Performances of Aboriginal musical traditions have become widespread in various national and international contexts and are significant to the ways in which Aboriginal people from distinct regions project their specific identities to a broader world. In recent decades, Warlpiri people, from the remote settlement of Yuendumu in the Tanami desert of Australia, have increasingly attracted interest in the performances of their ceremonial songs and dances in intercultural spaces, often for audiences with little understanding of their religious significance.
Against a historical backdrop of settlement history and the shifts that have occurred to public ceremonial forms during this period, performances of purlapa at the Aboriginal tent embassy in Canberra have foregrounded issues of Aboriginal politics, systematized racism, contemporary social movements, and the basic difficulties of running a tent embassy on meager donations, especially during the Canberra winter when firewood supplies were low. Purlapa is a genre of Warlpiri public ceremony involving a high-stepped dance style performed in circular movement with participants shifting their dancing sticks from side to side in rhythm with sung verses. Once held frequently for community entertainment, the performance of purlapa has declined drastically in recent years. Shifts in these performance opportunities show how Warlpiri people engage with a broader world in specific aspects of their identities while maintaining important links to a specific cultural heritage.
Read more in “Performing purlapa: Projecting Warlpiri identity in a globalized world” by Georgia Curran and Otto Jungarrayi Sims (The Asia Pacific journal of anthropology. XXII/2–3 ).
Below is a 1978 performance of a purlapa ceremony recorded on 8 mm film.
マタハリヌ チンダラカヌシャマヨ Mataharinu chindara kanushamayo (See you again, for you are beautiful)
Asadoya yunta (安里屋ユンタ), a folk song that originates from the Yaeyama Islands in Okinawa, is one of Japan’s most famous traditional songs. Believed to have been composed in the 18th century, the song’s popularity extends beyond Okinawa, especially after the Nippon Columbia label released a recording of it in 1934 with lyrics in standard Japanese written by Katsu Hoshi. Since then, Asadoya yunta has become a favorite among everyone from traditional Okinawan musicians to enka and contemporary J-pop artists.
The term asadoya refers to the name of a house and yunta is the name of a genre that peasants sing while working. In live performances of the song, singers are usually divided by gender and sing in a call-and-response manner, as if engaged in conversation. Later, the song was transformed into Asadoya bushi, with the sanshin (三線), an Okinawan banjo-like instrument, added as accompaniment along with a faster tempo. This transformation added a touch of grandeur and artistry, distinguishing it from the more straightforward original version.
The original lyrics to Asadoya yunta narrate the tale of a beautiful woman named Kuyama, believed to have lived in the 18th century. As the story goes, Kuyama received a marriage proposal from a local official but declined the offer. The official tried in earnest to persuade her, claiming that marriage would secure for her a better future. Kuyama, however, insisted that she was better off marrying a man from her village. Eventually the official gave up, and Kuyama married a villager.
In 1934, the Okinawan folklorist Eijun Kishaba was approached by the Nippon Columbia label to supervise the recording of a Ryukyu (Okinawa) music collection that included 76 songs from the prefecture. Nippon Columbia suggested re-recording Asadoya yunta as a contemporary pop song with new lyrics. Kishaba enlisted the help of Katsu Hoshi, a poet from Yaeyama, to craft a new set of lyrics depicting a young couple enjoying the setting of a peaceful rice field. The new version, performed by three singers and accompanied by piano and violin, quickly became a hit song across mainland Japan.
Interest in Okinawan music and culture grew in the 1960s, leading to the release of new recordings of Asadoya yunta, incorporating both the original and new lyrics while adding more traditional Okinawan instruments. The increased exposure of Okinawa corresponded with the 1971 Okinawa Reversion Agreement between Japan and the United States, which returned Okinawa prefecture to Japanese rule. Today, the song continues to be sung and recorded by musicians of various genres including Japanese pop, traditional folk, and enka music.
Asadoya yunta has even become an international phenomenon, inspiring foreign compositions such as Pleeng Sipsong Phasaa, a song in the Thai classical repertoire that draws musical and lyrical inspiration from the original version of Asadoya yunta. Considering that many contemporary versions of song feature revised lyrics in standard Japanese, it is especially quaint that Thai musicians chose to use the original lyrics.
Below are lyrical excerpts from two versions of Asadoya yunta in both original and standard Japanese.
安里屋のクヤマによ（サーユイユイ）あん美らさ生りばしよ マタハリヌ チンダラカヌシャマヨ
Asadoya no Kuyama niyo (Sa yuiyui) Anchuarasa maribashiyo Mataharinu chindarakanushamayo
(Kuyama was born in Asadoya house with such beauty…I will see you again, for you are beautiful).
