Tag Archives: Dance

Palestine in song: An annotated bibliography

The library of the Institut du Monde Arabe (Arab World Institute) in Paris is home to an extensive collection of writings on music from the Arab world, a region stretching from the Atlas Mountains to the Indian Ocean. This series of blog posts highlights selections from this collection, along with abstracts written by RILM staff members contained in RILM Abstracts of Music Literature, the comprehensive bibliography of writings about music. In 2023, the Institut du Monde Arabe hosted the exhibition “Ce Que la Palestine Apporte au Monde” and supplemented it with a resources page on the topic. The IMA library also held an on-site exhibition of its book, movie, and music collection covering Palestine. 

Early documentation of music in Palestine, especially before the 1948 Nakba, is scarce. The writings of figures such as the composer, ʽūd player, and chronicler Wāṣif Ǧawhariyyaẗ (1897–1973) provide a rare glimpse into the vibrant urban music scene under Ottoman rule and the British Mandate, and represent early attempts to document social and cultural life through personal narrative in the first half of the 20th century. The establishment of the Palestine Broadcasting Service by the British Mandate authority in 1936 marked the beginning of a new era, introducing a hybrid style of Arab music through Radio al-Quds’s iconic phrase hunā al-quds (this is Jerusalem) which became a sonic marker that endures to this day. However, the fate of the radio’s archives, including magnetic tapes and records, remains shrouded in mystery, with only some documents available at the National Library of Israel. After 1948, Palestinian folklore studies grew, reflecting the aspirations of the Palestinian liberation and nationalist movement. 

Recording of Wāṣif Ǧawhariyyaẗ performing a muwaššaḥ. Source: Excerpt from a digitized magnetic tape that appears on an audio CD accompanying the book القدس العثمانية في المذكرات الجوهرية: الكتاب الأول من مذكرات الموسيقي واصف جوهرية، 1904–1917 (Memoirs of the musician Wāṣif Ǧawhariyyaẗ, 1904–17. I: Ottoman Jerusalem in the Wāṣif Ǧawhariyyaẗ memoirs), ed. by Salim Tamari and Issam Nassar (Bayrūt: Muʼassasaẗ al-Dirāsāt al-Filasṭīniyyaẗ/Institute for Palestine Studies, 2003).
A portrait of Wāṣif Ǧawhariyyaẗ. Source: The Palestinian Museum Digital Archive

Publications on Palestinian music proliferated after the second Palestinian exodus of 1967, alongside significant developments in musical production and dissemination. Concerned with the impact of historical events and tragedies on the continuity of Palestinian sung poetry and musical genres, scholars, historians, and folklorists documented the lyrics of sung poetry and their broader social context. In the realm of performance, the El-Funoun Palestinian Popular Dance Troupe, founded in 1979 in Rāmallāh, became a leading organization showcasing the performance practice of Palestinian traditional song and dance internationally. Documentation efforts concurred with the emergence of a new wave of music making, characterized by a genre of socially engaged songs known as al-uġniyyaẗ al-multazimaẗ and the experimentation with new styles that incorporated non-Palestinian musical elements. Such were the repertoires of the Palestinian Sabreen band and other non-Palestinian Arab musicians who drew on broader pan-Arab sensibilities and musical styles to engage with and advocate for the Palestinian cause. During the Second Intifada (2000–05), local music education centers, such as Al Kamandjâti Association and the Palestinian Institute for Cultural Development (NAWA), served as hubs for fostering burgeoning musical talent in the West Bank and presenting Palestinian musicians on the world stage. The work and contribution of these two schools attracted the interest of many journalists and scholars. 

El-Funoun Palestinian Popular Dance Troupe in al-Bīrah in 1981. Source: The Palestinian Museum Digital Archive
A performance of أغنية وطنية (A patriotic song) by Sabreen Band, from their 1992 album موت النبي (Death of a prophet).

