Post written by Michelle MacQueen
Today was our final day of the Colloquium. We drove back to the Centre for Sound Communities from Chéticamp for our last presentation.
Our final Keynote presenter was Dr. Christina Leza. She is a cultural and linguistic anthropologist whose research interests include indigenous peoples of the Americas, discourse and identity, racial and ethnic discourses, grassroots activism, and cognitive anthropology. Her most recent research has focused on border indigenous activist responses to U.S.-Mexico border policy in collaboration with grassroots indigenous organizers on the U.S. southern border. She has also examined broader discourse patterns among indigenous grassroots activists in the U.S. and Latin America. She is the author of the book Divided Peoples: Policy, Activism and Indigenous Identities on the U.S.-Mexico Border, and a chapter on activism, identity, and hip-hop at U.S.-Mexico border for a volume on Indigenous music and modernity.
Her presentation was titled Articulating Indigenous Soul in Search of Healing.
She talked about how distinct (and often contested) Indigenous identities in the U.S.-Mexico border region are experienced. She also discussed how these identities are expressed through engagement with sonic articulations of Indigenous roots and colonial oppressions.
She told us how this work emerged from field research with Native and Mexica activists in the Tucson/Phoenix, Arizona region. Drawing from field observations, interviews, analysis of song tracks and videos by selected conscious hip hop artists, she examined how individuals and groups in the U.S.-Mexico borderlands perform indigeneities in the context of historical conflicts between Native Americans and Chicanos over claims of indigeneity.
She introduced us to two Indigenous hip hop groups: Shining Soul, a group composed of emcee Liaizon of the Tohono O’odham Nation, Chicano emcee Bronze Candidate, and DJ Reflekshin of the Navajo Nation; and Mexica hip hop/punk/electronic band Aztlan Underground.
Her presentation built on Alejandro Nava’s exploration of hip hop as a search for the soul. Her presentation considered how Indigenous artists of distinct cultural ancestries sonically articulate Indigenous soul through the select use of ancestral musical traditions and Indigenous protest references.
She described how both Shining Soul and Aztlan Underground emphasize healing as a central goal of their sounds. They embrace music as ceremony, medicine, and a source of healing. Yet, she explained that through their musical sound production, both bands communicate their positions as oppressed and “conflicted moderns.”
She played us the songs “Get Up,” “No Mercy,” by Shining Soul and “Decolonize,” “My Blood is Red,” and “Indigenous” by Aztlan Underground. She explained how in these examples, they are simultaneously producing “frequencies of healing” and frequencies of violence in protest against historical and contemporary forms of colonial oppression. Ultimately, both bands communicate the predicament of Indigenous peoples who must constantly work to heal under the onslaught of settler colonial violence.
She concluded by showing us how the search for healing may be particularly challenging for Indigenous peoples with a migration lineage shaped by the imposition of international borders and forced relocation.
We ended the 26th ICTM Colloquium with a publication workshop. This workshop was filled with productive brainstorms of how to turn the discussions we heard over the past few days into published material. Our conversations were guided by Christina Leza’s final presentation slide with a quote from Shining Soul, noted below. This message resonated with our experiences at this Colloquium and we hope that it will reverberate throughout our publication.
Post written by Michelle MacQueen
Today, we started our own migrations across Cape Breton Island.
First, we stopped at the Highland Village in Iona. We were able to learn about some of the history and cultural practices of Gaels on the Island. We learned a few Gaelic songs and sang them together while we had a Milling Frolic – a process to shrink and soften cloth where people (usually women) would accompany their work with songs to make the process more enjoyable. Though milling cloth is no longer very common, people still gather for milling frolics to beat the cloth back and forth and share songs and stories.
Then we moved to the Iona Heights Inn to hear from our second Keynote presenter, Alex Chávez.
Alex gave us an introduction to his work in a public presentation on Wednesday, but today his presentation was titled Sound, Citizenship, and Aural Ecologies of Place.
He spoke about his decade of research among Mexican migrant musicians in the United States. He emphasized the social and political mandates shaping their art within the context of intensified attacks on their communities.
The presentation focused on a new research project listening to the city of Chicago and specifically Latinos in Chicago. He talked about the importance of listening: how might listening animate memory and be a vehicle for collective witness? How does sound figure into creative cultural citizenship?
