Category Archives: Ethnomusicology

Bhatkhande’s vision

 

The four all-India music conferences that were organized between 1916 and 1925 by Vishnu Narayan Bhatkhande were seminal events in the formation of a nationally based urban middle class and a predominantly Hindu-oriented music culture that encompassed performers, patrons, and audiences.

The conferences were the first modern gatherings on a national scale to combine discussion and analysis of musical practice and theory with a showcase of musical performance. A close examination of the reports generated by the conferences offers an opportunity to examine the conflicting social and political ideologies that were shaping north Indian classical music over a critical decade, as the aristocratic music of the courts was transformed into a national music.

Bhatkhande believed that music had to be taken over by the Western-educated, nationally conscious middle class, and that the patronage of the wealthy princes formerly given to support their private music establishments should be transferred to national institutions supporting music. Through the medium of the conferences he took the initiative of bringing together these disparate groups: traditional musicians, traditional patrons, and the new, primarily Hindu intelligentsia.

A number of topics recur through all four conferences: discussion of śrutis and rāga variations; a call for adoption of a uniform, systematic notation for Indian music; and a proposal for the creation of a national academy of music. The extent to which agreement and action on these proposals proved elusive can be read as indicating the degree of cross-cultural conflict that underlay the conferences, and gives a sense of the extent to which Bhatkhande’s vision resonated with the broader concerns of his day.

This according to “The All-India Music Conferences of 1916–1925: Cultural transformation and colonial ideology” by David Trasoff, an essay included in Hindustani music: Thirteenth to twentieth centuries (Nai Delli: Manohar, 2010 331–56; RILM Abstracts 2010-15196).

Today is Bhatkhande’s 160th birthday! Below, a documentary on the Music Institute that he established.

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Filed under Asia, Musicology

Slahal and individual expression

 

Slahal is an Indigenous team-oriented gambling game that involves skill, luck, strategy, supernatural assistance, and a specific song genre. As part of a long tradition of Indigenous gaming in the Pacific Northwest, it has become a popular form of intertribal competition throughout the region.

Song is integral to slahal; the songs, with their catchy melodies and driving frame drum accompaniment, are sung loudly and enthusiastically by the hiding team. Group singing provides opportunities for individual expression through variation of form and rhythmic accompaniment, as well as polyphony and antiphonal singing.

This according to Slahal: More than a game with a song by James Everett Cunningham, a dissertation accepted by the University of Washington, Seattle, in 1998 (RILM Abstracts 1999-22855).

Below, an example from British Columbia.

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Filed under North America, Sports and games

Cinco de Mayo in Puebla

 

Cinco de Mayo (May 5, the date of the Mexican Army’s 1862 victory over the French Empire at the Battle of Puebla) is celebrated in several countries outside of Mexico—not least in the U.S., where it is widely considered an occasion to eat Mexican food and drink margaritas. But in Mexico itself, the state of Puebla, where the battle occurred, is the principal place that celebrates the holiday.

The city of Puebla hosts the largest festival, which includes a massive parade and a re-enactment of the battle involving hundreds of locals dressed as French and Mexican soldiers. After the Mexican troops win, the celebration continues with music, dancing, and food.

This according to “How people actually celebrate Cinco de Mayo in Mexico” by Talia Avakian (Business insider 30 April 2015).

Below, Puebla’s Cinco de Mayo parade in 2019.

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Filed under Central America

Muotatal yodeling redux

 

Thirty years after the making of his film series on Swiss yodeling, Hugo Zemp returned to his investigation of the particular yodel style—called jüüz—of Muotatal, a small valley in the Swiss Prealps.

Shot in the early 1980s, the earlier films presented the traditional jüüz sung at work or while socializing, in contrast to stage presentations of yodel choirs, which are federated in a national association under the direction of choral conductors.

Wondering how the situation had evolved in the second decade of the 21th century, Zemp went back and found a 37-year-old man whom he had filmed singing with his parents and sisters 30 years earlier. During his adolescence, like many teenagers, Bernhard was enthusiastic about American rock and country music (which he still performs), but when he watched the old films he felt the urge to return to the tradition that he had learned during his childhood. With five friends from his village he founded a traditional group, Natur Pur, to revive casual singing.

Zemp’s new film, Swiss yodelling: 30 years later (Kanopy Streaming, 2015) shows performances in various situations, including singing with women and teaching at a workshop. Informal conversations between the singers, where humor is not absent, treat serious topics around tradition and change.

Above and below, scenes from the film.

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Filed under Curiosities, Europe

Audioreelism, sound worlding, audible indigeneity, and Flying Wild Alaska

 

The soundtrack for the reality television show Flying wild Alaska uses audioreelism—sound-design components that express the lived realities of indigenous peoples—to portray the daily life of an Alaska Native family in the airline business. It also uses sound worlding—bringing the world into being through sound—and audible indigeneity—the stereotypical ways in which listeners determine whether or not music sounds Native.

This soundtrack is unprecedented in its use of music by indigenous musicians from Alaska and the circumpolar Arctic. Featured artists set lyrics in indigenous languages to popular musical styles such as hip hop, rap, funk, and R&B. The overall sound combines local musical styles, licensed third-party music by indigenous artists, synthesized distortion effects, and sounds such as propeller engines, aircraft alarms, and bird strikes.

This range of sounds unsettles conventional musical representations of The North. Audioreelism and Native sound worlding therefore challenge settler-colonial representations of the indigenous Arctic.