In recent years, Palestinian musicians have embraced new musical genres and used new media to produce, disseminate, and distribute new musical creations. Palestinian hip hop has emerged as a transnational genre, engaging Palestinian and Arab audiences locally and among their diasporas globally, reflecting the transnational dimension of the Palestinian struggle. New productions and arrangements of folk melodies and songs are circulating on new streaming platforms, attracting younger generations and drawing the attention of scholars from different disciplines and fields. 

The importance of written documentation and scholarly studies of Palestinian music, whether in Arabic, English, or French, that analyze the context and content of different genres and styles performed at the nexus of contested geographies, cannot be underestimated. Palestinian music and its historiography remain resilient, despite challenges such as neglect due to ongoing displacement, the erosion of traditional forms of expression, threats to historical records, and the risk of appropriation. The titles listed in this annotated bibliography feature Palestinian and non-Palestinian authors who document the rich heritage of Palestinian music and analyze current trends in Palestinian music making. 

– Written and compiled by Farah Zahra, Assistant Editor, RILM

A video portrait of the band DAM produced by the Insitut du Monde Arabe.

Annotated bibliography 

ʽArnīṭaẗ, Yusrá Ğawhariyyaẗ. الفنون الشعبية في فلسطين (Popular arts in Palestine) (4th ed.; Rāmallāh: Dār al-Šurūq li-l-Našr wa-al-Tawzīʻ, 2013). [RILM Abstracts of Music Literature, 2013-54151; IMA catalogue reference]

The tangible and intangible forms of folklore, encompassing popular musical expressions, embroidery customs, and ceremonial practices associated with marriage and celebrations, serve as testimony to the enduring heritage and cultural continuity of the Palestinian people. The present effort to document select aspects of Palestinian folklore several purposes: first, to safeguard these manifestations of popular culture and ensure their continuity; second, to forge a robust connection between present and history; third, to uncover the creative dimensions inherent in Palestinian folklore; and ultimately, to inspire fellow researchers in music and the arts to undertake similar endeavors in documenting Palestinian folklore. Folk songs should be approached with the same urgency to study and preserve such as other Palestinian traditions. Popular songs’ characteristics are detailed, including the characteristics of colloquial dialects, the melodic content, maqam structure, ornaments, and more. Transcriptions of the melodies of 66 songs, along with their transcribed lyrics, are included from different cities. The songs are grouped by topic or occasion, as follows: children’s songs and lullabies; songs of religious holidays and celebrations; love and wedding songs; songs of war and encouragement; work songs; drinking, satirical, and political songs; dance songs; funeral chants and laments; and songs of stories and tales. Popular song represents the Palestinian peoples’ ways of life and social customs and is a spontaneous expression of collective feelings and aspirations. 

ʽAwaḍ, ʽAwaḍ Suʽūd. دراسات في الفولكلور الفلسطيني (Studies in Palestinian folklore) (Munaẓẓamaẗ al-Taḥrīr al-Filasṭīniyyaẗ, 1983). [RILM Abstracts of Music Literature, 1983-26665; IMA catalog reference]

Folklore is a cornerstone of the Palestinian national identity. Rooted in the region’s history and cultural diversity, Palestinian folklore includes songs, dances, handicrafts, costumes, games, popular idioms, myths, legends, and rites-of-passage traditions. Bedouin folklore is of particular interest, as Bedouins constitute a considerable demographic group within the Palestinian population. Selected song lyrics of northern Bedouin songs are transcribed, with commentary on their meanings and contexts provided. Bedouin dances are presented within their cultural context and social significance is explained.

al-Barġūṯī, ʿAbd al-Laṭīf. ديوان الدلعونا الفلسطيني (The book of Palestinian dalʻūnā) (2nd ed.; Rāmallāh: Dār al-Šurūq li-l-Našr wa-al-Tawzīʻ, 2013). [RILM Abstracts of Music Literature, 2013-54149; IMA catalogue reference]