Looking at Chicago (and as is the case elsewhere in the United States), Alex spoke of how Latino migrants have moved from a kind of mobility to emplacement; they have settled and there is a general realization by dominant groups that “they’re staying here.” He used this example to talk about the social feelings of what it means to feel at home, and what roles sound and music can play in activating those feelings.
What might you hear – or not hear – when entering a community? What distinguishes music from sound? He explored these questions by looking at youth-based radio, podcast, and soundscape projects in Chicago. From these projects, he told us about how sounds have the ability to claim public space. Sound is significant for how people exist and sound gives merit to what can exist.
He talked about the “official discourse” about the neighbourhoods of Chicago. Often, these stories talk about the segregation of space: every neighbourhood is divided into its own separate, discrete place. He described how art can be a creative engagement to move beyond these “official” stories: we can push the boundaries of who is allowed to create a semblance of home, how we hear it, and how we experience it. Through these artistic engagements, we can amplify the intent of whose voices are heard.
He ended his presentation by emphasizing how we need to take seriously the capacity of sound as an aesthetic site of citizenship.
Next, we drove to Chéticamp. The following two groups of presentations were hosted at École NDA.
First, we had a group of presentations under the theme Mobilizing Memories.
Dr. Stephanie Conn presented first. She is an ethnomusicologist specializing in the performance practice of Gaelic traditional music, with an ongoing interest in music of the 20th-21st centuries. She is also a singer of Gaelic songs. Stephanie is the Cape Breton contributor for Memorial University of Newfoundland’s forthcoming online exhibit of MacEdward Leach’s archival recordings.
Her presentation was titled Traces, memories and monuments: Archive and Cape Breton Gaelic Singing.
She focused on the role of recording archives in present-day Cape Breton. She notes that Gaelic singers turn to recording archives as cultural storehouses, learning tools, and representations of the song canon. Singers also invest these archives with authoritative power. Because of digitization, these archives are largely available to the public. However, Stephanie warns that archives are repositories of traces, evidence of past individual experiences. They are not monuments representing collective memory.
Her presentation built on her previous research. She described how there is a tension between the weight of a recorded source and a lived experience. Archives are static manifestations of cultural practices, a representation of memory which might only reflect a limited aspect of the more dynamic living canon. Archives also involved re-evaluating and re-shaping through collectors, ethnomusicologists, and Gaelic singers themselves.
Her presentation considered how current ways of learning Gaelic songs are divorced from embodied performance and first-hand memory. Yet she notes that contemporary singers can and do attempt to engage with these traces. By having embodied engagements with these archival traces, we can reimagine archives to better represent, contextualize, and embody Gaelic singing in Cape Breton. She concluded by sharing some of her own embodied experiences with Gaelic songs and sang one of these songs for us.
Next was Dr. Meghan Forsyth. She is Assistant Professor of Ethnomusicology at Memorial University of Newfoundland, specializing in the instrumental music and dance traditions of the Acadian diaspora and francophone North Atlantic. She is an active applied ethnomusicologist and her current research explores intradiasporic transnationalism and secular pilgrimage in the context of the pentennial Congrès mondial acadien, as well as the social history of instrumental music of les Îles-de-la-Madeleine, Quebec. In 2016, she produced a SSHRC-funded, multimedia exhibit and website on Acadian set and step dance traditions on Prince Edward Island, in association with le Musée acadien de l’Île-du-Prince-Édouard.
Her presentation was called Performing la Grande Acadie: Public Memory and Pilgrimage at le Congrès mondial acadien.
The presentation focused on the pentennial Congrès mondial acadien (Acadian World Congress) as a site of convergence, renewal, and redefinition for the global Acadian community since its inaugural meeting in 1994. She described how the Congrès has been a place for pilgrimages to the Acadian “homeland” as well as celebrations of intradiasporic relations.
Specifically, she examined how the Acadian diaspora is reimagined through the lens of cultural tourism and secular pilgrimage. She told us some of the deep-seated and often romanticized public memory of the Acadians’ story of mid-eighteenth century exile, survival, and return. She notes that this story in public memory acts as a unifying discourse and informs how Acadians (and the rest of the world) define, participate in, and perform Acadie.
While there is this unifying story, there are also tensions between the unity and diversity of the diaspora. These tensions are exposed as regional differences between Acadian communities separated by the Deportations (1755–1763). However, these differences are debated and celebrated.
