Category Archives: Ethnomusicology

Toyi-toyi’s African journey

The toyi-toyi is a high-kneed, foot-stomping dance, rhythmically punctuated by chants and call and response. It can be observed at almost any kind of protest in South Africa and Zimbabwe today.

Many people associate it with the South African township protests of the 1980s, when young men toyi-toyied as they confronted police or attended political funerals and protests. But its origins are in fact much further away, and they tell us about a much longer, global history of political and military struggle. This story played out across Africa, moving from north to south, all the way from Algeria to South Africa, with stops in Tanzania, Zambia, Angola, and Zimbabwe along the way.

This according to “The incredible journey of the toyi-toyi, southern Africa’s protest dance” by Jocelyn Alexander and JoAnn McGregor (The conversation 2 February 2021; RILM Abstracts of Music Literature no. 2021-485).

Below, a performance from 2015, with some historical footage.

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Filed under Africa, Black studies, Dance, Politics

Soundscape: Schafer’s heritage and an annotated bibliography

Raymond Murray Schafer (1933–2021), the Canadian composer, author, educator, and ecologist who coined the term soundscape, died on 14 August at 88. Through the years Schafer’s concept of soundscape has inspired scholars in not only musicology and ethnomusicology, but also history, anthropology, and more.

In 1969, with the aim of “finding solutions for an ecologically balanced soundscape that harmonizes the relationship between human society and its sound environment,” Schafer founded the world soundscape project at the Simon Fraser University. Based on this project, his book, The tuning of the world, was published in 1977 (reprinted in 1993 and retitled as The soundscape: Our sonic environment and the tuning of the world). Schafer’s visualization of the sound environment led to the concept of soundscape, which refers not only to the sounds in people’s environments, but also to the interactions between people, their hearing, their sound environment, and their social environment.

The concept of soundscape inspired new approaches for musicological research. Since Schafer first suggested this term, generations of scholars not only focused on sound itself, but also interpreted various cultural phenomena from the perspective of sound: echo, noise, silence… these terms are seemingly abstract, yet each contains deep meaning and controversy. Since the 1970s, the sound environment we live in has been changing rapidly. Considering the harmony and balance that the concept of soundscape has emphasized from the very beginning, what will be the relationship between human communities and ecology in the future? Please join RILM in following recent publications on sound studies.

(Introduced and compiled by Liu Xintong)

Schafer, R. Murray. The soundscape: Our sonic environment and the tuning of the world (Rochester: Destiny, 1993). [RILM Abstracts of Music Literature no. 1993-3992]

Abstract: Studies the evolution of soundscapes in connection with culture, urban development, and technology. The soundscape—a term coined by the author—is our sonic environment, the ever-present array of noises with which we all live. Beginning with the primordial sounds of nature, we have experienced an ever-increasing complexity of our sonic surroundings. As civilization develops, new noises rise up around us: from the creaking wheel, the clang of the blacksmith’s hammer, and the distant chugging of steam trains to the “sound imperialism” of airports, city streets, and factories. The author contends that we now suffer from an overabundance of acoustic information and a proportionate diminishing of our ability to hear the nuances and subtleties of sound. Our task, he maintains, is to listen, analyze, and make distinctions. As a society we have become more aware of the toxic wastes that can enter our bodies through the air we breathe and the water we drink. In fact, the pollution of our sonic environment is no less real. Schafer emphasizes the importance of discerning the sounds that enrich and feed us and using them to create healthier environments. To this end, he explains how to classify sounds, appreciating their beauty or ugliness, and provides exercises and “soundwalks” to help us become more discriminating and sensitive to the sounds around us. This book is a pioneering exploration of our acoustic environment, past and present, and an attempt to imagine what it might become in the future. 

The study of soundscape has developed considerably since Schafer first used the term. However, Schafer’s own work and his world soundscape project have received much criticism, primarily because of his way of treating sound as an objectified presence, ignoring its experiential nature, and his project’s failure to include the sound cultures of Canada’s First Nation peoples. However, Schafer’s concept of soundscape opened up new horizons in sound studies, and subsequent scholars have continued to build on his foundation to expand the theoretical framework of soundscape. Below are some examples of cutting-edge research on soundscape.

Abe, Marié. Resonances of chindon-ya: Sounding space and sociality in contemporary Japan. Music/culture (Middletown: Wesleyan University Press, 2018). [RILM Abstracts of Music Literature no. 2018-3821] 

Abstract: Investigates the intersection of sound, public space, and sociality in contemporary Japan. Chindon-ya, dating back to the 1840s, are ostentatiously costumed street musicians who publicize a business by parading through neighborhood streets. Historically not considered music, but part of the everyday soundscape, this vernacular performing art provides a window into shifting notions of musical labor, the politics of everyday listening and sounding, and street music at social protest in Japan. Against the background of long-term economic downturn, growing social precarity, and the visually and sonically saturated urban streets of Japan, this book examines how this seemingly outdated means of advertisement has recently gained traction as an aesthetic, economic, and political practice after decades of inactivity. It challenges Western conceptions of listening that have normalized the way we think about the relationship between sound, space, and listening subjects, and advances a growing body of interdisciplinary scholarship that examines the ways social fragmentation is experienced and negotiated in post-industrial societies.

