The Shock of the Familiar: Hearing Ourselves in Others' Voices

  • PDF:



Thank you, President Harding, the Board of Directors, and members of The College Music Society. I was truly honored, and unnerved, when Tayloe approached me about delivering the Robert Trotter Lecture at your annual meeting. You see, I've been serving as Dean for a bit over three years, and haven't taught a course with a Music prefix for almost ten years now. So you might figure that my goose is pretty much cooked up here at the podium.

On the other hand, I still play the bass pretty frequently, if not as well as I used to. And I often use music in seminars and lecture classes engaging interdisciplinary issues such as the politics of performance, intercultural creativity, globalization and popular culture, and so on. Furthermore, my decade of distance from the everyday course of affairs in a School of Music—with its characteristic belief structures, evaluative criteria, and patterns of resource distribution—may actually be of some benefit here.

As an anthropologist I subscribe to the methodological principle that the most telling analyses of human conduct, musical and otherwise, involve a constant tacking back and forth between intimacy and distance; the warmth of empathetic participation, on the one hand, and the clarifying coolness of considered judgment, on the other. In his essay on the four stages of music teaching,2 Bob Trotter drew upon Martin Buber's book Ich und Du,3 in which Buber asserted a fundamental ontological dichotomy between what he called "I-You"4 and "I-It" relationships. Buber argues that rather than making ourselves completely available to others, and sharing totally with them, we typically observe them analytically, keeping part of ourselves outside the moment of interaction. He argues that we do so either to protect our own vulnerabilities or to manipulate others, to get something from them. Buber calls such interactions "I-It." Buber also believed that it is possible to place oneself completely into a relationship with another person, without masks or pretenses. He called such moments of relating "I-You." In his view, each person comes to such a relationship without preconditions. The bond thus created enlarges each person, and each person responds by trying to enhance the other.

The relation to the You is unmediated. Nothing conceptual intervenes between I and You, no prior knowledge and no imagination; and memory itself is changed as it plunges from particularity into wholeness. No purpose intervenes between I and You, no greed and no anticipation . . .5

From Bob Trotter's perspective, as I understand it, this sort of dialogical, egalitarian relationship-moment is the ultimate goal of music teaching. He believed that making music together is one way that humans can achieve an unmediated co-presence of the "I-You" variety.

Now I have to begin by saying that I have never really bought the "You" versus "It" distinction in the form in which Buber posits it, from what to me seems a hopelessly utopian position. While I can sympathize with the spirit of Buber's motto, "all actual life is encounter," I do not believe that there can be, ever have been, or ever will be pure and unmediated relationships among human beings. Rather, every encounter we have—on a street corner, in a bed, or in a concert hall—is multiply mediated, by culture, by personal and societal histories, by the fleshy limits of our bodies. This is a resolutely non-metaphysical stance, to which I cling in the interest of maintaining the dialectic between empathy and analysis. Both are necessary. You can't perceive depth with just one eye; you can't locate yourself in auditory space with just one ear. We live our lives in the space between solipsism and engagement.

How does all this relate to my own experience as a teacher? Over the past twenty years I have sought ways to use music not only to help students learn about people different from themselves through patterns of humanly organized sound;6 but also to help students hear themselves in relationship with other people; and, whenever possible, to hear traces of their own experience refracted through the voices of others.

Following what I just said about "I-You" relationships, I also want to let my students know that understanding other people through their music is not a simple matter. There is abundant historical evidence of music having been used to create and promulgate images of "otherness" or "alterity"—from Serbia to Rwanda to Sri Lanka and the United States (and yes, even Canada) musical difference has in fact served a variety of interests. Conversely, the feeling of uncomplicated and unimpeded co-presence that lies at the root of Buber's "I-You" relationships is also an essential component of the internal dynamic of racist and fascist movements. This takes us beyond the realm of celebratory multiculturalism, and helps students understand that there is nothing inherently good about music; it's all about the ends to which human beings turn their musicality, and that is never a simple matter.


