Tag Archives: Popular music

Taarab and mpasho

The Swahili word mpasho is related to the verb -pasha, “to cause to get”, and it refers to someone “getting the message”.

In the popular genre taarab, mpasho performances involve sending and receiving powerful communications—often competetive and antagonistic in nature—through song texts. The subject may be an individual, an organization, or social group, any of which may respond with their own mpasho performance. The phenomenon arose among women singers, most notably Siti binti Saad (above).

This according to “Hot kabisa! The mpasho phenomenon and taarab in Zanzibar” by Janet Topp Fargion, an essay included in Mashindano! Competitive music performance in East Africa (Dar es Salaam: Mkuki na Nyota, 2000; 39–53). Below, Siti binti Saad’s Wewe paka (You are a cat, 1930) sends a message about unwanted sexual advances that would resonate with today’s #MeToo movement.

Related article: Taarab redux

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Filed under Curiosities, Popular music, Women's studies

Queer musicology: An annotated bibliography

Drummers of Fogo Azul perform at the New York Pride Parade on June 30, 2019. Photo credit: Luiz C. Ribeiro/New York daily news

The word queer originally meant strange, or odd, and was used as a derogatory term for non-heterosexuals. Beginning in the 1980s, scholars and activists began using the term to refer to sexual or gender identity minorities, such as gay, lesbian, bisexual, transgender, etc., as a way to combat social stigma.

Since the emergence of queer theory in the 1980s, a growing number of music scholars have begun to focus on the connections among gender identity, sexual orientation, and music/sound. Critical of biologically-based orientations, and emphasizing social gender roles and sexual orientations, queer theory has inspired music scholars to re-examine musicians, music, sound, narrative, and aesthetics through the lens of sex and gender. Below, we share some literature of queer musicology collected by RILM.

– Qian Mu, Editor, RILM

__________________________

  • Moon, Steven. “Queer theory, ethno/musicology, and the disorientation of the field”, Current musicology 106 (2020) 9–33. [RILM Abstracts of Music Literature, 2020-13066]

Abstract: Examines the development of ethno/musicologies’ (queer) theoretical borrowings from anthropology, sociology, and literary/cultural studies in order to historicize the contemporary queer moment both fields are experiencing, and demonstrates the ways in which it might disorient the field. It traces the histories of this queering trend by beginning with early conceptualizations of the ethno/musicological projects, scientism, and quantitative methods. This is in relation to the anthropological method of ethnocartography in order to understand the historical difficulties in creating a queer qualitative field, as opposed to those based in hermeneutics. The first section places the problematics of this enumeration in dialogue with the ethno/musicologies’ tendencies towards nationalizing and globalizing narratives that often run contrary to a queer project. The second section steps back in time to understand how music studies, broadly, entered the queer conversation through early feminist literature in ethnomusicology and historical musicology, as well as literary/cultural studies and anthropology.

  • Maus, Fred Everett. “Classical concert music and queer listening”, Transposition: Musique et sciences sociales 3 (mai 2013) 11p. [RILM Abstracts of Music Literature with Full Text, 2013-31866]

Abstract: The norms of the classical music concert, familiar from the 20th century onward in European and United States contexts, favor an apparently uniform practice of attentive, silent listening, the audience seated in rows with a uniform visual focus. However, within this appearance of quiet conformity, listeners have diverse, intense experiences. The discontinuity between experience and demeanor reflects powerful cultural oppositions between inner and outer, public and private. The discontinuity is particularly stark in light of the erotic qualities of music, as described in brilliant work by Susan McClary (Feminine endings, 1991; RILM 1991-2755) and Suzanne Cusick (On a lesbian relationship with music, 1994; RILM 1994-2517). My essay returns to their work, expanding their accounts to consider a broader range of sexual subjectivities, including bottom subjectivity as described by Trevor Hoppe and femme subjectivity as described by Ann Cvetkovich.

  • Hankins, Sarah. “Ethnographic positionality and psychoanalysis: A queer look at sex and race in fieldwork”, Queering the field: Sounding out ethnomusicology, ed. by Gregory F. Barz and William Cheng (New York: Oxford University Press, 2020) 353–363. [RILM Abstracts of Music Literature, 2020-170]

Abstract: Explores the queer dynamics of heterosexual interactions, thinking through issues of race by way of gender. The author further complicates matters by weaving ethnographic discourses of positionally together with psychoanalytic theories of sexuality and the subject. She seeks to bring psychoanalysis—a process she has relied on in her private life to address painful experiences—into some kind of consonance with the academic discourses that have long been touchstones of her professional life. By investigating the multivalent, confusing, and sometimes contradictory dimensions of her own fieldwork, she hopes to encourage further conversations about how sexuality and race intersect in known and unknown ways for other queer ethnographers, in other cross-cultural contexts. Her case study of the Rasta Club in south Tel Aviv is a vivid reflection on queer identity within the context of heterosexual interactions, especially violent ones.