The study of Palestinian sung poetry forms is essential to the preservation and continuity of the Palestinian folklore. This study is the result of four years of field and archival research spanning from 1986 to 1989. It documents 3000 verses of dalʻūnā, a form of sung poetry, which were collected through oral narration by numerous dalʻūnā narrators representing 144 towns and villages in the West Bank and Gaza. The content, which primarily concerns themes of love and adoration, is divided into nine distinct categories, each addressing various facets of love and other subjects such as advice, praise, pride, religion, and reconciliation. The primary love-themed dalʻūnā are subdivided into specific topics, each accompanied by selected dalʻūnā lyrics. These topics include: the glorification of dalʻūnā; patriotic love; depictions of life cycle events; romantic love, including both general and specific aspects of love and beauty; descriptions of physical attributes of the beloved and virtues of people; platonic love; marital relationships, including aspects of marriage, divorce, and related issues; and expressions of nostalgia, complaint, and lament. Finally, the meanings of select terms that appear in dalʻūnā are explained, along with the names of important dalʻūnā reciters.

al-Barġūṯī, ʿAbd al-Laṭīf. “الأغاني الشعبية المناضلة: فلسطين في أغانيها حتى بعيد نكبة 1948—دراسة ميدانية” (The popular songs of the Palestinian liberation struggle up to and including the 1948 Nakba: An ethnographic study), ʽᾹlam al-Fikr 18/2 (1987) 241260. [RILM Abstracts of Music Literature, 1987-31249; IMA catalog reference]

Popular songs accompanied the Palestinian people during their resistance against the British Mandate, the events leading up to the 1948 Nakba, and in the decades that followed, and are an integral part of the broader Palestinian popular literature. The defining characteristics of these songs include their oral transmission, use of colloquial dialects, anonymous authorship, and intergenerational transmission. While the thematic range of popular literature expressed through songs is diverse, this study focuses specifically on lyrics pertaining to themes of patriotism and nationalist aspirations. Song texts are analyzed and categorized in relation to political events, including the 1929 Palestine riots, the British siege of Nāblus in 1936, the 1938 revolt, the 1948 Nakba, mass displacements, and the 1952 Egyptian Revolution. The brief contextual commentaries are supplemented with analysis of thematic content offering eulogies for martyrs, hopes for repatriation, feelings of nostalgia for the homeland, criticisms of Arab leaders, and aspirations for liberation. 

al-Bāš, Ḥasan. الأغنية الشعبية الفلسطينية (Palestinian popular songs) (2nd ed., rev. and enl.; Dimašq: Dār al-Ğalīl, 1987). [RILM Abstracts of Music Literature, 1987-31205; IMA catalogue reference]

The documentation of popular songs facilitates a connection to the historical roots of Palestine, serving to illustrate various expressions of everyday life. Popular songs serve as poignant expressions of the liberation aspirations of the Palestinian people, while also foregrounding the rich religious and ethnic diversity of Palestine. The analysis of popular songs is presented on the basis of both formal attributes and the social contexts in which they are performed, as follows: mawwāl, ʽatābā and mīğā; šurūqiyyāẗ; taḥdāyaẗ or ḥadāʼ; songs of dabkaẗ and popular dances such as dalʻūnā, ğufraẗ, ya ẓarīf al-tūl, farʽāwiyyaẗ, and others; wedding and zaffaẗ songs and tarwīdaẗ; zağal and muwaššaḥ. In addition, these songs are further examined in relation to the social occasions during which they are traditionally sung, including rituals surrounding childbirth, circumcision, lullabies, religious celebrations honoring prophets and saints, engagements, weddings, and various forms of labor such as fishing, farming, and harvesting. After the 1948 Nakba, a notable thematic shift toward nostalgia emerged as a unifying motif across different song genres. A convergence in repertoire between Bedouin, rural, and urban song traditions is also noted. In addition, a commitment to poetic meter is maintained, indicative of the enduring significance of poetry. Finally, contemporary performance practice incorporates diverse song forms, both in terms of structure and thematic content, highlighting the dynamic nature of Palestinian musical expression over time.