Ochoa Gautier, Ana María. Aurality: Listening and knowledge in nineteenth-century Colombia. Sign, storage, transmission (Durham: Duke University Press, 2014). [RILM Abstracts of Music Literature no. 2014-65359]

Abstract: Explores how listening has been central to the production of notions of language, music, voice, and sound that determine the politics of life. Drawing primarily from 19th-century Colombian sources, the author locates sounds produced by different living entities at the juncture of the human and nonhuman. An “acoustically tuned” analysis of a wide array of texts reveals multiple debates on the nature of the aural. These discussions were central to a politics of the voice harnessed in the service of the production of different notions of personhood and belonging. Thus, Latin America and the Caribbean emerge as a historical site where the politics of life and the politics of expression inextricably entangle the musical and the linguistic, knowledge and the sensorial.

Daughtry, J. Martin. Listening to war: Sound, music, trauma and survival in wartime Iraq (New York: Oxford University Press, 2015). [RILM Abstracts of Music Literature no. 2015-10080]

Abstract: A groundbreaking study of the centrality of listening to the experience of modern warfare. Based on years of ethnographic interviews with U.S. military service members and Iraqi civilians, as well as on direct observations of wartime Iraq, the author reveals how these populations learned to extract valuable information from the ambient soundscape while struggling with the deleterious effects that it produced in their ears, throughout their bodies, and in their psyches. He examines the dual-edged nature of sound—its potency as a source of information and a source of trauma—within a sophisticated conceptual frame that highlights the affective power of sound and the vulnerability and agency of individual auditors. By theorizing violence through the prism of sound and sound through the prism of violence, the author provides a new vantage point for examining these strangely conjoined phenomena. Two chapters dedicated to wartime music in Iraqi and U.S. military contexts show how music was both an important instrument of the military campaign and the victim of a multitude of violent acts throughout the war.

Dillon, Emma. The sense of sound: Musical meaning in France (1260–1330). New cultural history of music (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2012). [RILM Abstracts of Music Literature no. 2012-25429]

Abstract: Among the most memorable innovations of music and poetry in 13th-century France was a genre that seemed to privilege sound over sense. The polytextual motet is especially well-known to scholars of the Middle Ages for its tendency to conceal complex allegorical meaning in a texture that, in performance, made words less, rather than more, audible. What did it mean to create a musical effect so potentially independent from the meaning of words? Is it possible such supermusical effects themselves had significance? A radical recontextualization of French song in the heyday of the motet ca. 1260–1330 makes the case for listening to musical sound against a range of other potently meaningful sonorities, often premised on non-verbal meaning. In identifying new audible interlocutors to music, our ears are opened to a broad spectrum of sounds often left out of historical inquiry, from the hubbub of the medieval city; to the eloquent babble of madmen; to the violent clamor of charivari; to the charismatic chatter of prayer. Drawing on a rich array of artistic evidence (music, manuscripts, poetry, and images) and contemporary cultural theory locates musical production in this period within a larger cultural environment concerned with representing sound and its emotional, ethical, and social effects. 

Manabe, Noriko. The revolution will not be televised: Protest music after Fukushima (New York: Oxford University Press, 2015). [RILM Abstracts of Music Literature no. 2015-13996] 

Abstract: Nuclear power has been a contentious issue in Japan since the 1950s, and in the aftermath of the Fukushima nuclear power plant disaster, the conflict has only grown. Government agencies and the nuclear industry continue to push a nuclear agenda, while the mainstream media adheres to the official line that nuclear power is Japan’s future. Public debate about nuclear energy is strongly discouraged. Nevertheless, antinuclear activism has swelled into one of the most popular and passionate movements in Japan, leading to a powerful wave of protest musicMusic has played a central role in expressing antinuclear sentiments and mobilizing political resistance in Japan. A combination of musical analysis with ethnographic participation offers an innovative typology of the spaces central to the performance of protest music—cyberspace, demonstrations, festivals, and recordings. These four spaces encourage different modes of participation and methods of political messaging. The openness, mobile accessibility, and potential anonymity of cyberspace have allowed musicians to directly challenge the ethos of silence that permeated Japanese culture post-Fukushima. Moving from cyberspace to real space, the author shows how the performance and reception of music played at public demonstrations are shaped by the urban geographies of Japanese cities. While short on open public space, urban centers in Japan offer protesters a wide range of governmental and commercial spaces in which to demonstrate, with activist musicians tailoring their performances to the particular landscapes and soundscapes of each. Music festivals are a space apart from everyday life, encouraging musicians and audience members to freely engage in political expression through informative and immersive performances. Conversely, Japanese record companies and producers discourage major-label musicians from expressing political views in recordings, forcing antinuclear musicians to express dissent indirectly: through allegories, metaphors, and metonyms.

Schwarz, Arman. Puccini’s soundscapes: Realism and modernity in Italian opera. Centro Studi Giacomo Puccini: Premio rotary Giacomo Puccini ricerca 2 (Firenze: Leo S. Olschki, 2018). [RILM Abstracts of Music Literature no. 2018-58613]

Abstract: From the bells in Tosca and the birdcalls in Madama Butterfly to the horns and sirens in Il tabarro and the music box melodies that inspired Turandot, Puccini’s operas rely to an unprecedented degree on realistic and seemingly unmediated acoustic objects. Focusing on the pervasive if little-discussed aspect of the composer’s art, presented are two categories of sound and realism to rethink the shape of Puccini’s career, and to offer new interpretations of many of his major works, as well as those of his contemporaries. It asks how Italian composers responded to some of the fundamental transformations of auditory culture during the fin-de-siècle, and resituates their works within the discourses (aesthetic, political, and technological) of Italian modernity.

