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Music Production and Ethnomusicology

Session V-18, 2022 Annual Meeting

On Friday, December 2 at 1:30 pm

Panel Description
  • This paper examines the emergence of musical literacy in the Arabic context during the early Abbasid period (mid-8th to early 11th century). The earliest theoretical writings on music in Arabic appeared in the late 8th century during the so-called “Arabic book revolution,” a period that witnessed a dramatic increase in the production of books due to a diversity of factors, including the adoption of paper as a writing medium. The transition from a predominantly oral culture with listening at its center to an increasingly textual, book-based, and writerly one, broadly defines the period stretching from the late 7th to 10th century. Historians and scholars of Arabic literature have increasingly paid attention to the momentous turn to book writing in the late 8th century, studying how the forms of knowledge transmission were altered in contrasting ways across disciplinary boundaries, following multiple paths and paces in a non-linear transition to literacy (Gruendler 2020, Hirschler 2012, Schoeler 2007). While the import of this phenomenon for music is indisputable, its impact on the discipline has yet to be considered. In this paper, I argue that the large-scale adoption of the book format and the development of new systems of knowledge transmission created the framework for a literate approach to music. By surveying the notation proposals put forth by theorists such as al-Kindī, al-Fārābī, Ibn Sīnā, and Ibn Zayla, I interrogate the possibilities afforded by the written medium and the new avenues it opened for engaging with theoretical texts. In light of a handful of passages in theoretical writings, as well as anecdotal material on performers active at the caliphal court of Baghdad, I also entertain the possibility that musical notation was employed outside theoretical sources, even if its existence was limited to occasional use within small circles. The paper offers a compelling counter-narrative for the advent of music writing in the West, which took place in Carolingian Europe roughly at the same time, and thus contributes to the global turn in the historical study of music.
  • In her book, Jil Oslo, Sunaina Maira details how various mediums such as graffiti, performance, and song lyrics contribute to Palestinian hip-hop as both a source of political consciousness and, as she argues, a youth subculture. However, the work of Tamer Nafar, Palestine’s premier rap artist, suggests that Palestinian hip-hop is neither a subculture nor solely directed at Palestinian youth. Furthermore, though Maira acknowledges many of the art forms at work in the Palestinian hip-hop genre, she does not explore the significance of them appearing simultaneously. By only identifying the presence of multiple art forms in the genre, Maira fails to acknowledge how their presence influences the ways in which the genre interacts with society and spills into the mainstream. This paper utilizes Erika Fischer-Lichte’s theory of “intermediality,” which refers to the combination and interaction of multiple art forms, to reconcile the presence of literature, music, performance, film, and other genres within the Palestinian hip-hop genre. Fischer-Lichte also conceives of intermediality as the fusion of art and nonart and thus provides a framework for discussing the multifunctionality of Palestinian hip-hop in broader Palestinian society. I intend to leverage intermediality as a guide through which I will amalgamate Nafar’s song lyrics, film projects, past performances, interviews, and social media presence. I then aim to tie this evidence to an analysis of various documentary films and ethnographic work done by other scholars. Through this approach, this paper intends to demonstrate that Palestinian hip-hop is a multimedia cultural movement that blends multiple forms of art at every possible stage: inspiration, production, and integration into society. As a genre characterized by intermediality and multifunctionality, Palestinian hip-hop transcends cultural, social, and political boundaries to offer anyone and everyone an access point to resistance. This research helps us understand how creative work, when coupled with resistance and characterized by intermediality, straddles the boundaries between art, politics, news media, and education to make a widely accessible form of creative resistance.
  • Tunisian musicians and pedagogues teach and practice two modal systems of music: the ṭubū‘ and the Eastern Mediterranean maqāmāt. They acknowledge them as parallel to some extent. But the ṭubū‘ elicit different values, histories, and repertoires, some of which relate to the real and virtual geographies of Muslim Spain (Ar. al-Andalus), beginning in the 9th century. My fieldwork at the Higher Institute of Music in Sfax (2018-2019) reveals that Tunisians use certain melodic-rhythmic clichés in the ṭubū‘ to mark the modes with these distinctions. In other words, these musical clichés align to social and cultural differences. The reoccurrence of these clichés in performance practice, provides a media interface (pace Galloway 2012) for musicians and listeners to make specific relations to land, their own bodies, and their ecologies. Reoccurrence is of particular importance for the vitality of these musical clichés. Gilles Deleuze posits that repetition, as formulated through the senses and processes of logic, is actually composed of a “play of singularities” or, in short, difference (1968). Ethnographic