  • Künzig, Bernd. “New queer music: Homosexualität und Neue Musik—Eine Ästhetische Spurensuche”, Neue Zeitschrift für Musik 178/1 (2017) 12–16. [RILM Abstracts of Music Literature with Full Text, 2017-40456]

Abstract: The degree to which sexual orientation affects artistic production has been discussed in various contexts—especially in the anglophone world. However, with respect to composition it remains an open question. This is true of homosexuality, too, which could be openly discussed after the sexual revolution of the 1968 movement. Even today, if one pursues the inquiry, one comes across many not so obvious connections between music and sexuality.

  • Sullivan, James. “The queer context and composition of Samuel Barber’s Despite and still“, Twentieth- and twenty-first-century song cycles: Analytical pathways toward performance, ed. by Gordon Sly and Michael Callahan (New York: Routledge, 2021) 79–96. [RILM Abstracts of Music Literature, 2021-264]

Abstract: The author’s approach to Barber’s Despite and still (1968) foregrounds Barber’s autobiographical connection to the cycle, particularly his sexuality and his relationship with Gian Carlo Menotti. With regard to the texts that Barber chose, which include poems by Robert Graves and Theodore Roethke and an excerpt from James Joyce’s Ulysses, the author shows how each text touches upon a particular point of tension in Barber’s relationship with Menotti. Musically, he then demonstrates how Barber’s settings dramatize that tension through the manipulation of perceived meter, especially via close imitation. The essay thus integrates musical analysis with poetic structure and biography.

  • Jones, Matthew J. “‘Something inside so strong’: The Flirtations and the queer politics of a cappella”, Journal of popular music studies 28/2 (June 2016) 142–185. [RILM Abstracts of Music Literature, 2016-19760]

Abstract: Initially formed in 1987, The Flirtations billed themselves as “the world’s most famous, openly-gay, all-male, politically active, multicultural, a cappella singing doo-wop group”. Over the course of the next decade, The Flirts—as they were affectionately known—recorded three albums, crisscrossed the globe to perform at gay pride events and AIDS rallies, sang in small theaters and concert venues, and even appeared in a Hollywood film (Jonathan Demme’s Philadelphia released in 1993). Committed advocates of LGBT rights, feminism, multiculturalism, and AIDS activism, The Flirtations used the nostalgic sounds of close-harmony a cappella singing to deliver political messages, enlighten listeners, and entertain audiences. Through fluctuations in membership, personality conflicts, and the AIDS-related deaths of two founding members, The Flirtations kept singing and left behind a unique repository of queer music at the end of the 20th century. Drawing on previously unavailable archival materials, new interviews with surviving members of the group, and close readings of select musical examples, I situate The Flirtations within the history of U.S. close-harmony singing and examine the queer politics of a cappella in their music.

  • Doyle, JD. “Queer music radio: Entertainment, education, and activism”, Journal of popular music studies 18/2 (2006) 215–219. [RILM Abstracts of Music Literature, 2006-5846]

Abstract: Queer music heritage, hosted by the author on KPFT-FM, Houston, Texas, seeks to educate and entertain audiences in the name of LGBT activism. The radio program is designed as a way to share music from a variety of genres—including blues, country, and disco—with gay, lesbian, bisexual, transgendered, and questioning lyrical themes. Music and interviews are organized into themed shows that address issues such as the concept of “gay music”, expressing sexual identity, and the shifting cultural place of sexual identity in history.

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Filed under 20th- and 21st-century music, Ethnomusicology, Musicology, Popular music

Rita Moreno, EGOT

In 1977 Rita Moreno became the third person in history to achieve what has been called the “grand slam” of show business—a winner of the Emmy, Grammy, Oscar, and Tony Awards, or EGOT.

The clincher was her Primetime Emmy Award for Outstanding Individual Performance in a Variety or Music Program for an appearance on The Muppet show. In a 2021 interview, she recalled the experience.