Rasmussen, Anne K. Women, the recited Qur’an, and Islamic music in Indonesia (Berkeley: University of California Press, 2010). [RILM Abstracts of Music Literature no. 2010-6148]

Abstract: Going to the heart of religious musical praxis in Indonesia, home to the largest Muslim population in the world, this book explores a rich public soundscape, where women recite the divine texts of the Qur’ān, and where an extraordinary diversity of Arab-influenced Islamic musical styles and genres, also performed by women, flourishes. Based on unique and revealing ethnographic research beginning at the end of Suharto’s New Order and continuing into the era of Reformation, the book considers the powerful role of music in the expression of religious nationalism. In particular, it focuses on musical style, women’s roles, and the ideological and aesthetic issues raised by the Indonesian style of recitation.

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Filed under Ethnomusicology, Musicology

The Philippine drug war, a hip-hop response, and an annotated bibliography on music and protest

Cover art for the 2019 album Kolateral (Collateral)

Since taking office in May 2016, Philippine president Rodrigo Duterte has actively pursued his “war on drugs”. Although the war is framed as benefitting the common good, its objectives extend Duterte’s authoritarian rule over the country. The war on illegal drugs and drug traffickers has been a major issue in the Philippines in recent years, and  Duterte’s supporters argue that it has made the Philippines safer by rooting out criminal behavior. Others attest that the name itself is a misnomer, instead calling it a war on the poor since it has largely been the urban poor who have been the targets of extrajudicial killings carried out by the police.

Philippine National Police (PNP) statistics put the total number of people killed in the war on drugs at around 8,000 since July 2016. Others suggest that the actual number is closer to 30,000 killed, and the killings have intensified during the COVID-19 pandemic due to unnecessary arrests made under lockdown. Public figures who have openly criticized Duterte and the drug war have been punished and silenced. For instance, it is suspected that a court convicted Maria Ressa, head of the Philippine news website Rappler and 2021 Nobel prize laureate, in June 2020 on politically motivated charges of cyber libel due to Rappler’s consistent coverage of the drug war. It is also strongly suspected that the forced closure of ABS-CBN, the Philippines’ largest television network, in 2020, was due to their coverage of the drug war.

Duterte holding a sniper rifle (Noel Celis/AFP Photo)

Besides these well-publicized cases, the effects of the drug war have been primarily felt by low-income families who, in many cases, have become poorer due to the loss of a father or brother. In addition to experiencing the psychological distress of losing a loved one, families have had to leave their homes and take children out of school. Further stress has been placed on the remaining parent and on family members who, in many cases, have had to take on additional jobs to support the family. The aftershocks of the killings resonate for years to come.

Musicians and artists have been at the forefront of resistance to Duterte’s drug war. Two Manila rappers, BLKD, whose stylized name derives from the Tagalog word balakid (obstacle, barrier), and Calix have become quite popular in the underground Philippine hip-hop scene through Manila’s FlipTop Battle League, a showcase for some of the country’s best local hip-hop talent. BLKD and Calix have performed at several benefit concerts and have worked together as the group Kolateral to release the concept album, Kolateral (Collateral) in 2019 and an EP, Kolateral: Buelo (Collateral: Buzz) in 2018, which explore the machinery and bureaucracy behind Duterte’s war on drugs. Themes for their music draw directly from government memoranda, executive orders, and “mission orders” to expose the government organizations who have carried out Duterte’s decrees. 

Cover art for the album Kolateral: Buelo (Collateral: Buzz)

“Makinarya” (Machinery) begins with a sound clip from a Duterte speech encouraging police to kill suspected drug dealers openly in the streets. The song’s initial beat is inspired by the sound of police knocking on doors as they search neighborhoods for suspected drug users. The lyrics to “Makinarya” explore how Duterte’s words are weaponized, literally transforming into bullets. The lyrics insist that although Duterte may not be the one personally pulling the trigger, he is responsible for the thousands killed. The song also explores the perspective of government employees who translate the Duterte regime’s ideas about the drug war into actual state policy. They describe how these orders travel through the government bureaucracy, culminating in orders given to police, local government officials, and barangay (neighborhood) leaders to eliminate suspected drug users and sellers.

Listen to the song “Makinarya” (Machinery) here.

Listen to the album Kolateral here.

BLKD at a 2016 FlipTop Battle League event:

– Russ Skelchy, Associate Editor, RILM

______________________________

Searching through the literature related to music and protest in RILM Abstracts of Music Literature, we find articles, books, and edited volumes focusing on protest songs across the globe, including some on the Philippines and hip-hop respectively. The following annotated bibliography highlights a few of these works.

Rank-and-file supporters of the Bangsamoro rebellion (the fight for a breakaway state in the Philippines, 1972–77, among indigenous Muslims) articulated their personal sentiments about the war in a genre called rebel songs. The lyrics reveal that fighters’ personal aspirations often diverged from the official aims of separatist leaders. An analysis examines how rebel songs transitioned into Moro songs (a song repertoire of the Moro people) in the post–martial-law era, and why they came to more narrowly reflect the movement’s official goals of Moro unity and Islamic renewal. 

  • La Rosa, Alma de and Anna Leah de Leon. “Protest music: Before, during and after EDSA”, 1789-1989: Musique, histoire, démocratie, ed. by Antoine Hennion. Recherche, musique et danse 6–8 (Paris: Maison des Sciences de l’Homme, 1992) 803–806. [RILM Abstracts of Music Literature, 1992-7501] 

Examines songs before, during, and after the successful revolt against Ferdinand Marcos (1986); the revolutionary songs were not Philippine in origin but came from the U.S. 