This according to “Inuit sound wording and audioreelism in Flying wild Alaska” by Jessica Bissett Perea, an essay included in Music and modernity among First Peoples of North America (Middletown: Wesleyan University Press, 2019, pp. 174–97).

Above and below, Pamyua, one of the groups whose music is used in the series.

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Filed under Mass media, North America, Popular music

Contrapulso: Revista latinoamericana de estudios en música popular

 

In 2019 Ediciones Universidad Alberto Hurtado launched Contrapulso: Revista latinoamericana de estudios en música popular (ISSN 2452-5545), a peer-reviewed online journal devoted to popular music in Latin America and the Caribbean at all times in history—from the musical, literary, technological, and/or performative scrutiny of the popular repertoire to the study of the formation of collective identities through this music. Issues are published yearly in January and August.

Below, Pamela Cortés’s Cristales rotos, one of the songs discussed in “Fonograma erotizado: Producción musical y mujer en la música popular de Guayaquil” by Luis Pérez Valero and Samaela Campos; the article is included in the inaugural issue.

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Filed under New periodicals, Popular music, South America, West Indies

Raqṣ šarqī as musical interpretation

 

Interpretive skill plays a particularly important role in Egyptian raqṣ šarqī, which is customarily improvised by a solo dancer to live musical accompaniment. The heterophonic structure of classical Egyptian music involves layering instruments, each of which simultaneously performs its own ornamentation on the melody, rather than adding harmonies.

As an intermediary between the music and the audience, the dancer has the ability to direct the audience’s attention to a particular instrument or embellishment by emulating its rhythm, pitch, and dynamics in movement. In so doing, the raqṣ šarqī dancer chooses not only what the audience will see, but also what they will hear.

The concept of muāsabah (analytical listening) illuminates how, by being a sammīʿa (skilled listener), the dancer can enhance the audience’s appreciation of the music, temporarily making them skilled listeners as well. Ultimately, raqṣ šarqī performance is a multisensorial practice that combines sounds, sights, and movements in order to heighten the audience’s aesthetic and emotional experience.

This according to Listening with the body: The raqs sharqi dancer as musical interpreter by Ainsley Hawthorn (St. Johns: Research Centre for the Study of Music, Media, & Place (MMaP), 2020).

Above, a raqṣ šarqī dancer in Cairo with her ensemble, photographed by Dan Lundberg; below, Dr. Hawthorn presents her research.

Related articles:

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Filed under Asia, Dance

Hiplife and indigenization

 

In Ghana, hip hop music and culture have morphed over two decades into a whole new genre called hiplife—not merely an imitation or adaptation of hip hop, but a revision of Ghana’s own century-old popular music called highlife.

Local hiplife artists have evolved an indigenization process that has facilitated a dynamic youth agency that is transforming Ghanaian society. These social shifts, facilitated by hiplife, have occurred within Ghana’s corporate recolonization, serving as another example of how neoliberalism’s global free-market agenda has become a new form of colonialism. While hiplife artists are complicit with these socioeconomic forces, they also create counter-hegemonic projects that challenge this context while also pushing aesthetic limits.

This according to The hiplife in Ghana: The West African indigenization of hip hop by Halifu Osumare (Basingstoke: Palgrave Macmillan, 2012).

Above, hiplife dancers photographed by Sadik Shahadu; below, Sarkodie, a current hiplife star.

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Filed under Africa, Popular music

The Field Band Foundation and local values

The Field Band Foundation (FBF) is a South African national nonprofit organization that has reached more than 40,000 youth since its inception in 1997. Modeled initially on the American-style marching band, the FBF’s performance style, choreography, rehearsal techniques, and uniforms draw on local traditions and practices resulting in a uniquely South African musical phenomenon.

As local musicking, FBF rehearsals support the locally defined values of discipline and empathy. The distinctions that FBF members and leaders make between local or global processes or qualities are discernible in the military associations and echoes of local cultural expressions manifested in rehearsal management techniques, uniforms, and choreography. The localizations of musical processes and products and the meanings and values to which these link contribute to the achievement to the FBF’s goals, which the organization aims to articulate in terms of local values.

This according to “Rehearsing values: Processes of distinction in the Field Band Foundation of South Africa” by Laryssa Whittaker, an essay included in The Routledge companion to the study of local musicking (New York: Routledge, 2018, pp. 251–63).

Above and below, FBF groups in action.

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Filed under Africa

Jon Higgins and Karnatak music

Jon B. Higgins first encountered Karnatak music as an undergraduate at Wesleyan University in 1962. He was awarded a Fulbright scholarship in 1964 to begin study in India, and was granted an unprecedented third year extension based on the seriousness of his efforts. His first public appearance at the Tyāgarāja ārādhana at Tiruvaiyaru in 1965 was the beginning of many successful concerts to follow.

Over the next 20 years he distinguished himself as an accomplished performer, earning a sizeable and appreciative audience both in India and North America. He began teaching in 1971, finally settling at Wesleyan in 1978, where, along with his many administrative responsibilities, his singing and his interest in South India remained a constant preoccupation.

His interest and love for Karnatak music was a passionate one that fed into the strong belief that the best way to understand a music—either to talk or to write about—is to know it well from the inside.

This according to “Jon B. Higgins (1939–84)” by Tanjore Viswanathan (Ethnomusicology XXX/1 [winter 1986] pp. 113–114).

Today would have been Higgins’s 80th birthday! Below, one of his studio recordings.

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Filed under Ethnomusicology, Performers