She told us how Maritime Acadians’ political and musical connections to their First Nations and Celtic neighbours and American ‘cousins’ are embodied through musical citation, collaboration, homage, and themes of perseverance and shared minority experience. She demonstrated how the musical enactment of intradiasporic transnationalism (and other relationships afforded by the Congrès) provide a platform for its participants to negotiate complex relationships between diverse local and transnational identities associated with membership in la Grande Acadie—the full Acadian diaspora.
The next pair of presentations followed the theme Houses of Worship, Sacred Sounds.
Our first presenter was Dr. Julia Byl, who gave a public film screening on Tuesday. Her presentation was called Chants of Rock and Water: Cross-Religious Devotion in Maritime Southeast Asia.
She described to us how the South Asian communities residing in Malaysia and Singapore are doubly dispersed. The initial migration was tied to resource extraction, and enabled by the proximity of British colonies. Their subsequent dispersal occurred when the colony fragmented into nation states: postcolonial Singapore and Malaysia created different narratives of “native” and “foreigner,” resulting in very different outcomes for South Asian communities.
She introduced us to the Tamil population of North Sumatra and described them as divided from Malaysia and Singapore by the Malacca strait and the experience of Dutch colonialism and Indonesian citizenship. Yet in spite of these divisions, there are continuities within these Tamil communities. Julia described some vectors across them:
- The presence of Hindu temples, Marian shrines, and mosques and dargahs connected to the religions of India’s coasts in all three places
- The discourse of belonging
- The occasional pilgrimages that connect the Tamil populations of the three countries
Her presentation contended that power and protection are the primary sonic offerings of these houses of worship. These offerings enable a continued relevance within South Asian communities themselves, and a persistent purchase in the religious ecosystem of maritime Southeast Asia.
Next up was the Director of the Centre for Sound Communities, Marcia Ostashewski. Her presentation was titled Byzantine Ukrainian Congregational Singing in Cape Breton: A Living Music.
She showed us how the history and contemporary cultural practices of Ukrainians on the Canadian prairies has been well-documented, extensively studied, and highly celebrated in academic and public culture. However, she notes that the contributions of Ukrainians in Atlantic Canada are much less so.
Her presentation attended to stories and music that are centred at the Holy Ghost Ukrainian Catholic Church in Cape Breton, Nova Scotia an island at Canada’s eastern, Atlantic coast. She focused on the Byzantine Ukrainian congregational chant-based responsorial singing that is part of liturgical celebrations in this church. Marcia spoke from her perspective as the parish’s lead singer – cantor or djak. In doing so, she drew on several years of collaborative research with this community.
Throughout the presentation, she explored how musical practice has shaped social life and experiences for herself, for co-researchers and for other interlocutors in the field. She shared stories and sounds to illustrate ways in which identities have been constituted by and are constitutive of musical worlds in motion.
She told us about historical migration relating to Ukrainians in Canada generally. But she also explained some of her own migrations, having grown up on the prairies and lived in most regions of the country and settled recently in Cape Breton. She explained how all of these migrations have shaped musical practice, senses of place, and home. These aspects were shaped not only for her, but also for her family, and for people in different places where she lived and worked, and with whom she has sung.
She concluded by noting that while the musical imaginaries, relations, and practices discussed in this presentation are part of her lived experience– they also embody a history of cultural politics within modern multicultural Canada.
We ended the night with a concert at Église Saint-Pierre in Chéticamp. The concert was titled Songs and Stories of Cape Breton. Since we were in Chéticamp, it told some of the stories from this region:
In the early 1600s, the first French settlers arrived in the new world bringing with them a rich oral tradition of songs and stories. The tradition of orally transmitting songs and stories continued even after the forced removal of these Acadians from their lands and their dispersion throughout the thirteen British colonies and to Britain and France. Many Acadians eventually found their way back, and founded new communities, mostly on marginal lands owned now by the British. Because of its geographic isolation from other communities, the Acadians who settled Chéticamp in the late 1700s preserved their language, culture and rich song and story tradition that has survived to this day. The concert programme featured some of these traditional songs that have travelled through time for hundreds of years. The concert also featured songs of other groups who have migrated to Cape Breton, including those of Ukrainian and Scottish traditions. Overall, this concert was a collection of songs and stories that tell us about different migrations to and from Cape Breton as well as the encounters we have along the way.
