India

Update on Current Research: Topics, Trajectories, and Obstacles

I just blinked my eyes a couple of times and realized it’s been over a month since I’ve posted here. I know, I know – you’ve been utterly distraught about it and just couldn’t imagine your virtual life without me in it, right? 😉  Well – you’re in luck. Here I go:

Flag of New Orleans

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It’s odd how ethnomusicological projects seem to grow organically – they very quickly consume everything in their way. It can be exhilarating! It’s been a while since I’ve stepped back and taken inventory of my projects in progress, so I’m going to save us all some time and give you a list of bullets rather than a narrative. In order of current importance and time consumption:

  1. Street Musicians in New Orleans. My thesis topic. Through the lens of R. Murray Schafer‘s 1977 concept of the soundmark, I’m mapping street musicians in two New Orleans neighborhoods and simultaneously telling the story of their experiences. If I were to tag this project with key words it would be: street musicians, migrant street kids, NOLA, urban studies, tourist mapping, ethnography, oral history, and French Quarter fixtures. Where am I now? Fieldwork is done. Prospectus is done. Writing in progress.
  2. Black, Queer, and Bouncing in New Orleans. I’m researching the phenomenon of Sissy Bounce, which refers to a group of queer-identified hip-hop artists in New Orleans (notably most of them hate the term so I will not use it to define the genre which should just be under the umbrella of ‘Bounce’, simply the artists themselves and their identities).  I’ve been officially doing fieldwork for this project for about fifteen months, however it will be ongoing for quite a while. Issues of access and identity continue to arise. A couple of months ago, I presented a paper called, ““Is that thug wearing heels?” The Negotation of Identity in Sissy Bounce” at the 2011 Southern Graduate Music Research Symposium as part of a panel on liminality (what the hell does it mean to “negotiate identity” anyway?! I’ve since slapped myself for using this title per my advisor who made me [and others] realize it was an idiotic and empty phrase). I recently submitted an abstract to the Society of Ethnomusicology‘s Southeast and Caribbean regional chapter (SEMSEC) called “Big Freedia “the Queer Diva”: Black, Queer, and Bouncing out of New Orleans”. I’m keeping my fingers crossed that it gets accepted so I can present the paper at SEMSEC’s annual meeting, which is being held this year in the Dominican Republic (kudos to whomever had that brilliant idea!).  The first presentation was my attempt to introduce the Sissy Bounce phenomenon to the musicological community, and also my first attempt at a conference presentation! I was happy with both my paper and my presentation of it, though of course looking back there are a few things I would have added/modified. In this second presentation, I’ll be narrowing my topic to a case study of one particular artist, Big Freedia “the Queen Diva.” There are obstacles here as well. Once a local artist performing in dive clubs around town, Freedia’s popularity has shot through the roof and she’s now on an international touring circuit with looming rumors of a reality TV show. Access, access, access.  As a whole, I’m not sure what the trajectory of this project will be.  If there were tags for this one, they would be: gender, bounce, new orleans, black and queer, sexuality studies, Judith Butler, queer hip-hop, and reflexivity.
  3. THE MUHS PROJECT. And now for something completely different, sort of –  I’ve been working on a biographical archiving project since early this past summer. My subject is Marietta Muhs, an opera diva that grew up and out of New Orleans who landed in the NYC opera scene in the early-20th century. Obviously, this project leans towards the historical realm. I’m expecting this to take up quite a bit of time over the next several years. It’s a side project, but one that is allowing me to utilize the skills and resources I’m learning in my historical coursework. Tags here would include: New Orleans, New Orleans opera scene, Loyola U., NYC opera scene, and women in the 1950’s.
  4. Global hip-hop. Also a side project, it seems like for every regional topic class I take which requires a massive term paper/presentation at the end, I’m drawn not just to popular music, but to hip-hop. I’m currently researching hip-hop in South Africa and will be presenting on it sometime in the next few weeks in class. I’ve also delved into Indonesian and Indian hip-hop, and guest lectured a few times on Indonesian hip-hop over the past year. I’m also interested in hip-hop artist refugees coming out of various African war zones (e.g. Emmanual Jal). These things are constantly evolving, so I’m finding that social networking allows me to stay up-to-date with artists and genres without having to actively search them out after I’ve done the initial research.  Anyway, I just added this bullet because it seems to be a recurring theme in my life at the moment, and  I have a feeling that something will come out of it eventually. Of course it also links to the research I’m doing on hip-hop in NOLA.

Next year’s SEM/AMS/SMT mega conference is in New Orleans and I have a few pertinent topics, above, that I could attempt a paper submission for (though acceptance of the younger grad student papers is rare). I think that even though my thesis research is on street musicians, I’m eyeing NOLA Bounce as the topic I’d like to present on at SEM (though my abstract would likely be trashed at first sight).  Anyway – my thesis includes sonic mapping of street musicians, and I could come up with a great “field trip”  handout for people to go and see these soundmarks live since the presentation would be in New Orleans… much to think about. Not a lot of time to do it in.

