I am a musical performer and scholar of music and dance. I am currently completing my master's degree in Ethnomusicology. I study and perform regularly on bass (both electric and upright), as well as Morin Khuur (Horse-Head Fiddle, from Inner Mongolia).... [more]
I am a musical performer and scholar of music and dance. I am currently completing my master's degree in Ethnomusicology. I study and perform regularly on bass (both electric and upright), as well as Morin Khuur (Horse-Head Fiddle, from Inner Mongolia). While I primarily play jazz, I have experience playing classical, rock, world, and experimental music. My research interests include belly dance in American popular culture and contemporary jazz in Poland. My hobbies include knitting, drawing with oil pastels, belly dance, swimming, watching documentary films, and learning new languages. [show less]
Note: This post is part of September's Curator's Corner Theme: Anniversaries, celebrating great artistic legacies.
The final year of a decade is always an interesting one, culturally speaking, straddling between the ending decade and the decade yet to come. 2009 marks the anniversaries of many great jazz albums. Here are several notable highlights.
1959 (50th anniversary) - Dave Brubeck’s Time Out
Brubeck’s album combined odd meters, exotic influence, and the gorgeous sounds of saxophonist Paul Desmond. The album featured “Take Five,” one of the most well-know jazz songs ever, which broke through a rock-dominated market.
This was a great year for jazz albums; others iconic albums released in 1959 include: Miles Davis’ Kind of Blue, John Coltrane’s Giant Steps, Ornette Coleman’s The Shape of Jazz to Come, and Charles Mingus’ Mingus Ah Um.
1969 (40th anniversary) – Miles Davis’ In a Silent Way
Davis was one of the original pioneers of fusion – which combined rock and jazz. While this album was surpassed in notoriety by Bitches Brew (released a year later), this marks Davis’ first full foray into an electronic fusion sound. The album features many then up and coming musicians who would go onto shape the course of fusion jazz such as saxophonist Wayne Shorter (Weather Report), guitarist John McLaughlin (Mahavishnu Orchestra), and keyboardist Herbie Hancock (Headhunters).
1999 (10th anniversary) – Pat Metheny Trio, 99 – 00
Guitarist Metheny’s career spans 4 decades and includes collaborations with artists ranging from Ornette Coleman to Joni Mitchell. This album, which was primarily recorded in 1999 but released in 2000,remains one of the Metheny’s most popular albums and marks his return to the more subtle fusion of his early career in the 1970s afterpartially succumbing to the musical excesses of the 1980s.
“There is no such thing as music. Music is not a thing at all but an activity, something that people do.”
"There is no gender identity behind the expressions of gender... identity is performatively constituted by the very 'expressions' that are said to be its results."
One thing I love about studying ethnomusicology is making connections across disciplines. I am increasingly noticing a connection between how scholars talk about the nature of music and how scholars talk about the nature of gender.
Both scholars question the idea of their concept as a concrete thing. Many ethnomusicologists now conceptualize music as an activity, what Small refers to as “Musiking.” Part of this is a reaction to more traditional mindsets of music. Many people think that music notation is music, or that a recording is music. While these are both forms of musical transmission, they are not the music itself. Music does not depend on either one to exist. The only thing it needs to exist is the deliberate action of at least one human being.
In the field of gender studies, Butler and other scholars have made similar claims about the nature of gender. This was a reaction to the idea of natural gender roles that was so antithetical to the feminist movement. Gender is gender because we perform it that way. Even physical and biological characteristics are performatively gendered.
Both scholars have made effective arguments that have opened up extensive discussion in their respective fields.
There are two sides to each coin. There have been numerous critics of Butler’s theory, the most vocal being from transgendered people who feel their gender is a concrete thing and that their transitioning is a way to make their body match their actual gender. I am not aware of scholars who have challenged Small’s theories, but I myself believe that, to a certain extent, music exists as a thing or concept. Just as transgendered people strive to express their true gender, musical performers (or actors/participants) will relate the music around them to their own conception of “music.”Gender and music can be very real things for certain people.
I argue that both sides of either debate can be true. Reality is full of cases where opposite or otherwise seemingly contradictory ideas are both true.I think in both cases, the concepts fall somewhere on a continuum of real vs. performed. Like so many other things, the truth lies somewhere in the middle.