El Zein, Rayya. “Resisting ‘resistance’: On political feeling in Arabic rap concerts”, Arab subcultures: Transformations in theory and practice, ed. by Layal Ftouni and Tarik Sabry. (London: I.B. Tauris, 2016) 83–112. [RILM Abstracts of Music Literature, 2016-56445; IMA catalogue reference]

Explores the ways in which young rap artists navigate the contradictions in the public spheres of everyday urban life. The discourse of resistance that permeates scholarship on rap and hip hop in the Arab world is critiqued and perceived as an expression of neoliberal power. In the context of the rap scenes in Bayrūt and Rāmallāh, political sentiments are expressed through objection, confrontation, and repetition—a set of processes that depend on collective action and solidarity rather than individual agency. Interactions, as such, should not be labeled as political but could be approached as subversive in their own terms. The conclusions are based on ethnographic studies conducted in Bayrūt and Rāmallāh, where interviews and conversations were conducted and exchanges between artists and audiences were observed.

al-H̱alīlī, ʽAlī. أغاني العمل والعمال في فلسطين (Work and labor songs in Palestine) (2nd ed.; Bayrūt: Dār Ibn H̱aldūn, 1980). [RILM Abstracts of Music Literature, 1980-21275; IMA catalogue reference]

Studying the songs of workers as a social class allows us to understand and appreciate their contribution to the broader spectrum of Palestinian folklore. Approaching the development of Palestinian folk songs through the lens of class struggle parallels the evolution of poetic forms and themes, moving from traditional forms to romanticism, realism, and socialist realism. These phases, manifested in both content and form, correlate with the broader class and nationalist struggles that have existed in Palestine since the late 19th century, culminating in the revolutionary movements of 1936–39 and the Nakba of 1948. Beginning in the 1950s, Palestinian folklorists began to adopt new methodologies and theories based on dialectical materialism to understand and analyze folklore and other cultural expressions. This approach facilitated the inclusion of peasant and urban cultural expressions, allowing for a nuanced exploration of class dynamics, societal transformations, and continuity. The study of select labor-related songs offers insights into various occupational domains, categorized as follows: agricultural labor songs, lyrical themes related to land cultivation, shepherding, forced displacement from agricultural lands, and migration to urban centers in search of employment; songs of construction workers; songs of fishermen and hunters; and songs of artisans, street vendors, drivers, barbers, and of similar occupations. It is important to recognize that certain professions have disappeared as a result of historical events, technological advancements, and changes in societal structures, thus affecting the repertoire of accompanying songs. Nevertheless, some work songs have been adopted and survived in other contexts, such as weddings and celebrations, where they are celebrated as emblematic expressions of Palestinian nationalism. 

Ḥassūnaẗ, H̱alīl Ismāʽīl. الفلكلور الفلسطيني: دلالات وملامح (Palestinian folklore: Symbolism and characteristics) (Rāmallāh: al-Muʼassasaẗ al-Filasṭīniyyaẗ li-l-Iršād al-Qawmī, 2003). [RILM Abstracts of Music Literature, 2003-51501; IMA catalogue reference]

Folk songs are a vibrant expression of Palestinian folklore, along with other expressions such as traditional folk storytelling, folk poetry, idiomatic expressions, games, and other cultural practices. The significance of folk songs lies in their pervasive presence across all aspects of Palestinian life. These songs serve as conduits for popular wisdom and narrative, evident in genres such as children’s songs, lullabies, work songs, lament songs, bukāʼiyyāt, and others. With their rich depictions of nature and the land, folk songs are a celebration of Palestinians’ deep connection to their homeland. To illustrate the uses and themes of folk songs, the full text of three popular poems, six ahāzīğ, 20 texts of mawwāl, 20 texts of ʽatābā, 16 texts of mīğanā, five texts of ğifrā, 15 texts of ẓarīf al-ṭūl, and dozens of verses of other poetic sung forms are included.

