Tag Archives: Women’s studies

Kulning and cows

kulning 1

In Sweden the herding of livestock is women’s work. Herding music functions chiefly as a means of communication between the women and the animals; it is also used for communication between herders.

The song style known as kulning has an instrumental timbre, a sharp attack, and a piercing, almost vibrato-free sound, often very loud and at an unusually high pitch. A study of the physiological and acoustical characteristics of kulning, including phonation and articulation, shows an unconventional use of the voice that contradicts what is recommended in traditional Western voice training.

This according to “Voice physiology and ethnomusicology: Physiological and acoustical studies of the Swedish herding song” by Anna Johnson (Yearbook for traditional music XVI [1984] pp. 42–66). Below, Maria Misgeld demonstrates.

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Celia Cruz’s (trans)nationalism

celia cruz

Celia Cruz’s diverse musical repertoire served as a performative locus for the negotiations of both her Cubanness and her broader Latin American identity.

Likewise, her construction of blackness as an Afro-Cuban woman transformed and was transformed by her collaborations with African American musicians and singers, in styles ranging from jazz to hip hop.

Cruz also crossed racial and cultural boundaries by collaborating with Anglo musicians and by tropicalizing rock music. Her staged persona and her body aesthetics also reveal the fluidity with which she assumed diverse racial, national, and historical identities while simultaneously asserting her Cubanness through the use of Spanish onstage.

This according to “The blackness of sugar: Celia Cruz and the performance of (trans)nationalism” by Frances Aparicio (Cultural studies XIII/2 [April 1999] pp. 223–236).

Today is Celia Cruz’s 90th birthday! Below, Cruz performs with the Fania All-Stars in 1974.

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Filed under Black studies, Popular music, Women's studies

Prince and female desire

Purple-Rain

Prince’s moves to elicit female desire in the song When doves cry can be traced according to three codes found in the lyrics: the “normal” code of male sexuality common in rock music, an unusually explicit “Oedipal” code, and an “uncanny” code.

The uncanny code constitutes a counter-code to the usual male-oriented sexuality of rock music and represents an attempt to elicit a non-stereotypical female sexuality—female desire outside of the male sexual economy.

This according to “Purple passion: Images of female desire in When doves cry” by Nancy J. Holland (Cultural critique X [fall 1988] pp. 89–98).

When doves cry is 30 years old this year, as is the film that showcased it, Purple rain. Above, a still from the film. Click here for the official music video; the lyrics are here.

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Filed under Popular music, Women's studies

Cleopatra and the Oriental menace

Claude_Vignon_-_Cléopâtre_se_donnant_la_mort

In canonical French Orientalist discourse of the 19th century, the Orient is cast as effeminate, weak, and in need of rehabilitation by Western civilization. However, the dramatic arts of late 16th- and early 17th-century France constructed a different picture, one in which the Orient as temptress was a deadly threat to the West.

During the late Valois and early Bourbon monarchies, the queen regents Catherine de Médicis (1519–89), Marie de Médicis (1575–1642), and Anne d’Autriche (1601–66) were associated with political turmoil and civil war that threatened to destroy the kingdom. Within this troubled political context, fatal women of the Orient sought to entice their prey on the French stage. Most deadly among them was Cleopatra, embodiment of Egypt, incarnation of women’s malignant sexual seduction, exposed in her subjugation of Marcus Antonius, the fallen, conquered, and emasculated Roman.

With the rise of Louis XIV (1638–1715) and his imposition of a purportedly indomitable and masculine monarchy, women were to be vanquished outright. Reigning women, including those in the tragedies of Philippe Quinault (1635–88), were the victims of self-destructive passions ending in defeat, death, or abandonment by the heroes whom they sought to enslave. An emblematic example of such a crushed woman is the sorceress Armide in the tragédie en musique by Jean-Baptiste Lully (1632–87), the libretto of which is by Quinault.

This according to “Regnorum ruina: Cleopatra and the Oriental menace in early French tragedy” by Desmond Hosford, an essay included in French Orientalism: Culture, politics, and the imagined Other (Newcastle upon Tyne: Cambridge Scholars, 2010, pp. 23–47).

Above, a 17th-century depiction of Cleopatra by Claude Vignon; below, a 20th-century depiction of Cleopatra by Elizabeth Taylor.

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Wrapping llamas in song

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The women herders of ayllu Qaqachaka in highland Bolivia sing to their llamas in various ceremonial occasions during the year, and also on a more pragmatic daily basis to accompany their herding activities.

But their songs have other, more magical functions, involving the increase of the flocks, when they become a part of the body-centered knowledge and practices that comprise a female aesthetics and poetics of creation that parallels men’s more destructive activities in war.

