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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

Isang Yun: Composer and freedom fighter

Isang Yun’s youth was dominated by his involvement with resistance movements against the Japanese occupation of Korea, which began in 1910. His political activities deeply affected his development as a musician, which was characterized by the constant conflict between his artistic interests and the political commitment that he felt was necessary. Nevertheless, at the age of 17, Yun traveled to Japan, despite his father’s warning, to embark on a college education focused on the study of Western music. After two years, he returned to Korea to continue his studies and his involvement in the Korean liberation struggle. Yun was arrested by Japanese occupation forces in 1943, and it was not until 1948 that he returned to music, this time as a music teacher at an all-girls high school in his hometown. He later began lecturing at a university in Seoul where he received several awards for his compositions.  

These awards enabled Yun to continue studying music in Europe at the Berliner Hochschule für Musik (Berlin University of Music). His frequent participation in Darmstadt’s summer courses for new music led to his acceptance by the European avant-garde, within which he remained an outsider, albeit a respected one. Yun settled in Berlin in 1964 as a Ford Foundation scholarship recipient but the political conflict in his now divided homeland was never far from his thoughts. He was especially critical of South Korea’s leadership and refused several invitations to perform there. Yun hoped for the reunification of Korea, and to make this happen, he made a daring visit communist North Korea in 1963.

The brazen visit concerned South Korean officials, who had Yun kidnapped from Berlin in 1967 in a spectacular operation by the South Korean secret service. He was charged with treason and sent to prison where he endured torture, attempted suicide, and was forced to confess to espionage. After a trial, Yun was sentenced to life imprisonment, a charge that was later revised after massive protests internationally. Subsequently, Yun left Korea in 1969 and returned to Berlin and later became a German citizen. From 1970 onward, he worked as a professor and taught composition while lecturing on various occasions throughout Europe and North America. In 1972, Yun composed the piece Sim Tjong based on a popular Korean fairytale specially for the 1972 Olympic Games in Munich. When asked in a 1987 interview whether he was consciously trying to combine Asian and Western elements in his music, Yun replied,

“No, that would be too artificial.  The inner truth is, in actuality, a music of the cosmos. Realistically seen, I’ve had two experiences, and I know the practice of both Asian music and European. I am equally at home in both fields. I’m a man living today, and within me is the Asia of the past combined with the Europe of today. My purpose is not an artificial connection, but I’m naturally convinced of the unity of these two elements. For that reason, it’s impossible to categorize my music as either European or Asian.”

Celebrate Asian Pacific Islander Heritage Month by reading the entry on Isang Yun (also spelled Yoon) in MGG Online. Listen to Yun’s composition Muak dance fantasy below.

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Filed under 20th- and 21st-century music, Asia, Musicologists, Politics

Sinéad O’Connor’s musical and political life

Irish singer Sinéad O’Connor’s expressive cover of the ballad Nothing compares 2 U, originally composed by Prince for his 1985 album The Family, turned into a worldwide hit in 1990. The song, which explored the pain of separation, received platinum and gold album awards in numerous countries and became O’Connor’s biggest hit. Her album I Do Not Want What I Haven’t Got (featuring Nothing compares 2 U) was one of the world’s best selling albums of 1990 and was nominated for four Grammys. Sinéad spent parts of her youth in boarding schools and busking locally. At age 20, she moved to London and released her debut album The Lion and the Cobra, which went certified gold in the United States in 1987.

In 1992, she appeared on the popular U.S. sketch comedy show Saturday Night Live where famously she drew attention to sexual abuse in the Catholic Church by tearing up a picture of the Pope on live national television. Some of her songs explored her experiences with abuse as a child and denounced war. Sinéad also publicly campaigned for women’s rights and especially the right to abortion in Ireland. Together with musicians from the bands Coldplay, Led Zeppelin, One Direction, Queen, U2, and others, she took part in Bob Geldof’s Band Aid 30 project in 2014 to raise funds to combat the Ebola epidemic in West Africa. The documentary Nothing Compares, about her life and career, directed by Kathryn Ferguson, was released in 2022 and received two British Independent Film Awards (BIFA).

In Sinéad’s final interview in 2023, she discussed how in childhood she realized the power of music and her voice. As she described, “My first musical memory is my father singing to me [the folk ballad] Scarlet ribbons. I just remember being blown away . . . lying on my pillow and my dad singing this song to me. I was like, ‘Oh my God, the angels came in the window.’ My mother was a very violent woman, not a healthy woman; she was physically, verbally, psychologically, spiritually, and emotionally abusive. My mother was a beast. And I was able to soothe her with my voice. I was able to use my voice to make the devil fall asleep.”

Sinéad O’Connor passed away in London on 26 July 2023. Read her obituary in MGG Online and stay tuned for a full article.

Listen to Don’t give up, recording that features O’Connor with Willie Nelson below.

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Filed under Performers, Politics, Popular music, Reception, Uncategorized

Trooping the Colour with Meyerbeer

Since 1748 the British Monarch’s official birthday has been celebrated by an event called Trooping the Colour. The main musical participants in the event are the bands of the Household Cavalry and the Foot Guards (the Grenadier and Coldstream Guards and the Scots, Irish, and Welsh Guards).

The music for the event depends both on the repertory of the regiment whose color is being trooped and on a range of traditional works. One of the most venerable among them, known simply as Les Huguenots, consists of a medley of three sections from Meyerbeer’s 1836 opera: The Lutheran chorale Ein feste Burg, the main theme from the Bénédiction des poignards, and an instrumental version of the stretta from the act 1 finale. The tradition of performing Les Huguenots goes back to 1871.

This according to “Guns and roses: Meyerbeer now and then” by Mark Everist, an essay included in Meyerbeer and grand opéra: From the July monarchy to the present (Turnhout: Brepols, 2016 ix–xxiii; RILM Abstracts of Music Literature 2016-29408).