The concert started with Le Choeur du Havre under the direction of Michel Aucoin. This choir has acquired an enviable reputation for its melodious sound and varied repertoire. True to its Acadian heritage, a good part of the choir’s repertoire is sung in French and includes traditional Acadian folk songs. Just as their repertoire, the choir members come from diverse backgrounds and this may be what lends itself to the choir’s special sound.
We heard tunes from Colin Grant, accompanied by Robert Deveaux on the piano. Colin is a versatile fiddler at the forefront of the East Coast traditional music scene. Although he is most at home with traditional Cape Breton fiddle music, his flexibility as both a lead and side musician has given him experiences in a variety of traditional styles, in addition to folk, rock and country genres.
Chester Delaney shared some more traditional Acadian songs with us. He is an Acadian singer, known for his unique style renditions of traditional songs where he accompanies himself on the fiddle.
Finally, we heard from Julian Kytasty, one of the world’s premier players of the bandura (Ukrainian lute-harp), and the instrument’s leading North American exponent. He performed songs and stories of the Ukrainian immigrant experience alongside Marcia Ostashewski, soprano.
Unveiled at this concert was the artwork Treasures in the Hearts of Many by Betty Ann Cormier.
Betty Ann Cormier is from Cheticamp, world capital of the hooked rug and she is a 4th generation rug hooker. Where once there were several hundred rug hookers in the area, now there are only about 30. In her younger years, Cormier used traditional patterns and colours as she was taught. But she has developed her own style, no longer sketches on the burlap first, and now hooks using bright colours and creates unique, bold patterns. Cormier’s pieces can be found all over the world in homes and galleries.
She created a new piece in honour of the 26th ICTM Colloquium. Inspired by the description of the Colloquium theme, Betty Ann expresses in this new piece the vast possibilities of how sounds and words travel across all parts of the world and are carried in the hearts of those treasuring them. This 16×24 inch rectangle is made up of 24 different pieces that, when set together like a puzzle, reveal a larger image as if looking through a window pane over land and sea out to the horizon. One of each of its pieces has been gifted to Colloquium presenters and partners.
Post written by Michelle MacQueen
We started the second day of the Colloquium with a pair of presentations under the theme Alliances, Networks, Cosmopolitanism: Haitian Transnation and the Black Pacific.
We heard first from Dr. Gage Averill. Gage is a renowned ethnomusicologist with an over-30-year history of research into Haitian popular music. He produced an award-winning book and a Grammy-nominated CD box set, as well as a string of works dealing specifically with the cultural geography and politics of music related to Haitian immigration. He has performed with rara bands, carnival ensembles and konpa groups in Haiti and in diaspora.
His presentation was titled Sonic Signification in the Haitian Transnation. He reflected on his years of doing research on Haitian music and culture. In this work, he has pursued two overarching research questions. The first question was what prompted his initial book project: How does music interact with and shape power?
The second question focused on Haitian cultural geography: How does music respond to, enact, and condition a sense of place and belonging– especially with migration and the emergence of a Haitian diaspora or transnation? He wrote in response to this question in a series of articles starting in 1993 followed by a sequence of chapters in edited volumes.
His presentation distilled the themes of this second research question, while looking at how it intersects with the former question about music and power. He explained to us how music has served as the primary signifier of the Haitian diaspora, even as this diaspora continuously changes shape. He showed us how music works at the boundaries and seeps through these boundaries to enact alliances and communities of shared interests. Music is the soundtrack to rituals that facilitate nostalgic immersion, and also help to negotiate the relationship of the community (koloni) to other US and Canadian communities, as well as to the changing circumstances on the island.
Gage examined the strategies and tactics of musicians based in the diaspora and in Haiti. He looked at how they sought audiences, influence and prestige through performance across national boundaries, while helping to structure the basic understanding of a Haitian transnation.
He described how this research was always structured self-consciously along the lines of the “tournée” or tour. As such, Gage enacted the same cultural geography as the Haitian musicians with whom he worked. His paper was based on forty years of research on—and participation in—Haitian popular music, religious ceremonies, rara, carnival, festivals, and “folkloric” performance. After the presentation, the audience discussed the importance of locality and Gage shared some more stories from his work in Haiti, including experiences with music and social demonstrations that involved encounters with the police.