  • Maxino-Baseleres, Rosario and Zeny Sarabia-Panol. “Bayan ko and other songs: The soundtrack of Philippine political activism”, Music as a platform for political communication, ed. by Uche Onyebadi. Advances in media, entertainment, and the arts (Hershey: Information Science Reference, 2017) 1–30. [RILM Abstracts of Music Literature, 2017-53133]

Using historical and content analysis, this essay examines the role of music in the political awakening of Filipinos through the years. The researchers are mainly interested in popular music, and anchor the study on concepts of popular culture and the process of meaning-making. This study therefore recognizes the intersection of music as a universal element of popular culture and politics. It argues that politicized music in the Philippines is a contested site where meanings are negotiated and where the music of colonizers or a despotic ruler collides with songs of protest or resistance. While samples of the songs that defined various historical periods are analyzed, focus is on the anthems of the student protest movement of the 1960s, 70s, 80s, and 90s that led to the People Power Revolution. Attention is given to the message and why the lyrics resonated and galvanized Filipinos to action.

  • Bodden, Michael. “Rap in Indonesian youth music of the 1990s: Globalization, outlaw genres, and social protest”, Asian music: Journal of the Society for Asian Music 36/2 (summer–fall 2005) 1–26. [RILM Abstracts of Music Literature, 2005-7366]

In 1995 B.J. Habibie, the Indonesian Minister of Research and Technology, sharply criticized the rising popularity of rap, punk, and hard rock among Indonesian youth. He considered rap a vulgar and inappropriate North American influence on Indonesian culture. Rap artists asserted that their use of rap in Indonesia as a form of protest against oppressive conditions in an authoritarian state distinguishes it from North American rap. A reprint is cited as RILM 2012-15686.

  • Saavedra Casco, José Arturo. “The language of the young people: Rap, urban culture and protest in Tanzania”, Music and protest, ed. by Ian Peddie. The library of essays on music, politics and society (Farnham: Ashgate, 2012) 273–292. [RILM Abstracts of Music Literature, 2012-15681]

Briefly recounts a history of rap in Tanzania, the social and political contents of Tanzanian hip-hop songs, the characteristics of the messages, and their impact on Tanzanian youth. It also describes local elements, besides the use of Swahili language, contained in Tanzanian rap that were inherited from pre-colonial Swahili poetry. Finally, it gives several examples of the social and protest contents in songs of remarkable Tanzanian hip-hop artists, such as Mr. II, Professor Jay, and Wagosi wa Kaya.

  • Norton, Barley. “Vietnamese popular song in 1968: War, protest and sentimentalism”, Music and protest in 1968, ed. by Beate Kutschke and Barley Norton. Music since 1900 (New York: Cambridge University Press, 2013) 97–118. [RILM Abstracts of Music Literature, 2013-4247]

Examines how the experience of war influenced musical expression and how musical protest was configured in relation to the fractious politics of war. Although much musical activity in both Vietnams around 1968 was connected in some way to the conflict, this essay is restricted to an examination of Vietnamese popular song, known as ca khúc. Ca khúc was one of the most influential mediums for protest and for the expression of sentiments about war.

  • Illiano, Roberto, ed. Protest music in the twentieth century. Music, criticism & politics 1 (Turnhout: Brepols, 2015). [RILM Abstracts of Music Literature, 2015-15649]

This collection is about protest music and dissident composers and musicians during the twentieth century, with a particular focus on the forms with which dissent may be expressed in music and the ways in which composers and performers have adopted stances on political and social dissent. In 21 articles, scholars of different nationalities explore the way protest music is articulated in artistic-cultural discourse and political matters, as well as the role it played in situations of mutual benefit. Moreover, the phenomenon of dissent is investigated in the context of musical historiography and criticism, approaching the topic from historical, sociological, and philosophical points.

  • Onyebadi, Uche, ed. Music as a platform for political communication. Advances in media, entertainment, and the arts (Hershey: Information Science Reference, 2017). [RILM Abstracts of Music Literature, 2017-53131]

A comprehensive reference source for the latest scholarly perspectives on delivering political messages to society through musical platforms and venues. Innovative research topics on an international scale, such as election campaigns, social justice, and protests, are highlighted.

  • Ellison, Mary. Lyrical protest: Black music’s struggle against discrimination. Media and society (London: Oxford University Press, 1989). [RILM Abstracts of Music Literature, 1989-5948]

The coupling of Black music and protest happened naturally.  Since the first songs by blacks were heard in Africa, black music has expressed resistance to oppression. Black music reflects life in a very balanced way.  Music explores the human choices for black people through the words of the songs, supported by the music of the songs.

  • Lewis, George H. “Storm blowing from paradise: Social protest and oppositional ideology in Hawaiian popular music”, Popular music 10/1 (January 1991) 53–68. [RILM Abstracts of Music Literature, 1991-10789]

Hawaiian protest music originated as a reaction to the negatively perceived cultural and ecological impact of the commercialization of Hawaiian culture and music beginning in the early 20th c. The main view was that commercialized music trivialized the Hawaiian people and supported the destruction of their land and past. Lyrics sung in Hawaiian and expressing hostility towards tourists and criticism of their impact on Hawaii became characteristic of Hawaiian Renaissance music.