Today marks King Charles III’s first Trooping of the Colour as Sovereign!

Above, Trooping the Colour in 1956; below, Trooping the Colour in 2022 (Les Huguenots begins around 1:55).

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Filed under Curiosities, Politics

Singing the revolution in the Arab world: 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 of this collection, along with abstracts written by RILM staff members contained in RILM Abstracts of Music Literature, the comprehensive bibliography of writings about music. Since the onset of the Arab Spring in the early 2010s, the Institut du Monde Arabe has hosted exhibitions and concerts featuring musicians and artists who are at the heart of the cultural production in the region.

Illustration by artist Amado Alfadni featuring the young female protestor Alaa Salah, nicknamed the “Kandaka” of the Sudanese revolution of 2018-2019 for her role in mobilizing protesters through revolutionary chants. Kandaka refers to the name of ancient Nubian queens and the design is a remake of the old perfume label “Bint El Sudan” (the daughter of Sudan). Illustration used with permission. 
“It takes a revolution/To find a solution”
- From the song “Revolution” by the Palestinian hip-hop band DAM.

Revolutions and popular movements are characterized by a distinct soundscape defined by chants, songs, and the rhythmic movements of collective bodies. The act of protesting in the Arab world is often encapsulated in the idiom kasir ğidār al-ṣamt (to break the barrier of silence); in contrast, the authorities’ act of oppression is referred to as an act of silencing. 

Since the turn of the 20th century, the peoples of the Arab world have composed, disseminated, and rendered songs and chants against all forms of domestic, foreign, secular, and religious oppression. Musicians, vocalists, urban poets, and rappers all moved people to act in spaces, public and virtual. In music literature, these songs and chants are referred to by different names: al-aġānī al-ṯawrīyaẗ (revolutionary songs), aġānī al-iḥtiğāğ (protest songs), al-aġānī al-multazimaẗ (socially committed songs), and al- aġānī al-waṭanīyaẗ (patriotic songs). With the rise of communist and leftist movements in the Arab world during the 1960s and 1970s, aesthetic judgment was defined by the level of social and political consciousness of music and songs.

The history of independence and protest movements in the Arab world is interlinked with a crackdown on civil liberties and freedom of expression, and is marked by the movement of peoples across regional borders and beyond. Writers on music have commented on the phenomena of protest songs in their home countries as well as the circulation of songs across borders and cross-cultural influences among Arab diasporas in exile, acknowledging the continuous connections between communities at home and elsewhere.

Given the cosmopolitan contexts in which musicians and poets work and perform, the musical and poetic production of non-Arabic-speaking peoples of the region is noteworthy: The Algerian Kabyle vocalist Lounès Matoub (1956–98) singing in Kabyle, youths living abroad rap in European languages, and Moroccan urban poets known as Jil Lklam (Generation of Words) mix the languages and dialects of Amazigh and Arabic, fusing them with expressions in French, English, and Spanish. 

The music that carries protest and political themes is as diverse as the dialects and languages present in the Arab world. The patriotic and nationalist songs of the first half of the 20th century draw from the rich repertoire of al-qaṣīdaẗ al-ʽamūdīyaẗ (vertical poetry), fusing with local melodies and European-style orchestration and arrangement. Other songs rely on local dialects and musical sensibilities to appeal to the broader masses. Among the anti-colonial and independence songs, the Tunisian “Tūnis al-yūm brāt mi al-tankīdaẗ” stands out, sung here by legendary Tunisian vocalist Saliha (1914–58).

Tunisian musician Ṣalīḥaẗ performs “Tūnis al-yūm birāt mi al-tankīdaẗ”

The songs of the 1960s, 1970s, and 1980s that offer social and political commentary rely on local folk styles and instruments, as can be observed in the revolutionary songs of the Sabreen group (Palestine) and the revolutionary anthems of the Firqaẗ al-Ṭarīq (Iraq). The songs of Nass el Ghiwane (Morocco) feature elements of rwais, and the rebel songs of Groupe El-Ouali (Mauritania) use the subversive lyrics of Sheikh Imam (1918–95) from Egypt. In the last decades, rock, reggae, rap, hip hop, and other popular genres have served as a source of inspiration for bands such as Mashrou’ Leila (Lebanon), DAM (Palestine), and Cairokee (Egypt), with its aspirational lyrics and rock instrumentation that respond to the 2011 Egyptian revolution. “Ya El Medane” is one song that expressed the aspirations of the youth during the Egyptian revolution.

Cairokee’s “Ya El Medane”

Protest songs in the Arab world are forms of expression that break boundaries, defy expectations, and challenge reality. They hail from the Atlas Mountains to Tangier and Algiers, and find a receptive audience in the banlieues of Paris; chants are heard in Tahrir Square and move protesters in Sana’a, Beirut, and Tunis. 

The writings featured in this annotated bibliography present and carefully analyze songs accompanying key political and social events. These include nationalist protest movements that unfolded in the Arab world in the last century, from anti-colonial movements and national movements in the first half of the century to chants that accompanied the revolutions of 2011 and beyond.

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

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Select Bibliography

  • Caubet, Dominique and Amine Hamma. Jil Lklam: Poètes urbains (Casablanca: Éditions du Sirocco; Mohammedia: Senso Unico Éditions, 2016). [RILM Abstracts of Music Literature, 2016-56443; IMA catalogue reference]

The Moroccan music scene that emerged in the mid-1990s has become a crucial part of the overall cultural scene of the country. Rappers, slammers, reggae musicians, creators of metal music and non-music genres such graffiti and break dance have all initiated an urban movement that mixes genres and contributes to a multicultural Morocco. The evolution of discourse emerging from the underground scene to the public sphere is explored, with attention to the lyrics of songs expressing a young generation that is concerned with taboo subjects, cool music, and tough texts. Eloquent, humorous, sensitive, angry, and poetic, this creative and rebellious generation expresses, in multilingual tongues—vernacular, Amazigh, mixed with French, English, and Spanish—its love for its homeland along with its desire for dignity, freedom, and a future. A new generation of artists is revealing, in addition to its eloquence and its extraordinary talent for writing and composition, an unquenching determination to be heard. The generation adapted the American counterculture’s ethos of do-it-yourself and solidarity while using new technology and social media to share its music. Including interviews with experts on the new music scene, a selection of song texts shared in their original language and translated to French, and rich iconography, the book represents a platform for the new generations of artists to be heard and seen, a generation that is the true echo of the youth.