I. A Breath of Co-presence

I want to begin with four musical examples that I have employed in my teaching. Each of them includes something familiar to most of my students—a bit of text, a fragment of melody, a stylistic reference, or a distinctive voiceprint. In each example the familiar is couched within a culturally and musically unfamiliar context. Or to put it more precisely, since I tend to use these examples toward the end rather than the beginning of a given class, the familiar emanates from a context—say west African musical culture, or Siberian shamanism—that has through study become less foreign to my students. This process corresponds rather precisely to the first three of Bob Trotter's four steps in the pedagogical process: acquaintance; understanding through acquaintance; and valuing through understanding.

The last of Trotter's four steps—the establishment of mutual I-You dialog with others—is not possible through recordings, any more than it is when the other folks are actually in the room with you. But I do believe that I can move my students closer to the I-You side of the relationship continuum by using examples where other people whose music the students think they've grown to understand on its own terms (in an analytical, I-It-ish sort of way) suddenly do something familiar, and therefore really strange.

This is almost the obverse of the process that some anthropologists and theater scholars refer to as "making the everyday strange," the need to defamiliarize or alienate our own everyday, common-sense realities in order to understand them better. In the examples I am going to play, "strange" music, having been made more familiar through the process of education, is suddenly made really strange by the insertion of something familiar—say, solfège syllables, a famous theme from classical music, folk-rock guitar chords, a reference to Elvis Presley, an imitation of Popeye and Olive Oyl, an evocation of the tragedy of 9/11. This process helps my students7 realize that the people whose music they've been studying live in the same world, at the same time, with them. Their intellectual and emotional relationship to those people—mediated by history and culture and technology—is activated in a new and unpredictable way when this happens. These are the sorts of musical examples that inspire at least some students to learn more about the contemporary situation of the people they've been studying at a safe remove.

One more thing about these examples—for a variety of reasons, they almost always make my students laugh. We'll return to the issue of laughter in a little while, but I just wanted you to know that it's okay to laugh if you want. I begin with two Navajo women singing a song very much in line with traditional musical and aesthetic norms, with one important departure.

EXAMPLE ONE: Navajo Solfeggio

This one tends to get to my music majors more than the other students, for obvious reasons. A system of pitch mnemonics with which most of them have grown up from a very young age, in school or in church or elsewhere, is transformed into Navajo solfeggio, in which do, re, mi, et al., are detached from their prescribed pitch content and treated as vocables in accordance with traditional aesthetic values. This recording provides an interesting perspective on the use of vocables in Native American singing. At the same time, it reminds non-Indian students that these singers live in the same world, even the same country, as they do. These Navajo women's reinterpretation of a fundamental aspect of western musical pedagogical practice introduces a breath of co-presence, a provisional "I-You" relationship, into the discussion, something I can build on in subsequent lectures about the impact of Christian churches and government-run schools on Navajo musical life.

My next example is from Canada, an exotic country somewhere north of Mexico. This is a katajjaq or "throat game" performance by a group of Inuit women, recorded in Povungnituk, northern Quebec, in 1981. Katajjaq is a vocal genre constructed from repeated motifs created by the alternation between two performers of voiced and un-voiced sounds, on one hand, and inhaled and exhaled sounds, on the other. The two voices are rhythmically staggered, so that those watching the game have the impression that they are hearing a chain of low-pitched sounds and a separate chain of high-pitched ones, whereas each sound has been produced alternately by each of the two partners.8 Without warning, one of the two players can decide to change his/her motif and the other partner must follow suit without breaking rhythm. This is competition, to be sure, but not a zero-sum game. Ideally, the sound resulting from the interaction of the performers will project a homogeneity of sound such that listeners are not able to discern exactly who is doing what.

A performance of katajjaq creates a sort of open structure, incorporating not only vocables, but also archaic words, names of ancestors, animal names, place names, terms designating an object seen while playing the game, animal cries such as geese calls and other sounds from nature, and also Inuit music, a lullaby, a drum dance song or a religious hymn. According to an Inuit singer cited on the liner notes for the album Inuit Throat and Harp Songs, "in the old days people used to think the world was flat, but when they learned the world was turning they needed a throat singing song about it." This katajjaq, which incorporates segments of a famous melody from the European classical repertoire, is called "Song of the Southern Radio."