  • Samson, Valerie Brooks. “Music as protest strategy: The example of Tiananmen Square, 1989”, Pacific review of ethnomusicology 6 (1991) 35–64. http://ethnomusicologyreview.ucla.edu/sites/default/files/prevol6.pdf. [RILM Abstracts of Music Literature with Full Text, 1991-11064]

A first-hand account of the role of singing, chanting, recorded music in uniting the populace during the struggle for control of the square from April to June 1989, from the early demonstrations through the imposition of martial law to the military invasion; the singing of the Internationale assumed particular significance.

  • Sharp, Chesla. “Coal-mining songs as forms of environmental protest”, Journal of the Appalachian Studies Association 4 (1992) 50–58. [RILM Abstracts of Music Literature, 1995-9321]

Many of the Appalachian miners’ protest songs were written during the Harlan County coal strikes of the early 1930s. Over time the nature of these songs changed: Early songs expressed cries of desperation, or the awareness of a problem without commitment to action; later songs urged audiences to connect with a movement or ideology.

  • Treece, David. “Guns and roses: Bossa nova and Brazil’s music of popular protest, 1958–68”, Popular music 16/1 (January 1997) 1–29. [RILM Abstracts of Music Literature, 1997-459]

Traces developments in Brazilian popular music between 1958 and 1968, with close attention to the interaction of politics, economics, and culture. Antonio Carlos Jobim, Carlos Lyra, Baden Powell, Edu Lobo, Geraldo Vandré, and many other figures are discussed, with analysis of musical examples.

  • Grossman, Alan and Áine O’Brien. “Kurdish lyrical protest: The terrain of acoustic migration”, Journal of ethnic & migration studies 32/2 (March 2006) 271–289. https://doi.org/10.1080/13691830500487365. [RILM Abstracts of Music Literature, 2005-50515] 

Foregrounds acoustic memory and migration in the production of a performative ethnographic documentary about the exiled Kurdish singer and composer Muhamed Abbas Bahram, one of many accomplished Kurdish musicians residing in Western Europe. The title of the documentary, Silent song, alludes to a poem written in 1976 by a Kurdish radio and television broadcaster commemorating the musician’s refusal to perform in a concert at the Institute of Fine Arts in Baghdad before an audience of Ba’ath party members.

  • Makina, Blandina. “Re-thinking white narratives: Popular songs and protest discourse in post-colonial Zimbabwe”, Muziki: Journal of music research in Africa 6/2 (November 2009) 221–231. https://doi.org/10.1080/18125980903250772. [RILM Abstracts of Music Literature, 2009-11523]

The economic and political meltdown in Zimbabwe over the past decade have given rise to protest songs as artists became the mouthpiece of a population that is enduring economic hardships. One such artist is Samm Monro, popularly known as Comrade Fatso. He is one of the emerging young musicians who, through his protest music, has become an inspiration to ordinary Zimbabweans from all walks of life because his songs are insightful commentaries on what is happening in their country. The protest discourse that his wide audience finds appealing is discussed, focusing on the lyrics from excerpts of four songs on his album Chabvondoka.

  • Peddie, Ian, ed. Music and protest. The library of essays on music, politics and society (Farnham: Ashgate, 2012). [RILM Abstracts of Music Literature, 2012-7257]

Brings together some of the best writing on music and protest from the last thirty years. Encompassing a variety of genres, from classical to many different kinds of popular music, the collection selects articles on a broad range of topics–including revolutions and uprisings, environmentalism, class, identity, struggles for self-determination as well as rights and the historical legacy of protest music–and from at least 15 different countries, confirming the contention that music is one of the primary languages of protest.

  • Friedman, Jonathan C., ed. The Routledge history of social protest in popular music (New York: Routledge, 2013). [RILM Abstracts of Music Literature, 2013-4309]

This collection of essays analyzes the trends, musical formats, and rhetorical devices used in popular music to illuminate the human condition through a history of social protest music.

  • Mostafa, Dalia Said and Anastasia Valassopoulos. “Popular protest music and the 2011 Egyptian revolution”, Popular music and society 37/5 (December 2014) 638–659. https://doi.org/10.1080/03007766.2014.910905. [RILM Abstracts of Music Literature, 2014-9178]

Music and performance have been at the heart of the ongoing Egyptian revolution since its outbreak on 25 January 2011. Popular protest music in particular has helped to shape and articulate emerging desires and aspirations, as well as participating in criticisms and grievances at the site of political change. We aim to demonstrate, through the analysis of popular protest songs, how the 2011 Egyptian revolution has been imagined, articulated, and defined in popular culture. We trace the links between older revolutionary songs and how they have impacted new ones, while engaging with a number of theoretical issues on the role of popular music during periods of revolutionary struggles, to contextualize the domain of protest songs representing the Egyptian revolution.

  • Ibarraran, Amaia. “African-American and Mexican-American protest songs in the 20th century: Some examples”, Journal of popular music studies 29/2 (June 2017) 17p. https://doi.org/10.1111/jpms.12211. [RILM Abstracts of Music Literature, 2017-23982]

The construction of the United States as a nation has always been linked to agriculture and the possession and exploitation of the land. The African slaves’ work during the 17th and 18th centuries in the Southern territories and the efforts of Mexican braceros in the Southwest after the annexation of the Northern territories of Mexico are essential to understanding the history of U.S. agriculture. The exploitation of these workers has always been accounted for and justified in historical, literary, and journalistic texts. This essay begins with the premise that popular songs produced by African Americans and Mexicans offer an important corrective to biased official texts, providing key historical and sociocultural information without the distortions arising from the need to justify the subjugation of a people in the name of economy and patriotism. The article aims to understand the relevance of popular song for the denunciation of the difficult working conditions in agricultural fields, as they were experienced from the colonial era through the 20th century.