events manifest this play and show how singularities bundle together to assemble social and cultural formations. Deleuzian thinking defies conventional representational logic based in claims of identity, opposition, analogy, or resemblance, by grounding knowledge in multiplicities, emergences, and intensities. Music scholars have utilized this multifarious world of Deleuze—and that with Guattari (1980)—in recent work to understand listening practices, create materialist ethnographies, and theorize social becoming (Gill 2017; Moisala et al. 2017). My paper seeks to contribute to this growing area of analysis by applying Deleuzian concepts to the performance practice of the Tunisian ṭubū‘. Some Tunisian master musicians conceptualize these practices as “fingerprinting sound,” which corresponds to territorialization – a signature philosophical concept of Deleuze and Guattari (1980; 2007). I demonstrate this process in a case study from the Tunisian Testour Festival of Malūf and Traditional Arab Music in 2019, and discuss how musicians use this interface to align music to difference and curate meaning. The outcome of this analysis productively networks the structures of music theory to processes of affect and signification.
  • In 1926, Tunisian-Jewish singer Habiba Messika stepped into the Baidaphon Records studio in Berlin to record “Baladī yā Baladī” (“My Country, Oh My Country”)—an anti-colonial nationalist song that, once pressed and distributed as shellac 78-rpm discs, energized Arab audiences and aggravated European powers. “Baladī yā Baladī” would have been familiar to Arab listeners aware of the nahda, or the Arabic awakening of modern literature, politics, and art that instituted change in establishing a new modernity in the Middle East/North African (MENA) region. In the third verse, however, Habiba Messika added to the original Egyptian-dialect lyrics by calling out “Baladī Tunisī” (“My Tunisian country”), alluding to her own nationalist sentiments with her home country that had been under French colonial rule since 1881. From the comfort of the Baidaphon studio in Berlin, rather than the French Protectorate of Tunisia, Habiba Messika had more agency and safety to speak out against colonialism. Moreover, the recording is a testament to Baidaphon’s transnational enterprise between their European studio and a worldwide audience and their mission as the first Arab-owned company to center the voices of MENA musicians. In this paper, I argue that the portability and growing omnipresence of records and phonographs in the Middle East spread Habiba Messika’s anti-colonialist message in “Baladī yā Baladī.” As Racy (2003) and Fahmy (2011) demonstrate, records, the phonograph, and record companies were part of a larger nexus of media that bridged the gap between elite intellectualism and mass consumption. The portability and accessibility of these technologies provided an avenue of political, social, and cultural ideologies to spread through a transnational network of MENA listeners. Through producing politically driven songs, Baidaphon and Habiba Messika intervened into the recording music industry to establish not just a modern Arabic musical style, but also a collective Arab identity.
  • Within the U.S. Southwest, there are long-standing Syrian communities that, for generations, have evolved in isolation of the larger Arab diasporic social and cultural networks. These communities began to form in the late nineteenth century when peoples of what was then the province of Greater Syria sought to escape conflict and the conditions of the Ottoman Empire and left their homeland in search of greater economic opportunities in the Americas. Many entered the U.S. from the border crossing in El Paso, Texas, following the encouragement from steamship agents who urged them to travel through Mexico to avoid waiting for passage to New York. Furthermore, Mexico-U.S. border crossings provided an alternative route for those who failed the mandatory health inspection at Ellis Island and other checkpoints. Multiple forms of corruption and medical extortion rings made border crossing from Mexico into the U.S. a viable, but costly and traumatic option for Syrian migrants. Once in the U.S., many continued on to settle in the rapidly growing Middle Eastern community in Los Angeles, while others remained in border cities and formed smaller, and less visible, communities throughout the Southwest. Members of these communities boast of the ways that strong assimilation efforts and contributions to local civic development have led to economic, and therefore overall, success. However, the migrant experience, precarious border atmosphere, and prevalent racist attitudes produced psychic and cultural traumas that have impacted generations of Syrian-Americans and their individual and communal identities in numerous ways. This paper explores how music has played an instrumental role in the ways that members of these communities sought to strengthen or reject communal ties, traces of family migration stories, and proximities to Arabness. Drawing on ethnographic fieldwork and archival research, I interrogate the relationship between trauma and identity through an examination of musical taste and expression among Syrian-Americans living in the U.S. Southwest. Engaging the works of Sarah M.A. Gualtieri, Massoud Hayoun, and David J. Hargreaves, this paper employs borderland epistemologies, trauma theory, and the concept of musical identities as a means of understanding how a diasporic imaginary influences the often-fraught views of identity within Syrian-American communities today.