Category Archives: Ethnomusicology

Drunken dotard refrain

Tablatures of ancient Chinese vocal music usually provide very little concrete information on rhythm, and few ancient Chinese writings on rhythms and time values in musical performance survive. One fortunate exception is the perceptive scholarly work of the 11th-century Buddhist monk Master Yihai, who was the only known person from early China ever to explain musical rhythm using a concrete example from guqin music.

Yihai analyzed a famous musical setting of Su Dongpo’s poem Zui weng yin (醉翁吟, Drunken dotard refrain). The earliest surviving musical notation of Zui weng yin dates from several centuries later; whether a tablature of 1539 actually preserves the music discussed by Yihai cannot be determined with full certainty, but there is indirect evidence to support an early date for the music.

This according to “The Drunken dotard refrain” by Marnix Wells (CHIME: Journal of the European Foundation for Chinese Music Research XX [2016] pp. 85–105). Above, an 18th-century manuscript; below, a 21st-century performance.

#dotard

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Filed under Curiosities, Theory, Middle Ages, Asia

Square dance and cultural politics

In 1988 the U.S. Congress convened four panels of witnesses for and against proposed legislation that would designate square dance as the National American Folk Dance.

Leaders of the nationwide network of recreational clubs that perform what is generally referred to as modem Western square dance campaigned for the bill’s passage, presenting numerous petitions with thousands of signatures gathered from their membership; opponents included recognized African American, Hispanic American, and Native American dance performers, as well as professional folklorists and one square dance caller not affiliated with the sponsoring organizations.

Proponents of the legislation cited the historical depth of square dance in the U.S.—“This form of dance alone can claim a development from the earliest days of our nation, through expansion of our population across the land”—and cited the genre’s association with “old-fashioned values” rooted in the “melting-pot of the dances which our ancestors brought with them when they settled in this nation.”

Witnesses for the opposition noted the absence of people of color from this picture, and generally argued against the whole idea of designating a national dance—“I can’t see how any one dance could be singled out as our National Folk Dance when we are a pluralistic society, a land of geographic, racial, cultural, and religious differences,” testified a representative of the Makah people. “I believe choosing one, any one, would give birth to feelings of resentment and animosity.”

Although the bill was defeated, similar debates continue to this day.

This according to “Reflections on the hearing to designate the square dance as the American folk dance of the United States: Cultural politics and an American vernacular dance form” by Colin Quigley (Yearbook for traditional music XXXIII [2001] pp. 145–57). Below, Bob Dalsemer, the one square dance caller who testified for the opposition.

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Filed under Dance, North America, Politics

The international journal of traditional arts

Launched in 2017, The international journal of traditional arts is an international, peer-reviewed gold open access journal that promotes a broad-ranging understanding of the relevance of traditional arts in contemporary social life.

The journal publishes leading and robust scholarship on traditional arts from around the world with a focus on the contemporary policy and practice of traditional music, dance, drama, oral narrative, and crafts. Its scope includes ethnomusicology, cultural sociology, anthropology, ethnology, ethnochoreology, cultural policy, folklore, musicology, cultural studies, cultural economics, heritage, and tourism studies.

Above and below, Quartett Laseyer, a group that figures in one of the articles in the inaugural issue.

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Filed under Ethnochoreology, Ethnomusicology, New periodicals

The Dancing Queens of Mumbai

For many Indian hijras—a casteless and classless queer minority—badhais (ritualistic music and dance) are the only available means of revenue aside from sex work and bar dance; this has been the practical reality for hijras for nearly two centuries of legal persecution.

While the current reality does not bode well for the continuation of hijra badhais as we once knew them, newly emerging transgender ensembles like Mumbai’s Dancing Queens are introducing new possibilities for hijra performativity and empowerment.

Established within a reconstituted urban Indian context, new adaptive strategies are predicated on the exchange of devalued ways of encoding hijra difference for updated, modern ones based upon the distinctly LGBTIQ discourse of pehchān (acknowledgement of the self, or identity). The Dancing Queens’s staging of pehchān empowers hijras through a global transgender lexicon while simultaneously renewing particular preexisting performance repertoires of homo-sociality.

This according to “The Dancing Queens: Negotiating hijra pehchān from India’s streets onto the global stage” by Jeff Roy (Ethnomusicology review XX [2015] pp. 69–91). This journal, along with many others, is covered in our new RILM Abstracts of Music Literature with Full Text collection.

Above and below, the Dancing Queens in action.

BONUS: Ready for more? Here’s a full performance.

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Filed under Asia, Curiosities, Dance

Puls: Musik- och dansetnologisk tidskrift

In 2016 Svenskt Visarkiv launched Puls: Musik- och dansetnologisk tidskrift/Journal for ethnomusicology and ethnochoreology, an open-access, peer-reviewed online journal (EISSN 2002-2972).

While the main focus of the journal is ethnomusicology and ethnochoreology, it also embraces adjacent disciplines, such as other aspects of musicology and choreology, folklore, literature, and related studies of traditional and popular culture. The journal focuses on discussion of the expressions, roles, and functions of music and dancing in society. Articles are published in Scandinavian languages or in English.