Ǧawhariyyaẗ, Wāṣif. القدس العثمانية في المذكرات الجوهرية: الكتاب الأول من مذكرات الموسيقي واصف جوهرية، 1904–1917 (Memoirs of the musician Wāṣif Ǧawhariyyaẗ, 1904–17. I: Ottoman Jerusalem in the Wāṣif Ǧawhariyyaẗ memoirs), ed. by Salim Tamari and Issam Nassar (2nd ed.; Bayrūt: Muʼassasaẗ al-Dirāsāt al-Filasṭīniyyaẗ/Institute for Palestine Studies, 2003). [RILM Abstracts of Music Literature, 2003-51500; IMA catalogue reference]

The memoirs of Wāṣif Ǧawhariyyaẗ are a remarkable treasure trove of writings on the life, culture, music, and history of Jerusalem. Spanning over four decades (from 1904 to 1948), they cover a period of enormous and turbulent change in Jerusalem; changes lived and remembered from the perspective of the street storyteller. An ʽūd player, music lover, and ethnographer, poet, collector, partygoer, satirist, civil servant, local historian, devoted son, husband, father, and person of faith, Wāṣif viewed the life of his city through multiple roles and lenses. The result is a vibrant, unpredictable, sprawling collection of anecdotes, observations, and yearnings as diverse as the city itself. 

Lama, Patrick. La musique populaire palestinienne (Palestinian traditional music) (Paris: Éditions du Témoignage Chrétien, 1982). [RILM Abstracts of Music Literature, 1982-3130; IMA catalogue reference]

Palestinian popular music is part of a broader Palestinian cultural heritage influenced by Arab-Islamic culture. To understand Palestinian popular music more fully, one must first analyze the Arab vocal aesthetics, musical modes, and the rhythmic systems from which it derives. Here, the homophonic and monodic structures of Palestinian popular music, the role of repetition, and rhythmic variations are analyzed. Brief definitions and excerpts from lyrics of syllabic chants are also covered. These chants include al-dalʻūnā, ẓarīf al-ṭūl, al-firʻāwiyyaẗ, al-ğafraẗ, al-sāmir, al-saḥğaẗ, al-ğawlaẗ, al-ʻiqīlī, al-qarrādī, w-ʻallā, al-mlālā, al-hiğīnī, al-ğaʻīdiyyaẗ, al-maṭlūʻ, al-šubāš, and other forms such as al-iskābaẗ, al-mʻannaẗ, al-tarwīdaẗ, al-mawwāl, al-ʻatābā, al-šurūqiyyāẗ, as well as other recited forms such as al-mhāhā, al-qaṣīdaẗ, al-mḥūrabaẗ. Transcriptions of repetitions in melodic phrases are included to better illustrate the role of repetition in Palestinian popular song and music.

Mérimée, Pierre and Jacques Denis. Intifada rap, trans. by Tara Dominguez and Sarah Bouasse (Paris: LO/A Edition, 2014). [RILM Abstracts of Music Literature, 2014-95113; IMA catalogue reference

Features photographs of Palestinian rappers, spoken word artists, and musicians, as well as the wider urban spaces in which the alternative and Palestinian music scenes thrive. The daily lives and activities of musicians are captured by the photographer. Some images are accompanied by brief written commentary, quotes, or lyrics by Palestinian poets and artists and Israeli activists. Hip hop artists featured include SAZ (Sameh Zakout), Boikutt (Jad Abbas), Shaana Streett, Mahmoud Jrere of DAM, and members of MWR, WE7, and G-Town. Other non-hip hop artists featured are Amal Murkus and Said Mourad, founder of the Sabreen Band. 

Shammout, Bashar. الإرث الفلسطيني المرئي والمسموع: نشأته وتشتته والحفاظ الرقمي عليه–دراسات أولية وتطلعات مستقبلية (The Palestinian audiovisual heritage: Origin, dissemination, and digital preservation–Preliminary studies and future prospects) (Bayrūt: Muʼassasaẗ al-Dirāsāt al-Filasṭīniyyaẗ/Institute for Palestine Studies, 2020). [RILM Abstracts of Music Literature, 2020-74761; IMA catalogue reference]

The study of Palestinian audiovisual heritage is central to the preservation efforts of institutions, collectives, and individuals in Palestine and among Palestinian communities abroad. The study and documentation of the history of film, photography, and sound recording technologies in Palestine, as well as an assessment of the current state of collections and archives, contribute to the preservation of the Palestinian collective memory. Such topics are approached from three angles: the historical background of key audiovisual materials and archives, the dispersion and fragmentation of collections across archival institutions and private collectors coupled with challenges related to access, and the application of best practices in digital archiving methodologies to assist archivists and researchers in their preservation and dissemination efforts. This study is among the first to examine the status of issues facing Palestinian audiovisual heritage, inspired by a perspective rooted in archival studies. 