Swazi Indigenous and popular music has been featured on the eSwatini Broadcasting Service since the radio station was founded in 1966. Many of the songs today addresses the political, economic, and social conditions (including gender relations) of eSwatini, a country located in southern Africa, formerly known as Swaziland. Swazi women historically have faced high rates of gender-based violence including femicides, rape, and physical and emotional abuse. The eSwatini government’s passing of the Sexual Offences and Domestic Violence Act of 2018 has done little to curb gender-based violence against women in the country. In response, various stakeholders, including musicians, have taken the initiative to comment on the empowerment (or disempowerment) of Swazi women. Musicians have composed songs that openly discuss and debate issues of female oppression, and many of the songs lyrically draw from the rich repertoire of Indigenous Swazi songs. In this sense, the empowerment of women remains a popular subject among many of the country’s contemporary younger artists, many of whom have incorporated elements of Indigenous music to articulate women’s perspectives.
Read more in “Content and reception of eSwatini’s Indigenous and popular music on women empowerment” by Telamisile P. Mkhatshwa and Maxwell Vusumuzi Mthembu, an essay included in the volume Indigenous African popular music. II: Social crusades and the future (Palgrave MacMillan, 2022). Find it in RILM Abstracts of Music Literature 2022-3233.
Below is a video for “Tinyembeti” by the singer Zamo. The song follows the contemporary trend of eSwatini artists addressing gender-based violence against women.
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In 2011, cultural heritage status was awarded to the wax cylinder collections of ethnographic recordings at The British Library by adding them to the “memory of the world” register. This value attributed to early ethnographic sound recordings provided the basis for continued research related to audiovisual material. The medium itself represents a multilayered document that can be re-examined from many different perspectives to discover new meaning. More importantly, the relevance of these recordings to the communities who are featured in them also has changed. Digitization of audio materials produced new opportunities to circulate the recordings and the potential to discover new and significant information through new levels of accessibility and metadata sharing. Developing access and discoverability is a challenge that archives have responded to predominantly through increasing access to recordings and associated metadata.
In this context, a “digital reconnection” project was initiated by the Music Museum of Nepal (MMN), a museum that began with Ram Prasad Kadel’s private collection of Nepali folk musical instruments in 1995. In 2011, the museum began searching for recordings of Nepalese material in British Library collections. They were particularly interested in filmed footage and sound recordings made by the Dutch ethnomusicologist Arnold Adriaan Bake, who recorded in Nepal in the 1930s and again in the 1950s. Through an agreement with the Music Museum of Nepal, the British Library deposited digital copies of Nepalese material in the museum, including wax cylinder recordings, 16mm film copies, and reel-to-reel digital files.
The existing documentation for some of the material was sparse and confusing in places, but with painstaking effort the Music Museum of Nepal honored the exchange by providing new detailed documentation to the British Library which has now been added to the sound and moving image catalogue (SAMI). The MMN also identified festivals and rituals which had long disappeared, those that were rarely performed, such as the Maruni dance, and highlighted areas where material would be considered culturally sensitive—for instance, in the films of carya (sacred and secret tantric hand gestures) which Bake was able to access through his privileged position as a foreign researcher.
Celebrate World Day for Audiovisual Heritage Day (October 27) by reading “Documenting the impact of reconnecting audiovisual cultural heritage material in the country of origin” by Isobel Clouter in Asian-European music research e-journal [winter 2018] pp. 1-10; RILM Abstracts of Music Literature 2018-11431.
Watch a video about the Music Museum of Nepal below.
Related previous Bibliolore posts:
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When people ask me about an introduction to Thai classical music, I (and many others) suggest watching a film entitled The Overture. It is indeed a good beginning into the world of Thai classical music.
The Overture (โหมโรง Hom Rong), released in 2004, is a fictional film based on the life of the legendary Thai classical musician, Sorn Silpabanlen (1881-1954), also known as Luang Pradit Pairoh. The film parallels two different eras in which Sorn lived: the late 19th century, when he was young and Thai classical music was under patronage, and the 1940s, when Sorn became an old master and Thai classical music was regarded as uncivilized in the face of modernization programs led by Field Marshal Plaek Pibulsonggram. Below is a brief synopsis and analysis of key scenes and themes in the film.
As a young man born into a musical family, Sorn is a talented ranat ek (Thai xylophone) player, who has gained great recognition for his skills. His confidence, however, is shaken after losing a spontaneous public match to the ranat ek master Khun In. This defeat leads Sorn to devote himself to more rigorous practice. Ultimately, a chance for a revenge comes when Sorn joins the Royal ensemble leading to a one-on-one ranat ek match with Khun Inn with elites, locals, and even foreigners in the audience. After an intense performance, Sorn finally defeats Khun In. The scene then changes to the 1940s, where an older Sorn reflects on the day of the match while looking at photographs of his masters, including Khun In, hanging on the wall of his home. One night, a military officer visits his home to request that Thai classical music be abandoned for the purpose of promoting modernization in Thailand. The officer emphasizes to Sorn the need to civilize the nation. To this request Sorn replies, “If rooted deep and strong, a tree can stand still to any forces. If we do not take care of the roots, how can we survive?”
The performance of ranat ek throughout the film depicts several glamorous aspects of Thai classical music: virtuoso techniques (especially when playing in octaves at a faster tempo), various improvisations, and exciting Ranat ek matches. The breathtaking intensity of the ranat ek match is thrilling and a high point of the film. The Overture also introduces other instruments such as saw ou, a Thai fiddle that plays a very sweet and romantic song as the young Sorn meets his future wife.