The Grove Dictionary of Music describes ethnomusicology as “[t]he study of social and cultural aspects of music and dance in local and global contexts.” This differs somewhat from musicology, which Grove defines as “the scholarly study of music.” While from these definitions one could conclude that ethnomusicology is a subset of musicology, the key difference is in fact that the former views music as is a cultural element and the latter as an artistic or historical object.Ethnomusicology borrows from both anthropology and musicology in its methodology, and incorporates a wide variety of associated fields including art, religion, gender/sexuality, and political science. While not an artistic movement, the discipline has shaped the development of music, particularly the genre of world music in the United States.
Ethnomusicological Writing and Film
What follows are my recommendations for books and films that deal with ethnomusicology related subject matter
In Griot Time : An American Guitarist in Mali by Banning Eyre (2000) Eyre, who works for the amazing NPR show AfroPop [link], is a music scholar who writes in a non-academic, accessible style. Mali is home to a diverse and fascinating music culture.
The works of Charles Keil.Keil revolutionized the field of ethnomusicology when he wrote his first book, Urban Blues (1966), based on local research of the thriving Chicago blues scene, rather than studying the music of a distant, exotic culture. Other great works include Polka Happiness (1992) on Polka in America and Bright Balkan Morning (2002) on Romani music in Greek Macedonia.
Latcho Drom (Safe Journey) (1993) and Gadjo dilo (Crazy Stranger) (1997), written/directed by Tony Gatlif.These two films are part of Franco-Algerian director Gatlif’s trio chronically the lives of Romani people (the third, Les princes (1983), I have not seen).Latcho Drom is a mesmerizing documentary that has no narration, but rather shows the musical lives of the Romani people spanning from India to North African and Western Europe. Gadjo dilo is a film that’s main character is a French music scholar studying, recording music, and trying to integrate into the culture of Romani people in Romania.
While the development of world music as a market category can be attributed to well known western musicians like Peter Gabriel and Paul Simon serving introducing American audiences to foreign artists, the first expose Americans had to this music was through field recordings made by ethnomusicologists. Today, applied ethnomusicologist (those working in a non-academic setting) work as musical activists to help get musicians’ music recorded and distributed.
A website explaining how a field recording of Central African Ba’Aka was incorporated into the music of Herbie Hancock and Madonna [link]
Smithsonian Folkways [link] A non-profit record label that promotes musicians from around the world.
World Music Network [link] Releases the “Rough Guide to ______” music CD series. Both the music books and CDs for the Rough Guides are wonderful. While I find the travel guide format a little problematic (the company originally began publishing travel books), the information in all is concise and the song picks tend to be better and more authentic than Putumayo CDs.
Here are a few recommended blogs that are authored by ethnomusicologists or deal with ethnomusicological subject matter.
Education blogs relating to ethnomusicology courses: Ethnomusicology [link], Bakan WORLD MUSIC blog [link], 295 Group Four [link]
Blogs that introduce readers to recordings from around the world: Global Groove [link], Culture and Pleasure [link]
General topics: Sustainable Music [link], SoundRoots World Music & Global Culture [link]
What follows is an excerpt from the essay "The Record Effect: How Technology has Transformed the Sound of Music" by Alex Ross, published in the New Yorker June 6th, 2005. The essay is a detailed and articulate review of"Capturing Sound: How Technology Has Changed Music,” byMark Katz. Both authors point to a fascinating aspect of music that is rarely examined: how the process or recording music changes the ways music is performed and created (for better or worse). Full article here.
"Ninety-nine years ago, John Philip Sousa predicted that recordings would lead to the demise of music. The phonograph, he warned, would erode the finer instincts of the ear, end amateur playing and singing, and put professional musicians out of work. “The time is coming when no one will be ready to submit himself to the ennobling discipline of learning music,” he wrote. “Everyone will have their ready made or ready pirated music in their cupboards.” Something is irretrievably lost when we are no longer in the presence of bodies making music, Sousa said. “The nightingale’s song is delightful because the nightingale herself gives it forth.”
Before you dismiss Sousa as a nutty old codger, you might ponder how much has changed in the past hundred years. Music has achieved onrushing omnipresence in our world: millions of hours of its history are available on disk; rivers of digital melody flow on the Internet; MP3 players with ten thousand songs can be tucked in a back pocket or a purse. Yet, for most of us, music is no longer something we do ourselves, or even watch other people doing in front of us. It has become a radically virtual medium, an art without a face. In the future, Sousa’s ghost might say, reproduction will replace production entirely. Zombified listeners will shuffle through the archives of the past, and new music will consist of rearrangements of the old.