EXAMPLE TWO: "Song of the Southern Radio"9

Those of my students familiar with the European symphonic repertoire10 typically begin laughing when they first perceive the "Ode to Joy" theme from Beethoven's Ninth Symphony emerging from the breathy, guttural, strongly-pulsed interaction of the Inuit women's voices. This initial flash of recognition is both unsettling and rife with possibility. It can quickly harden into the reaffirmation of a stereotype (Primitives aping Highly Evolved music), or, with proper guidance, function as a pivot point into a discussion of contemporary Native Canadian music, culture and politics, and of the Inuit—and these particular women—as people who live in the world with us.

Here is a Yakut shaman from eastern Siberia, a living practitioner of an ancient tradition, recorded by Ivan Alexeyev, a Russian ethnomusicologist. During his presentation at a summit meeting of American and Soviet scholars in the early 1990s,11 Alexeyev reported that he had finished recording this man's repertory of songs, documenting the unique overtone singing technique of Siberian peoples, when the fellow pulled a guitar out from under his bed and asked if the ethnomusicologist would be willing to record one of his new compositions, not for research but so that he could get his music played on the local radio station. Alexeyev agreed, and here it is.

EXAMPLE THREE: Yakut overtone singing with acoustic guitar accompaniment

Once again, an initially unfamiliar mode of vocal production, with which my students have through study become familiar, is suddenly made strange again by the introduction of something close to home, a folk-rock acoustic guitar accompaniment. This Siberian shaman may be able to control the weather and channel the interactions of humans and spirits, but he also lives in "our" world and listens to "our" music.

I suspect that this next example makes my students laugh in part because it confounds their notions of racial identity and music, and who is supposed to sing how. This is an air-check from the radio show AfroPop Worldwide, hosted by Georges Collinet, featuring Ola Ola, the Ghanaian Elvis, performing his own unique interpretation of "How Great Thou Art." Note in particular Ola Ola's creative deconstruction of the song text, in which the vowels almost completely overrun the consonants.

EXAMPLE FOUR: Ghanaian Elvis (Ola Ola), "How Great Thou Art"

Many of my students think this track is hysterical. Why? Well, there's the whole Elvis impersonation thing, with this being one outpost in the global circulation of Elvii. But when students talk with me about it, they often mention the fact that it is hard for them to get used to the idea of an African man singing like Elvis, who despite having been strongly influenced by African American music is regarded by most students as quintessentially white.12 This leads to a discussion of the religious content of the song, and the influence of American evangelical movements in west Africa, and so on, which is a start toward a more nuanced understanding of contemporary cultural and musical realities in Africa. It often takes an example like this to get the ball rolling.

In his article "Suggestions for Teaching a Course in Music Listening," Bob Trotter argued that "information and knowledge are inert until they become intellectual abilities."13 Strange though it may seem at first, these are just the sorts of musical examples—hybrid, contrary to expectation, unsettling and funny—that stimulate students to consider their co-presence with distant others and to learn more about them, not as tokens of a type, or carriers of a tradition, but as human beings. It may not be Buber's idealized "I-You" relationship, but it's as close as I can get my students without sending them to Ghana or Siberia. And it's actually good preparation for going there, so that they are not stunned when people don't live up to their preconceived ideas.


II. Who's That behind those Foster Grants?

In introducing students to the music of west Africa I sometimes use a video from the Beats of the Heart series, originally aired in the U.K. in the 1980s.14 In one scene, the camera pans across a group of Hausa musicians, playing long wooden flutes, looking very Hausa (or at least, from my students' points-of-view, very African) in their long heavy robes and Muslim caps, standing in the plaza of a dry, dusty town in northern Nigeria. As the camera pans over the musicians' faces, at least half of the class begin laughing, not a full-throated guffaw, but a nervous, suppressed giggle. Their restraint is understandable, since kids who sign up for ethnomusicology classes either already know or are soon brought to understand that it's not cool, and might even be racist, to laugh at foreign musicians, no matter what weird get-ups they might be wearing. But this isn't the haughty laugh of racial superiority. Rather, this small, slightly uncomfortable giggle begins just at the point that the image of a musician wearing a pair of mirrored sunglasses with little hearts inset into the center of each lens rolls across the screen. The glasses are mesmerizing; they really could be Elvis's glasses, and you can almost see yourself reflected in them. On impulse I stop the video and rewind it a bit. "You guys laughed." Awkward silence. "No, I'm not picking on you, I laughed, too. But why? Was it the sunglasses?" We watch again, in slow motion, and then have one of the more interesting discussions I have ever had in a classroom. (A reminder that effective teaching sometimes means getting out of the way of a good thing.)