  • Dridi, Daïkha and Omar Zelig. “La petite musique du voyage au bout de la nuit: Quand la musique se revolte, entre ‘bizness’ et poesie”, La pensée de midi 4 (mai 2001) 65–71. [RILM Abstracts of Music Literature, 2001-49702; IMA catalogue reference]

Abstract: A description and an interpretation of the music scenes in 2001, after ten years of political violence that Algeria witnessed. The aftermath of violence and political stances in music genres and scenes, old and new, is discussed. Local genres such as raï, Kabyle militant, and chaabi triste sorrowful chaabi capture a general spirit of hopelessness, but also of hope. Case studies and performances such as the hip-hop group Intik and the group Ragga-Gnawi are explored, and the performance and the following banning of Baaziz’s “Algérie mon amour” is interpreted against the backdrop of political upheavals in Algeria. Algerian hip hop is a rhythmic, musical, and lyrical rupture from everything that preceded it.

  • El Mazned, Brahim. “Les rwayss, ou la musique amazighe comme résistance”, Le monde arabe existe-t-il (encore)?, ed. by Chirine El Messiri. Araborama 1 (Paris: Institut du Monde Arabe; Seuil, 2020) 190–193. [RILM Abstracts of Music Literature, 2020-71413; IMA catalogue reference

Abstract: Approaches Amazigh (Berber) music as an expression of cultural, social, and political resistance. Rwayss is a genre that originates in the Sous region, the center of Amazigh culture, and incorporates singing, dance, and a religious ceremony. The setting where rwayss is traditionally performed is described, and new scenes of rwayss in urban spaces in Morocco and in Europe, especially in France and Belgium, are analyzed. Resistance to musical assimilation and the importance of continuity in rwayss and its connection to the past are considered the main expression of resistance that the tradition holds.

  • 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. Library of modern Middle East studies (London; New York: I.B. Tauris, 2016) 83–112. [RILM Abstracts of Music Literature, 2016-56445; IMA catalogue reference]

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

  • Houssais, Coline. “En chansons: Florilège musical révolutionnaire”, Il était une fois…: Les révolutions arabes, ed. by Chirine El Messiri. Araborama (Paris: Institut du Monde Arabe; Seuil, 2021) 239–248. [RILM Abstracts of Music Literature, 2021-101344; IMA catalogue reference

Abstract: Provides a selection of songs that marked the history of revolutionary and nationalist songs. Most of them were initially poems later set to music. All the case studies feature a short background on the poet, the performer, and the historical context. Brief background information is then followed by the lyrics in Arabic and  a French translation. Among the case studies featured are Min djibalina (From our mountains)  by Mohamed Laid Al Khalifa from Algeria, Irdatou al-hayat (The will to live) by Abou el Kacem Chebbi from Tunisia, “Ana Afriqi ana Soudani”  by Alsir Gadour from Sudan, Ounadikoum (I call upon you) by the poet Tewfik Ziad from Palestine, and other cases from Egypt, Lebanon, Libya, and Syria.

  • Institut du Monde Arabe. Hip Hop: Du Bronx aux rues Arabes [Exposition, Paris, Institut Du Monde Arabe, 28 Avril–26 Juillet 2015], ed. by Aurélie Clémente-Ruiz (Gent: Snoeck; Paris: Institut du Monde Arabe, 2015). [RILM Abstracts of Music Literature, 2015-89747; IMA catalogue reference

Abstract: Issued as part of the exhibition Hip Hop, du Bronx aux Rues Arabes organized by the Institut du Monde Arabe in 2015. The book is divided into three sections: the birth of a movement, a new aesthetic, and rap and society. The editors approach hip hop not simply as a genre but as an aesthetic, a lifestyle in perpetual evolution and a continuous transformation. In the preface, the director of the Institut du Monde Arabe remarks on the recourse of young Arab generations to hip hop as a way to express frustration with current realities and to vocalize their aspirations. Articles by multiple authors covering various topics and aspects of hip hop history and its adaptation by contemporary Arab artists are included.

  • Massad, Joseph. “Liberating songs: Palestine put to music”, Palestine, Israel, and the politics of popular culture, ed. by Rebecca L. Stein and Ted Swedenburg (Durham; London: Duke University Press, 2005) 175–201. [RILM Abstracts of Music Literature, 2005-31981; IMA catalogue reference

Abstract: Analyzes the role of patriotic, nationalist, and revolutionary songs in the struggle for Palestinian liberation, approaching songs as a register for the changing dynamics of the Palestinian struggle and the various populations and demographics involved in it at different stages of the country’s history. Themes of the songs include the fight for liberation, the dream for Arab unity and solidarity, and the struggle for refugees’ rights. Songs are categorized in three historical phases. The first phase is marked by the growing support for pan-Arabism, the rise of Palestinian guerrillas, and the underground scene in the late 1960s and 1970s. The second phase comprises songs produced by non-Palestinians following the great defeat of 1967. The third phase covers songs that accompanied the first intifada (1987–93). Overall, resistance songs were subject to many transformations throughout the second half of the second century and beyond. Musicians and artists moved away from state-sponsored productions to underground scenes in Palestine and among its displaced population. Nowadays, Palestinian resistance and patriotic songs have reached a wide reception and have become a founding aspect of Arab and Palestinian popular culture.

