Category Archives: Ethnomusicology

Gumleaf redux

Herb Patten, an Elder of Koori, painter, and outstanding gumleaf player, has preserved this indigenous tradition by performing everywhere from pubs and parties to national television and the Sydney Opera House.

Patten (above) has enabled anyone to participate in this tradition with his book/CD set How to play the gumleaf (Sydney: Currency, 1999; RILM Abstracts 1999-14755). Patten’s book includes practical tips on how to select a suitable leaf and develop proper lip technique, and his demonstrations include popular and old-time songs along with the calls of several indigenous Australian birds.

Below, Herb Patten holds forth.

BONUS: Now there’s no need to imagine hearing John Lennon’s Imagine on a gumleaf.

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Filed under Australia and Pacific islands, Curiosities, Instruments

Contemporary African concert dance

The discourse surrounding contemporary concert dance in Africa is complex. Writings on the practice suggest that it could be considered both a neocolonial imposition and a contributor to processes of decolonization.

The growth of contemporary dance in Africa was stimulated by the establishment of an inter-Africa dance competition in 1995 by a French-sponsored dance biennale, which at the time was called the Choreographic Encounters of Africa and the Indian Ocean, and has since been renamed Danse l’Afrique danse!

A major controversy about contemporary dance was caused by the departure from the organization soon after its first event of one of its key instigators, the Ivorian choreographer Alphonse Tierou, in protest against the imposition of French artistic criteria by competition judges.

Tierou’s philosophical tenets for contemporary dance in Africa, which had guided the artistic activities leading up to the launch of the competition, were sidelined by the organizers, who set rules that insisted that entrants present new forms of dance that should not be associated with ideas of African tradition, but which still retain motifs or signifiers which a Western audience would perceive as being African. Both African choreographers and scholars feared the competition was a form of cultural neocolonialism.

While these justifiable concerns persist, there is an emerging academic discourse that promotes the ownership of contemporary dance by African choreographers and dance artists. Observing developments in contemporary dance in Nigeria, Chukwuma Okoye suggested that contemporary dance is undergoing a process of indigenization, arguing that when a foreign dance form is absorbed into a society on the terms of the people in that society the resulting practices cannot be considered a mere copy of the form that was appropriated.

This according to “James Mweu & Kunja Dance Theatre: Contemporary dance as African cultural production” by ‘Funmi Adewole (African theatre XVII [2018] 3–22; RILM Abstracts 2018-60720).

Above and below, Kenya’s Kunja Dance Theatre, a case study in the article.

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Filed under Africa, Dance

The Yandong Grand Singers

The Yandong Grand Singers are a choir of the Kam/Dong people from Guizhou province, China, specializing in the galao (grand song), a form of polyphonic song through which the Kam people transmit much of their history, culture, and knowledge. In 2009 the Grand Song was inscribed on the Representative List of Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity by UNESCO.

Nearly every Kam person sings in a choir at some time in their life. From a community singing group of the Yandong township, the Yandong Grand Singers have gradually made their name known internationally through their album Everyone listen close—Wanp-wanp jangl kap and international tours. In 2019 they toured five cities in the United States to give concerts and workshops, which turned out to be a special experience of cultural exchange for both the musicians and audiences.

This according to “From the mountain to the world: My travels with the Chinese Yandong Grand Singers” by Mu Qian (Folklife 19 April 2021; RILM Abstracts 2021-1649).

Below, excerpts from the 2019 tour.

More posts about China are here.

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Filed under Asia, Performers

Iberian women and square frame drums

The Iberian double-skinned square frame drum known as the adufe, the pandeiro quadrado (Portuguese), or the pandera cuadrado (Spanish) is played almost exclusively by women, and is a legacy from the medieval period.

While Spanish and Portuguese women play various round-frame drums, the square drum has particular roles in several aspects of secular, religious, and ritual life. The songs women sing while playing the drum reflect their thoughts, concerns, and circumstances.

This according to “‘This drum I play’: Women and square frame drums in Portugal and Spain” by Judith R. Cohen (Ethnomusicology forum XVII/1 [June 2008] 95–124; RILM Abstracts 2008-2708).

Today is International Women’s Day! Below, Vanesa Muela demonstrates.

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Filed under Europe, Instruments, Women's studies

Capoeira’s hidden history

 

Capoeira, a Brazilian battle dance and national sport, was brought to Brazil by African slaves and first documented in the late 18th century. The genre has undergone many transformations as it has diffused throughout Brazilian society and beyond, taking on a multiplicity of meanings for those who participate in it and for the societies in which it is practiced.

Three major cultures inspired capoeira—the Congolese (the historic area known today as Congo-Angola), the Yoruban, and the Catholic Portuguese cultures. The evolution of capoeira through successive historical eras can be viewed with a dual perspective, depicting capoeira as it was experienced, observed, and understood by both Europeans and Africans, as well as by their descendants.

This dual perspective uncovers many covert aspects of capoeira that have been repressed by the dominant Brazilian culture. The African origins and meanings of capoeira can be reclaimed while also acknowledging the many ways in which Catholic-Christian culture has contributed to it.

This according to The hidden history of capoeira: A collision of cultures in the Brazilian battle dance by Maya Talmon-Chvaicer (Austin: University of Texas Press, 2008; RILM Abstracts 2008-708).

Above, capoeira performers in São Paulo (photo by Fabio Cequinel licensed under CC BY-NC 2.0); below, capoeira performers in Salvador, Bahia.