Although Sorn and other Thai classical musicians oppose the governmental recognition of Thai classical music as uncivilized, it does not hinder their exploration of Western music. In a scene from the 1940s, the elderly Sorn plays the ranat ek alongside a piano brought by his son, who had studied Western music in Japan. This encounter is depicted as peaceful and filled with possibilities for the further development of Thai classical music. They appear open to any musical possibilities, as long as they have the autonomy to do so.
The film also reminds us about how Thai classical music and its position have been deeply embedded in the society and changes that have occurred to the tradition–once a symbol of the elites and royalty, it later became the unrefined object to be civilized and abandoned. This simultaneously raises questions about whether any authority can truly control music. When the military officer leaves Sorn’s house, Sorn plays ranat ek with the windows open, as if challenging the officer and the desire for modernization—this leaves Sorn open to arrest under government regulations. The officer looks around to find that local residents have gathered in front of Sorn’s house to enjoy the spontaneous performance. The enjoyment is clear on their faces. Instead of arresting Sorn, the officer and his cadets leave the house in their military automobiles while the sound of Thai classical music resonates and fills the air.
–Written by Shiho Ogura, RILM intern and MA student in Southeast Asian Studies at the National University of Singapore. Her research interests include Thai classical music, intercultural music-making in contemporary Asia, Japanese ethnomusicology, nationalism, and music education.
Below is the classic scene of the match between Sorn and Khun In. The video below it is the ranak ek and piano duet scene.
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The music of Central America tends to borrow heavily from the music of Mexico to the north, Colombia to the south, and the Caribbean Islands to the east, and, in the case of Nicaragua, from the politically motivated nueva canción (new song) movement. Additionally, some traces of the ancient Mayan culture can still be found in Nicaragua and Belize, and more strongly in Guatemala. People of Mayan background form around half of the population of Guatemala. Their cultural heritage has been preserved to an extraordinary extent because of their great reverence for their cultural heritage, mythology, and rituals. Their instruments include various slit-drums, gongs, rattles, and cane flutes that sometimes have the rattles of rattlesnakes enclosed in a hollow space above the embouchure. This is then closed off with a thin membrane, and the resulting menacing buzz is heard in the music of the Baile de venada (dance of the deer).
Along with Indian traditions in Guatemala is the equally thriving music of the Ladino population, which is Hispanic in origin and is found mostly in the country’s urban centers. The instrument that is central to Ladino music, namely the marimba de tecomates, which has a keyboard of wooden bars with gourds suspended underneath, is thought to be of African origin. Although Ladino groups have now adopted more contemporary marimbas, there is still a great variety among them. The largest, the marimba grande, has a range similar to a piano and is usually played by four players.
The son guatemalteco is the national dance of Guatemala, and dancers bring out the son rhythm with zapateadas or foot stamping. These indigenous rhythms and themes have also been incorporated into classical music. The brothers Jesús and Ricardo Castillo were Guatemalan classical composers of the early 20th century. Jesús wrote a treatise on the Mayan music of the country, and both brothers wrote pieces using Indian themes (Suites indigenas) and even operas such as Quiché Vinak. In Nicaragua, composers such as Luis Delgadillo (1887–1962) included Inca themes and other indigenous Nicaraguan music in their work.
The country furthest south in Central America, Panama, was previously part of Colombia until 1903, and is considered by some to be the source of Colombia’s cumbia genre. Its musical traditions are a mix of Spanish, Indian, and African, but as one of the most cosmopolitan countries of the region, folk music is now mainly the preserve of schools and folklore societies.
Celebrate Hispanic Heritage Month by reading through the Latin America section of the Encyclopedia of music in the 20th century (2013). Find it in RILM Music Encyclopedias (RME).
Below is a performance of son guatemalteco and a piece entitled Fiesta de pajaros composed by Jesús Castillo.
Previous related Bibliolore posts to check out:
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“Oh, Beloved! I am honey trapped in your love. Make me hear you!”
As the musicologist Ranjana Saxena writes, lyrics like these illustrate the essence of the tappa, a florid, passionately romantic vocal art form of India. Inspired by the undulating motions of camel-riding Arab tradespeople, the word “tappa” originates from the Punjab province of India and Pakistan. Its root word tappana refers to the bouncing and jerkiness of a camelback ride and the mercurial, melismatic singing that these rides have inspired.
Unlike khayal—the serene art music from the Hindustani tradition of India—the tappa is volatile, unfolding rapidly throughout a single tala (rhythm) cycle. The sung text is usually very brief, consisting of not more than two to four lines. However, tappa singers use this brevity to their advantage. They deftly weave in the frenetic melismas through the scant lyrics, finessing the diction to facilitate speed while maintaining comprehensibility. Unlike other forms of Hindustani art music, where the melodic framework for the piece, encapsulated in the raga, is first outlined, this foreshadowing is summarily eschewed in the tappa. Instead, the emotional content emerges over the course of the presentation, which, due to the extreme physical demands it places upon the singer, does not last for more than ten minutes.