  • 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

Abstract: Presents photographs featuring Palestinian rappers, spoken word artists, and musicians, as well as photos of the broader urban spaces in which the alternative and broader Palestinian music scene flourishes. The photographer followed musicians in their everyday lives and captured aspects of their activity. The photographs are occasionally accompanied by brief written commentary and by 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 Sabreen Band).

  • République Arabe Sahraouie Democratique. Groupe El- Ouali chants et danses sahraouis: Une culture de résistance (Nouakchott: Ministère de L’information de la République Arabe Sahraouie Démocratique, 1983). [RILM Abstracts of Music Literature, 1983-26413; IMA catalogue reference

Abstract: Surveys the works, repertoire, and style of the Mauritanian music and dance company Groupe El-Ouali, and situates them within the broader landscape of cultural resistance in Mauritania in the 1970s and the liberation movement led by the Front Polisario. Groupe El-Ouali was formed by amateur musicians and militants and performed live concerts and disseminated their music on cassettes. The book covers dance styles such as the war dance Dance de ausred, which was performed during the resistance movement led by the Front Polisario against the Spanish occupation of the Sahara, and La touiza, a women’s dance. The book also includes lyrics of selected songs by Groupe El-Ouali translated into French. The songs express themes of revolution and independence, as well as relationships to the land, national identity, and the values of the nationalist movement.

  • Shalaby, Nadia A. “A multimodal analysis of selected Cairokee songs of the Egyptian revolution and their representation of women”, Women, culture, and the January 2011 Egyptian Revolution, ed. by Dalia Said Mostafa (London: Routledge & Kegan Paul, 2017) 59–81. [RILM Abstracts of Music Literature, 2017-90149; IMA catalogue reference]

Abstract: Analyzes the music videos Ṣawt al-ḥurrīyaẗ (Voice of freedom), Yā al-mīdān (O Tahrir Square), and Iṯbat makānak (Stand your ground) by the Egyptian band Cairokee. The three music videos were released during the year following the breakout of the Egyptian revolution on 25 January 2011, and each reflects the popular mood accompanying the phases of the revolution. The creation and reception of meaning through these music videos is a product of lyrics, music, and other semiotic resources such as visual cues, photographs, camera angles, framing, range of shots, and gaze. The visual design of each music video is discussed to show how multimodal discourse is formed through the employment of various visual, verbal, and musical modes. Finally, the presence and the agency of women in the three music videos are analyzed following the same analytical model.

  • Skilbeck, Rod. “Mixing pop and politics: The pole of raï in Algerian political discourse”, The Arab-African and Islamic worlds: Interdisciplinary studies, ed. by Kevin R. Lacey and Ralph M. Coury (Bern: Peter Lang, 2000) 289–302. [RILM Abstracts of Music Literature, 2000-83623; IMA catalogue reference

Abstract: Documents the rise of popularity of raï and of kabyle musics among young Algerians at home and among the country’s diasporas, covering the origins and early development of raï in the early 20th century and documenting its popularity in the 1970s and 1980s. Raï is a hybrid genre that merges Arabic and Bedouin poetry and incorporates local and Western instrumentation. Raï song texts can be categorized in terms of clean raï, which narrates stories of love, and dirty rai, which deals with forbidden sexual desires, alcoholism, and alienation. At the start of the Algerian civil war in 1991 raï became one of its battlefields, and while raï itself was not political, it became political insofar as it represents marginalized social classes through expressions of themes that are deemed taboo or unethical by society or political authorities. During the civil war raï artists were banned, and some were murdered by religious guerrilla groups. One important case study presented is the raï song El harba way? (To flee but where to?) by Cheb Khaled, which became the anthem of protesters during the political crisis of 1988.

  • Al-Sayyid, ʽUmar. Kalām al-ġīwān (Rabat: Ittiḥād Kuttāb al-Maġrib, 2002). [RILM Abstracts of Music Literature, 2002-50214; IMA catalogue reference

Abstract: A comprehensive collection of song lyrics by the Moroccan group Nās al-Ġīwān, compiled by one of its members. The preface includes key information about the group and presents a critical take on various commentators’ views on the phenomenon of Nās al-Ġīwān, their musical career, and their popularity in Morocco. Formed in the 1960s, the group accompanied and contributed to the cultural, artistic, and political movement that was unfolding in Morocco. The 1960s and 1970s were marked by a growing popular protest movement that Nās al-Ġīwāne marked with their lyrical and musical contribution. However, one should not reduce the group’s artistic production to a political message. Nās al-Ġīwān merged musical and lyrical elements belonging to four cultures—African, Arab, Amazigh, and Saharan—providing a case study of how to properly reclaim musical and cultural heritage and identity. The concept of a Nās al-Ġīwān dictionary of terms is introduced.

  • Šalābī, Fawzīyaẗ. Qirāʼāt munāwiʼaẗ (Tripoli: al-Dār al-ʽArabīyaẗ li-al-Kitāb, 1984). [RILM Abstracts of Music Literature, 1984-28079; IMA catalogue reference

Abstract: Approaches political songs from the 1960s through the 1980s as expressions of contemporary Arab consciousness. The difference between the Arab intellectual elites fueling the conscious cultural movement and the Arab masses who follow with little critical take is explored. Political songs that do not give lip service to intellectual elites, but rather engage and express the real suffering of the people, are highlighted, distinguishing between progressive songs (al-aġānī al-taqaddumīyaẗ) of politically and socially engaged people and political songs (al-aġānī al-siyāsīyaẗ) of authoritarian states and the Arab right. Case studies from Morocco (Nās al-Ġīwān), Tunisia (Aṣḥāb al-Kalimaẗ), Iraq (Firqaẗ al-Ṭarīq), and Egypt (al-Šayẖ Imām) are included.