“They had a studio two streets from us on Broadway. I saw [Jim Henson] at a restaurant one day, and I literally got on my knees. I said, ‘I beg you to let me do some little-girl Muppet voices.’ And I did. I would say, ‘You don’t have to pay me.’ And he said, ‘No, I do. This is a union shop. We have to pay you.’ And then, a number of years later, I went to England to do The Muppet show.”

“You [have to avoid] looking at the Muppeteer, which a lot of people do because it’s a natural instinct to look at the person who’s doing the voice. But I love comedy. This was my idea, by the way: ‘What if I’m trying to be really sexy?’ We had me in a great gown and a long wig, and I looked absolutely smashing. Animal’s last line, after I smash him with the cymbals is ‘That’s my kind of woman!’ And most people don’t hear that because they’re laughing.”

Quoted in “Rita Moreno has time only for the truth” by Michael Schulman (The New Yorker, 17 June 2021 [online]; RILM Abstracts of Music Literature 2021-10493).

Today is Rita Moreno’s 90th birthday! Above and below, the historic performance.

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Filed under Humor, Performers, Popular music

Bat City music

This Halloween, let’s visit the home of the largest urban bat colony in the world—Austin, Texas, where a group of Mexican free-tailed bats arrived in the early 1980s and found a highly suitable breeding environment.

Now nicknamed Bat City, Austin has forged links with the city’s more official nickname, Live Music Capital of the World. The annual Bat Fest combines a music festival with the bats’ nightly emergence, literally turning the latter into a performance event, and the city’s many bat-themed musical groups include the Bat City Surfers, a “horror surf punk” band whose members self-identify as descendants of bats.

This according to “Bat City: Becoming with bats in the Austin music scene” by Julianne Graper (MUSICultures XLV/1–2 [2018] 14–34); RILM Abstracts of Music Literature no. 2018-47414).

Above, bats flying in front of the iconic Frost Bank Tower in downtown Austin. Below, the Bat City Surfers hold forth.

More Halloween-related posts are here.

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Filed under Animals, Curiosities, Popular music

Beyoncé and the politics of looking

A close reading of Beyoncé’s Video phone illuminates the strategic interplay of subjectivities in a video that essentially disrupts and complicates heteronormative notions of viewing.

In this analysis, the workings of female power versus the male gaze lead to a theoretical conception of gender that contextualizes masculinity and hegemonic femininity. Ultimately, it is in the aestheticized landscape of Video phone that a counter-argument to mainstream heterosexual male imaginary emerges, one where the posthuman figure, in all its hyperreality, is musicalized in a way that defies all conventions.

This according to “Gender, sexuality and the politics of looking in Beyoncé’s Video phone (featuring Lady Gaga)” by Lori Burns and Marc Lafrance, an essay included in The Routledge research companion to popular music and gender (Abingdon: Routledge, 2017, pp. 102–16).

Today is Beyoncé’s 40th birthday! Above and below, the video in question.

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Metaldata

In 2021 the Music Library Association and A-R Editions issued Metaldata: A bibliography of heavy metal resources, the first book-length bibliography of resources about heavy metal.

From its beginnings in the late 1960s and early 1970s, heavy metal has emerged as one of the most consistently popular and commercially successful music styles. Over the decades the style has changed and diversified, drawing attention from fans, critics, and scholars alike. Scholars, journalists, and musicians have generated a body of writing, films, and instructional materials that is substantial in quantity, diverse in approach, and intended for many types of audiences, resulting in a wealth of information about heavy metal. 

Metaldata (RILM Abstracts of Music Literature 2021-3687) provides a current and comprehensive bibliographic resource for researchers and fans of metal. This book also serves as a guide for librarians in their collection development decisions. Chapters focus on performers, musical instruction, discographies, metal subgenres, metal in specific places, and research relating metal to the humanities and sciences, and encompass archives, books, articles, videos, websites, and other resources by scholars, journalists, musicians, and fans of this vibrant musical style.

Below, YouTube’s Metal library.

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Filed under Popular music, Resources

Doctor Love’s diagnoses

The Zimbabwean singer-songwriter Paul Matavire was widely celebrated for his witty but sharply pointed songs addressing themes of intimacy, romance, and social relations, earning him the nickname Doctor Love.

Matavire’s well-calculated social commentary, disseminated through sungura music, continues to hold a special place of reverence in Zimbabwe, even long after his death. His songs are unique in the ways that he used humor to drive his concerns home.

For example, in Akanaka akarara (A person is only good when asleep) Matavire code-switches between Shona and English phrases and expressions, joking that his wife may be possessed by spirits, and maintaining that he is not asking her to cook sadza for him—he just wants money for beer to treat his hangover. Using intrinsic Shona linguistic structures, the song satirizes the foibles of both men and women as they grapple with tensions between traditional and modern gender roles.