These students had listened to and read about and discussed examples of Navajo music and Melanesian pan-pipes and Inuit shaman's songs and the vocal polyphony of the so-called pygmies of the central African rainforest, all of which might sound the same to a Martian, but not to a classroom full of Homo sapiens sapiens. Into the middle of this colorful, strangely scented forest of musical diversity fell a pair of cheesy mirrored sunglasses straight out of a 1970s porno film, a familiar object out of place, like the coke bottle in The Gods Must Be Crazy (not from the African hunter's point-of-view, but from the vantage of an empathetic but distanced spectator). The effect hinges not only on the sudden appearance of the familiar (sunglasses) in an unfamiliar context (Africa), but also on a sudden perception of how strange, arbitrary, and peculiar the familiar actually is. This disorienting moment both draws us in and makes us laugh a special kind of laugh, emanating from a space between identity and alterity, between "I-You" and "I-It."15

I have chosen to share this vignette because of the impact it had on my teaching. From that moment on I began to look for examples of the uncannily familiar in music, the moments when those folks, whoever and wherever they are, cite or paraphrase, parody, borrow, or steal something near to my own experience of the world, and in doing so become less an It (an object to be contemplated or used), and more a You because of a suddenly apperceived connection to Me: my world, my culture, my place, my time. I use such examples not only to illustrate culture contact and change, or globalization, or the theory du jour, but also to break through the objectifying "It-ishness" of sound recordings, in which the Other's voice is detached from its body and injected into the circulatory system of my students' world, like an isotope with definable characteristics (pentatonic scale, antiphony, polyrhythms) but no soul.


III. Alter / Ego

The next part of my lecture offers two examples of the role of musical difference in the construction of the self, one of them rather personal. It is now commonly observed that consumers of musical exotica use such materials to create their own identities; and, in a broader sense, that the self is in its origins and its very nature created out of others.16 The first of these two examples of self-constructive appropriations of the musical other is an excerpt from a recording of the song "On a Roof in Manhattan," composed in 1932 by Irving Berlin, and performed here by Steve Clayton and the Rusty Dedrick Orchestra.17

EXAMPLE FIVE: "On a Roof in Manhattan"

We'll build a castle in Spain, on a roof in Manhattan
And in our lofty domain, we'll pretend to be Latin

You'll sing a sweet little tune while I sit and strum my guitar
We'll be so close to the moon, I'll reach up and pluck you a star

And through the night we'll remain, wrapped in velvet and satin
And dream of castles in Spain, on a roof in Manhattan

It's hard to imagine a more blithely blatant example of the Latin American variant of Orientalism, in which two Anglo-American lovers snuggle in the embrace of an exotic imaginary that conflates Latin America with Spain, Cuban claves with Mexican marimbas, and taps into the romantic allure, the passion, the excess of the Other south of the border (with either the U.S. or France).

Just so you don't think that I'm trying to play the interested observer here, I want to inflict upon you all an excerpt from a piece entitled Three Folk Tunes, scored for orchestra, jazz band, rock band, steel drums and two conch shells. Please note that this is a student piece, my senior project as a composition major at Berklee College of Music in 1976. I drew upon three songs that used the anhemitonic pentatonic scale, one a plucked zither melody from China, "The Plum Blossom Song;" the second a folk song from the Cheremis people of Russia, transcribed by my mentor-to-be (and former Trotter lecturer), Bruno Nettl; and third, a popular steel drum tune from Trinidad, "Mango Time." I introduced each theme in as close to its original musical texture as I could manage with the resources at hand, and then set the themes in a variety of frameworks informed by my own experience as a bassist and tuba player (jazz, funk, orchestral music, marching band music). The three themes were eventually juxtaposed contrapuntally, and the piece concluded with a grand climax that only an over-eager and libidinally agitated 21 year old could dream up. I also used the Fibonacci series as an architectonic scheme, but now I'm starting to blather like a composer, so let's just listen.

