Category Archives: Ethnomusicology

Early sources for African instruments

Le triumphe de la noblissement des Gentilhommes

Among the various musical instruments depicted in early documents (bells and double bells, drums, scrapers, horns, flutes, xylophones, and bow-lute), the double bell is of particular interest because of its relatively good pictorial documentation.

In 1687 a double bell from the Congo-Angola area called longa was first mentioned in print. Even today the Ovimbundu people call the double bell alunga (sing. elunga), and give it an important role in the enthronement of the king.

Early pictorial sources and later reports indicate four types of double bell—those with stem grip, bow grip, frame grip, and lateral bar grip—and of these the stem grip double bell, found in the Congo-Angola areas as well as Rhodesia, represents the older type of double bell and probably has its origin in Benin-Yoruba. It appears that the Portuguese, who got to know the double bell as an important court instrument in the Guinea area, brought this instrument, together with other court appurtenances, to Luanda, their new base of operations after the breakdown of the Congo kingdom.

This according to “Early historical illustrations of West and Central African music” by Walter Hirschberg (African music IV/3 [1969] pp. 6–18).

Above, Le triumphe de la noblissement des Gentilhommes, published by Pieter de Marees in 1605. Below, Nigerian double bells and other instruments.

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Filed under Africa, Iconography, Instruments

Bismillah Khan and Varanasi

Bismillah-khan

The renowned Hindustani śahnāī player Bismillah Khan lived in Varanasi for all of his adult life, and never wanted to leave the city even for a day—for example, complicated negotiations were required to persuade him to travel to Eluru to receive a prestigious award.

An American patron once invited him to come and live in California, but he replied that he could not bring himself to leave his beloved house. When the patron offered to build him an identical house and create a similar neighborhood, Khan asked him whether he could also bring the Ganges River!

This according to “The legend that was Bismillah Khan” by Pappu Venugopala Rao (Sruti 264 [September 2006] pp. 20–21).

Today would have been Bismillah Khan’s 100th birthday! Below, a live performance; can anyone help us to date it?

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Kabuki animals

kabuki

In the eiri-kyōgenbon (illustrated editions of kabuki plot synopses) of the Genroku reign (1688–1704), evidence is found for the representation of exotic animals on the kabuki stage: tigers and elephants, regarded as Chinese animals, in plays of the Edo tradition, as fierce opponents of the protagonist; and peacocks in the Kamigata (Kyōto-Ōsaka) style, in kaichō scenes (the unveiling of a Buddhist image).

It is not clear whether stuffed prop animals were always used or if actors portrayed the animals; it seems certain that real animals were not used.

This according to “元禄歌舞伎に登場する動物” (Animals in Genroku kabuki) by 鎌倉 恵子 (Kamakura Keiko), an article included in Kabuki: Changes and prospects—International Symposium on the Conservation and Restoration of Cultural Property (Tōkyō: Tōkyō Kokuritsu Bunkazai Kenkyūjo/National Research Institute for Cultural Properties, Tokyo, 1998, pp. 135–47).

Above, Bandō Mitsugorō I as a samurai subduing a tiger; below, a modern-day kabuki dragon.

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Translingual discourse in ethnomusicology

TDE

 

Translingual discourse in ethnomusicology is a new peer-reviewed scholarly e-journal aiming at encouraging discourse across language barriers by publishing English translations of ethnomusicological papers that have originally appeared in other languages and therefore probably not received their due recognition.

Papers are selected from proposals made by our Editorial Board and undergo a double-open peer-review process. The English translations are usually accompanied by the original version and are freely available (open access) in both HTML and PDF format.

This journal is jointly published by the musicology department at Universität Wien and the ethnomusicology department at Universität für Musik und darstellende Kunst Graz, and is sponsored by the Fonds zur Förderung der wissenschaftlichen Forschung.

Below, the Dubrovnik-area linđo, the subject of one of the articles in the inaugural issue.

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Gender wayang music of Bapak I Wayan Loceng

Loceng

Gender wayang music of Bapak I Wayan Loceng from Sukawati, Bali: A musical biography, musical ethnography, and critical edition by Brita Renée Heimarck (Middleton: A-R Editions, 2015) is at once a memorial to I Wayan Loceng (1926–2006) and a tribute to his great musical genius.

This new critical edition documents nine compositions from the esteemed Balinese gender wayang repertoire. The music derives from the musical mastery of Loceng, arguably the most renowned gender wayang expert in Bali, who lived in the village of Sukawati.

This edition places the music within a historical, cultural, and biographical context and introduces a broad theoretical framework that contains a new definition for the discipline of ethnomusicology, and substantial discussion of the genres of musical biography, musical ethnography, and ethnomusicology of the individual.

The book also introduces pertinent scholarly perspectives, offers biographical information pertaining to Loceng, delineates the cultural concepts and contexts for performance and background of the shadow play tradition in Bali, and clarifies key aspects of the music itself.

Above and below, I Wayan Loceng in action.

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William Kimber and the morris revival

kimber

Happy Boxing Day! On this day in 1899 Cecil Sharp witnessed a performance by the Headington Quarry Morris Dancers at the home of his mother-in-law. Intrigued by the tunes, he invited William Kimber, the group’s concertina player, to return the next day so that Sharp could notate them.

