbook for traditional music, along with many others, is covered in our new RILM Abstracts of Music Literature with Full Text collection.

Above and below, excerpts from a 1989 documentary on kolijani in Dubašnica.

BONUS: The season in 1972.

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A recovered text of Bai traditional songs

bai-edition

In 2015 Cambria issued Chinese ethnic minority oral traditions: A recovered text of Bai folk songs in a sinoxenic script, a new edition of a rice-paper manuscript from the early 20th century.

The MS was discovered in Yunnan by Xu Lin (1921–2005) when she was working there as a field linguist in 1958; dating probably from the early 1930s or somewhat earlier, it contains the texts of 208 traditional songs of the Bai people, written in Old Bai script (Hanzi Baiwen/汉字白文).

The task of transcribing and translating these texts was carried forward by Xu under very difficult circumstances through the vicissitudes of Chinese history until her death, and then completed by the other authors. This edition presents them in the original script with International Phonetic Alphabet transliterations and word-by-word glosses in Chinese and English, in English translations, and in a facsimile reproduction from the MS.

Below, scenes from a Bai spring festival.

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Sınırın ötesinden sesler / Sounds beyond the border

sounds-beyond-the-border

As Syrian refugees’ migration experience in Turkey sways between transience and permanence, the culture of coexistence can only occur with the refugees and the locals getting to know one another. Like any cultural/artistic production, music provides a fertile ground for this interaction.

Sınırın ötesinden sesler/Sounds beyond the border is an open-access resource presenting interviews that strive to understand Syrian musicians’ experience of migration through music. As a response to homogenizing and exclusionary perspectives, the series aims to draw attention to the refugees’ talents and practices, the diversity they bring to Turkish geography, and the possibilities of a common cultural world.

The interviews are conducted by Evrim Hikmet Öğüt; the project is sponsored by Friedrich Naumann Vakfı Türkiye Ofisi.

Below, Sadim Al Zafari, one of the musicians interviewed in the series.

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Jay Ungar and “Ashokan farewell”

jay-ungar

While they may not know the title or the composer, millions recognize Jay Ungar’s Ashokan farewell as the melodic centerpiece of the soundtrack for Ken Burns’s celebrated television series The Civil War.

Still fewer of those who love the tune realize that the title refers to a site that is now known as  The Ashokan Center, an outdoor education, conference, and retreat located in the Catskill Mountains of upstate New York that Ungar—together with his wife and musical partner, Molly Mason—was using for summer traditional music and dance camps.

Decades after Ungar composed Ashokan farwell, and following his performance of it at the White House and in various U.S. ceremonial settings, Ungar managed to leverage its emotional connections in a successful effort to preserve the location and create a $7.25 million campus there dedicated to traditional music, Catskill history, environmental education, and local arts and crafts.

This according to “Catskill cultural center saved, and renewed, thanks to a fiddler’s tune” by Dennis Gaffney (The New York times 12 May 2013, p. A15).

Today is Ungar’s 70th birthday! Below, a performance with Mason and some friends.

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Filed under Curiosities, North America, Reception

Early years of the Society for Ethnomusicology

SEM founders

In its third issue the Journal African music published a brief article about a new professional society—“Society of [sic] Ethnomusicology” by Willard Rhodes (I/3 [1956] pp. 70–71).

In 1953 a group of anthropologists including Rhodes, David P. McAllester, and Alan P. Merriam, along with the musicologist Charles Seeger, had issued Ethno-musicology newsletter no. 1, a modest 10-page mimeographed pamphlet. In two years the mailing list had grown to almost 600 addresses, so a formal organization seemed warranted. The Society for Ethnomusicology was founded in 1955.

Rhodes was pleased to announce that the newsletter, which originally presented only Notes and News, Bibliography, and Discography, was recently enabled by the growth of the Society’s membership to over 260—plus a small grant—to include articles and book reviews. Hopes were expressed that this newsletter might one day follow African music’s path by expanding into a journal.

Above, the original core group in 1971 (left to right, Seeger, Merriam, Rhodes, and McAllester). Below, one of Rhodes’s field recordings was included on the Voyager golden record.

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Tecnocumbia and Ecuadorian identity

jaime-enrique-aymara1

Peruvian tecnocumbia arrived in Ecuador in the 1990s, and the ensuing tecnocumbia boom fostered a new music scene that revitalized Ecuadorian popular music (EPM) and contested Ecuadorians’ perception of its national music.

Social, economic, and political factors triggered the increasing production and consumption of this music, and EPM, a stigmatized music that was barely heard in the mainstream media in the 1970s and 1980s, came to be perceived as música nacional by the working classes. The historical contexts, social relations, political economies, and physical landscapes that generate and maintain the EPM scene illuminate how working-class musicians, entrepreneurs, and fans from Quito responded to the social and economic crisis in the country that brought about a massive wave of emigration in the late 1990s.

This according to “The Ecuadorian popular music scene in Quito: Contesting the national imaginary” by Ketty Wong, an essay included in Made in Latin America: Studies in popular music (New York: Routledge, 2016, pp. 89–98).

Above and below, Quito native Jaime Enrique Aymara, known as el rey de la tecnocumbia.

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Filed under Popular music, South America