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Filed under Black studies, Dance, South America, Sports and games

Rocking the (Chinese) tradition

 

In December 2015, on the Zhongguo zhi Xing (China Star) television program, a reality-show competition among professional pop singers, the singer Tan Weiwei presented a song collaboration with masters of Huayin laoqiang (a xiqu genre originating from Shuangquan village in Huayin), telling her audience that it represented “the earliest Chinese rock music.”

This broadcast, and a second one at the 2016 CCTV Chunjie Wanhui (Spring Festival Gala), led to considerable controversy regarding the three-way negotiation among Chinese rock music, the “Intangible Cultural Heritage’” represented by traditional Hauyin laoqiang, and the political ideology of the Chinese Communist Party.

The reception of these performances among various groups of viewers–general audience members, rock music fans, musicians, and government officials–illustrates how different interpretations reflect audience members’ differing social ideologies. The process of combining rock music and traditional culture is given different meanings based on the identity and stance of different viewers.

This according to “Rocking the tradition or traditionalizing rock? A music performance on Chinese reality show China star” by Yang Shuo (Sounding board 2017; RILM Abstracts 2017-43941). Above and below, the historic performance.

Happy Chinese New Year!

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Filed under Asia, Curiosities, Popular music

Re-encoding Carmen’s identity

 

The 2005 film U-Carmen eKhayelitsha is a South African adaptation and reconceptualization of Bizet’s Carmen. The change in culture and context affects the interpretation of the character of Carmen, who emerges as a strong black woman striving for autonomy within a patriarchal and sexist postcolonial South African society.

The film involves an interpretation of identity as a social construct dependent on the interaction between character and place within a specific period of time–in this case, Khayelitsha, a township on the outskirts of Cape Town, at the beginning of the 21st century. Its portrayal of the modern Carmen as an emancipated woman within a postcolonial and postmodernist context can be traced by interpreting semiotic signs and specific narrative strategies.

The re-encoding of Carmen’s identity questions intransigent or stereotypical perceptions of Carmen as the iconic femme fatale to which audiences have become accustomed; the indigenized production offers recourse to alternative perceptions of Carmen’s identity. U-Carmen eKhayelitsha does not deny the sensuality and femininity attributed to Carmen in the precursory texts, but it depicts her as an even more complex character than the one in Bizet’s opera.

This according to “The same, yet different: Re-encoding identity in U-Carmen eKhayelitsha” by Santisa Viljoen and Marita Wenzel (Journal of the musical arts in Africa XIII/1–2 [2016] 53–70; RILM Abstracts 2016-49747).

Below, the trailer for the film.

Related articles:

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Filed under Africa, Film music, Opera

Uday Shankar’s “Kalpana”

 

The feature film Kalpana (Imagination) is the only kinetic record of Uday Shankar’s choreographic work. Directed by and starring Shankar himself, it is semi-autobiographical and also stars his wife, Amala Shankar.

The film involved a fair amount of social commentary, and Shankar’s opening statement in it still feels strikingly appropriate:

“I request you all to be very alert while you watch this unusual picture—a Fantasy. Some of the events depicted here will reel off at great speed and if you miss any piece you will really be missing a vital aspect of our country’s life in its Religion, Politics, Education, Society, Art and Culture, Agriculture and Industry.”

“I do not deliberately aim my criticism at any particular group of people or institutions, but if it appears so, it just happens to be so, that is all. It is my duty as an Artist to be fully alive to all conditions of life and thought relating to our country and present it truthfully with all the faults and merits, through the medium of my Art.”

“And I hope that you will be with me in our final purpose to rectify our own shortcomings and become worthy of our cultural heritage and make our motherland once again the greatest in the world.”

This according to “Uday Shankar’s Kalpana” by Sunil Kothari (Sruti 195 [December 2000] 53–57).

Today is Uday Shankar’s 120th birthday! Above and below, excerpts from the film.

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Filed under Asia, Dance, Film music, Performers

Tepsijanje—singing by the pan

 

Singing by the pan, a women’s folk tradition known as tepsijanje (“panning”), was documented in Bosnia and Herzegovina during the Ottoman period.

Recent research has shown that tepsijanje is still popular, especially with Muslim and Roman Catholic populations in Bosnia and Herzegovina. It is a rare example of a nonmusical object—in this case, a cooking pan—functioning as a musical instrument.

This according to “Examples of an interesting practice: Singing along the pan” by Jasmina Talam, an essay included in Studia instrumentorum musicae popularis. II (Münster: Monsenstein und Vannerdat, 2011 251–56; RILM Abstracts 2011-49486).

Below, two examples of tepsijanje.

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Filed under Curiosities, Europe, Instruments

Huapango arribeño and the voices of migration

 

From New Year’s festivities in the highlands of Mexico to backyard get-togethers along the back roads of central Texas, Mexican people living on both sides of the border use expressive culture to construct meaningful communities amid the United States’ often vitriolic immigration politics.

Huapango arribeño, a genre originating from north-central Mexico, carries the voices of those in Mexico, those undertaking the dangerous trek across the border, and those living in the U.S. The genre refigures the sociopolitical and economic terms of migration through aesthetic means, illuminating the ways transnational music-making is at the center of everyday Mexican migrant life.

This according to Sounds of crossing: Music, migration, and the aural poetics of huapango arribeño by Alex E. Chávez (Durham: Duke University Press, 2017; RILM Abstracts 2017-45167).

Above and below, Guillermo Velázquez, one of the musicians discussed in the book. Don’t miss the step dancing toward the end!

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Filed under North America, Politics, Popular music