Rooney, Caroline. “Activism and authenticity: Palestinian and related hip-hop in an international frame”, The Arab avant-garde: Music, politics, modernity, ed. by Thomas Burkhalter, Kay Dickinson and Benjamin J. Harbert (Middletown: Wesleyan University Press, 2013) 209–228. [RILM Abstracts of Music Literature, 2013-8742; IMA catalogue reference]

Palestinian hip hop draws on national and international cultural influences, protest poetry, and improvisational techniques. The genre is exemplified by the works of the Palestinian hip hop group DAM and its lead member Tamer Nafar as well as the works of the British rapper and activist Lowkey. The concept of “language pollution” is used to explain the lyrical and thematic content of selected lyrics by the two artists. Themes of class struggle and resistance to occupation are contextualized through the lens of hip hop aesthetic techniques, inspired by the utopian internationalism of liberation hip hop. While Palestinian hip hop can be analyzed as an avant-garde art form, its musicians subvert some avant-garde aesthetics through their lyricism, orality, and connections to both national and international communities.

Tolan, Sandy. Le pouvoir de la musique: Une enfance entre pierres et violon en Palestine, trans. by Jean-Philippe Rouillier, Catherine Boussard, and Bernard Devin (Paris: Riveneuve Éditions, 2019). [RILM Abstracts of Music Literature, 2019-74953; IMA catalogue reference]

The story of Ramzi Aburadwan, a refugee who grew up under military occupation and pursued his dream of becoming a musician. Ramzi’s deep love of music led him to collaborate with international musicians, culminating in his being recognized by Daniel Barenboim, who invited him to join the West-Eastern Divan Orchestra. In 2002, Ramzi founded the music school Al Kamandjâti in Rāmallāh, which quickly became a hub for music education and collaboration. The school attracted musicians from around the world who were eager to teach and learn with young students in the West Bank and beyond. The biography of Ramzi, along with the history, work, and impact of Al Kamandjâti, is detailed through Ramzi’s life, collaborations, and hundreds of interviews with his acquaintances from various countries. This narrative is interwoven with Palestine’s broader historical and political context since the 1980s.

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Filed under Asia, Mass media, Performers, Politics, Popular music, World music

Courtship dance step sounds of the blue-capped cordon-bleu

While vocalizations have been elucidated in various songbird studies, non-vocal sounds have received less attention. In the blue-capped cordon-bleu (Uraeginthus cyanocephalus), both sexes perform courtship displays that are accompanied by singing and distinct body movements (i.e., dance). A previous study revealed that cordon-bleu courtship bobbing includes multiple rapid steps. This behavior is quite similar to human tap dancing, because it can function simultaneously as a visual and acoustic signal.

In many cases, the acoustic signal value of such steps (along with the high-speed step movements) produce non-vocal sounds that have amplitudes similar to vocal sounds. In this sense, step behavior strongly affects step sound amplitude. Additionally, the dancing step sounds were substantially louder than feet movement sounds in a non-courtship context, and the amplitude range overlapped with that of song notes. These observations support the notion that, in addition to song, cordon-bleus produce acoustic signals with their feet.

Read more in “Songbird tap dancing produces non-vocal sounds” by Nao Ota, Manfred Gahr, and Masayo Soma (Bioacoustics: The international journal of animal sound and its recording 26.2 [2017], 161–168). Find it in RILM Abstracts of Music Literature.

Below is the step-dancing performed by male and female Uraeginthus cyanocephalus (blue-capped cordon-bleu) captured on a research video by the authors.

Related Bibliolore posts:


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Filed under Animals, Curiosities, Dance, Nature, Science

A Christmas ritual of Colombia’s Afro-Andean community

Every year from Christmas to Epiphany, the communities descended from the African slaves who mined gold for the Spaniards celebrate the Adoraciones al Niño-Diós in the Andean valleys of Cauca in southwestern Colombia.

