Category Archives: Asia

Rohingya music, identity, and resistance

The music of Rohingya refugees plays an important role in communicating their coherent identity and expressing their resistance to the discrimination and oppression experienced in their country of origin as well as in their exile.

This informal resistance keeps their memory alive, transmitting that history through verbal and visual expressions to the new generations, and communicating information about themselves to outsiders.

These forms of expression, while suggestive of their identity and everyday resistance, occur mostly in an informal and indirect form, rather than in direct confrontation and protest. The informal means also reflect the Rohingyas’ pragmatism and coping strategies for living in the borderlands.

This according to “Music and artistic artefacts: Symbols of Rohingya identity and everyday resistance in borderlands” by Farzana Kazi Fahmida (Austrian Journal of South-East Asian Studies / Österreichische Zeitschrift für Südostasienwissen-schaften (ASEAS) IV/2 [2011] pp. 215–36; reprinted in Farzana’s Memories of Burmese Rohingya refugees: Contested identity and belonging (New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2017).

Below, a Rohingya song with English subtitles.

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Filed under Asia, Politics

Extreme metal in Iraq and Syria

Heavy metal music can be a means of artistic expression; it can also be an accessory of war. Making its first appearance in Iraq and Syria in the 1980s, it has functioned as an agency of power, endurance, anger, and abuse. Artists, fans, and the military of al-Mašriq have found that metal can be used for catharsis, rebellion, or torture.

The extreme metal subgenres of thrash metal, death metal, and black metal have become important components of the Iraqi and Syrian civil conflicts. In these contexts, metal music can be a source of empowerment for both civilians and the military; it can be the only stability that some draw from during the continual devastation to their communities, and in exceptional circumstances it can provide passage out of the region.

This according to “Resistants, stimulants, and weaponization: Extreme metal music and empowerment in the Iraqi and Syrian civil conflicts” by Sam Grant (Metal music studies III/2 [2017] pp. 175–200).

Above and below, the Kirkuk-based Dark Phantom, one of the groups discussed in the article.

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Filed under Asia, Popular music

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

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

Drunken dotard refrain

Tablatures of ancient Chinese vocal music usually provide very little concrete information on rhythm, and few ancient Chinese writings on rhythms and time values in musical performance survive. One fortunate exception is the perceptive scholarly work of the 11th-century Buddhist monk Master Yihai, who was the only known person from early China ever to explain musical rhythm using a concrete example from guqin music.

Yihai analyzed a famous musical setting of Su Dongpo’s poem Zui weng yin (醉翁吟, Drunken dotard refrain). The earliest surviving musical notation of Zui weng yin dates from several centuries later; whether a tablature of 1539 actually preserves the music discussed by Yihai cannot be determined with full certainty, but there is indirect evidence to support an early date for the music.

This according to “The Drunken dotard refrain” by Marnix Wells (CHIME: Journal of the European Foundation for Chinese Music Research XX [2016] pp. 85–105). Above, an 18th-century manuscript; below, a 21st-century performance.

#dotard

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Filed under Asia, Curiosities, Middle Ages, Theory

The Dancing Queens of Mumbai

For many Indian hijras—a casteless and classless queer minority—badhais (ritualistic music and dance) are the only available means of revenue aside from sex work and bar dance; this has been the practical reality for hijras for nearly two centuries of legal persecution.

While the current reality does not bode well for the continuation of hijra badhais as we once knew them, newly emerging transgender ensembles like Mumbai’s Dancing Queens are introducing new possibilities for hijra performativity and empowerment.

Established within a reconstituted urban Indian context, new adaptive strategies are predicated on the exchange of devalued ways of encoding hijra difference for updated, modern ones based upon the distinctly LGBTIQ discourse of pehchān (acknowledgement of the self, or identity). The Dancing Queens’s staging of pehchān empowers hijras through a global transgender lexicon while simultaneously renewing particular preexisting performance repertoires of homo-sociality.

This according to “The Dancing Queens: Negotiating hijra pehchān from India’s streets onto the global stage” by Jeff Roy (Ethnomusicology review XX [2015] pp. 69–91). This journal, along with many others, is covered in our new RILM Abstracts of Music Literature with Full Text collection.

Above and below, the Dancing Queens in action.

BONUS: Ready for more? Here’s a full performance.

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Filed under Asia, Curiosities, Dance

Indian theatre journal

Launched by Intellect in 2017, Indian theatre journal (ISSN 2059-0660) is the first international journal on Indian dramatic arts.

ITJ is committed to publishing a wide range of critical and scholarly approaches to various aspects of Indian theater and performance in their social, political, cultural, economic, and diasporic contexts through academic essays, plays, production reviews, interviews, and performance events.

The journal brings together current intellectual debates and artistic practices in theater, dance, music, arts, aesthetics, and culture, illuminating the wider context of the confluences and correspondences between philosophy, performance, and culture in India.

This double-blind peer-reviewed journal creates an international platform for scholars, critics, playwrights, actors, and directors for presenting their work through cutting-edge research and innovative performance practice. In addition, ITJ explores recent developments in intercultural theater, theater anthropology, performance studies, and the Indian and South Asian diaspora across the globe.

Below, an excerpt including music and dance from Rabindranath Tagore’s Phālgunī, a work discussed in ITJ’s first issue.

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Filed under Asia, Dramatic arts, New periodicals

Malaysian journal of performing and visual arts

Malaysian Journal of Performing and Visual Arts is a new peer-reviewed research journal that focuses on Asian performing and visual arts; it is a forum for scholars in the fields of Asian music, dance, theater, and fine arts.

MJPV is published by the University of Malaya Cultural Centre as an online e-journal; readers can obtain hard copy on demand through the open access policy on the University of Malaya e-journal website.

The journal encompasses articles, book and audio/video reviews, and notes on current research by scholars in the related arts fields. It is published in English and issued annually in December.

Above and below, mak yong, the subject of an article in the inaugural issue.

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Filed under Asia, Dramatic arts, New periodicals

When women play

kulintang

In many societies musical roles are divided along gender lines: Women sing and men play. Men also sing and women sometimes play; yet, unlike men, women who play often do so in contexts of sexual and social marginality.

Contemporary anthropological theories regarding the interrelationship between social structure and gender stratification illuminate how women’s use of musical instruments is related to broader issues of social and gender structure; changes in the ideology of these structures often reflect changes that affect women as performers.

This according to “When women play: The relationship between musical instruments and gender style” by Ellen Koskoff (Canadian university music review/Revue de musique des universités canadiennes XVI/1 [1995] pp. 114–27; reprinted in A feminist ethnomusicology: Writings on music and gender [Urbana: University of Illinois Press, 2014]).

Above and below, kulintang, a women’s instrumental genre discussed in the article.

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Filed under Asia, Curiosities, Instruments, Women's studies