Category Archives: Ethnomusicology

A song to save the Salish Sea

 

On the coast of Washington and British Columbia sit the misty forests and towering mountains of Cascadia. With archipelagos surrounding its shores and tidal surges of the Salish Sea trundling through the interior, this bioregion has long attracted loggers, fishing fleets, and land developers, each generation seeking successively harder to reach resources as old-growth stands, salmon stocks, and other natural endowments are depleted.

Alongside encroaching developers and industrialists is the presence of a rich environmental movement that has historically built community through musical activism. From the WobbliesLittle red songbook (1909) to Woody Guthrie’s Columbia River collection (1941) on through to the Raging Grannies’ formation in 1987, Cascadia’s ecology has inspired legions of songwriters and musicians to advocate for preservation through music.

The divergent strategies—musical, organizational, and technological—used by each musician and group to reach different audiences and to mobilize action suggest directions for applied ecomusicology at the community level.

This according to A song to save the Salish Sea: Musical performance as environmental activism by Mark Pedelty (Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 2016).

Above, an orca breaches in the Salish Sea, with Mount Baker in the background; below, Idle no More, one of the groups discussed in the book, at the River People Festival in 2014.

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Filed under Nature, North America, Popular music

Carmen Miranda’s legacy

 

In 1991 the celebrated singer-songwriter Caetano Veloso discussed the legacy of Carmen Miranda:

“She was a typical girl from Rio, born in Portugal, who, using a blatantly vulgar though elegant stylization of the characteristic baiana—Bahian dress—conquered the world and became the highest-paid woman in the United States. Carmen conquered white America as no other South American had done or ever would. She was the only representative of South America who was universally readable, and it is exactly because of this quality that self-parody became her inescapable prison.”

“Nevertheless, in 1967 Carmen Miranda reappeared as a central figure in our aesthetic concerns. A movement that came to be known as Tropicalismo appropriated her as one of its principal signs, capitalizing on the discomfort that her name and the evocation of her gestures could create. We had discovered that she was both our caricature and our X-ray, and we began to take notice of her destiny.”

“In Carmen’s day it was enough to make a percussive din that was recognizably Latin and Negroid. By bringing the musicians from Bando da Lua with her to the United States, however, she represented less the adulteration alleged by her critics than a pioneering role in a history that is still unfolding. It is the history of the relationship between a very rich music from a very poor country and musicians and audiences from the rest of the world.”

Quoted from “Caricature and conqueror, pride and shame” by Caetano Veloso (The New York times 20 October 1991).

Today is Miranda’s 110th birthday! Above, in 1941; below, performing in A date with Judy (yes, that’s 16-year-old Elizabeth Taylor in the audience).

Related article: Tropicália and Bahia

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Filed under Performers, Popular music, Reception, South America

Kathak’s multiple roots

 

Kathak, the classical dance of North India, combines virtuosic footwork and dazzling spins with subtle pantomime and soft gestures. As a global practice and one of India’s cultural markers, kathak dance is often presented as heir to an ancient Hindu devotional tradition in which men called Kathakas danced and told stories in temples.

The dance’s repertoire and movement vocabulary, however, tell a different story of syncretic origins and hybrid history—it is a dance that is both Muslim and Hindu, both devotional and entertaining, and both male and female. Kathak’s multiple roots can be found in rural theater, embodied rhythmic repertoire, and courtesan performance practice, and its history is inextricable from the history of empire, colonialism, and independence in India.

An analysis of primary and secondary sources, ethnography, iconography, and current performance practice illuminates new data about hereditary performing artists, gendered contexts and practices, and postcolonial cultural reclamation. The account that emerges places kathak and the Kathaks firmly into the living context of North Indian performing arts.

This according to India’s kathak dance in historical perspective by Margaret E. Walker (Farnham: Ashgate, 2014).

Above, Birju Maharaj, one of the consummate kathak performers of our time; below, in a rare seated performance, Maharaj depicts the sensuous world of a young woman as monsoon season approaches.

BONUS: The finale of a performance that includes some of Maharaj’s star students.

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Filed under Asia, Dance, Performers

Lead Belly and the folklorists

When Michael Taft of the American Folklife Center received a call asking if the Center would be interested in an old Lead Belly disc, it seemed impossible that there could be one that wasn’t already in their collection; but when Taft asked what was printed on the label and heard “Presto” he was intrigued. Presto was not a record company—it was a brand of recording blank that the Library of Congress had used for field recordings in the 1930s and 1940s.

The disc included a song never heard elsewhere, and it provided the key for identifying the recording session. Titled Todd blues, the song was an improvisation that referred to “Mister Todd” and “Mister Sonkin”—Charles Todd (left) and Robert Sonkin (below left), who collaborated on several field recording trips for the Library of Congress in the 1930s and 1940s.

This blues took the form of a humorous lament on the departure of one of the partners: “Mister Todd went away, Lord, just after Christmas Day/He’s going to California…Mister Sonkin sitting here with his head hung down.” These lines clearly place the recording on 20 January 1942, when the pair recorded Lead Belly in New York City, shortly before Todd left for a new job in California.

This according to “A new old recording by Huddie Ledbetter” by Michael Taft (Folklife Center news XXIX/3 [summer 2007] pp. 13–15).

Today is Lead Belly’s 130th birthday! Below, Pete Seeger recalls meeting and performing with the great singer-songwriter.