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Filed under 20th- and 21st-century music, Analysis, Asia, Ethnomusicology, Literature, Mass media, Musicology, Performance practice, Politics, Popular music, Uncategorized, World music

Nina Simone and Black activism

In 1963 Eunice Waymon, a classically-trained pianist who had recently achieved recognition as a jazz singer under the stage name Nina Simone, learned that four young African American girls had been killed in the bombing of a Baptist church in Alabama.

She immediately wrote the song Mississippi Goddam “in a rush of fury, hatred, and determination.” The lyrics—filled with anger and despair in stark contrast to the fast-paced and rollicking rhythm—vehemently rejected the notions that race relations could change gradually, that the South was unique in terms of discrimination, and that African Americans could or would patiently seek political rights. Simone also challenged principles that are still strongly associated with liberal civil rights activism in that period, especially the viability of a beloved community of Whites and Blacks.

With both her music and her self-presentation, Simone offered a vision of Black cultural nationalism within and outside the U.S. that insisted on female power. Her story demonstrates how events and issues from the 1960s that are often treated as separate were in fact deeply intertwined—the development of Black cultural nationalism, the role of women in Black activism more generally, and the emergence of second-wave feminism.

This according to “‘I don’t trust you anymore’: Nina Simone, culture, and Black activism in the 1960s” by Ruth Feldstein (Journal of American history XCI/4 [2005] 1349–79; RILM Abstracts of Music Literature 2005-23369).

Today would have been Simone’s 90th birthday!

Above, Nina Simone 1965 is licensed under CCO 1.0; below, performing Mississippi Goddam in 1965.

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Filed under Black studies, Jazz and blues, Performers, Politics, Women's studies

Valódia: A transatlantic decolonization anthem

Written and recorded in 1975 by the Angolan popular singer António Sebastião Vicente (Santocas), Valódia is derived from African praise songs, with their characteristic heroic laudatory epithets. The song demonstrates the timeless quality of such praise songs, as it turns a young soldier into a socialist hero.

Traditional African poets served as both praise singers and court historians, and their successors are in the vanguard of political song movements. Santocas’s lyrics capture the essence of the fallen subject, who fought against neocolonialism, capitalism, and imperialism.

When Valódia was recorded by the Cuban singer Beatriz Márquez it became a transatlantic anthem advocating sociopolitical and economic change framed by communist doctrine, advancing an agenda of decolonization that still lingers over the destinies of both Angola and Cuba.

This according to “Valódia: A transatlantic praise song” by Jorge Luis Morejón-Benitez, an essay included in Indigenous African popular music. I: Prophets and philosophers (Cham: Palgrave Macmillan, 2022, 303–20; RILM Abstracts of Music Literature 2022-2996).

Below, the original recordings.

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Filed under Africa, Central America, Curiosities, Politics, Popular music

Breaking barriers in Latinx musical practices: An annotated bibliography

California State University, Fullerton Photos: Hispanic/Latinx Heritage Month Celebration 2019

As the largest minority in the United States, the Latino/a/x population has spawned a diverse array of cultural and musical expressions, many of which have impacted American popular culture. From the Latino/a/x groups historically affected by border expansions, to today’s immigrants, these communities express their experiences, political struggles, and lives in oral traditions, music, dance, and sound.

This bibliography reflects the diversity of musical and dance expressions of these communities. Beyond the dominant sonic imaginaries towards mariachi music, or the ideas of correspondence between geographic region and musical style, the selected texts reflect a complex reading of how cultural practices challenge ideas on race, gender, sexuality, experiences of dislocation, belonging, and identity. This bibliography references practices on the Mexican-American border region, the Appalachian region, Puerto Rico, and New York, and spans multiple genres, from son jarocho and salsa, to Latin jazz and reggaetón.

Written and compiled by Beatriz Goubert, Editor and Product Development Coordinator, RILM

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  • Alvarado, Lorena and Frances R. Aparicio. “Dissonant love: Music in Latina/o diaspora weddings”, Music in the American diasporic wedding, ed. by Inna Naroditskaya (Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 2019) 70–86. [RILM Abstracts of Music Literature, 2019-5492]

Abstract: Deploying Deborah Vargas’s critical concept of dissonance as a disruption of the heteronormative and cultural nationalist limits, this essay examines the heterogeneous musical repertoires featured in U.S. Latina/o weddings that trouble or “disrupt” the dominant sonic imaginaries—the Mexican mariachi—that conflate national identity with musical traditions. Tracing the musical repertoires in U.S. Latino weddings, the essay juxtaposes a survey conducted by the authors with 11 couples and four Latino grooms and their own readings of weddings in films (including the Latino film Mi familia [My family]), novels, and poetry. In order to weave a broad picture of music in Latino weddings, the essay weaves textual and ethnographic approaches as an intervention that can only begin to suggest new ways of thinking about the social meanings of musical repertoires in these weddings. Tensions between tradition and modernity, between national and global sounds, generation-informed musical taste and predilections, and gendered norms, surfaced in the film and literary texts studied as well as in the surveys completed by young Latina/o couples.

  • Chávez, Xóchitl Consuelo. “La creación de Oaxacalifornia mediante tradiciones culturales entre jóvenes oaxaqueños de Los Ángeles, California”, Desacatos Revista de Ciencias Sociales 62 (enero–abril 2020) 172–181. [RILM Abstracts of Music Literature, 2020-69173]
Guelaguetza Festival 2019

Abstract: The Guelaguetza and the philharmonic bands are community practices of the Oaxacan migrant communities in the United States—from Santa Cruz to Los Angeles—and in the places of origin in Oaxaca, Mexico. These cultural productions cross the border between Mexico and the United States and survive in the region called Oaxacalifornia. As part of the traditions and forms of cultural expression, music and dance help to recover a community identity, despite economic instability and political conflict, and overcome the difficult processes of transnational migration. Oaxacalifornia is a microcosm, a migration route of human bodies, ideas, languages, and identities. Young people create a bicultural identity that claims and constitutes their indigenous cultural citizenship in Oaxaca and California.

