Category Archives: Ethnomusicology

Kecak beyond tourism


Kecak, one of the most popular dramatic dance forms performed for tourists on Bali, was developed cooperatively by Balinese artists and Western expatriates—most prominently I Wayan Limbak and Walter Spies—with the explicit purpose of meeting the tastes and expectations of a Western audience.

Driven by economic considerations, in the late 1960s kecak was standardized into the kecak ramayana known today. Kecak ramayana does not appeal to Balinese audiences in an artistic sense; instead it is perceived as a traditional way of generating income for the community. In contrast, kecak kreasi or kecak kontemporer has been developed by local choreographers since the 1970s.

With its use of both pre-1960 traditional elements and Western contemporary dance, kecak kreasi is rooted in the contemporary Balinese performing arts scene. These dances appeal primarily to a Balinese audience, showing that kecak as a genre can be more than income from tourism; in its contemporary form it is valued by Balinese audiences on the basis of its artistic value.

This according to “Performing kecak: A Balinese dance tradition between daily routine and creative art” by Kendra Stepputat (Yearbook for traditional music XLIV [2012] pp. 49–70); 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, Cak kolosal inovatif at SMA/SMK Negeri Bali Mandara in September 2016.

BONUS: A taste of the tourist version.

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Filed under Asia, Curiosities, Dance, Dramatic arts

Ethnomusicology translations




In 2015 the Society for Ethnomusicology launched Ethnomusicology translations, a peer-reviewed, open-access online series for the publication of ethnomusicological literature translated into English (ISSN 2473-6422).

Articles and other literature in any language other than English are considered for editorial review, translation, and publication. Preference is given to individual articles published in scholarly journals or books during the past 20 years.

As a central online resource, Ethnomusicology translations aims to increase access to the global scope of recent music scholarship and advance ethnomusicology as an international field of research and communication.

Below, Greek animal bells (worn by goats in this case), a subject that figures in the series’s inaugural publication.


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Filed under Animals, Ethnomusicology, New series

Blood, thunder, and drums


The drumming style among Protestant bands of Northern Ireland known as blood and thunder evolved as a result of working-class bands both imitating military practices and adapting them to their changing tastes.

This unique tradition developed through working-class musicians’ endeavors to emulate the musical practices of the dominant military power without access to the tuition techniques and facilities on which that style depends. A transformation taking place in blood and thunder drumming is characterized by an added element of aesthetic deliberation, which is considered by many to be an artistic advancement.

This according to “Blood, thunder, and drums: Style and changing aesthetics of drumming in Northern Ireland Protestant bands” by Ray Casserly (Yearbook for traditional music XLV [2013] pp. 142–163). 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, the Ballynahinch Protestant Boys, a group featured in the article.

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Filed under Curiosities, Europe, World music

Brasiliana: Journal for Brazilian studies


Brasiliana: Journal for Brazilian studies is a dynamic academic forum where scholars from diverse disciplines in humanities and social sciences publish their research, establish academic discussion, exchange ideas, and draw on each others’ research within the field of Brazilian studies.

Brazil is currently establishing itself as an economic and political power within a global context, and the interdisciplinary study of Brazil is emerging at a high academic level. Several universities worldwide are offering programs under the term Brazilian studies, an area that differs from the more common Latin American studies. Academic communities of Brazilianists exchange ideas across universities and collaborate on research projects inside and outside Brazil. This is an academic journal absolutely dedicated to Brazilian studies.

Although the journal was launched by Statsbiblioteket, Aarhus, in 2012, it is new to RILM because vol. IV/1 (August 2015) is the first issue that features musical content.

Below, Vitor Ramil’s Milonga das sete cidades, the subject of one of the issue’s articles.

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Filed under New periodicals, Popular music, South America

M.S. Subbulakshmi breaks the glass ceiling


In January 1964 Smt. M.S. Subbulakshmi, along with other eminent women Karnatak vocalists, boldly gate-crashed the uñcavritti and pañca ratna groups at the annual Tyāgarāja ārādhana, in which women had not previously been permitted to perform, opening the floodgates for women’s full participation in the future.

The Madras newspaper Hindu, in its coverage of that year’s festival, printed a large photo showing the women participating in the uñcavritti procession with a caption saying simply, “Prominent musicians, including . . . M.S. Subbulakshmi, taking part in the uñcavritti bhajan procession”.

In an accompanying article, Hindu’s (male) correspondent wrote matter-of-factly that women musicians had joined the uñcavritti bhajana and had taken part in the singing of the pañcaratna kriti compositions, without commenting on the fact that this was the first time in history that they had done so.

This according to “The social organization of music and musicians: Southern area” by T. Sankaran and Matthew Allen (The Garland encyclopedia of world music V, pp. 383–396); this encyclopedia is one of many resources included in RILM music encyclopedias, an ever-expanding full-text compilation of reference works.

Today would have been Subbulakshmi’s 100th birthday! Below, Bhaja Govindam, a song similar to those that Mahatma Gandhi requested from her.