  • Budji Kefen, Ivoline. “Utilizing sounds of mourning as protest and activism: The 2019 northwestern women’s lamentation march within the Anglophone Crisis in Cameroon”, Resonance: The journal of sound and culture 1/4 (winter 2020) 443–461. https://doi.org/10.1525/res.2020.1.4.443. [RILM Abstracts of Music Literature, 2020-54124]

Examines how women of the northwestern Grassfields of Cameroon transpose and deploy lamentation sounds as a means of nonviolently resisting, challenging, counteracting, and controlling the audio-sphere hitherto militarized through the weaponization of the sounds of war. The main argument is that contrary to the popular narrative of African women as passive recipients of sociocultural norms and traditional political powers that propagate female marginalization and oppression, African women can and do consciously draw from these same norms to achieve their sociopolitical aims.

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Cuba’s tonadas trinitarias

The tonada trinitaria is an Afro-Cuban musical genre native to the town of Trinidad de Cuba.

The city became one of the Caribbean’s foremost sugar exporters in the early 19th century, and thousands of African slaves were brought to work in the neighboring Valle de los Ingenios. It was here that the local musical practices of African slaves, their descendants, and white peasants meshed, producing an environment conducive to the creation of creole musical forms, of which the tonada trinitaria is a prime example.

The tradition took shape among the Black urban population following the collapse of the city’s sugar-based economy in the late 1840s. The first tonada groups appeared during the first war of Cuban independence (1868–78), propagated by musicians of the Cabildo de San Antonio de Congos Reales. a cultural and religious center of Bantu-derived Christian traditions.

The tonada groups consist of a chorus, a lead singer, three small drums, a güiro (gourd-scraper), and a hoe blade struck with an iron beater. The guía, or lead singer, begins by introducing the tonada (a two-to-four-line text). The percussion joins in, providing a steady rhythmic accompaniment, followed by the chorus, which repeats the tonada. In call-and-response style, the guía improvises his text based on the theme of the tonada. These themes include love, social commentary, patriotism, and puyas, which poke fun at a certain person or situation.

The tonada groups represented certain barrios (marginal neighborhoods) and performed during all-night transits through the city streets, stopping to give serenades at homes or meet with each other in competition. The tradition evolved as new generations took over and elders retired.

This according to History and evolution of the tonadas trinitarias of Trinidad de Cuba by Johnny Frías (Gainesville: University of Florida Press, 2010; RILM Abstracts of Music Literature, 2010-50525).

Above and below, the contemporary group Tonadas Trinitarias.

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Filed under Black studies, West Indies

Lakalaka as sociopolitical discourse

Tongan lakalaka is an art form in which poetry, music, movement, scent, and dress coalesce into sociopolitical theatrical events.

Knowledge of Tongan politics, culture, history, and shared values is required for fully understanding lakalaka. This communicative competence makes it possible to decode and make sense of the processes and products of this cultural form, in which human bodies move in time and space according to cultural conventions and aesthetic systems of the Tongan people.

Individuals decode the discourses according to their backgrounds and understandings of particular performances as well as their own mental and emotional states at the time. For a viewer to respond, knowledge of movement conventions and dress is not sufficient; only through communicative competence can dance and dress reveal meaning as a sociopolitical discourse.

This according to “Dance and dress as sociopolitical discourse” by Adrienne L. Kaeppler, an essay included in Proceedings of the 17th symposium of the Study Group on Ethnochoreology (Nafplion: Peloponnīsiakó Laografikó Idryma, 1994 45-52; RILM Abstracts of Music Literature 1994-2706).

Below, a performance from 2009.

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Moutya and creolization

Moutya, created by slaves of African descent in the Seychelles in the late 18th century, is a combination of song, drumming, and dance. The genre’s current form originated in conjunction with the construction of Seychellois Creole cultural identity after the coup d’état in 1977.

Performances of moutya that have been adapted or revived—mainly in staged performances for official events, for tourists, or as part of the local music industry—demonstrate the creolization processes, revealing the relationship between moutya and other local and regional cultural phenomena, and underlining the need for an expanded and multilayered conceptual approach to the genre.

This according to Le moutya à l’épreuve de la modernité seychelloise: Pratiquer un genre musical emblématique dans les Seychelles d’aujourd’hui (Océan Indien) by Marie-Christine Parent, a dissertation accepted by the Université de Montréal in 2018.

Above and below, a 2020 performance in downtown Victoria.

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The Taliban and music: An annotated bibliography

Music has always been a controversial topic in Islam. Although the Islamic world has birthed rich and brilliant musical cultures, conservative Muslims nevertheless believe that music (especially instrumental music) tends to lead people astray by indulging in sensual pleasures.

The Taliban, a Sunni Islamic fundamentalist militant group that originated in the Kandahar region of Afghanistan, emerged in 1994. After taking power in 1996, the Taliban essentially banned music altogether in Afghanistan, until 2001 when the Taliban regime was overthrown in the U.S.-led war in Afghanistan. Yet with the recent Taliban recapture of most parts of Afghanistan, there are renewed concerns about the situation there. Will music be banned again?

