Category Archives: Ethnomusicology

Ancient metaphors of love

Toward the middle of the 13th century B.C.E., shortly after a granddaughter of the great Hittite king married the Ugaritic ruler, a matrimonial scandal shook the kingdom. The first lady of the city-state of Ugarit was accused of disporting herself with the nobles, of “ceaseless enjoyment” with them: the Akkadian word ṣiāḫum (to laugh joyfully, to flirt) was the discreet description of conjugal infidelity.

“To laugh” had been the euphemism for sexual intercourse and physical love for at least 700 years, as is attested in Paleo-Babylonian love songs. Already in Sumerian songs of the beginning of the second millennium B.C.E., the verbs “to delight” and “to utter joyful cries” were used to describe amorous play.

The language of love in Aššurian songs is one of metaphors and discreet allusions; carnal love is mentioned only indirectly, through stock literary devices stemming from a long tradition. Amorous metaphors include “the scent of cedar is your love”, “she seeks the garden of your opulent love”, and “today my heart is full of play and music”.

This according to “La musique des amoureux” by Brigitte Groneberg (Dossiers d’archéologie 310 [février 2006] pp. 50–54).

Above, a Paleo-Babylonian plaque; below, Peter Pringle performs his recreation of an ancient Egyptian song that uses similar metaphors.

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Filed under Antiquity, Asia

Palghat Raghu finds a teacher

In a 1995 interview, Palghat R. Raghu recalled how he became a disciple of the legendary Palghat T.S. Mani Iyer.

“I was born in Rangoon. My grandfather was a self-made musician and in the locality he was known as Rangoon Radhakrishna Iyer. I was fond of drumming on biscuit tins for rhythm. [A relative] who came to our house presented me with a small mṛdaṅgam. It was a slow progress.”

“[A friend] suggested that I should have the guidance of Palghat Mani Iyer. So we shifted to Palghat. But Mani Iyer did not accept me as a disciple at our first meeting. My grandfather told him beseechingly, ‘We want to entrust Raghu in your hands. The boy is eager to learn from you.’ There was no encouraging response from Mani Iyer.”

“Two or three days we visited his house expecting a favorable reply; but no word of acceptance from Mani Iyer. It was here I found the hand of God coming to my rescue. One day when we were waiting in Mani Iyer’s residence, a close friend of his came there with a vessel of halwa and gave a piece to me and told Mani Iyer ‘Mani, this boy plays exceedingly well. I have heard him.’ That settled it. Mani Iyer asked me to come every day for lessons.”

Quoted in “Challenges brought out his best” by S.V. Krishnamurthy, an article included in The Hindu speaks on music (Chennai: Kasturi & Sons, 1999, pp. 245–47).

Today would have been Palghat Raghu’s 90th birthday! Above and below, the master in his element.

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Filed under Asia, Performers

Tweede Nuwe Jaar in Cape Town

Each January, Cape Town’s sixty-plus minstrel troupes take over the city center with a sweeping wave of sound and color in the annual carnival known as Tweede Nuwe Jaar (the Second of New Year). The celebration’s origins are often linked with the December 1st emancipation processions of the mid-to-late 1800s that celebrated the abolition of slavery in 1834, and also with the annual slave holiday, the one day a year slaves could take off work.

The parading troupes, called Kaapse Klopse (Clubs of the Cape), use their bodies to collectively lay claim to Cape Town and access urban space through sonic and embodied performances, re-appropriating city space in relation to the black community’s colonial and apartheid experiences of dispossession, forced removals, and social dislocation.

Despite the increased formal recognition that the event has received in recent years as an important heritage practice, participants’ embodied claims continue to be undermined, contested, and policed. Through their affective experiences, participants memorialize places of significance and occupy the city; far from a form of escapist revelry, these sonic and embodied acts are practiced and disciplined choreographic moves that pose a challenge to Cape Town’s contemporary spatial order.