  • Colón Montijo, César. “Carimbo: Raza, farmacolonialidad y conjuro en la espectropolítica salsera de Ismael ‘Maelo’ Rivera”, Del archivo a la playlist: Historias, nostalgias, tecnologías, ed. by Darío Tejeda (http://iaspmal.com/index.php/2021/07/07/del-archivo-a-la-playlist-actas/, 2021) 286–292. [RILM Abstracts of Music Literature, 2021-5920]

Abstract: The song Carimbo, by Afro-Puerto Rican singer Ismael “Maelo” Rivera, tells the story of Carimbo, an enslaved man who talks to the sonero about the infamous mark that slavery left on his voice. Carimbo’s spectral voice can be thought in relation to the precarious contemporaneity of the 1970s in which Maelo recorded it. Maelo’s Carimbo is not only the subject of the times of slavery, he is also that contemporary subject who struggles with the infamous mark of pharmacolonial violence. The incantation that Carimbo and Maelo vocalize as a survival tactic allows us to rethink the concatenation of their voices as an entry point to theorize a spectropolitics of listening. The incantation tells us much about the politics of life and death in contemporary Puerto Rico.

  • Enriquez, Sophia M. “‘Penned against the wall’: Migration narratives, cultural resonances, and Latinx experiences in Appalachian music”, Journal of popular music studies 32/2 (June 2020) 63–76. [RILM Abstracts of Music Literature, 2020-14803]
Che Apalache performing at The Crying Wolf in Nashville, 12 September 2019

Abstract: Although the Appalachian region has long been associated with white racial identity, Latinx people remain the region’s largest and fastest-growing minority. What perspectives and experiences are revealed when such narratives of whiteness are challenged by the visibility of Latinx migrants? What does music tell us about ongoing discourses of migration and border-crossings? This essay analyzes Latinx immigration narratives in Appalachian music and offers the possibility of a Latinx-Appalachian musical and cultural resonances. I take up the music of artists who claim hybrid Latinx-Appalachian cultural and musical identities. Namely, this essay focuses on Che Apalache—a four-piece band based in Buenos Aires that plays Latingrass—and the Lua Project—a five-piece band based in Charlottesville, Virginia, that plays Mexilachian music. Using field recordings and ethnographic interviews with both groups, this essay analyzes references to U.S.-Mexico border politics, acts of border crossing, and Latin American-Appalachian geographic similarities. I engage U.S.-based Latinx studies and Appalachian studies to establish relationships of Appalachian and Latinx cultures and incorporate analyses of both Spanish and English lyrics. Ultimately, this essay suggests that listening for Latinx migration narratives in Appalachian music challenges assumptions of belonging in the shifting U.S. cultural landscape.

  • Fernández L’Hoeste, Héctor and Pablo Vila, eds. Sound, image, and national imaginary in the construction of Latin/o American identities. Music, culture, and identity in Latin America (Lanham: Lexington Books, 2018). [RILM Abstracts of Music Literature, 2018-64488]

Abstract: Addresses a gap in the many narratives discussing the cultural histories of Latin American nations, particularly in terms of the birth, configuration, and perpetuation of national identities. It argues that these processes were not as gradual or constrained as traditionally conceived. The actual circumstances dictating the adoption of particular technologies for the representation of national ideas shifted and varied according to many factors including local circumstances, political singularities, economic disparities, and highly individualized cultural transitions. This book proposes a model of chronology that is valid not only for nations that underwent strong processes of nationalism during the early or mid-20th century, but also for those that experienced highly idiosyncratic cultural, economic, and political development into the early 21st century.

  • Hernández-León, Rubén. “How did son jarocho become a music for the immigrant rights movement?”, Ethnic and racial studies 42/2 (2019) 975–993. [RILM Abstracts of Music Literature, 2019-25678]

Abstract: Chicana/o activists and artists in Greater Los Angeles have turned son jarocho, a traditional music genre from southeastern Mexico, into an organizing resource and a means to express the plight of immigrants. Building on a movement that started in Mexico to reestablish the communal celebration of the fandango as the center of the son jarocho tradition, these Chicana/o activists have reinterpreted fandangos as the enactment of community. They have also repurposed son jarocho and its lyrical content to articulate demands for the rights of undocumented immigrants and other social justice causes. These endeavors take place in community and cultural centers founded and led by a mix of immigrant generations: veterans of the Chicana/o civil rights movement of the 1970s, first generation immigrants and their adult children and grandchildren. These actors embrace fandangos as a metaphor and blueprint for community participation as they write new lyrics to demand justice for immigrants.

  • Loza, Steven, ed. Barrio harmonics: Essays on Chicano/Latino music (Los Angeles: UCLA Chicano Studies Research Center press, 2019). [RILM Abstracts of Music Literature, 2019-14233]

Abstract: Explores Chicano, Mexican, and Cuban musical forms and styles and their transformation in the United States. Employing musical, historical, and sociocultural analyses, Loza addresses issues such as marginality, identity, intercultural conflict and aesthetics, reinterpretation, postnationalism, and mestizaje—the mixing of race and culture—in the production and reception of Chicano/Latino music.