Next up was Dr. Gabriel Solis with a presentation titled Blues in the Black Pacific: Jazz, Community Music-Making, and Afro-Indigenous Alliances in Australia.
Gabriel Solis is a scholar of African American music and Indigenous musics of the Southwestern Pacific. He has done ethnographic and historical research with jazz musicians in the United States and with musicians in Australia and Papua New Guinea. Drawing on work in African American studies, anthropology, and history, he addresses the ways people engage the past, performing history and memory through music. Additionally, his work explores musicians’ and audiences’ interactions with and personalization of mass-mediated musical commodities in transnational circulation. He is the author of two books: one on Thelonious Monk and another on Monk’s collaborations with John Coltrane. He is also co-editor with Bruno Nettl of a collection of essays on improvisation cross-culturally.
Gabriel started by noting when we think of jazz and where jazz is located, we do not tend to focus on the cities of Townsville and Cairns in North Queensland, Australia. Nor do the narratives of Indigenous popular music tend to connect with jazz or boogie-woogie. And yet, Gabriel told us about a small but vibrant jazz scene among Indigenous Australians and Australian South Sea Islanders. His presentation focused on how this jazz scene offers a compelling view of global processes.
He gave us information from archival and ethnographic sources in order to describe the relationships between African American soldiers stationed in North Queensland and local Indigenous families. He noted that these relationships mark a key way of understanding the cosmopolitanism of subaltern subjects.
He demonstrated how these relationships show the politics of Black Liberation emerging beyond the Atlantic, diasporic centre. Additionally, he illustrated how the relationships show long-standing Indigenous networks of exchange continuing to produce alternative centre-periphery relations despite colonial interference.
Gabriel also described how this relationship between Indigenous peoples and African Americans through music has continued, showing us the conversation between RZA and Briggs at the Sydney Opera House.
He introduced us to the music of Georgia Lee, Seaman Dan, Wilma Reading, Johnny Nicol, Shireen Malamoo, and Syvannah Doolan, and the communities in which they grew up. He contended that looking at this music and these local connections shows how a truly global history of musical movement and connection (seen from a global southern perspective) looks different from a Eurocentric history of musical globalization.
The following pair of presentations was grouped together as Public Outreach and Education.
Dr. Alisha Lola Jones presented first. She is an assistant professor in the Department of Folklore and Ethnomusicology at Indiana University (Bloomington). She is working on a book called Flaming?: The Peculiar Theo-Politics of Fire and Desire in Black Male Gospel Performance, under contract with Oxford University Press. This book breaks ground by analyzing the role of gospel music making in constructing and renegotiating gender identity among black men. Dr. Jones’ research interests include musical masculinities, global pop music, future studies, ecomusicology, music and theology, the music industry, musics of the African diaspora and emerging research on music and future foodways (gastromusicology) in conjunction with The Institute for the Future in Silicon Valley, CA.
She started her presentation by noting the passing of the gospel music icon Edwin Hawkins on January 15, 2018. After touring the world, four-time Grammy Award winner Hawkins realized that there was not sufficient information covering the history and development of Black sacred music heritage and contemporary practice. Hawkins convened the first Music & Arts Seminar in San Francisco, California in 1979– what would become one of several organizations filling in a void in gospel music cultural preservation through mobile public arts education.
Dr. Jones explained how these organizations often spike in activity annually during the summer among African American practitioners and in February among non-African American gospel enthusiasts. Highlighting this disparity, she asked: to what extent is bias sustained through the accepted seasonality of black music education in the U.S.? More plainly, she examined what is in it for folks who share their music outside of their communities. Drawing on sentiments heard in the field (including her own work in arts leadership), Dr. Jones described sort of vulnerabilities and exploitation that occurs in these seasonal instances of black music education.
She ended her presentation with some calls to action:
- Invest time in studying black sacred music with practitioners and scholars.
- Include African American scholars and practitioners in the development and institutionalization of the research.
- Offer equitable compensation, accounting for the invisible labor of training people whose potential cultural insensitivity is anxiety inducing.
- Have an answer to the question: What is in it for them as they share their knowledge?
- Be prepared for them to decline engagement for whatever reason.
- Avoid erasing their labor by citing your sources verbally and in written form.
- And finally, despite all of our misgivings about European American’s non-committal relationship promoting formal training in black sacred music, “be grateful, we celebrate black history month.”