This according to “Choreographing Cape Town through goema music and dance” by Francesca Inglese (African music IX/4 [2014] pp. 123–45). Below, Kaapse Klopse in 2013.

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Filed under Africa, Black studies, Dance, Popular music

An Afro-Andean Christmas ritual

Every year from Christmas to Epiphany, the communities descended from the African slaves who mined gold for the Spaniards celebrate the Adoraciones al Niño-Diós in the Andean valleys of Cauca in southwestern Colombia.

The celebrants sing and dance until dawn in front of a creche set up in one of the village houses. A group of six musicians, unusual because it includes violins, accompanies the women who are the singers and the leaders of the ritual.

The tradition is documented on the CD Colombie: Adoration à l’enfant-Dieu (Département du Cauca) (VDE-Gallo 1349 [2011]). Below, a brief documentary on Auroras al Amanecer, the group featured in the recordings.

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Filed under Black studies, South America

Paco de Lucía’s roots

Flamenco purists may carp at Paco de Lucía’s incorporation of classical, Afro-Cuban, and jazz elements into his music, but no one can deny his prodigious knowledge of flamenco’s traditions or his ability to perform it like no other guitarist before him.

He insisted that all of his musical explorations and innovations are based on a solid commitment to flamenco tradition. “Everything I have heard has influenced me as a musician. But I have been careful about putting it in the music—my flamenco is not a fusion. I have always been careful that it doesn’t lose the essence and the roots and the traditions of flamenco. I have incorporated other styles, but they have not altered the philosophy of my music.”

This according to “Flamenco buena: Paco de Lucia’s guitar sings” by Felix Contreras (JazzTimes XXXIV/6 [July–August 2004] p. 44).

Today would have been Paco de Lucía’s 70th birthday! Below, performing in Carlos Saura’s Flamenco, flamenco (2010).

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Filed under Europe, Performers

American popular music

In 2017 the University of Oklahoma Press launched the series American popular music to explore the evolution of folk, blues, gospel, country, rock, jazz, and soul by looking at the ways music relates to the land and people. The primary focus is on music identified with Oklahoma, Texas, and surrounding regions, following regional influences to the farthest extent of their reach.

Of particular interest are individual artists and how they express their ties to land and people uniquely and collectively. This series therefore considers the role that music plays in the lives of artists and the communities that identify with them, and demonstrates how the business of music has shaped their careers and legacies.

The inaugural volume, Sing me back home: Southern roots and country music by Bill C. Malone, presents the story of the author’s working-class upbringing in rural East Texas, recounting how in 1939 his family’s first radio, a battery-powered Philco, introduced him to hillbilly music and how, years later, he went on to become a scholar on the subject before the field formally existed. The book draws on a hundred years of southern roots music history, exploring the intricate relationships between black and white music styles, gospel and secular traditions, and pop, folk, and country music.

Below, Joe Thompson, one of the musicians discussed in the book.

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Filed under New series, North America, Popular music

Hindustani music on the cello

After a chance encounter with a colleague who had studied Indian music, Nancy Lesh decided to spend a summer holiday in India. Having been trained in Western classical music for 12 years, she had assumed that Indian music was “less refined”—but she fell deeply for Hindustani music, and began training in dhrupad, transferring the vocal style to her cello.

Eventually she began to study with the renowned Zia Mohiuddin Dagar, modeling her playing on the rudra vīṇā, the only instrument on which dhrupad is played. “Sixteen years later,” she says, I realize that this music is just beginning to mature within me.”

This according to “Hindustani music on cello” by S. Sankaranarayanan (Sruti 179 [August 1999] pp. 39–41). Below, a performance from 2013.