  • Miller, Sue. “Pacheco and charanga: Imitation, innovation, and cultural appropriation in the típico tradition of New York City”, Latin American music review/Revista de música latinoamericana 41/1 (spring–summer 2020) 1–26. [RILM Abstracts of Music Literature, 2020-2944]

Abstract: Explores the performance practice and aesthetics of Cuban dance music in the U.S. in relation to the concept of sabor. This multifaceted term encompasses a range of meanings and includes, among other elements, a dance imperative, melodic call-and-response-style inspiraciones, and a clave feel. A case study of Dominican-born Johnny Pacheco, a charanga flute player and the cocreator of the term salsa, allows for exploration of a specific New York-based sabor as well as consideration of issues such as imitation, innovation, and cultural appropriation in the context of charanga típica performance in mid-20th-century New York. Pacheco’s musical contributions, critiqued by Juan Flores as “traditionalist” and by John Storm Roberts as “revivalist”, have often been overshadowed by his considerable entrepreneurial activities. Rather than examine his work as a record producer and entrepreneur, Pacheco’s earlier recordings made as a charanga flute improviser are examined to demonstrate that, pace Roberts and Flores, his improvisational style illustrates a particular New York performance aesthetic rooted in clave aesthetics and the rich musical culture of the Bronx—an aesthetic that is related to, but distinct from, that of earlier Cuban role models.

  • Power-Sotomayor, Jade. “Moving borders and dancing in place: Son jarocho’s speaking bodies at the Fandango Fronterizo”, TDR: The drama review 64/4 (winter 2020) 84–107 [RILM Abstracts of Music Literature, 2020-12392]
Fandango Fronterizo Community logo

Abstract: The annual Fandango Fronterizo is a binational performance gathering where the U.S.-Mexico border meets the ocean. Fandanguerxs, gathering on both sides of the border wall in Tijuana and San Diego, enact a performative, political gesture that interrupts the discursive racialized and gendered logic of the two nation-states, refusing to be eternally desterrados by the violence of the border.

  • Ramos-Kittrell, Jesús A., ed. Decentering the nation: Music, mexicanidad, and globalization. Music, culture, and identity in Latin America (Lanham: Lexington Books, 2020). [RILM Abstracts of Music Literature, 2020-8323]

Abstract: Decentering the nation: Music, mexicanidad, and globalization considers how neoliberal capitalism has upset the symbolic economy of “Mexican” cultural discourse, and how this phenomenon touches on a broader crisis of representation affecting the nation-state in globalization. This book argues that, while mexicanidad emerged in the early 20th century as a cultural trope about national origins, culture, and history, it was, nonetheless, a trope steeped in otherization and used by nation-states (Mexico and the United States) to legitimize narratives of cultural and socioeconomic development stemming out of nationalist political projects that are now under strain. Using music as a phenomenological platform of inquiry, contributors to this book focus on a critique of mexicanidad in terms of the cultural processes through which people contest ideas about race, gender, and sexuality; reframe ideas of memory, history, and belonging; and negotiate the experiences of dislocation that affect them. The volume urges readers to find points of resonance in its chapters, and thus, interrogate the asymmetrical ways in which power traverses their own historical experience. In light of the crisis in representation that currently affects the nation-state as a political unit in globalization, such resonance is critical to make culture an arena of social collusion, where alliances can restore the fiber of civil society and contest the pressures that have made disenfranchisement one of the most alarming features characterizing the complex relationships between the state and the neoliberal corporate system that seeks to regulate it. Scholars of history, international relations, cultural anthropology, Latin American studies, queer and gender studies, music, and cultural studies will find this book particularly useful.

  • Rivera-Rideau, Petra R. and Jericko Torres-Leschnik. “The colors and flavors of my Puerto Rico: Mapping Despacito‘s crossovers”, Journal of popular music studies 31/1 (March 2019) 87–108. [RILM Abstracts of Music Literature, 2019-3436]
Street art in La Perla, Old San Juan, Puerto Rico

Abstract: Luis Fonsi and Daddy Yankee’s song Despacito shattered records to become one of the most successful Spanish-language songs in U.S. pop music history. Declared 2017’s Song of the Summer, the remix version featuring Justin Bieber prompted discussions about the racial dynamics of crossover for Latin music and Latina/o artists. However, little attention was paid to the ways that the song’s success in the Latin music market demonstrated similar racial dynamics within Latin music, especially in the song’s engagement with reggaetón, a genre originally associated with Black and working-class communities. This paper examines the racial politics that surround the success of Despacito in both the Latin mainstream and the U.S. mainstream. We argue that Despacito reinforces stereotypes of blackness in the Latin mainstream in ways that facilitate reggaetón’s crossover. In turn, Fonsi himself becomes attributed with similar stereotypes, especially around hypersexuality, that represent him as a tropical Latina/o racialized other in the United States. Through close readings of media coverage of Despacito alongside the song’s music video, we argue that it is critical to look at its success in both the Latin mainstream and the U.S. mainstream in order to examine the complex and contradictory process of crossing over.

  • Ruiz Vega, Omar. “Representando al caserío: Narcocultura y el diario vivir en los videos musicales de reggaetón”, Latin American music review/Revista de música latinoamericana 39/2 (fall–winter 2018) 229–265. [RILM Abstracts of Music Literature, 2018-44684]

Abstract: Reggaetón music videos frequently portray representations of narco culture and Puerto Rican marginalized communities. Existing literature explains these representations as an expressive vehicle that reflects the life and problems in the barrios and housing projects. However, the analysis of 14 reggaetón music videos provides a critical perspective of the narco-related messages. Reggaetón’s narco references help strengthening the stereotypes prevailing in Puerto Rican society toward marginalized communities, promoting a problematic identity through narco-aesthetics messages.

  • Sánchez Rivera, Rachell. “Reggaetón, trap y masculinidades: Dinámicas sociales al ritmo del perreo combativo en Puerto Rico”, Taller de letras número especial (2020) 42–55. [RILM Abstracts of Music Literature, 2020-64456]

Abstract: Examines the Puertorican reggaetón imagination based on the perreo combativo, a combative reggaetón dance that was part of the 2019 social protest against Governor Ricky Rosselló. The analysis of the intersections between gender, race, class, and identity overcome the unitary view of Puertorican identity embedded in machismo.