Below, Frode Fjellheim’s Eatnemen vuelie as heard in Disney’s Frozen, the subject of a discussion in the inaugural issue.

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Filed under Ethnochoreology, Ethnomusicology, New periodicals

Frances Densmore’s legacy

In Frances Densmore’s broad sweep through Native American communities, practicing what is now considered salvage anthropology, she worked with more Native American cultures than any anthropologist of her time.

After Densmore’s passing in 1957, others found it difficult to assess the results of her decades of work or to fit them into histories of various types. She had participated actively in communities of musicologists, anthropologists, and other professional women, as well as with Native communities as she pursued her social science. These communities were historically imbricated.

Densmore saw her work as the single focus of a lifetime. That work, over time, became but one part of a larger cultural context within which musicologists and anthropologists as a whole, as well as women anthropologists in particular and Native American writers, examined her work.

This according to “Gone but not quite forgotten” by Joan M. Jensen, an essay included in Travels with Frances Densmore: Her life, work, and legacy in Native American studies (Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press, 2015, pp. 242–83).

Today is Densmore’s 150th birthday! Above, with Susan Windgrow (Maka Waste’ Win/Good Earth Woman), ca. 1930; below, Sitting Bull’s favorite song, recorded by Densmore from a man who had learned it by hearing it sung repeatedly by Sitting Bull himself.

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Filed under Ethnomusicology, North America

Harry Smith’s grand collage

The power of Harry Smith’s Anthology of American folk music, which turns 65 this year, lies squarely in its use of collage.

Smith’s decisions in sequencing and juxtaposing the 84 songs encouraged a play of sounds and lyrical content that calls attention to similarities and differences, opening multiple meanings and allowing for many possible interpretations.

By privileging collage over narrative, Smith created a complex and nuanced work of social commentary. Through collage, the Anthology captures the ongoing negotiation of the various voices—past and present, black and white—taking part in the reconstruction of U.S. history. These voices remain audible today.

This according to “Collage, politics, and narrative approaches to Harry Smith’s Anthology of American folk music” by Dan Blim, an essay included in Harry Smith’s Anthology of American folk music: America changed through music (Abington: Routledge, 2017, pp. 82–99).

Above, Smith ca. 1965; below, selections from volume II of the six-volume set.

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Filed under Ethnomusicology, North America

Benga and Luo traditions

Benga, a Kenyan dance music, first emerged within the Luo community during the late 1960s. The genre has provided many Kenyans with a malleable platform that connects with the traditional ethnic poetic and musical sensibilities that have been resilient in both rural and urban Luo life.

Despite criticism that it was unpolished and parochial, benga’s development shows a clear movement towards sophistication and compositional experimentation. Ultimately benga musicians succeeded in creating a style distinct from its regional counterparts using traditional Luo melodic rhythmic structures and accompaniment cycles.

This according to “Continuities and innovation in Luo song style: Creating the benga beat in Kenya 1960 to 1995” by Ian Eagleson (African music IX/4 [2014] pp. 91–122).

Above and below, Okatch Biggy, a pioneer of 1990s benga.

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Filed under Africa, Performers, Popular music

Indian theatre journal

Launched by Intellect in 2017, Indian theatre journal (ISSN 2059-0660) is the first international journal on Indian dramatic arts.

ITJ is committed to publishing a wide range of critical and scholarly approaches to various aspects of Indian theater and performance in their social, political, cultural, economic, and diasporic contexts through academic essays, plays, production reviews, interviews, and performance events.

The journal brings together current intellectual debates and artistic practices in theater, dance, music, arts, aesthetics, and culture, illuminating the wider context of the confluences and correspondences between philosophy, performance, and culture in India.

This double-blind peer-reviewed journal creates an international platform for scholars, critics, playwrights, actors, and directors for presenting their work through cutting-edge research and innovative performance practice. In addition, ITJ explores recent developments in intercultural theater, theater anthropology, performance studies, and the Indian and South Asian diaspora across the globe.

Below, an excerpt including music and dance from Rabindranath Tagore’s Phālgunī, a work discussed in ITJ’s first issue.

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Filed under Asia, Dramatic arts, New periodicals

The global jukebox

The global jukebox is the culmination of a lifetime of groundbreaking work by Alan Lomax, whose efforts to record and compile song and dance from around the world led to this collaborative project—an interactive portal for the world’s music, dance, and speaking traditions from almost every corner of the earth, recorded by hundreds of pioneering ethnographers.

This open-access resource is divided into three broad areas of inquiry: cantometrics, an analysis of the elements of song within and across cultures, and choreometrics and parlametrics, which similarly evaluate dancing and speaking.

Users can search by genre or culture and experience thousands of songs and videos that come from a myriad of traditions; seek their ancestry through song and dance; uncover the roots and connections of their favorite musical genres; take a guided tour through the vibrant musical culture of a single region or style; look at clusters of any tradition’s song styles; or search for their own answers with the site’s analytical tools.

Below, Lomax discusses the background of the project.

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Filed under Ethnomusicology, Resources, World music