Next, Huib Schippers presented Encounters Festivals: Creating cultural meeting grounds for artists, communities and cultural diplomacy.
Huib Schippers is the Director of Smithsonian Folkways Recordings at the Center for Folklife and Cultural Heritage, Smithsonian Institution. He has a long and diverse history of engagement with music across various settings and cultures. With a Master’s degree in English literature and twenty years of traditional training as a professional sitar player, he proceeded with (partially overlapping) careers in performance, education, research, journalism, the record trade, arts policy, and project management. He is the author of Facing the music: Shaping music education from a global perspective and Sustainable futures for music cultures: An ecological perspective, which he co-edited with Catherine Grant.
His presentation focused on his time at the Queensland Conservatorium Research Centre at Griffith University in Brisbane, Australia between 2005 and 2013. While at this institution, he was part of a team that organized four festivals that explored cultural meetings between Australian Indigenous people and white settlers (2005); Australia and the Asia Pacific (2007); China and Australia (2010); and India and Australia (2013) respectively.
Involving students and staff from Queensland Conservatorium, artists from the cultural area and Australia, and cultural and intellectual leaders, the events aimed to fearlessly explore musical meetings and interactions–warts and all–not avoiding issues like appropriation, inherent racism and imbalances of power, but also celebrating and showcasing the benefits of various levels of cultural exchange. His presentation noted key aspects of these festivals in an effort to highlight some of the complexities and rewards of intercultural work. The discussion of this presentation focused on the role of artistic festivals and public arts events to move beyond tokenistic multiculturalism and to work harder to make meaningful intercultural events.
Dr. Ameera Nimjee led us in a public dance workshop on Kathak Dance in Hindustani Music Culture. She is a trained kathak (North Indian classical) dancer, and continues to study, perform, and teach in Canada, the United States, and India. Her publications include book chapters in Music in the American Diasporic Wedding and Dance Matters Too: Markets, Memories, Identities. A member of the Ismaili community, she was Creative Director of the Jubilee Arts Festival at Lisbon, with over 50,000 in attendance. She worked for several years in writing, programming, and curation at the Royal Ontario Museum and Aga Khan Museum, and has published a journal article on music in museums.
Her lecture-demonstration explored the place of kathak (North Indian classical) dance in Hindustani, or North Indian classical music culture. Kathak is known as a tradition of storytelling and dancers express poetry through the subtlety of mime. In another part of the tradition, dancers use their feet to slap and tap the floor, expressing rhythm along with live musicians. Her lecture-demonstration taught us about raag (mode) and taal (rhythm). She then showed us how dancers embody taal, contouring what it means to “improvise” the kathak approach to music-dance. The workshop ended with Ameera performing for us, and we also had the chance to hear presenter Rehanna Kheshgi sing, accompanying Ameera’s dance.
The afternoon sessions began with a session titled Political Agendas in Borderlands.
We heard first from Dr. Kaley Mason, who also gave a public lecture on Monday. His presentation today was titled Mollywood at the Borderlands: Songs of South Indian Solidarity with Latinidad.
He described how the people of Southwestern India have experienced widespread economic emigration since the Malayalam-speaking state of Kerala was formed in 1956. After electing India’s first communist government in 1957, Kerala’s strong unions discouraged investment in industry, which prompted many workers to seek economic opportunities abroad. As a result, nearly every family has an archive of stories about migration and encounter.
These themes that have figured prominently in the region’s film industry, Mollywood. Until recently, the cinema focused on migration to the Middle East, but the 2017 film, Comrade in America, portrays a young Indian communist leader who travels to Nicaragua to join others on a journey to the Mexico-US border. Drawing on conversations with the film makers and analysis of the score, Kaley’s presentation examined how repurposing a popular communist anthem expressed solidarity with asylum seekers and refugees against the backdrop of the Trump Administration’s anti-immigration policies.
Next, we heard from Dr. Rehanna Kheshgi. She is an ethnomusicologist whose research focuses on gender, sexuality, and the body at the intersections of popular, folk, and sacred music and dance performance in India. She is currently working on a book that explores contemporary performances of gender and sexuality through Bihu, the springtime Assamese New Year’s festival. Her article “Navigating Generational Frictions Through Bihu Festival Performance in Assam, India” was published in MUSICultures, and her essay “Performing Assam in Urban Spaces: Bihu on the City Stage” was published in the edited volume Sounding Cities: Auditory Transformations in Berlin, Chicago and Kolkata by LIT Verlag.