At the heart of tappa virtuosity is the zamzama taan, a circuitous vocal gyration employing short patterns of four to five notes that move through the notes of the raga, often cut with notes that are sung in faster subdivisions to create a sense of drama and unpredictability, or to make abrupt changes in the patterns used even more apparent, according to Debapriya Adhikary, one of the torchbearers of the Benarasi tradition of tappa. “Unlike khayal”, he adds, “tappa singing does not allow for nyaas (resting) on any one note. It is a tireless, intricate pursuit of passionate beauty.” Chhuut taans also find a home in the tappa; these taans start with a wide, upwards jerk and descend rapidly, taking a pliable view of tempo, accelerating and then slowing down for effect, underscoring tension and release. However, sapaat taans—linear runs through the notes of the raga—are avoided to ensure that tappas are never confused with faster khayals, which can be equally dizzying.
The demanding nature of the tappa tends to overshadow its nuanced inner workings in scholarship on the genre, both by Indians and cultural outsiders. Colonial collectors such as William Hamilton Bird and Sarah Plowden described tappa as “wild”. At the same time, orientalists such as William Jones and Augustus Willard considered it a “rude style”. Although it can be hard to look past the virtuosic element of tappa singing, a subtle richness emerges once you do. For starters, there is the curious case of the languages used in the tappa texts. The tappas that have endured in pre-partition India (the longest have Punjabi texts), were sung in various languages, including Sindhi, Multani, Bannochi, Derawali, and Saraiki. The poetry of the tappa speaks beseechingly of love, depicting a traditionally demure view of separation and longing. Most importantly, tappa embody the feminine voice irrespective of the gender of the performer; whosoever sings the tappa has to use female pronouns and embody birhaa and shringar, the emotions most closely associated with the feminine in the Hindustani tradition.
Due to its somewhat limited emotional landscape, tappas tend to be composed in a few ragas, such as Khamaj, Kafi, Bhairavi, Jhinjhoti, Tilang, Sindhura, Des, Jangla, Pahari, Maand, and Sohini. Tala (time cycles) used include Punjabi (adha theka), Pashto, and Sitarkhani, used for their uneven accents that further reinforce the off-kilter feel at the core of the tappa.
The rhythmic gait of the tappa is as complex as its origins, which are contested to say the least. The most common view is that this art form was created by Ghulam Nabi Shori (1742-1792), a genius hereditary musician at the court of Awadh in Lucknow, India, patronized by Nawab Asafuddaulah. Tappas attributed to him bear his nom de plume, Shori Miyan, in the last line of the text. As the story goes, he inherited not only knowledge of dhrupadand khayal, the two most prominent genres of art music in the Hindustani tradition, from his father but also a ceaseless innovative spirit. Nawab’s father, Ghulam Rasul, had adapted some of the qawwali taans to enhance his dhrupad singing. At the height of his prowess and frustration, Shori traveled across India until he finally found inspiration after a chance encounter with the aforementioned camel riders and used their simple folk songs as a base for his melismatic vocal virtuosity.
However, authors like Katherine Schofield have brought this theory under greater scrutiny, suggesting that tappas were sung in Delhi nearly a hundred years before Shori Miyan brought them to Lucknow. Considering that Delhi was also the seat of the Qawwali, it is easy to surmise that this conjecture may carry some weight. Besides Schofield, musicologists Fakirullah and Mirza Khan also have identified famous love songs called “tappay” at the time of the Mughal Emperor Shahjehan in the 17th century. Gokul Nath traced tappay sung by courtesans on the streets of Agra even earlier, sometime during the 16th century. Ranjana Saxena notes that some scholars credit the Besara Geet of dhrupad as the source of the tappa. However, due to the oral tradition of music in India, it is hard to say with certainty how any of these compared with the modern-day tappa popularized by Shori Miyan.
Shori Miyan’s is not the only stream of tappa that can be sampled in India. While a contemporary of Shori Miyan, Ramnidhi Gupta, created a variant of the tappa in Bengal that evolved into something completely different due to the sociocultural climate of its new home in Eastern India, from the mainstream, Northern tappa as practiced in Gwalior and Benares. Famed musicologist V.D. Paluskar also composed tappas, but these were settings of mystical poetry and explicitly Hindu devotional, unlike mainstream tappas with their lovelorn turn of phrase. Shori Miyan’s presence in Lucknow, and the spread of his students eastward, virtually ensured that the tappa never gained prominence in Punjab, the land of its origin, as it did in Central and Eastern India. Gamun Miyan (Shori’s disciple) passed the tappa to Benares, and several excellent tappa singers arose there, most notably Girija Devi, who ultimately passed it down to Debapriya.