 

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Filed under Ethnomusicology, Humor, Jazz and blues, North America

The tígueras of merengue típico

 

In most genres of Caribbean music women tend to participate as dancers or vocalists, but in Dominican merengue típico they are more often instrumentalists and even bandleaders—something nearly unheard of in the macho Caribbean music scene.

In a complex nexus of class, race, and artistic tradition that unsettles the typical binary between the masculine and feminine, female musicians have developed a feminine counterpart to the classic male figure of the tíguere, a dandified but sexually aggressive and street-smart tiger: the tíguera, an assertive, sensual, and respected female figure who looks like a woman but often plays and even sings like a man. These musical figures illuminate the rich ambiguities in gender construction in the Dominican Republic and the long history of a unique form of Caribbean feminism.

This according to Tigers of a different stripe: Performing gender in Dominican music by Sydney Hutchinson (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2016).

Above and below, Fefita la Grande, one of the tígueras discussed in the book.

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Filed under Performers, Popular music, West Indies, Women's studies

Dil-Hayât Kalfa Tanbûrî, Ottoman woman composer

 

Dil-Hayât Kalfa Tanbûrî (generally known as Dilhayat Kalfa, d.1737) was raised in the Ottoman royal palace, as indicated by the adjectival Kalfa, which also denotes important administrative tasks. She played the tanbur, and historical sources contain information on nearly 100 of her compositions.

Her surviving works are counted among the most important examples of the technique and aesthetic of the Ottoman classical school. The flow of her makams and her prosody are exemplary. Two works in the evcârâ makam, a peşrev and a saz semaî, exhibit a very individualistic style. She was exemplary in her setting of texts, showing great care in arranging the relationship between meaning and melody.

This according to “Dilhayat Kalfa” by Meral Akkent (İstanbul Kadın Müzesi, 2012). Above, a Romantic-era depiction of the composer (no contemporaneous portrait exists); below, the saz semaî discussed in the article.

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Filed under Asia, Women's studies

Iconography in early ethnomusicology

 

Visual depictions of music and music making outside of Europe can be found in abundance in 17th- and 18th- century travel accounts, missionaries’ reports, and books predicated on the idea of the universality of music.

Illustrations of non-European music from this period reflect the early stages in Europe of an ethnomusicological conception of the world, and their pictorial rhetoric often encompassed areas of study that continue to interest scholars in the 20th century. The close connection between image and concept in musicological thinking suggests that the history of the field may perhaps reach further back and may have developed more cohesively than is currently assumed.

This according to “Missionaries, magical muses, and magnificent menageries: Image and imagination in the early history of ethnomusicology” by Philip V. Bohlman (The world of music XXX/3 [1988] pp. 5–27).

Above, in his Moeurs des sauvages amériquains, comparées aux moeurs des premiers temps, Joseph-François Lafitau depicted the imaginary world of Native American myths as well as the empirical world of his observations.

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Filed under Ethnomusicology, Iconography

RILM Editor wins Outstanding Dissertation Award

Former RILM Editor Woo Shingkwan (胡成筠) has just won the International Musicological Society’s 2018 Outstanding Dissertation Award for The ceremonial music of Zhu Zaiyu.

Zhu Zaiyu (1536–1611) was a mathematician, physicist, music theorist, choreographer, and composer; he is particularly remembered today for creating the theory of 12-tone equal temperament.

Congratulations to our former colleague! Above, a page from the dissertation.

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Filed under Asia, RILM, RILM news, Theory

John Hartford’s mammoth collection of fiddle tunes

 

John Hartford’s mammoth collection of fiddle tunes (Franklin, TN: StuffWorks, 2018) comprises 176 of Hartford’s original compositions. Most of these tunes are previously unpublished and unrecorded, taken from Hartford’s personal music journals.

Compiled and narrated by the fiddler Matt Combs, John’s daughter Katie Harford Hogue, and the musicologist Greg Reish, the book illuminates Hartford’s creative process through original tune compositions, his own reflections on the fiddle, and interviews with family and fellow musicians.

The volume includes more than 60 of Hartford’s personal drawings—ranging in theme from steamboats and the river, to fellow musicians, home and everyday life—as well as several never-before-seen photographs.

Above, a page from the book: Hartford’s Annual waltz as part of a holiday card and invitation to his 1980 wedding; below, the composer performs the song and tune.

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Filed under New editions, North America, Performers

The evolution of jùjú

 

Jùjú, a type of popular music that combines indigenous Yorùbá musical practices with Christian hymnody, was first popular in Lagos in the 1930s.

The tambourine, introduced in Lagos in 1920 by missionaries, was integrated into jùjú because of its musical and symbolic associations. The spiritual dimension of this instrument is partly responsible for the name jùjú, which is an extension of the term used by colonialists to describe the various African traditional belief practices. Other stylistic resources of jùjú include the samba of the Brazilian community of Lagos and songs and musical instruments of the Liberian Kru sailors.

In the 1940s jùjú bands began to experiment with new musical instruments such as gangan (talking drum), pennywhistle, organ, and mandolin. The projection of Yorùbá elements and the introduction of accordion and harmonica are identified with Isaiah Kehinde Dairo (above). The rapid changes in social and political structures of the 1960s and 1970s in Nigeria were reflected in further developments.

This according to “A diachronic study of change in jùjú music” by Afolabi Alaja-Browne (Popular music VIII/3 [October 1989] pp. 231–42).

Below, King Sunny Adé, one of the performers discussed in the article.

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Filed under Africa, Performers, Popular music