Ever since Edison introduced the wax cylinder, in 1877, people have been trying to figure out what recording has done for and to the art of music. Inevitably, the conversation has veered toward rhetorical extremes. Sousa was a pioneering spokesman for the party of doom, which was later filled out by various post-Marxist theorists. In the opposite corner are the technological utopians, who will tell you that recording has not imprisoned music but liberated it, bringing the art of the élite to the masses and the art of the margins to the center. Before Edison came along, the utopians say, Beethoven’s symphonies could be heard only in select concert halls. Now CDs carry the man from Bonn to the corners of the earth, summoning forth the million souls he hoped to embrace in his “Ode to Joy.” Conversely, recordings gave the likes of Louis Armstrong, Chuck Berry, and James Brown the chance to occupy a global platform that Sousa’s idyllic old America, racist to the core, would have denied them. The fact that their records played a crucial role in the advancement of African-American civil rights puts in proper perspective the aesthetic debate about whether or not technology has been “good” for music.
I discovered much of my favorite music through LPs and CDs, and I am not about to join the party of Luddite lament. Modern urban environments are often so chaotic, soulless, or ugly that I’m grateful for the humanizing touch of electronics. But I want to be aware of technology’s effects, positive and negative. For music to remain vital, recordings have to exist in balance with live performance, and, these days, live performance is by far the smaller part of the equation. Perhaps we tell ourselves that we listen to CDs in order to get to know the music better, or to supplement what we get from concerts and shows. But, honestly, a lot of us don’t go to hear live music that often. Work leaves us depleted. Tickets are too expensive. Concert halls are stultifying. Rock clubs are full of kids who make us feel ancient. It’s just so much easier to curl up in the comfy chair with a Beethoven quartet or Billie Holiday. But would Beethoven or Billie ever have existed if people had always listened to music the way we listen now?"
Africa is home to many diverse and captivating styles of music. What follows is my own personal picks of African musicians who I feel people should know about. This is by no means and exhaustive list; there are many other great African musicians. If you are interested more in African music and musicians, I recommend the website of NPR’s Afropop.
1. Fela Kuti
Kuti innovated “Afrobeat,” a musical genre that combines African popular music with American funk and jazz. He was greatly influence by the politics of the American Black Panther movement and by the music of James Brown.
Sangaré is a singer associated with Wassoulou, a genre of music derived from the region of Mali of the same name. Her lyrics deal with women’s themes and social justice. She is an outspoken critic of polygamy and promoter of marital choice.
Astatke is the father of Ethiopian jazz. He studied the music of American jazz composers like Duke Ellington while attending the prestigious Berklee College of Music in Boston (where he was the first African student). His music was heavily featured on the Soundtrack to the 2005 Jim Jarmusch film, “Broken Flowers.”
Touré is one of the greatest African guitarists. He is part of the West African tradition that is considered the origins of American blues. In fact, his is most known internationally for his collaboration with American blues guitarist Ry Cooder on the album Talking Timbuktu. The two genres are akin to siblings separated at birth, now in adulthood they are reuniting through collaborations such as Touré’s and Cooder’s.
Khaled is one of the greats of Raï, a popular form of music in Algeria. The genre was one of the first Arabic forms of music to achieve international success, particularly after Sting collaborated with Cheb Mami (another great Raï musician) on “Desert Rose.” Muslim fundamentalist in Algeria have strongly objected to Raï to the point of making death threats against musicians, which culminated in the murder of Cheb Hasni in 1994. Because of this, Khaled relocated to Paris.
Kulthum is considered one of the greatest singers of the Arabic world, and is still an icon decades after her death. Her career lasted almost 50 years and included work as an actress. She is known for her clear recitation of lyrics, emotional style, and classic style.
Makeba’s songs combine traditional South African traditions with American jazz and folk. She was an outspoken critic of apartheid, which led to her living in exile for many years. Many of her songs are sung in her native language, Xhosa.
Kidjo is one of the most internationally-recognized African musicians. She has been nominated for several and won one Grammy Award. She has collaborated with many American musicians, including Dave Mathews. Her albums combine a wide diversity of musical styles.
In his 1970s (not not 1980s as the website says) remake of "Watermelon Man," Herbie Hancock incorporated a vocal line from a field recording of Ba'aka (the term for the ethnic group, the term pygmy is derogatory). The problem: he didn't bother to give any credit to the original performers. Its an ethically complicated case that has exemplifies the problems of appropriating world music. The fact that Madonna payed royalties to Hancock when she used the vocal line on "Sanctuary" further complicates the matter.