“I was fascinated by how intricate her singing was, yet how easy she made it seem,” Debapriya says of his illustrious Gurumaa. “She saw that I had an aptitude for the tappa and a love for learning difficult things, so she started to instruct me in it.” Hearing Debapriya sing the tappa, it is easy to see what may have impressed Girija Devi. His cultured, lyrical, and expressive voice not only exhibits the athleticism required for tappa but is also full of pathos and emotion, which is rare nowadays. Debapriya has cultivated a complete mastery of the four baans of tappa singing–laari daar, guthaao daar, khudi daar, and phande daar–overcoming the many challenges these present both anatomically and conceptually to an outstanding degree. He explains that his gurumaa taught him to avoid excessively heavy oscillations to conserve his voice and to find an appropriate balance between vocal gymnastics and the prosody hidden in the text. “I spent a lot of time trying to connect the notes of any given raga in a series of slow glides, which I could eventually speed up to produce the many scintillating effects that the tappa demands,” Debapriya says, “but in doing so I realized that the onus of hard work has to be upon the student. The teacher can only take you to the fountainhead; it is up to you to put in the hours required to claim knowledge as your own.” Debapriya performs his wide repertoire, including tappa, with his cousin and musical partner, Samanwaya Sarkar, who happens to be one of the few contemporary instrumentalists able to render the tappa on his Sitar faithfully.
–Written by Ali Hassan, a versatile singer, percussionist, an aspiring ethnomusicologist, and a multicultural composer-producer from Karachi, Pakistan. Ali is currently an intern at RILM.
Watch a video of Debapriya performing with Samanwaya Sarkar below.
Here Debapriya sings one of his favorite Shori Miyan tappas, and explains the salient features of the Benarasi tappa.
Astrud Gilberto, born Astrud Evangelina Weinert in Salvador, in Bahia, Brazil to a Brazilian mother and German father, was the voice of bossa nova. As a genre, bossa nova combined Brazilian samba rhythms and U.S. cool jazz elements while featuring an understated vocal style that complemented an acoustic guitar technique that featured plucked chords with jazz-influenced harmonies and chord progressions. Her rendition of The girl from Ipanema was sung quietly and melancholically without vibrato, in complete contrast to the extroverted rock ‘n’ roll numbers of the time. The song was composed in 1962 by Antônio Carlos Jobim and two years later appeared on the album Getz/Gilberto by singer and guitarist João Gilberto and saxophonist Stan Getz. On the album–which marked the peak of the bossa nova craze, sold millions of copies, and won a Grammy for Album of the Year–Astrud sang two of the songs: The girl from Ipanema and Corcovado (Quiet nights of quiet stars).
As a young woman, she moved with her family to Rio de Janeiro in 1948 where she worked in the Brazilian Ministry of Agriculture. Astrud married João Gilberto in 1959 after meeting at a friend’s house with whom she had sung as an amateur in bossa nova shows. In 1963, she traveled to New York City and performed an English version of the song Garota de Ipanema on João’s LP with Stan Getz. The English release of The girl from Ipanema marked her international breakthrough, making both the song and bossa nova known throughout the world. Although The girl from Ipanema is one of the most covered songs, it was Astrud’s English version with a Brazilian accent that was first associated with the song.
Astrud continued her career with Getz Au Go Go (1964, with Stan Getz), The Astrud Gilberto Album (1965, nominated for a Grammy in the category Best Female Vocal Performance), and Look to the Rainbow (1966, with Gil Evans). Her hits included Água de beber (1965), The shadow of your smile (1965), and Desafinado (1966, with George Michael). Her final album, Jungle, was released in 2002. She received a Latin Grammy Award for Lifetime Achievement in 2008. Although Astrud never enjoyed massive success as a soloist, she was a prolific artist and collaborated with other major musicians throughout her long career as a vocalist.
Astrud Gilberto passed away on 5 June 2023 at the age of 83.
Read her obituary in MGG Online and locate information on her life and career in the Enciclopédia da música brasileira: Erudita, folclórica, popular (Encyclopedia of Brazilian music: Erudite, folkloric, popular, 2010) in RILM Music Encyclopedias (RME).
Watch the video of Astrud Gilberto performing Corcovado below!
The Baluchis Spread out across Pakistan, Iran, and Muscat, the Baluchi people are as complex and diverse as the landscapes that they inhabit. Baluchistan, the largest Pakistani province, is home to the Baluch as well as a rich geography, culture, and history. Its hardy mountains, though imposing at a distance, harbor beautiful secret alcoves. Its picturesque coastlines sketch a region that has proven both alluring and inaccessible to those who set their sights on it from Cyrus the Great to the modern-day ethnomusicologists. For better or worse, Baluchistan remains an unexplored cultural and geographical wonderland to the outside world.
The Baluchi people and their music bear testament to historical cross-pollination. The Iranian-descended Baluchis have freely mixed with Arabs and Siddis/Sheedis of African origin to create a unique culture. In their music, percussive, driving African rhythms intermingle with a unique melodic idiom, akin to ragas and maqams but standing apart from both. Their repertory ranges from songs of love (dastanag), loss (zahiroh), as well as music to accompany zar and gawati healing rituals and assimilated fishermen songs (amba). The meditative, Sufi-inspired religiosity espoused by the Baluchis also colors their music–manifesting in persistent, repetitive melodic motifs that gradually shift over time.