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Filed under Asia, Women's studies, Performers

Soundscape of a coup d’état


The attempted Turkish coup d’état on 15 July 2016 brought some unfamiliar sounds to Istanbul–including low-flying F-16 jets and sonic booms–in addition to mosques broadcasting the sala, which serves to notify the community of an all-concerning event in an Islamic context; recordings and performances of Ottoman military music; and the sounds of chanting demonstrators.

Conversations, which incessantly continued in both public and private spheres, constituted another auditory aspect of the attempted coup and its aftermath.

This according to “Soundscape of a coup d’état” by Evrim Hikmet Öğüt (Sound matters 6 September 2016).

Today is the two-month anniversary of this historic event! Above, an F-16 jet flying low over Istanbul; below, the sala that night, with the sounds of bombs.

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Filed under Asia, Politics

A Latin American music reader

latin american music reader

In July 2016 the Society for Ethnomusicology issued A Latin American Music Reader: Views from the South, edited by Javier F. Léon and Helena Simonett and published in collaboration with University of Illinois Press. Along with extensive introductory material, the book includes 17 articles translated from Spanish and Portuguese into English, representing a cross-section of the innovative research of Latin American music scholars over the past 25 years.

The project was initiated by SEM’s Latin American and Caribbean Music Section and Board of Directors several years ago in support of the Society’s goal of expanding international communication in ethnomusicology. A detailed new introduction by León and Simonett surveys and contextualizes the history of Latin American ethnomusicology, opening the door for readers energized by the musical forms brought and nurtured by immigrants from throughout Latin America.

Below, Violeta Parra, the subject of one of the book’s essays.

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Filed under New editions, South America

Rumba and racial politics


The Afro-Cuban music and dance genre rumba has historically been considered una cosa de negros (a black thing) and reviled due to racialized stereotypes that link the practice with el bajo mundo (the low life), excessive alcohol use, and violence. Nevertheless, the socialist government has sought to elevate rumba’s status during the past half century as part of a larger goal of foregrounding and valorizing the African contributions to Cuban identity and culture.

Rumba is the most significant and popular black-identified tradition in Cuba; in addition to its association with blackness, it is often portrayed as a particularly potent symbol of the masses and working-class identity, another reason why the government has aimed to harness rumba to its cultural nationalist discourse.

Despite the discursive valorization of the practice found in much Cuban scholarship and political rhetoric, rumba continues to be identified with a particular and marginalized sector of the population. In many ways, the complex situation of rumba performance conforms to the more general trend of contemporary racial politics on the island.

This according to “National symbol or ‘a black thing’? Rumba and racial politics in Cuba in the era of cultural tourism” by Rebecca Bodenheimer (Black music research journal XXXIII/2 [fall 2013] pp. 177–205). This issue of Black music research journal, along with many others, is covered in our new RILM Abstracts of Music Literature with Full Text collection.

Above and below, street performances of rumba.

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Filed under Black studies, Central America, Dance, Politics, Popular music

Helicopters in music encyclopedias


The cross-volume search capacity of our new database RILM Music Encyclopedias offers some quirky surprises—for example, this resource currently includes nine different music-related articles with references to helicopters. These include entries on Madonna, Mickey Rooney, and the following excerpt from the article “Highland region of Papua New Guinea” in The Garland encyclopedia of world music:

“The texts [of girls’ coming-of age songs] address topics broadly sorted in four sets: daily routine, recalling netted bags (made by all women), sores (irritated by flies), and pleasure over good food (grown or gathered); unusual events, like sighting a helicopter, European missionaries’ arrival, and death in a hospital; desires, including the romantic, with meanings often hidden in metaphor, but also the adventuresome, like wanting to ride in a vehicle; and the coming-of-age performance itself speaking of dancing together, laughing together, and becoming adults.”

Above, an organization that searches for new species in Papua New Guinea by helicopter—perhaps the subject of the sighting; below, a performance by the Girl Guides Association of Papua New Guinea.

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Filed under Australia and Pacific islands, Curiosities, RILM

Humor in kūṭiyāṭṭam


While the Kerala dance-drama kūṭiyāṭṭam focuses on weighty episodes from the venerable Indian epics, its performance affords a number of occasions for humor outside of the stock buffoon character of the vidūśaka, who provides narration in Malayalam and jokes directly with the audience.

Some comic moments are produced in the classical Sanskrit texts by the characters of maids, doctors, and so on, but other verbal and physical comedy has been interpolated into the tradition by the performers representing monkeys, demons, madmen, drunks, sweepers, soldiers, and gardeners.

This according to “Comic relief by non-vidūśaka characters in kūṭiyāṭṭam” by L.S. Rajagopalan, an article included in Living traditions of Nāṭyaśāstra (Dilli: New Bharatiya Book Corporation, 2002) pp. 123–127).

Below, an uncostumed kūṭiyāṭṭam dancer demonstrates some monkey moves.

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Filed under Animals, Asia, Dance