The celebrants sing and dance until dawn in front of a creche set up in one of the village houses. A group of six musicians, unusual because it includes violins, accompanies the women who are the singers and the leaders of the ritual.

The tradition is documented on the CD Colombie: Adoration à l’enfant-Dieu (Département du Cauca) (VDE-Gallo 1349 [2011]).

Revisiting this classic Bibliolore post which originally appeared in December 2017. Happy Holidays from RILM!

Below is a brief documentary on Auroras al Amanecer, the group featured in the recordings.

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Filed under Religious music, South America

Cultural politics of the Warlpiri purlapa

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 [2021]).

Below is a 1978 performance of a purlapa ceremony recorded on 8 mm film.

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Filed under Australia and Pacific islands, Dance, Politics, Religious music, World music

Central America’s vast dance and musical heritage

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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Filed under Central America, Dance, Popular music, World music

Revival of hula ku‘i

The reign of King David Kālakaua holds special significance for Hawaiian traditions. After decades of missionary-led censure, Hawaiian customs became revitalized when Kalākaua encouraged their revival. Master teachers (kumu hula) were summoned to the court at Honolulu, where they enjoyed royal patronage. From the environment, hula ku‘i emerged as a new style of dancing.

The term ku‘i means “to join old and new”, and refers to the mix of old and new components of poetry, music, dance, and costume. Traditional conventions gained a new format: texts were strophic, and each strophe consisted of a couplet. Indigenous vocal styles and ornaments were added to melodies based on tempered tones and simple harmonies. Each couplet was uniform in length, most commonly eight or sixteen beats. The format mandated the repetition of the melody for each couplet, and each couplet was commonly performed twice. An instrumental interlude, popularly called a vamp, separated the stanzas. In dances by seated performers, this interlude is called ki’i pā. New sequences of movements joined preexisting, named, lower-body motifs.

The defining distinction of the hula ku‘i was accompaniment from guitars and ‘ukulele. For dances by standing performers, mele composed in the new format also had the accompaniment of ipuor other Indigenous percussive instruments. In the 20th century, performances of those mele came to be called either ancient hula or hula ‘ōlapa, referencing the division of labor between dancers (‘ōlapa) and musicians (ho’opa’a).

Read the entry on hula ku‘i by Amy Ku‘uleialoha Stillman in The Garland encyclopedia of world music. Australia and the Pacific Islands (2013). Find it in RILM Music Encyclopedias (RME).

The image above is of hula dancers and musicians, circa 1883. Photo courtesy of the Hawai’i State Archives. Below is a video of Hawaiian dance and music from the 2019 Merrie Monarch Festival held annually in Hilo, Hawaii.

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Filed under Australia and Pacific islands, Dance

Shaker dance spaces


The Shakers built their first framed meetinghouse near New Lebanon, New York, along the Massachusetts border, in 1785; this structure assumed the central authority over the Shaker domain and became the architectural prototype for eleven other late–18th-century meetinghouses in New England.

The design of these structures had several distinctive elements, including a heavy timber frame, a sturdy wood-plank floor, double façade doors for separate male and female entry, leadership apartments above the private gable-end door and stairs, carefully gendered spaces throughout, a gambrel roof, and a singular unobstructed ground-floor space to accommodate dynamic communal dancing during worship.

The dance ritual influenced Shaker meetinghouse design and construction in two key ways: it required the adaptation of a mascular timber-frame technology that allowed a broad, uninterrupted floor space; and it necessitated substantial reinforcement of the flooring to safely meet the demands of the large, live weight loads of many worshipers moving rhythmically in unison.

In the floor are noticeable inserted cues, suggesting the arrangements of Shaker dance movements for a maximal dramatic exposure of the dancers’ bodies and faces to public visitors, as Shaker Sabbath performances were attended by large crowds of visitors and were a critical outreach to potential converts. The presence of triangular or fanlike cue patterns opening from the center area of the rear wall outward toward the front double doors in meetinghouses of the Mount Lebanon, Watervliet, Canterbury, Hancock/Shirley, and Harvard buildings demonstrate a level of consistency at villages across at least three states.