Her presentation was titled Bodo Nritya: Mobilizing Indigenous Music and Dance in the Bengal Borderlands. She told us about the migration of people from Bangladesh into Assam, India. She described how this migration has been recast by consecutive political administrations in terms of citizenship and religious conflict, decentring struggles for control over land and natural resources.
Violent conflicts between Bodo indigenous activists and Bengali-speaking Muslims in Assam have gained international attention. However, Rehanna notes that the roots of these conflicts are often obscured. Reporting usually fails to engage with the complex history of this borderland region, notably the long history of colonialism and the various “integration” versus “isolation” approaches that have occurred over the years.
Rehanna’s lecture presented how indigenous religious practices of the Bodo community are being transformed into raw materials for supporting tribal sovereignty claims in Assam through a newly codified performance tradition called “Bodo Nritya.”
Drawing on fieldwork with indigenous choreographers, performers, and cultural activists in Bodo villages as well as in Kokrajhar (the capital of the imagined Bodo homeland “Bodoland”), Rehanna showed us how music and dance performance advances an embodied political agenda that is taking shape in the borderlands of Bengal.
Next, we had another pair of presentations under the theme Modes of Remembrance.
First was Dr. Melissa Bilal. She is Assistant Professor of Humanities and Social Sciences at the American University of Armenia. In collaboration with Lerna Ekmekcioglu, she is working on Feminism in Armenian: An Interpretive Anthology and Digital Archive, a book and digital humanities project focusing on the lives and works of twelve Ottoman-born Armenian activist women writers. Recent work includes the article Lullabies and the Memory of Pain: Armenian Women’s Remembrance of the Past in Turkey and a CD project to be released later this year called Voice Signatures: Recordings of Russian Armenian POWs in German Camps, 1916-1918. Bilal founded the Feminist Armenian Research Collective (FemArc) in 2017 while she was a visiting scholar of History at MIT.
Her presentation was titled Injuries of Reconciliation: Being an Armenian in Post-Genocide Burunkışla.
She focused on the lives of Armenians who were displaced from Burunkışla, a village in the city of Yozgat, central Turkey. She noted there is a growing scholarly literature on Armenians who survived the genocide of 1915-1922 and continued living in Turkey; yet this literature seldom includes the accounts of those who “remained” outside Istanbul in the decades following the establishment of the Republic of Turkey and eventually relocated to nearby and distant cities.
Since 2012, Melissa has been conducting interviews in Burunkışla and its diasporic “extensions” in and outside Turkey.
Her presentation showed the formation of an embodied knowledge through everyday performances of storytelling and singing that told the unwritten history of the village. She analyzed multiple versions of narratives of escape: escape from massacres, escape from the actual physical space of the village, and escape from a condition of being–meaning an attempt to live side by side with the perpetrators and their descendants.
Drawing on the accounts and commentaries she collected during her research, this presentation critically discusses the recently fashioned definition of “forgiveness” and “reconciliation” in Turkey. She argues that it promotes a discourse celebrating a certain kind of memory at the expense of the marginalization and stigmatization of other modes of remembrance and emotions. Her presentation interpreted the transmission of songs and stories of belonging, forced migration, loss, and survival from a perspective that challenges the mainstream discourse that is shaped by an attempt to colonize affect and collective memory.
Next, we heard again from Dr. Ameera Nimjee. Her presentation was called A Lifetime of Migration: Memories of Mummyjaan.
Her presentation explored the multiplicity of South Asian migration stories with a focus on a central figure: her grandmother, Mummyjaan, as her family called her. Mummyjaan was born into a Punjabi, Ismaili Muslim family, and moved from British India to Pakistan in 1947; Karachi to Eldoret a year later; and Nairobi to Toronto in 1973. She was among many waves of South Asians who traversed the Indian Ocean to establish new homes in parts of Asia and Africa, as the Indian subcontinent’s volatile borders were continuously redrawn through the twentieth century—a process that continues today.
She investigated her grandmother’s lifetime of politically driven migration through songs and stories, collected from her and her mother’s memories. She demonstrated how Mummyjaan’s migration story is typical in its very uniqueness, given her Punjabi cultural background, Ismaili Muslim upbringing, and adult life in East Africa.
