Month: September 2010

Zakir Hussain: “The Speaking Hand”

A colleague brought my attention to this fantastic documentary that concentrates on the art of tabla performance, which is available, in full, on YouTube.

Zakir is a Hindustani tabla player from Mumbai (son of Alla Rakha). Even if you’ve never heard his name, you have probably heard his work.  He has performed and collaborated with several American artists, including Bela Fleck.

Additionally, he’s composed several film scores (and starred in a few!).

The first segment of the documentary is below. Quite a bit of it is in Hindi, with German subtitles. You can view the rest on Youtube itself:

Part 1:

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on finding motivation

I realized tonight, as I sit here spooning out the tail-end of a quart of Breyer’s, that for whatever reason, my system can’t handle procrastination. Once the flood gate is open, it compounds until I’m left sitting here with a mile long to-do list, an extra 10 pounds to carry around, and no motivation. Well I’m pretty ticked off at the whole thing.

I love what I’m doing. I mean I love it. I grew up with the kind of folks who said “you aren’t supposed to have a job you like. You’re just supposed to have a job”.  That was never me. It never will be. So then, if I love it so much then why am I self-sabotaging this week? Yes, all of my assignments are in. I’ve been staying on top of TA duties, my readings, and everything else that’s externally important. More than on top of them, really.

Yet this is the very first week I haven’t kept track of my productivity. I didn’t sit down this past Sunday and schedule my week, make lists, or clean off my desk. Am I really that OCD that the failure to schedule my week would cause this kind of chaos? I’ve started eating terribly again (hence the ice cream), anxiety is back, I’ve been getting 3 hours of sleep a night, I’ve stopped exercising altogether, physically I’m feeling pretty terrible, I’ve had headaches all week, I have no interest in playing with my pups, and reading has become a chore. Those are a few of the symptoms anyway. My partner’s out of town, so at least she doesn’t have to put up with me.  I feel uncomfortable in my own skin when I’m like this.

It’s about halfway through the semester. I know I keep reiterating this, but I really am enjoying my courses/job tasks, etc – with that said, it’s not “work stress” causing this. It’s not a lack of social interaction (which can sometimes happen as part of the lonely existence of graduate school). I really have no clue what the cause is. I only know it needs to stop. I need some motivators – and a bath. Or maybe I just need to sit down, clean off my desk, and feel the satisfaction of crossing things off a to-do list. Bath first.

Film: Political History of Tibet

Free Tibet

Image via Wikipedia

Below is a 55 minute documentary on the political history of Tibet. Although this video is sympathetic to Tibetans (made in France), I have also been trying to understand from the Han point of view.

Admittedly, I’ve been disturbed by the Chinese propaganda that can be found on YouTube and in other similar venues. Some of these videos look so forced and fake that it makes it difficult not to side with the Tibetans.  Certainly, I’ve been walking around with a “Free Tibet” sticker plastered on my laptops/instrument cases/cars for years (I grew up next door to a Buddhist retreat center), however I feel like I should spend more time taking a gander at “the other side”. I’ve been searching for a video or commentary by a Chinese scholar on the matter, or something objective. If anyone knows of anything like this, let me know.  Instead, I’m finding government-created short films.

Anyway, here’s the film. It’s quite well done:

Masala Movies

Nutmeg: Romance

Coriander: Action

Cardamom: Drama

Fennel Seed: Comedy

No? Ok so I made it up. Maybe I’m just hungry as I write…

Most Bollywood films are like Lifetime-meets-Broadway-meets-Wagnerian-drama. I would love to take a class in Bollywood films or Indian film music composers.  Some day, someone will buy me a ticket to the Filmfare Awards or the National Film Awards (India).  My birthday is in August… 🙂

Legend & Music Culture: The Lute of Tibet

There are some cultures in which you simply can’t take music out of its cultural context. All in all, that’s a damn good justification for ethnomusicology. Beside that, it’s something I wish more people kept in mind.  I’ve deemed this as Tibet week, so I’m delving into the music and culture of Tibet on whatever level I can.  Okay, so I should be focusing only on India this week considering my upcoming presentation, but they overlap a bit so I thought I’d tie it in.

There are a couple of ‘camps’ here in talking about the music of Tibet. The first one is with the non-musicological folks who think that Tibet is overdone. The second is where I stand with others, and it is that when I look at the Tibetan music section of any library (online or physical), I’m lucky if there’s more than one book present. If it’s there, it’s usually from the 70’s when the post-hippie movement sent folks from San Francisco on a hike through the Himalayas in search of themselves.

I’m trying to put together a bibliography of Tibetan resources. It’s more difficult than you’d think. Even the leading Tibetan music scholarly works leave much to be desired – though I’m grateful for their existence at all.

So back to this idea of legends within a music culture. Most of Asia is full of them, specifically Hindu nations where deities rule.  In Tibet and its present diaspora, it’s hard to peel off layers to find them.  They’re found in extant myths & stories, religious teachings, and most commonly via oral tradition.