Looking through the literature related to the Taliban and music, we can find that scholars, journalists, and directors have left us valuable information through their articles and films documenting musical life in Afghanistan during and after the Taliban rule. In chronological order of publication, we can outline a brief history of music in Afghanistan in the last two or three decades through these documents.

  • Yusufzai, Rahimullah. “All quiet in Kabul”, Index on censorship: The global magazine for free expression 27/6:185 (November–December 1998) 135–138. [RILM Abstracts of Music Literature 1998-26068]

Abstract: With the takeover of the Taliban regime in 1996 the cultural policies of Afghanistan changed dramatically, as music and any form of electronic entertainment were forbidden. The consequences of this prohibition are described and an excerpt of the Taliban’s official statement is provided.

  • Majrooh, Naim. “The Talibans have banned all music in Afghanistan”, 1st World Conference on Music and Censorship, Copenhagen, 20–22 November 1998, ed. by Marie Korpe. (Freemuse: København, 2001) 27–30. [RILM Abstracts of Music Literature 2001-20196]

Abstract: Afghanistan’s centuries-old art and folk traditions began to decline after the communist coup of 1979 and the repression that followed, but they suffered a far greater blow with the rise of the Taliban in the 1990s. In 1992 women and music were banned from Kabul radio and television, and in 1995 all musical life was proscribed. While musical life continues in remote villages, in the cities even weddings and funerals are held without music. A black market in smuggled cassettes, enjoyed discreetly in private homes, shares many similarities with the drug trade in the West.

  • Baily, John. “Can you stop the birds singing?”: The censorship of music in Afghanistan. Freemuse report (Freemuse: København, 2001). [RILM Abstracts of Music Literature 2001-20183]

Abstract: The people of Afghanistan under Taliban rule are subjected to an extreme form of music censorship. The only musical activity permitted is the singing of certain religious songs and Taliban chants.

The report traces the gradual imposition of music censorship since 1978, when the communist government of Nur Ahmad Taraki came to power in a violent coup d’etat. During 14 years of communist rule, music in Afghanistan was heavily controlled by the Ministry for Information and Culture, while in the refugee camps in Pakistan and Iran all music was prohibited in order to maintain a continual state of mourning. The roots of the Taliban ban on music lie in the way these camps were run.

In the Rabbani period (1992–1996) music was heavily censored. In the provincial city of Herat, the newly formed Office for the Propagation of Virtue and the Prevention of Vice (religious police) enforced a virtual ban on live public performance, but private music making was permitted. There was a little music on radio and television, and audiocassettes of music were freely available. In Kabul conditions were somewhat more relaxed until Hekmatyar became prime minister; cinemas were then closed and music was banned from radio and television.

When the Taliban took control of Kabul in 1996 a number of edicts were published against music. All musical instruments were banned, and when discovered by agents of the Office for the Propagation of Virtue and the Prevention of Vice were destroyed, sometimes being burnt in public along with confiscated audio and video cassettes, TVs, and VCRs. The only forms of musical expression permitted today are the singing of certain kinds of religious poetry, and so-called Taliban chants, which are panegyrics to Taliban principles and commemorations of those who have died on the field of battle for the Taliban cause.

The effects of censorship of music in Afghanistan are deep and wide-ranging for the Afghan people, both inside and outside the country. The lives of professional musicians have been completely disrupted, and most have had to go into exile for their economic survival. The rich Afghan musical heritage is under severe threat. The report concludes with a number of recommendations intended to counteract the effects of censorship.

  • Broughton, Simon. Breaking the silence: Music in Afghanistan. VHS (BBC Education & Training, 2002). [RILM Abstracts of Music Literature 2002-15784]

Abstract: The Taliban’s prohibition of music was the most severe in history. Apart from unaccompanied chants, all music was banned and instruments were broken and burnt. This film documents the remarkable moment when the country was reconnected with its musical culture. Shot in Kabul and Peshawar (Pakistan) in January 2002, two months after the fall of the Taliban, this film is an introduction to the music of Afghanistan and the way it’s been caught in the crossfire of conflicting regimes over the past 25 years. Most poignantly, it shows the musicians in Kabul who are now rebuilding Afghanistan’s devasted musical life. Directed by Simon Broughton, it won the documentary prize at the Golden Prague Festival in 2002.

Includes: Sarinda-player Mashinai, forced to work as a butcher under the Taliban; Singer Aziz Ghaznawi, who had no option but to sing for them; Female singer Naghma, whose tapes flooded the Kabul bazaar as the Taliban fled; Rare footage of Sufi gatherings where Islam and music fervently meet; Ensemble Kaboul, the best of the traditional Afghan groups in exile, who formed when the very survival of Afghan music seemed under threat.

  • Seybold, Dietrich. “Kulturkampf und Musikzensur: Über die Hintergründe des Musikverbots der Taliban”, Musik & Ästhetik 9/33 (Januar 2005) 104–112. [RILM Abstracts of Music Literature 2005-256]

Abstract: Historically examined, musical censorship is an almost commonplace phenomenon. Less common is a ban as radical as that imposed in Afghanistan by the Taliban in 1996. The reception of the ban in the Western public sphere is analyzed, unifying the insights offered by various disciplines. Embedding this particular phenomenon in a historical examination of the theme of extreme, religiously based opposition to music, patterns of such opposition are revealed; these are also found in the occidental tradition, albeit focusing on a different problem complex: the stance of Islam, including its marginal, sect-like manifestations, in relation to music.