She told us stories about Mummyjaan’s place in her religious context, her position with regards to race, and her relationships with ethnic communities. She connected these stories to music, by showing how they were mirrored in Mummyjaan’s musical life, which was always present in her many homes throughout her lifetime.
The final paired presentations of the day were under the theme Musical Life Stories.
First we heard from Dr. Svanibor Pettan, who gave a public film screening on Monday. His presentation was called Songs and Stories of Minority Musicians in Their Musical Encounters.
In this presentation, Svanibor argued against the common perception of minorities as unified collectives engaged in institutionalized performance of respective music and dance traditions in stylized costumes. Instead, he used biography to point to the internal dynamics, marked by individual, sometimes confrontational experiences of migration and encounter. He showed us three life stories that featured Slovenian musical personalities with the Macedonian, Sinhalese, and Romani roots, active in different musical genres: Ljuben Dimkaroski (who was featured in the film screened at our Centre on Monday night), Lasanthi Mamnaranjanie Kallinga Dona, and Imer Traja Brizani.
His presentation focused on the following questions: How do they interact within their respective minority circles and with the majority population in a less than three decades old nation-state? How these encounters affect their lives and professional careers? Nevertheless, what are the modalities of their mutual contacts? He revealed the emotional response of individuals caught in the majority-minority discourse within the broader theoretical framework of music and minority studies.
Next we heard from Terada Yoshitaka, who gave two public film screenings on Tuesday. His presentation was titled Performing Migrant Experiences in Japan: Ahn Sungmin and Zainichi Korean Pansori.
Zainichi Koreans refer to those Koreans who migrated to Japan during its colonization of the Korean peninsula (1910-45). He described their presence in Japan as an eloquent testimony to the history of Japanese colonialism and to the power struggle in ensuing years between the USSR and the USA (resulting in the division of the Korean peninsula). He noted that the lived experiences and identities of Zainichi Koreans have been severely affected by the unstable and often contentious relationship between Republic of Korea (more commonly, South Korea), Democratic People’ Republic of Korea (North Korea), and Japan.
Throughout the presentation, he examined the history of Korean migrants in Japan through the activities of one contemporary artist: Ahn Sungmin. He described her personal and artistic trajectory as reflective of the hardship and hope of many Zainichi Koreans. Ahn Sungmin is a third generation Zainichi Korean from Osaka, whose mastery over the art of pansori (traditional narrative genre) is considered extraordinary by many in her community. He described her innovative performance style and introduced a newly composed pansori based on the theme of forced migration. He reflected on how this new piece of music speaks to Zainichi Koreans identities and histories and works to reclaim the past. It keeps the memory of the history alive (however painful), and reasserts Zainichi Koreans existence in an art form. Ahn Sungmin was featured in the film Crossing over the Arirang Pass: Zainichi Korean Music, screened at the McConnell Public Library on Tuesday.
We ended the night by hearing again from Dr. Gage Averill, though this time in a public lecture called Echoes of “Haïti Cherie” in the “koloni.”
Gage explained to us that in the 1930s, an expatriate Haitian penned the nostalgic méringue “Haïti Cherie”– a classic of the Haitian patriotic canon and a foundational musical commentary on emigration. He started the presentaiton by getting us all to sing the song together.
Gage explained how Haiti has had many waves of emigration, forming the dyaspò (diaspora) in North America (1950s-present).
This transnational status of the Haitian population has been captured in thousands of songs. In these songs, there are stories that celebrate the “koloni-s” (“colonies,” Haitian communities abroad). There are also stories that bemoan the hardships of emigration and the treatment of immigrants and refugees. And there are stories that advocate for rights, or boast of newfound success. Because of all of these different (and at times contradictory) stories of Haitian emigration/immigration, they can’t be distilled into one theme.
He played us examples from Skah shah, Farah Juste, Manno Charlemagne, and the Fugees. We also heard “Respect” by Tabou Combo as well as “Libète” by Magnum band. Gage explained how these songs and stories (among many others) can be read as an adaptation to a transitional identity: as these songs circulate, they come to define new boundaries and to maintain that identity; and in their diverse stories of migratory experience, they provide a narrative supporting migrants in their ongoing negotiation over status, visibility / voice, rights and identity. Perhaps more plainly, Gage described these songs as a sonic fence around people: they are a way to realize many commonalities, and to negotiate politics that transcend the nation state.