I found an excellent short book by Peter Crossley-Holland called Musical Instruments in Tibetan Legend and Folklore, a piece published a monograph series in Ethnomusicology, No. 3 (1982) at UCLA.  In less than 40 pages, the text introduces the lute (vina), conch-shell trumpet (dung-dkar), thigh-bone trumpet (rkang-gling), long trumpet (dung-chen), frame drum (phyed-rnga), and hand-drum (damaru). More importantly, it puts them in context of their respective legends/stories, and thus within their cultural context.  This is a fantastic resource.

Musical references seem synchronous to Tibetan Buddhist culture. At the very beginning, an example of a story is shown (similar to one of Aesop’s fables) wherein the perfectly tightened (not too tight/too loose) strings of a lute are compared to the Buddhist concept of accordance in harmony. (pp. 2-4)

I had not yet heard of a lute as a Tibetan instrument, and in fact it has both Greek and Mongolian roots and is considered only secular (Crossley-Holland pp 3-14). It’s commonly known that Saraswati (and other Indian dieties) were/have been adopted by Tibetans. Saraswati (Indian goddess of music) can be seen pictured with a lute in some Tibetan texts, likely retrieved it from its Indian folklore.  However, what was its purpose then? I’m not entirely sure, although the text gives several story examples of the lute placed in Tibet.

More later…

Sopchoppy Intertribal Pow-wow

Yesterday I drove south to Sopchoppy, Florida, and attended the second of a three-day intertribal pow-wow.  After a long rural drive, the event took place deep within a city park area, and was largely isolated.  It was a great musicultural experience, and I wanted to spend a few minutes writing down my observations. I know very little of Native American music/culture, so I’ll probably skip out on a lot of emic terminology.  Sorry in advance!

The moment I opened my car door, I heard a drum and followed the sound. I walked through just as it was breaking for dinner (buffalo burgers, fry bread, french fries, corn on the cob, steak, veggies, & Indian tacos). I spent some time eating, looking at vendors, and looking around.  During the break, three people alternated on flutes of different sizes and timbres. Sometimes, two people would play together. This was really lovely as one person would lead with the melody and the other would copy it just a beat or two behind, sometimes filling in ornamentation.  Each flautist had a wireless mic attached to their bodies, so the tranquil music they were playing was a  soothing soundtrack.  One man who played a wide flute sang as he played, producing multiphonics and giving the effect of two people playing. I enjoyed this the most, as I’ve never heard it done on a flute before.

Right as the sun went down, I took witness to a Grand Entry (a parade of dancers). It consisted of several songs played by four different types of drums (males & females were segregated by drum), including an entry song played by those at the Unity Drum, a flag song, a memorial song for military veterans, and other various songs for specific tribes and sections within each tribe (such as a song for the female Shawl Dancers, and traditional men’s/women’s songs).

Set up as a sacred circle marked by bales of hay, dancers moved clockwise within it, making a circuit twice or more.  They always entered and left the circle on the east side, where the sun rises. The drummers remained outside of the circle under a tent just next to it on the west side.

As it was an intertribal event, the dances themselves varied greatly.  Vocalization/singing occurred with all songs (by the drummers), however the language and genre alternated according to tribe and song type. Of particular interest was a dance for young boys/teenagers in full regalia where money was thrown at the ground as they danced. Perhaps an offering for them to continue their path, and/or continuing to add intricacies to their regalia? The only thing I can relate it to are Flambeau carriers in New Orleans – [usually] poor men who carry lit torches to illuminate floats and [often] Mardi Gras Indian processionals.

Traditionally, you’d throw quarters at the ground where the Flambeau carriers walked. However due to the dangerous torches (and the fact that the carriers are usually inebriated beyond belief in the parades), it’s now customary to hand them the quarters. Notably, since Katrina I’ve seen this happening less and less and too often, people let them pass unnoticed. Often, parade krewes will hire homeless men to carry the torches, which is a dangerous job, however they know they’ll make some money by doing it.

Again – this is a far step from what I observed at the event this weekend, however it did cause me to reminisce.

Some observations:

I was very surprised at the strong American patriotism shown formally through regalia, through the veteran’s dance, and with waving flags.  There was an announcer walking us non-Natives through what was going on (about 10 of us), and he mentioned again and again how proud he was to live in a country where he was allowed to participate freely in these kinds of ceremonies. This seemed a bit odd to me considering the government’s history with our tribal nations.

I was equally surprised at the amount of republican Native Americans present (with bumper stickers like “Palin Nation“). I can’t imagine that the right-wing agenda is compassionate toward Native Americans, although I haven’t looked it up.

Everyone was very nice and receptive to questions. It was so nice to see how many young kids and teenagers were taking part in the ceremonies. Equally impressive to me were the amount of kids who seemed to really understand and execute the traditional dances well.  That there is a great deal of pride in their Native heritage is very apparent, and the energy of it was astounding.  There are so many other traditions being lost as they fail to be passed down. It was great to see that at least here, that was not the case (although it’s only a small sample, of course).

**As noted before, this event occurred at sunset. My iPhone doesn’t take good photos without a good amount of light. Likewise, there were several parts of the event where we were not allowed to take photos.

Overall, this was a great experience, and I wished I had brought a tent. I enjoyed the musical aspects, the food, and the storytelling.  If I’m around here next year (and I should be), then I’ll definitely return.