  • Schreil, Cristina. “Eunice Aparicio: Slow and steady”, Acoustic guitar 28/4:298 (October 2017) 48–49. [RILM Abstracts of Music Literature, 2017-55454]
The Women Taking on the Macho World of Mariachi: Posted by Great Big Story, 2016

Abstract: Flor de Toloache’s guitarist, Eunice Aparicio, shares her mariachi playing tips. Formed in 2008, the Latin Grammy winning Flor de Toloache are New York City’s first all-female mariachi group. Today its members hail from diverse locales such as Mexico, Cuba, Puerto Rico, Dominican Republic, Colombia, Australia, Italy, Germany, and the U.S.

  • Washburne, Christopher. Latin jazz: The other jazz. Currents in Latin American and Iberian music (New York: Oxford University Press, 2020) [RILM Abstracts of Music Literature, 2020-10628]

Abstract: Jazz has always been a genre built on the blending of disparate musical cultures. Latin jazz illustrates this perhaps better than any other style in this rich tradition, yet its cultural heritage has been all but erased from narratives of jazz history. Told from the perspective of a long-time jazz insider, this book corrects the record, providing a historical account that embraces the genre’s international nature and explores the dynamic interplay of economics, race, ethnicity, and nationalism that shaped it.

  • Williamson, Emily J. “Reclaiming the tarima and remaking spaces: Examining women’s leadership in the son jarocho community of New York City”, Transatlantic malagueñas and zapateados in music, song and dance: Spaniards, natives, Africans, Roma, ed. by K. Meira Goldberg, Walter Aaron Clark, and Antoni Pizà (Newcastle upon Tyne: Cambridge Scholars Publishing, 2019) 406–413. [RILM Abstracts of Music Literature, 2019-6519]

Abstract: If the tarima is the corazón of the fandango, is the zapateado its heartbeat? Then, is the bailadora the life that flows through this heart? The tarima and zapateado are often described in romantic and powerful metaphors. However, few scholars have examined women’s relationship to the performance and practice of son jarocho. In this paper, I build upon Martha González’s theory of “rhythmic intention,” and argue that women in the recently formed Mexican fandango revival or “jaranero” community across the five boroughs of New York City are not only moving and executing sounds of zapateado on the tarima with rhythmic purpose, but also outside of the fandango. The jaraneras of New York City are creating distinctly feminine spaces for music as well as leadership. Their leadership is present in their organizational work that maintains and cultivates the son jarocho community and in their musical practices—at fandangos, in professional stage performances, and in music workshops. This paper presentation will provide ethnographic examples that demonstrate the ways in which women are making and articulating space for jaraneras by sounding their fandango-centered practice on and off of the tarima.

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Filed under 20th- and 21st-century music, Analysis, Central America, Dance, Ethnomusicology, Jazz and blues, Mass media, Musicology, Performers, Politics, Popular music, South America, Uncategorized, World music

“God Save the Queen”

Her Majesty, Queen Elizabeth II (1926-2022) Credit: Avalon/ABACA

On 8 September 2022, the world learned of the passing of Queen Elizabeth II, Britain’s longest ruling monarch. As one of any number of public displays of gratitude to her seven decades of service, communities across the globe, large and small, sang God save the Queen, the first song in the world to serve in the function of a nation’s anthem. A kind of prayer en-masse, the singing of the text is an expression of national devotion.

Christopher (Kit) Kelen, in his article “‘And ever give us cause’: Understanding the investments of the Ur-anthem God save the King/Queen” (National identities: Critical inquiries into nationhood, politics, and culture XVII/1 [2015] 45–61; RILM Abstracts of Music Literature 2015-86813), explores the kind of work the anthem’s text does to construct a sense of nationalism and national commitment, in a British context and beyond. A glance at the abstract brings the essay’s scope and goals into focus:

This close analytical reading of the lyrics of God save the King/Queen seeks to understand what the functional survival of this song reveals about the rhetorical-affective investments of national devotion in the British sense; it examines the lyrics’ meaning in the context of the general definition of anthem and the generic classification of anthems worldwide. Because of the song’s international distribution, and status as Ur-anthem, it provides insight into the nature of the speech act entailed in the prayer-type of anthem and the nature of anthem quality (defined as that soul-stirring effect which certain combinations of music and lyrics achieve, most typically in the service of national affiliation) more generally. Theories of nation and nationalism serve to frame affective relations between nation, state, and citizenry as implied by, fostered by, and used in anthems.

The three public performances of God save the Queen below vary in terms of setting, historical moment, and function. But each one reveals, in its own way, the anthem effect about which Kelen writes. They produce a sense of national closeness and identity, reverence, and pride, demonstrating how lyrics and music can be combined to stir the soul.

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Filed under Curiosities, Politics, Reception

Woody Guthrie, American radical

Although he achieved a host of national honors and adorned U.S. postage stamps, and although his song This land is your land is widely considered the nation’s second national anthem, Woody Guthrie committed his life to radical struggle.

Guthrie’s political awakening and activism can be traced throughout the Great Depression, World War II, the Cold War, the Korean War, the Civil Rights struggle, and the poison of McCarthyism. He played a major role in the development of a workers’ culture in the context of radical activism, particularly through his influence on the U.S. and international protest song movement.

This according to Woody Guthrie, American radical by Will Kaufman (Urbana: Universty of Illinois Press, 2011; RILM Abstracts of Music Literature 2011-1681).

Today is Woody Guthrie’s 110th birthday! Below, Emmylou Harris and his son Arlo present Woody’s classic take on a still-timely topic. Guthrie was inspired to write Deportee by what he considered the racist mistreatment of Mexican migrant farm workers before and after a 1948 airplane crash that killed 32 people. Subsequent news coverage only named the four U.S. citizens who died in the accident, so Guthrie sought to identify the 28 fallen Mexicans as real people as well.

Related article: Woody Guthrie, visual artist

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Filed under Performers, Politics, Popular music