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Filed under Asia, Curiosities, Instruments

Ottoman marches in Bosnia

Initially the Ottoman Empire lacked the important ceremonial symbol of a Western-style national anthem, and each sultan from Mahmud II onwards commissioned a march for that purpose. Accordingly, the imperial march of Abdülhamid II was Hamidiye marşı (or Ey velinimet-i âlem, the first words of the text). Before the annexation of Bosnia Hamidiye marşı was of marked political importance there, and the march’s symbolic value made it an integral part of the musical program of various Bosnian Muslim entertainments.

Another frequently performed Ottoman march was Cezayir marşı (Turkish Cezayir “Algiers, Algeria”, or Dezair, as it was known in Bosnia). This march is often attributed to Giuseppe Donizetti  (Gaetano’s brother, above); the reference to Algeria is probably due to the French invasion of that Ottoman province in 1830.

This according to “Ottoman music in Habsburg Bosnia-Herzegovina (1878–1918)” by Risto Pekka Pennanen, an essay included in 6. međunarodni simpozij “Muzika u Društvu”: Zbornik radova/6th international symposium “Music in Society”: Collection of papers (Sarajevo: Muzikološko Društvo BiH, 2009, pp. 81–91).

Below, the two marches in question.

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Filed under Europe, Popular music

Ben Stonehill, zamler

 

Born in 1906 in Poland, Ben Stonehill (Steinberg) immigrated with his large family to Rochester, New York, while still a young child; in 1929 he moved to New York City, where he eventually became proprietor of a small floor-servicing business.

A fluent Yiddish speaker who cherished his cultural heritage, Stonehill was also a devoted zamler, a collector of folklore. In 1948 he learned of a major gathering point for new refugees: the Hotel Marseilles in upper Manhattan.

Lacking recording equipment but determined to pursue his mission, Stonehill took a sales job at a local wire-recorder dealership and emerged from the showroom with a salesman’s demonstration model. Nearly every weekend that summer he hauled this machine by subway from his home in Queens to the Hotel Marseilles to record songs and stories from the hundreds of survivors he encountered in the hotel lobby.

Stonehill documented an unparalleled cross-section of music then current among Jewish displaced persons (DPs), from traditional Hasidic nigunim to prewar folk and popular songs in Polish, Yiddish, and Russian; from Soviet propagandist ballads to Zionist pioneer anthems; from songs recalled from ghettos and camps to lyrics relating the experiences of recent DPs. His inventory eventually listed 1054 separate titles.

In 1964 Stonehill realized a long-held dream by delivering a lecture on folksong at the YIVO Institute for Jewish Research in New York. The following year, terminally ill, he abandoned his book-in-progress and bequeathed his recordings (by then copied to magnetic tape) to YIVO, the Library of Congress, and other collecting institutions. The United States Holocaust Memorial Museum acquired a set from the Library of Congress in 2005.

This according to Ben Stonehill (2008), part of the Holocaust Museum’s series Music of the Holocaust.

Above, Stonehill around the time he began his recording project. One of his recordings can be heard here; a Library of Congress presentation about his life and work is here.

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Filed under Ethnomusicology, North America

Ilmari Krohn and Finnish ethnomusicology

Ilmari Krohn was the founder of the Finnish school of ethnomusicology, and he was one of the first to develop lexicographical methods for the classification and study of traditional music.

Krohn derived support and inspiration from the Suomalaisen Kirjallisuuden Seura, which pioneered the collection of Finnish folklore and the publication of Kalevala, the Finnish national epic. He was also influenced by the historic-geographic method in folklore, originated by his father Julius and his older brother Kaarle.

The main focus of Krohn’s approach was on the collection, classification, and publication of traditional songs, not ethnography or the musicians themselves. The principles Krohn laid were later adopted by Bartók and Kodály, and then spread to a number of European countries.

This according to “History, geography, and diffusion: Ilmari Krohn’s early influence on the study of European folk music” by Erkki Pekkilä (Ethnomusicology L/2 [spring–summer 2006] pp. 353–59).

Today is Krohn’s 150th birthday! Below, a 1977 recording of his Rukous (Prayer).

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Filed under Ethnomusicology, Europe