EXAMPLE SIX: Section 2 of Three Folk Tunes ("Mango Time")

At Berklee I was surrounded by dozens of amazing young musicians, and, although I had been selected as the bass player in the Florida all-state jazz band in my senior year of high school, making a mark amongst all these young virtuosi was not in the cards if I fought fair. So I turned to something I had that they didn't: the memory of my father, a jazz bassist who achieved some distinction as an ethnomusicologist, and who had died suddenly at the beginning of my senior year of high school. Dad and I never talked formally about the field of ethnomusicology, but I picked up his attitude and joy in the work and heard quite a variety of music in my early years. This experience was both a marker of difference and a competitive advantage in the struggle to be noticed, to be heard above the Berklee din. I'm not saying that I thought of it this way consciously at the time; but the distance of years can be as effective as cultural and geographical distance in helping us gain a broader perspective on things.

Three Folk Tunes did get me noticed in certain quarters. At the time, nobody was teaching world music at Berklee, and none of my fellow student composers had seriously grappled with incorporating such diverse influences (apart from the African and Afro-Latin streams that were part of jazz already). One of my professors, a crusty old dude who wrote arrangements for Buddy Rich, put me down after the concert, saying, "Yeah, it's fun to play around with crap like that once in awhile." (Like he ever had . . . .) I was gratified that the players seemed to find it interesting, and pleased when Lawrence Berk, then the President of Berklee, said "I remember you from that concert" as he handed me my diploma. Three Folk Tunes was by no means a brilliant composition, but it did help me create a niche as the kind of guy who was interested in other peoples' music. I can laugh at Irving Berlin's couple building a castle in Spain "On a Roof in Manhattan," but my own persona as a musician was also constructed through an appropriation of the Other poised somewhere between empathetic identification and objectifying distance.


IV. Musical Refractions

I'm going to conclude my lecture with two recordings that involve variants of the Other—Japanese vaudevillians of the 1930s and Quechua singers from Peru—engaged in performances that seem explicitly to be about "The West," and about certain aspects of the experience of modernity. Each of these recordings emanates from a region between "I-You" and "I-It," between presence and object, and each provides students with an opportunity to hear some aspect of their world refracted through the voices of others, and to see themselves and their society through the other end of the telescope. First, I want to play for you a performance of the old standard "Dinah," by the Akireta Boys, a Japanese jazz/vaudeville group recorded by the Victor Company in Tokyo just before the Second World War.18 This track is entertaining in its own right, but I want to provide a bit of context to draw out its significance vis-à-vis my theme, the shock of the familiar. The Japanese term Akireta is variously translated as "flipped-out," "nonsensical," or "disordered." The Akireta Boys were among the most popular groups in pre-War Japan, appearing live in the nightclubs and dance halls of Kobe, Osaka, and Tokyo, and on gramophone records and in films. They were part of a more general youth movement that had started in the 1920s, centered on American music, fashions and behaviors transmitted through films from the U.S.

The social meanings of jazz in pre-War Japan are perhaps best illustrated by the then newly-coined verb jazuru ("to jazz"). In the Dictionary of Modern Words, published in Tokyo in 1930, jazuru was defined as "to make merry with jazz, to mess around, to talk rubbish, to be noisy, to live without cares dancing nonsensically, like jazz."19 In pre-war Japan, as in the United States, jazz music was closely bound up with vaudeville, and jazz bands often performed theatrical stunts in order to hold their audience's attention. Jazz was a core symbol of a cultural movement based upon styles of dress, speech and behavior picked up from American popular culture, and was regarded with considerable suspicion by traditionalists and the militant nationalists who had seized control of the government and begun the invasion of Manchuria. The focus of their anxiety was the "modern women" (moga) and "modern men" (mobo), young people who patronized dance halls and imitated the fashions and social mores of characters in American films and novels. The historian Miriam Silverberg has noted that the moga, especially, was castigated in the Japanese media as a "glittering, decadent, middle-class consumer who, through her clothing, smoking, and drinking, flaunt[ed] tradition in the urban playgrounds of the late 1920s."20 I should also note that jazz was just one feature in the complex musical landscape of pre-War Japan. Tradition writ large (and the authority of the emperor) was represented by Gagaku court music and Shomyo Buddhist chant, which existed alongside urban forms such as naniwabushi story-songs and the popular song repertoire of geishas, some of whom became recording stars in the 1930s.