Lastly, if you’ve followed this blog at all in the past few years, you probably know that my eventual dissertation topic will be  music in the Tibetan community of Dharamsala, India. Most folks who study Tibetan music tend to lean towards music for Buddhist ritual and traditional genres. My goal (big shock here) will be popular music – perhaps working with Lobsang Wangyal who organizes the Tibetan music awards from McLeod Ganj. With that said, I’ve also been peeking at the music of Bhutan and Nepal. Obstacles = language, money, accessibility, government regulations. Working on that.

Prayer Wheels at Tsuglagkhang Temple, McLeod Ganj.

Anyway – that’s my list of current projects and their potential trajectories. As for the day-to-day, it currently involves a giant stack of grading, 2-3 books to read per week, and as usual, hanging with the most fabulous musicologist-friends on the planet.  By Saturday, I hope to make another post  that illustrates how absolutely awesome the SEM conference was in Philadelphia last week.

Til then, Cheers!

tibet elects a new pm to smack china upside the head

Flag of Tibet

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I generally try not to make political statements here, but today is different. Today exiled Tibetans in Dharamsala shook a fist in the direction of China making a firm statement that Tibetan leadership is strong by electing a new [political] Prime Minister, Lobsang* Sangay (who happens to be a Fulbright Scholar and the first Tibetan to attend Harvard law).  The Chinese opposition has yet to comment, yet they consider that Tibetans have no legitimacy, and no right to have held the election in the first place. Guess what – they did it anyway!  Why is this such a big step for Tibetans? Tibet is a land of reincarnated lamas (teachers) and leaders who are appointed to their positions. That they have elected a new Prime Minister at the urging of HHDL not only means that they have new blood sitting in office to take strong political action, but also that exiled Tibetans are taking a step towards democracy. This in turn pries open the eyeballs of democratic nations across the globe that haven’t wanted to touch the “Tibet Conflict” with a ten-foot dungchen.

I’m curious to see what will happen when a Harvard lawyer (born in Darjeerling) representing all of exiled Tibet collaborates with a few interested political heads and sits down for tea with some [imperialist] Chinese delegates… I just have a feeling good things will happen – maybe not immediately, but eventually and inevitably… I hope. 

 

*Lobsang means: disciple with a fine mind

Brass Band Parallels: From India to New Orleans

Red Hot Brass Band at New Orleans Jazz & Herit...

Red Hot Brass Band: NOLA

In 1990, Gregory Booth published an article in the journal Ethnomusicology (34/2) called “Brass Bands: Tradition, Change, and the Mass Media in Indian Wedding Music”.  Sixteen years later (in 2006), he turned this fieldwork into a book called Brass Baja. Booth discusses the context of a baraat (sometimes seen as barat), “a procession from the groom’s house to the home of the bride.” (1990, 245) These processions are typically accompanied by brass bands.

As the author discusses to great length in both the article and book, there are a lot of interesting questions to ask about these brass bands. The concepts of tradition, acculturation, identity, nationalism, musical migration, and the general exchange of music and musical ideas can be brought to the table here. There can also be parallels drawn with the brass bands of New Orleans. Certainly this is indicative of their early European/UK roots wherein brass bands would be sponsored and associated with specific areas.

Later in 19th century New England (U.S.), these brass bands, having migrated from Europe, were woven into the fabric of the Industrial Revolution – I can retrace this to my own roots by looking at the South Barre Brass Band, and the Barre Wool Brass Band (both in Massachusetts), both of which have familial ties. For many years I performed in the Quabbin Community Band, a group that evolved out of the two brass bands above that still maintains its roots by performing the works of its original bandleader, Severino D’Annolfo.

Booth recalls major Indian cities as having between 30-100 uniformed brass bands, and that they “band together” in certain areas of the cities – territories, if you will.  This is certainly not unlike the brass bands of New Orleans, which are often decorated and territorially sound. That is, in New Orleans quite often, the brass bands are defined by their neighborhood associations.  Their band names and lyrics are wrought with these neighborhood references.

A distinction of the Indian brass bands however, is that they generally have ties to a physical space in which to store their horns, their instruments, and likely as a place to rehearse. According to Booth, they have these “shops” that are clustered together for pragmatic reasons: it is a place where potential patrons can find the group and hire them for their services. While New Orleans brass bands typically play for funeral services, these Indian brass bands play for weddings.

State Police Brass Band (India)

Notably, instrumentation between these groups are very similar: percussion, sousaphones, clarinets, saxophones, trumpets, and trombones are the commonly seen axes. Certainly there are more parallels to unravel.

As a brass band enthusiast, and dare I say “scholar”, it would seem that a potential study hangs here – I can imagine there are more lackluster topics to attach yourself to in comparison to this. So I’m adding it to my list.