This according to “Tracing humour in Paul Matavire’s selected songs” by Umali Saidi (Muziki: Journal of music research in Africa XII/1 [May 2015] 53–61; RILM Abstracts of Music Literature 2015-6205).

Today would have been Doctor Love’s 60th birthday! Below, his recording of Akanaka akarara.

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Filed under Humor, Performers, Popular music

Barbershop redux

barbershop

Four voices of homogeneous gender in close voicing with the melody line sung below a tenor harmony, avoidance of dissonance and vibrato, and liberal use of dominant seventh chords define barbershop quartet singing.

This style of popular singing developed under the influence of German and Austrian harmonized folk song, blackface minstrelsy, and race relations in early 20th-century neo-Victorian America. The formation of the Society for the Preservation and Encouragement of Barber Shop Quartet Singing in America in 1938 formalized the style and its corresponding subculture, and its use by Walt Disney and Meredith Willson propagated it.

Contemporary barbershop singing turns this nostalgic vision into lived experience, as the old songs function as repositories of idealized social memory.

This according to Four parts, no waiting: A social history of American barbershop harmony by Gage Averill (New York: Oxford University Press, 2003; RILM Abstracts of Music Literature 2003-7333).

Today is Barbershop Music Appreciation Day! Above, Norman Rockwell’s classic take on the barbershop quartet; below, the International Quartet Championship finalists at the 2019 Barbershop Harmony Society’s annual convention.

 

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Joni Mitchell’s “Blue” period

Joni Mitchell’s 1971 album Blue is one of her most universally recognized works. Generations of people have come of age listening to it, inspired by the way it clarified their own difficult emotions, and critics and musicians admire the idiosyncratic virtuosity of its compositions. The largely autobiographical albums of what might be called Mitchell’s Blue period lasted through the mid-1970s.

In 1970 Mitchell was living with Graham Nash in Laurel Canyon and had made a name for herself as a singer-songwriter notable for her soaring voice and skillful compositions. Soon, though, feeling hemmed in, she fled to the hippie community of Matala, Greece. Here and on further travels, her compositions were freshly inspired by the lands and people she encountered as well as by her own radically changing interior landscape.

After returning home to record Blue, Mitchell retreated to British Columbia, eventually reemerging as the leader of a successful jazz-rock group and turning outward in her songwriting toward social commentary. Finally, a stint with Bob Dylan’s Rolling Thunder Revue and a pivotal meeting with a Tibetan lama prompted her return to personal songwriting, which resulted in her 1976 album Hejira.

Mitchell’s Blue period featured her innovative manner of marrying lyrics to melody; her inventive, highly expressive chord progressions that achieved her signature blend of wonder and melancholy; her pioneering approach to personal songwriting; and her contributions to bringing a new literacy to the popular song.

This according to Will you take me as I am: Joni Mitchell’s Blue Period by Michelle Mercer (New York: Free Press, 2009; RILM Abstracts of Music Literature 2009-1442).

Blue is 50 years old today! Below, the full album.

Related article: Joni Mitchell and 1960s sexuality

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Filed under Performers, Popular music

Erroll Garner and “Misty”

When Clint Eastwood was asked to “play Misty for me” in the classic movie of the same name, the song was played by its composer Erroll Garner, one of jazz’s most popular and prolific artists.

A completely self-taught pianist who never learned to read music, Garner created a unique and idiosyncratic but always accessible style. His musical approach was based on elements of swing and bop, while being harmonically reminiscent of French impressionistic composers such as Debussy and Ravel. This style, combined with a winning stage persona, made him arguably the most successful jazz artist of the 1950s.

Garner composed several songs that went on to become jazz standards, but the one with which he will be linked forever is “Misty” (1954). With lyrics by Johnny Burke, the song became a hit for such artists as Johnny Mathis and Sarah Vaughan

The critic Leonard Feather eulogized him as a pianist who played “cascades of jubilant chords that seemed to tell you, ‘Boy, am I having a ball!’”

This according to “Garner, Erroll” by Michael R. Ross (Encyclopedia of music in the 20th century [New York: Routledge, 2013] p. 641); this resource is one of many included in RILM music encyclopedias, an ever-expanding full-text compilation of reference works.

Today is Garner’s 10oth birthday! Below, the composer holds forth.

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Filed under Jazz and blues, Performers, Popular music