The benju It is no surprise that the benju, a unique keyboard-fitted zither, evolved in Karachi given the diversity of influences in the region. It was brought to Baluchi shores at the cusp of the 19th century by Japanese sailors, as the local telling of the story goes. This now-ubiquitous instrument arrived as the taishogoto, or nagoya harp, a children’s toy. From these humble beginnings, it has evolved to become a staple instrument in Baluchi folk music.
Over the last century, Baluchi people living in Iran and Pakistan have enlarged the humble taishogoto, adding up to six strings and row of keys, a larger, more resonant body, as well as electric pickups. This upgrade resulted from both necessity and ingenuity as the region has been subject to historical poverty and has had limited economic means and access to parts and reliable materials.
The benju produces a culturally espoused, rich overtone and shadow-notes-laden sound while its soft keys facilitate great melismatic virtuosity. Both hands divide the labors of musicmaking equally with the left playing keys while the other strums strings with a plectrum adding drones as required. However, its one limitation is that it cannot play the lyrical inflections and glissandos that typify the music of the region–a problem shared by the harmonium, the other imported instrument now part and parcel of North Indian and Pakistani music. Despite this drawback, the benju can be heard in many different social contexts. It is equally at home playing folk tunes or being broadcasted over regional TV or radio programs. It is played at rural weddings as well as in urban contexts where its loudness is greatly desired.
The man The benju has become quite popular recently thanks to the Pakistani virtuoso Ustad Noor Bakhsh. His ten-country European tour this past summer left audiences ecstatic and exhausted from dancing for hours to his irrepressible rhythms. Although Noor Bakhsh was already a local legend in his native Baluchistan for decades, his recent international recognition came about through the efforts of the Heidelberg-educated anthropologist, Daniyal Ahmed, whose fieldwork and managerial expertise have catapulted Noor into the global spotlight. Daniyal found him through videos of his virtuosic yet deeply spiritual playing, which have been widely circulated on social media for the past few years. “It took me four years to head out to find him, no thanks to COVID-19”, says Daniyal. “I was glad that I found him.”
Daniyal attributes the vitality of Noor Bakhsh’s music to his personality. He says that Noor loves to eat daal and naan–staples of Pakistani and North Indian cuisine–and is compelled to improvise by a primal energy that emanates from deep within him. According to Daniyal, “[Noor] is an amazing storyteller, steeped in the folk tales, myths, and legends of his people, collected over decades as he played for gavati and damali trance ceremonies, as well as through his many journeys across the wide expanse of Makran, Pasni, and Quetta. Plus, his whimsicality and sense of humor are as formidable as his musicality.”
Noor Bakhsh’s musicianship bears an indelible imprint of his sojourning; he stands out from his peers and defies tradition in a number of important ways. Firstly, unlike the six-stringed benju favored by other Baluchi folk musicians, he plays a five-stringed one, which he has electrified with a single-coil pickup affixed with a rubber band. He amplifies this with a locally engineered hybrid amp, powered by Phillips-Holland tubes that have been out of production since the 1970’s, and a Toyota car speaker. He has powered this rough-and-tumble setup for the last two decades with a car battery and a small solar panel, underscoring the ingenuity of the Baluchi people.
There is also the case of his musicianship. Noor is profoundly inspired by nature, especially birdsong, as evident on his 2022 album Jingul, which was released to global acclaim. From tuning his benju in line with the climate to eschewing tempered scales, Noor creates an atmosphere of deep spirituality and connectedness from the outset. His eclectic personality informs his extroverted style, adorning deeply lyrical phrases with florid passagework that delights the imagination and resists easy categorization. As Daniyal notes, “[Noor’s] fresh and experimental approach to presenting folk tunes borrows from many sources, including Baluchi zahireg, syncretic melodic frameworks influenced by Arabic and Hindustani traditions. However, Noor also adds Western-inspired triads and scalar runs to the expected trills and flourishes of his region’s repertory, wandering from one tune to another and back, building up to an ecstatic crescendo.”
Noor’s journey Hearing the jubilation in Noor’s music makes the particulars of his life ever more surprising. Born in Gaddani to an iterant family of goatherders of the zangeshahi clan, music was an integral part of Noor’s life. He was initiated into music by master musicians Khuda Bakhsh and Rehmat in his early teens, and he has lived a full and difficult life since that time. Noor spent decades accompanying famous Baluch singer Sabzal Sami, honing his craft, gaining local renown as a master instrumentalist, and losing loved ones and navigating other personal tragedies before eventually settling in a village near Pasni, where he has lived for the last two decades. The arid rocky landscape of his native Baluchistan seeped deeply into his creative ethos. It is no wonder that hearing Noor Bakhsh play in Amsterdam, the Dutch wife of the desert-blues musician Ali Farka Touré cried out, “Ali, you’re alive!”
For all his musical aptitude, Ustad Noor Bakhsh remains childlike at heart in the best of ways. “While other musicians from his social class would have been wowed by the architecture and economic splendor of Europe”, says Daniyal, “all Noor could focus on were the sounds of his precious birds. That’s the man that he is, at once fully alive and immersed in the world, while being completely removed from it.”