  • Alagha, Joseph. “Jihad through ‘music’”: The Taliban and Hizbullah”, Performing Islam 1/2 (2012) 263–289. [RILM Abstracts of Music Literature 2012-13894]

Abstract: Discusses the cultural politics of the Taliban and Hezbollah. While Hezbollah embraces “resistance art” and encourages purposeful music and artistic expressions as pious entertainment, the Taliban censor music and restrict artistic activities, considering them innovations (bida’j) that distract from the practice of “authentic Islam” and “true worship”. To discuss the interplay between the “power of music” and “music in power”, this article uses samples of anashid (alternate spelling anachid or anasheed, meaning songs, hymns, and anthems) of the Taliban and Hezbollah, both of which practice jihad through music.

Most notably, both employ the same Qur’anic concept of “action of excellence under God’s guidance”, either to legitimize and justify certain artistic expressions and practices (Hezbollah) or to ban and prohibit them altogether (the Taliban). Hezbollah’s contextual argument leads to a music theory, whilst the Taliban’s prohibition in the absolute curtails cultural politics all together.

  • Cara, Gibney. “Dr. Ahmad Sarmast”, fRoots 39/10-12:418-420 (spring 2018) 31. [RILM Abstracts of Music Literature 2018-1109]

Abstract: A profile and interview. Ahmad Sarmast is founder of the Afghanistan National Institute of Music (ANIM) in Kabul, which asserts in its mission statement: “We focus especially on supporting the most disadvantaged children in Afghanistan—orphans, street-working vendors and girls”. It’s been long, hard, dangerous work developing a music institute in Kabul focused on these marginalized populations, and the struggle isn’t over.

Ahmad Sarmast left Afghanistan in the 1990s, seeking asylum in Australia away from the relentless Afghan civil war. During his years away from home he pursued a music education that would develop skills and knowledge essential for the years ahead, ultimately becoming the first Afghan national to obtain a PhD in music. He returned to Afghanistan in 2008 after the defeat of the Taliban, a land where music was banned for many years.

ANIM opened its doors in 2010, and now offers a core academic syllabus including math, languages, and social sciences. It offers studies in Afghan music, Western music, and various ensembles including Zohra—”the first-ever all-female ensemble in the history of Afghanistan”.

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Gumleaf redux

Herb Patten, an Elder of Koori, painter, and outstanding gumleaf player, has preserved this indigenous tradition by performing everywhere from pubs and parties to national television and the Sydney Opera House.

Patten (above) has enabled anyone to participate in this tradition with his book/CD set How to play the gumleaf (Sydney: Currency, 1999; RILM Abstracts of Music Literature 1999-14755). Patten’s book includes practical tips on how to select a suitable leaf and develop proper lip technique, and his demonstrations include popular and old-time songs along with the calls of several indigenous Australian birds.

Below, Herb Patten holds forth.

BONUS: Now there’s no need to imagine hearing John Lennon’s Imagine on a gumleaf.

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Contemporary African concert dance

The discourse surrounding contemporary concert dance in Africa is complex. Writings on the practice suggest that it could be considered both a neocolonial imposition and a contributor to processes of decolonization.

The growth of contemporary dance in Africa was stimulated by the establishment of an inter-Africa dance competition in 1995 by a French-sponsored dance biennale, which at the time was called the Choreographic Encounters of Africa and the Indian Ocean, and has since been renamed Danse l’Afrique danse!

A major controversy about contemporary dance was caused by the departure from the organization soon after its first event of one of its key instigators, the Ivorian choreographer Alphonse Tierou, in protest against the imposition of French artistic criteria by competition judges.

Tierou’s philosophical tenets for contemporary dance in Africa, which had guided the artistic activities leading up to the launch of the competition, were sidelined by the organizers, who set rules that insisted that entrants present new forms of dance that should not be associated with ideas of African tradition, but which still retain motifs or signifiers which a Western audience would perceive as being African. Both African choreographers and scholars feared the competition was a form of cultural neocolonialism.

While these justifiable concerns persist, there is an emerging academic discourse that promotes the ownership of contemporary dance by African choreographers and dance artists. Observing developments in contemporary dance in Nigeria, Chukwuma Okoye suggested that contemporary dance is undergoing a process of indigenization, arguing that when a foreign dance form is absorbed into a society on the terms of the people in that society the resulting practices cannot be considered a mere copy of the form that was appropriated.

This according to “James Mweu & Kunja Dance Theatre: Contemporary dance as African cultural production” by ‘Funmi Adewole (African theatre XVII [2018] 3–22; RILM Abstracts of Music Literature 2018-60720).

Above and below, Kenya’s Kunja Dance Theatre, a case study in the article.

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The Yandong Grand Singers

The Yandong Grand Singers are a choir of the Kam/Dong people from Guizhou province, China, specializing in the galao (grand song), a form of polyphonic song through which the Kam people transmit much of their history, culture, and knowledge. In 2009 the Grand Song was inscribed on the Representative List of Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity by UNESCO.

Nearly every Kam person sings in a choir at some time in their life. From a community singing group of the Yandong township, the Yandong Grand Singers have gradually made their name known internationally through their album Everyone listen close—Wanp-wanp jangl kap and international tours. In 2019 they toured five cities in the United States to give concerts and workshops, which turned out to be a special experience of cultural exchange for both the musicians and audiences.

This according to “From the mountain to the world: My travels with the Chinese Yandong Grand Singers” by Mu Qian (Folklife 19 April 2021; RILM Abstracts of Music Literature 2021-1649).

Below, excerpts from the 2019 tour.

More posts about China are here.

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