Sharp did not begin his folk song collecting until four years later, and in 1905 Mary Neal, an organizer at the Espérance Club for girls, asked Sharp if there were any dances to go with the tunes he had collected. Sharp referred her to Kimber, who traveled to the club to teach the dances, thus beginning the revival of traditional dance in England.

This according to “Absolutely classic” by Derek Schofield (English dance and song LXI/2 [summer 1999] pp. 8–9). Above, the Headington Quarry Morris Dancers in 1916, With Kimber and his concertina front and center. Below, Kimber plays Getting upstairs in 1946.

BONUS: The Headington Quarry team in 2008.

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Wampanoag music and dance

mashpee wampanoag powwow

On this U.S. Thanksgiving Day, let’s pay our respects to the Wampanoag people, who helped the refugees at Plymouth Colony through their first winter, taught them to fish and grow corn, and attended their celebration of thanksgiving after their first successful harvest.

Wampanoag music is wrapped up in dance. The beat of a hardwood stick, water drum, and corn rattles is the music of their lively social dances, while appreciation and gratitude are expressed in their ceremonial dances.

“It is part of our nature is to be in thanksgiving” said Ramona Peters, a Wampanoag woman. “It’s sort of our philosophy, so it gets threaded through both the social and ceremonial dances.”

This according to Music on Martha’s Vineyard: A history of harmony by Tom Dresser and Jerry Muskin (Charleston: History Press, 2014).  Above and below, the 2015 Mashpee Wampanoag Powwow.

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Sound of the Faroes

faroe islands

The Faroese people sing a lot. The fact that young people from the Faroe Islands are extremely successful in the multitude of popular singing contests on television is not accidental.

The Faroese have always been diligent singers, especially regarding the various genres of traditional singing, which for centuries have formed an important part of Faroese culture. With the increasingly globalized everyday life of the past 50 years or so, music from all over the world has permeated everywhere, including the Faroe Islands; nevertheless, traditional Faroese singing and dancing are still alive and well in the 21st century.

Following in the wake of four separate volumes of Faroese traditional music, a new edition, Føroya ljóð í kvæðum, vísum, sálmum og skjaldrum/Sound of the Faroes: Traditional songs and hymns (Hoyvik: Stiðin, 2014) is a  single volume covering all of the topics. Part I is on Faroese dance with melodies for both kvæði and Danish ballads, part II is on spiritual singing and Kingo singing, and part III is on skjaldur. Each part describes the genres in question and offers a comprehensive selection of melody examples with an accompanying CD.

Below, the celebrated Faroese chain dance after the total solar eclipse on 20 March 2015.

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Či Bulag and the morin huur

Či Bulag

Či Bulag (b.1944) has had a significant influence on the development of the Mongolian morin huur in the post-Mao era.

Bulag adapted the morin huur and its repertoire to the concert stage in the 1970s and 1980s to widespread acclaim. An analysis of his well-known and frequently played composition Wan ma benteng (Ten thousand galloping horses) and his efforts to adapt the morin huur to the concert stage shows how he reworked stereotypes of Mongols as simplistic nomads to represent them as both powerful descendants of Genghis Khan and participants in the modern world.

While many Mongols appreciate Wan ma benteng for its evocation of a Mongol spirit, Bulag’s morin huur model has received harsh criticism from the musical community in independent Mongolia as being too Chinese.

Mongol musicians in China have increasingly used the morin huur to balance their longing for a Western-style modernity, a project undertaken by Bulag, with recent desires to seek out a pan-Mongol (and non-Chinese) past through exchanges with the nation of Mongolia. Still, Mongol musicians continue to orient themselves around the work of Či Bulag as they debate the appropriate direction for the morin huur and Mongol music in the 21st century.

This according to “Driving change, sparking debate: Chi Bulag and the morin huur in Inner Mongolia, China” by Charlotte D’Evelyn (Yearbook for traditional music XLVI [2014] pp. 89–113).

Below, Wan ma benteng in a performance by Bulag and ten thousand galloping students.

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An early ethnomusicology symposium

group photo 1

At a unique ethnomusicology symposium hosted by the University of Washington in 1963, presenters described their views of the discipline with particular attention to fieldwork. It was a heady moment in the discipline, one where there was a sense of a distinctive emerging disciplinary identity only a few years after the first conference of the Society for Ethnomusicology.

The event included debates about disciplinary identity, particularly the methodological division between those trained in music or anthropology.

In spite of traces of continuing interest in questions of universals, the terms of and reasons for their different positionings were presented as quite rigid and stark categorizations, binaries in most cases—simple/complex, fixed/improvised, tribal/urban, literate/non-literate, sonic structures/culture, musicologists/anthropologists, insiders/outsiders.

To our eyes over half a century later, various conflations of these binaries amount to highly problematic over-arching and totalizing constructs that are racist at worst and rigid at best. The entwined and porous processes of cultural production and reception that we more often focus on today would probably have been unthinkable for some of the 1963 participants.

This according to “Patriarchs at work: Reflections on an ethnomusicological symposium in 1963” by Beverley Diamond (Sound matters 27 July 2015).

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