Many of the principal singers are elderly midwives, and in a lifetime of learning they practice the art of wrapping their animals in song. This wrapping in song also serves to transform and domesticate the spirits of dead enemies, embodied in the animals, and to rebirth them into human society.

Key concepts such as jawi, that glosses as both fleece and river, are ontological expressions of flowing musical sound in woven substance. A mating song for the female llamas, a marking song for the ewes, and a song of blessing for the female llamas reveal how specific musical and lyrical structures express the women’s preoccupations with the generation of beautiful fleece and its weaving into sung wrappings.

This according to “Midwife singers: Llama-human obstetrics in some songs to the animals by Andean women” by Denise Y. Arnold, an essay included in Quechua verbal artistry: The inscription of Andean voices/Arte expresivo Quechua: La inscripción de voces andinas (Aachen: Shaker media, 2004, pp. 145–179).

Below, a visiting delegation passes through Chucura.

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Filed under Animals, Curiosities, South America, Women's studies

Cyndi Lauper’s (re)covers

lauper

Cyndi Lauper’s signature anthem Girls just want to have fun (1983) was a cover of Robert Hazard’s misogynistic original (1979); her own 1994 re-remake (Hey now) girls just want to have fun exploits and subverts mainstream categories of gender and sexuality.

For her 1994 version Lauper provocatively incorporated a gloss on another song, Redbone’s Come and get your love, and in the updated music video the original “girls” are replaced by men in drag while the singer arguably performs a drag version of herself (or rather, her 1980s persona of a girl who just wants to have fun).

Bringing nuance to the truism of Lauper as a creator of female address on MTV and in popular culture, her versions of the song demonstrate that agency and authority in popular music derive just as much (perhaps more) from interpretation and performance as they do from authorship and songwriting.

This according to “What fun? Whose fun? Cyndi Lauper (re)covers Girls just want to have fun” by Wayne Heisler , Jr. (ECHO: A music-centered journal VI/1 [2004]); the full text is here.

Today is Lauper’s 60th birthday! Above, a still from the music video for her 1983 cover; below, the 1994 version.

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Filed under Curiosities, Popular music, Women's studies

Exotic dance and civil liberties

exotic dance

Exotic dance is a theatrical art form that communicates within its own aesthetic. It is a multisensory nonverbal performance in which audience members may become active communicators.

But eroticism unleashes passions that defy the dictates of social conservatives, who have stoked public outrage and incited local and state governments to impose onerous restrictions on clubs with the intent of dismantling the exotic dance industry.

While the fight happens at the local level, it is part of a national campaign to regulate sexuality and punish those who do not adhere to conservative values. Ultimately, the separation of church and state is under siege and U.S. civil liberties—free speech, women’s rights, and free enterprise—are at stake.

This according to Naked truth: Strip clubs, democracy, and a Christian Right by Judith Lynne Hanna (Austin: University of Texas Press, 2012). Below, exotic dancers in Las Vegas talk about their lives and work.

Related article: Subversive belly dancing

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Filed under Dance, Women's studies

Women and gramophones

A letter published in the June 1925 issue of Gramophone noted the magazine’s general absence of women correspondents: “are the sweet little things too shy, or what?” A response published in August of that year dismissed the idea of women enjoying the gramophone: “ladies…want to be seen and also to see. They don’t want to listen. That will never interest them.”

The October issue included a letter from a woman reader who noted that women have less money at their disposal for entertainment than men, and that when she attends concerts she sees many women, including poor ones, listening attentively. “I can only conclude,” she wrote, “that certain of your correspondents have been singularly unfortunate in the circle of women they have drawn about them.”

The letters are reprinted in Music, sound, and technology in America: A documentary history of early phonograph, cinema, and radio (Durham: Duke University Press, 2012). Below, on a record from the year in which the letters were first published, Margaret Young sings Red hot Henry Brown.

Related article: Gramophone ethics

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Filed under Curiosities, Mass media, Reception

Liturgical studies

In 2011 Peter Lang launched the series Liturgical studies, edited by Silvia A. Sweeney.

The inaugural volume, Embodying the feminine in the dances of the world’s religions by Angela M. Yarber, explores bharata nāṭyam, a classical Indian genre stemming from the devadāsī tradition; kabuki onnagata, Japanese male enactors of female-likeness; the Mevlevi Order of America, which allows women to train as whirling dervishes; and Gurit Kadman, who created folk dances for Jewish women and men.

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Filed under Dance, New series, Women's studies

Balkan studies

E.J. Brill inaugurated its series Balkan studies in 2011 with Staging socialist femininity: Gender politics and folklore performance in Serbia by Ana Hofman. The book examines the negotiation of gendered performances in Serbian rural areas as a result of the socialist gender policy and the creation of a new femininity in the public sphere from the 1970s through the mid-1990s, with particular attention to musical performances.

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