Shakers floor plan

(click to enlarge)

It appears plausible that the Shakers’ use of pins specifically placed for dance formations originated at Mount Lebanon, but the idea may have had been even older and implemented already in Dutch barns near Watervliet. The use of dance-floor cues provided greater precision and coordination for public dance performances similar to that provided for marching bands by yardage marks on athletic fields.

This according to “‘Leap and shout, ye living building!’: Ritual performance and architectural collaboration in early Shaker meetinghouses” by Arthur E. McLendon (Buildings & landscapes: Journal of the vernacular architecture forum XX/3 [fall 2013] pp. 48–76; RILM Abstracts of Music Literature 2013-14581).

Below, dancers at Hancock Shaker Village.

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Filed under Architecture, Curiosities, Dance

Malipenga mashup

Performed by Tonga men and boys in Malawi, malipenga involves competitive teams organized in a quasi-military hierarchy—titles include sergeant, captain, and kingi as well as doctor and nurse—dancing in rows and columns and wearing modified European costumes.

Rather than simply viewing it as a product of colonialism, malipenga should be understood in terms of the dynamic nature of ngoma traditions, an ongoing cultural feature that has survived the disruptions of the colonial period.

This according to “Putting colonialism into perspective: Cultural history and the case of malipenga ngoma in Malawi” by Lisa Gilman, an essay included in Mashindano! Competitive music performance in East Africa (Dar es Salaam: Mkuki na Nyota, 2000, pp. 321–345; RILM Abstracts of Music Literature 2000-8791). Below, an example from 2018.

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Filed under Africa, Curiosities, Dance

Forging Aztecness

Today a growing number of Mexican-American musicians in the United States perform on Indigenous Mesoamerican instruments and archaeological replicas in what is widely referred to as Aztec music.

For example, contemporary musicians in Los Angeles draw on legacies of Mexican nationalist music research and integrate applied anthropological and archeological models, showing how musical and cultural frameworks that once served to unite post-revolutionary Mexico have gained new significance in countering Mexican Indigenous erasure in the United States.

This according to “Forging Aztecness: Twentieth-century Mexican musical nationalism in twenty-first century Los Angeles/Forjando el Aztecanismo: Nacionalismo musical mexicano del siglo XX en el siglo XXI en Los Ángeles” by Kristina F. Nielsen (Yearbook for traditional music LII [2020] 127–46; RILM Abstracts of Music Literature 2020-69466).

Above, Martin Espino is one of the musicians profiled in the article (photo by Krystal Mora, used with permission); below, Espino’s group Mexika in 2017.

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Filed under Dance, Instruments, North America

Naṭarāja redux


In the first half of the 20th century South Indian temple dance underwent a remarkable transformation from a low-caste activity to a national art form—from nautch to bharatanāṭyam. This transformation was nurtured by the Indian nationalist movement, which was deeply rooted in European Orientalism and Victorian morality.

The earlier dance repertoire focused on amorous relationships between a nayaki (female devotee) and nayaka (male deity), the latter often identified as the earthy, sensual, and sometimes philandering Krishna or Murugan. For the newer repertoire, a more suitable nayaka was Shiva as Naṭarāja—resonant with spiritual detatchment and masculine power, an ideal model for both revivers of dance and Indian nationalist politicians.

The Western-educated philosopher Ananda Coomaraswamy groomed Naṭarāja for this role and brought him to the attention of artists including Rukmini Devi Arundale, Ruth St. Denis, and Ted Shawn. Arundale, in particular, moved Naṭarāja to center stage, both as an independent force and as one heavily conditioned by a set of people and ideas.

This according to “Rewriting the script for South Indian dance” by Matthew Harp Allen (TDR: The drama review XLI/3 [fall 1997] pp. 63–100; RILM Abstracts of Music Literature 1997-28267).

Above, a traditional sculpture depicting Shiva as Naṭarāja; below, a bharatanāṭyam piece that evokes the cosmic dancer.

Related article: Varieties of love

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Filed under Asia, Curiosities, Dance