–Written by Ali Hassan, a versatile singer, percussionist, an aspiring ethnomusicologist, and a multicultural composer-producer from Karachi, Pakistan. Ali is currently an intern at RILM.
Listen to Noor Bakhsh’s music here: https://honiunhoni.bandcamp.com/album/jingul
Watch a video of Noor performing below.
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Once again, the reviews are in! Another installment has arrived of RILM’s Instant Classics series, which chronicles and collects the books indexed in RILM Abstracts of Music Literature that have received the most reviews in academic literature. This most recent list collects publications covering a wide range of musical topics that were released between 2020 and 2021, listed in order from least to most reviewed.
As always, this list should be viewed as a living document that will become outdated as reviews continue to be written. Despite the inherent limitations, collecting these texts in this way generates a valuable archive of the topics, methodologies, and perspectives that earned the attention of music scholars during a brief period in time. As we zoom out, patterns may emerge that provide insight into the topical trends that have contributed to music discourse in the early decades of the 21st century.
We may also pause over which voices are being heard in music research, the interests of the publishers who are amplifying them, and the types of audiences being targeted. Although this list may inevitably serve as means of promotion, it is not meant to be viewed uncritically. We can appreciate these texts’ contributions to musical knowledge while simultaneously being aware of the powers held and challenges faced by the publishing firms and university presses that sell them.
And finally, do keep in mind that RILM can only disseminate the writings on music to which it has access. You are invited to help make RILM Abstracts be as complete as it can be by visiting our website and submitting your review! We thank you in advance and wish you a happy summer of reading!
– Written, compiled, and edited by Michael Lupo, Assistant Editor/Marketing & Media, RILM
#8. Osborne, Richard and Dave Laing, eds. Music by numbers: The use and abuse of statistics in the music industry (Bristol: Intellect, 2021). [RILM Abstracts of Music Literature, 2020-99384]
Abstract: Examines statistics within the music industry. Its aim is to expose the historical and contemporary use and abuse of these numbers, both nationally and internationally. It addresses their impact on consumers’ choices, upon the careers of musicians and upon the policies that governments and legislators make.
#7. Slominski, Tes. Trad nation: Gender, sexuality, and race in Irish traditional music. Music/culture (Middletown: Wesleyan University Press, 2020). [RILM Abstracts of Music Literature, 2020-54789]
Abstract: Just how “Irish” is traditional Irish music? This book combines ethnography, oral history, and archival research to challenge the longstanding practice of using ethnic nationalism as a framework for understanding vernacular music traditions. The author argues that ethnic nationalism hinders this music’s development today in an increasingly multiethnic Ireland and in the transnational Irish traditional music scene. She discusses early 21st-century women whose musical lives were shaped by Ireland’s struggles to become a nation; follows the career of Julia Clifford, a fiddler who lived much of her life in England, and explores the experiences of women, LGBTQ+ musicians, and musicians of color in the early 21st century.
#6. Lockwood, Lewis. Beethoven’s lives: The biographical tradition (Woodbridge: Boydell Press, 2020). [RILM Abstracts of Music Literature, 2020-11238]
Abstract: When Beethoven died in March 1827, the world of music felt an intense loss. The composer’s funeral procession was one of the largest Vienna had ever witnessed, and the poet Franz Grillparzer’s eulogy brought the tensions between the composer’s life and music into sharp focus: the deaf and aloof genius, the alienated and eccentric artist, unable to form a lasting relationship with a woman but reaching out to mankind. These apparent contradictions were to attract many Beethoven biographers yet to come. The story of Beethoven biography is traced, from the earliest attempts made directly after the composer’s death to the present day. It casts a wide net, tracing the story of Beethoven biography from Anton Schindler as biographer and falsifier, through the authoritative Alexander Wheelock Thayer and down to the present. The list includes Gustav Nottebohm, the first scholar to study Beethoven’s sketchbooks. With his work, biography could begin to reflect on the inner life of the artist as expressed in his music, and in this sense, sketchbooks could be seen as artistic diaries. Even Richard Wagner thought of writing a Beethoven biography, and the late 19th and early 20th century saw the emergence of French and English traditions of Beethoven biography. In the tumultuous 20th century, with world wars and fractured politics, the writing of Beethoven biography was sometimes caught up in the storm. By bringing the story down to our time, it identifies traditions of Beethoven biography that today’s scholars and writers need to be aware of. Each biography reflects not only on the individual writer’s knowledge and interests, but also his inner sense of purpose as each writer works within the intellectual framework of his time.
#5. Brennan, Matt. Kick it: A social history of the drum kit (New York: Oxford University Press, 2020). [RILM Abstracts of Music Literature, 2020-11043]
Abstract: The drum kit has provided the pulse of popular music from before the dawn of jazz up to the present day pop charts. This provocative social history of the instrument looks closely at key innovators in the development of the drum kit: inventors and manufacturers like the Ludwig and Zildjian dynasties, jazz icons like Gene Krupa and Max Roach, rock stars from Ringo Starr to Keith Moon, and popular artists who haven’t always got their dues as drummers, such as Karen Carpenter and J Dilla. Tackling the history of race relations, global migration, and the changing tension between high and low culture, the author makes the case for the drum kit’s role as one of the most transformative musical inventions of the modern era. He shows how the drum kit and drummers helped change modern music—and society as a whole—from the bottom up.
#4. Austern, Linda Phyllis. Both from the ears & mind: Thinking about music in early modern England (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2020). [RILM Abstracts of Music Literature, 2020-8218]
Abstract: Offers a bold new understanding of the intellectual and cultural position of music in Tudor and Stuart England. The author brings to life the kinds of educated writings and debates that surrounded musical performance, and the remarkable ways in which English people understood music to inform other endeavors, from astrology and self-care to divinity and poetics. Music was considered both art and science, and discussions of music and musical terminology provided points of contact between otherwise discrete fields of human learning. This book demonstrates how knowledge of music permitted individuals to both reveal and conceal membership in specific social, intellectual, and ideological communities. Attending to materials that go beyond music’s conventional limits, these chapters probe the role of music in commonplace books, health-maintenance and marriage manuals, rhetorical and theological treatises, and mathematical dictionaries. Ultimately, the author illustrates how music was an indispensable frame of reference that became central to the fabric of life during a time of tremendous intellectual, social, and technological change.
#3. Frühauf, Tina. Transcending dystopia: Music, mobility, and the Jewish community in Germany, 1945–1989 (New York: Oxford University Press, 2021). [RILM Abstracts of Music Literature, 2021-1]
Abstract: Discusses the role music played in its various connections to and contexts of Jewish communal life and cultural activity in Germany from 1945 to 1989. This history of the Jewish communities’ musical practices during the postwar and Cold War eras tells the story of how the traumatic experience of the Holocaust led to transitions and transformations, and the significance of music in these processes. As such, it relies on music to draw together three areas of inquiry: the Jewish community, the postwar Germanys and their politics after the Holocaust (occupied Germany, the Federal Republic, the Democratic Republic, and divided Berlin), and the concept of cultural mobility. Indeed, the musical practices of the Jewish communities in the postwar Germanys cannot be divorced from politics, as can be observed in their relations to Israel and U.S. On the grounds of these conceptual concerns, selective communities serve as case studies to provide a kaleidoscopic panorama of musical practices in worship and in social life. Within these pillars, a wide spectrum of topics is covered, from music during commemorations, on the radio and in Jewish newspapers, to synagogue concerts and community events; from the absence and presence of cantor and organ to the resurgence of choral music. What binds these topics tightly together is the specific theoretical inquiry of mobility.
#2. Robinson, Dylan. Hungry listening: Resonant theory for Indigenous sound studies. Indigenous Americas (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 2020). [RILM Abstracts of Music Literature, 2020-4582]
Abstract: Listening is considered from both Indigenous and settler colonial perspectives. In a critical response to what has been called the “whiteness of sound studies”, how decolonial practices of listening emerge from increasing awareness of our listening positionality are evaluated. This involves identifying habits of settler colonial perception and contending with settler colonialism’s “tin ear” that renders silent the epistemic foundations of Indigenous song as history, law, and medicine. With case studies on Indigenous participation in classical music, musicals, and popular music, structures of inclusion that reinforce Western musical values are examined. Alongside this inquiry on the unmarked terms of inclusion in performing arts organizations and compositional practice, examples of “doing sovereignty” in Indigenous performance art, museum exhibitions, and gatherings that support an Indigenous listening resurgence are offered. It is shown how decolonial and resurgent forms of listening might be affirmed by writing otherwise about musical experience. Through event scores, dialogic improvisation, and forms of poetic response and refusal, a reorientation is demanded toward the act of reading as a way of listening. Indigenous relationships to the life of song are sustained in writing that finds resonance in the intersubjective experience between listener, sound, and space.
#1. Ross, Alex. Wagnerism: Art and politics in the shadow of music (New York: Farrar, Straus & Giroux, 2020). [RILM Abstracts of Music Literature, 2020-4721]
Abstract: For better or worse, Wagner is the most widely influential figure in the history of music. Around 1900, the phenomenon known as Wagnerism saturated European and U.S. culture. Such colossal creations as Der Ring des Nibelungen, Tristan und Isolde, and Parsifal were models of formal daring, mythmaking, erotic freedom, and mystical speculation. A mighty procession of artists, including Virginia Woolf, Thomas Mann, Paul Cézanne, Isadora Duncan, and Luis Buñuel, felt his impact. Anarchists, occultists, feminists, and gay-rights pioneers saw him as a kindred spirit. Then Adolf Hitler incorporated Wagner into the soundtrack of Nazi Germany, and the composer came to be defined by his ferocious antisemitism. For many, his name is now almost synonymous with artistic evil. An artist who might have rivaled Shakespeare in universal reach is undone by an ideology of hate. Still, his shadow lingers over 21st-century culture, his mythic motifs coursing through superhero films and fantasy fiction. A German translation is cited as RILM 2020-61241.
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