The Akireta Boys' version of "Dinah," based very loosely upon the 1931 recording of the song by Bing Crosby and the Mills Brothers, seems to touch on every one of these themes. The 6-minute recording covers two sides of a gramophone disc; we will listen to the second side. You should know that the Boys have already covered a lot of musical ground on Side A, parodying the Mills Brothers (complete with a vocalized trumpet solo), the chanting of Buddhist priests, and traditional court music. Side B opens with a parody of naniwabushi (an older urban story-telling genre with shamisen plucked lute accompaniment), then moves through a dizzying sequence of musical paraphrases—back to the Mills Brothers, then the melody of "Who's Afraid of the Big Bad Wolf?," from the Walt Disney animated short film The Three Little Pigs (1933), followed by a spirited exchange between Betty Boop and Popeye the Sailor Man (including a tap dance), and concluding with a musical barnyard brawl that ends with the crowing of a rooster, and fade to black.

EXAMPLE SEVEN: Akireta Boys, "Dinah" (late 1930s)

It is hard to imagine a more evocative and unsettling embodiment of the profoundly ambivalent Japanese attraction to the Modern and to American popular culture, the package in which modernity was for the most part wrapped. In his book Blue Nippon: Authenticating Jazz in Japan (2001), E. Taylor Atkins presents an analysis of the cultural conflicts that raged in Japan between the world wars. Atkins argues that for the Japanese modanizumu (modernity) "was not something you believed in, but rather something you wore or listened to" (p. 122). The potentially revolutionary quality of jazz was not explicitly political, and had nothing to do with overthrowing the imperial court system or resisting the militant nationalists; rather it focused on the exploration of new sensual and aesthetic experiences. This is what made jazz truly subversive, and led to attempts by Japanese authorities to ban it during the Second World War.

The struggle between tradition and change, and the portrayal of modernity as an alluring form of madness is succinctly embodied in the Akireta Boys' recording of "Dinah," which piles up layer upon layer of musical and cultural references and then, at the very end, escalates into a kind of entropic tornado, with animals scat-singing in the manner of the Mills Brothers, capped by the cry of a rooster, the auditory icon of a new dawn (and of Japan's ambitions, both cultural and military).21

This is not really a song about the West, from the viewpoint of an organically unified, well-bounded Japanese worldview, but it is undeniably an artifact of the process by which western cultural influences became naturalized in Japan. When we listen to the Akireta Boys' "Dinah," we are hearing the sound of modanizumu under construction, a complex combination of empathy and analysis, co-presence and objectification. This is precisely the sort of example to use if you are interested in teaching about the evolving relationship between Japanese and American cultures in an age of globalization. And it provides my students with a chance to think about how others have historically heard and interpreted the products of American popular culture.

My final example, recorded by the ethnomusicologist Jonathan Ritter in Ayacucho, Peru in 2002, is a song in the Quechua language, part of a repertoire called pumpin that plays an important role in shaping communal memories of the past and in articulating local perceptions of events in the wider world. Many of these songs focus on the 1980s, when warfare between the Peruvian government and a Marxist splinter group called Sendero Luminoso (Shining Path) caused the death or "disappearance" of more than 30,000 people and the displacement of hundreds of thousands more. Much of this violence was centered in the area around Ayacucho, and many of the musicians Jonathan worked with had suffered the loss of a loved one, a parent, sibling, or child.

When the terrorists struck New York City and Washington, D.C. on September 11 of 2001, Jonathan was in Los Angeles, taking a six month break from his fieldwork in Peru. When he returned to Ayacucho in January of 2002 to continue his research he discovered that the same repertoire that functioned as a site par excellence for public discourse about the "lost decade" of the 1980s had become a privileged medium for discussing 9-11.

"Did I live close to the towers?" they wanted to know. "Had I been scared?" "Did I lose any friends or family in the attacks?" "Why hadn't I written to let everyone know that I was OK?" One friend ruefully joked that I seemed to be taking back the worst of Peru with me each time I returned to the U.S.—first tainted elections, now terrorist attacks.22

Let me play for you one of the songs Jonathan recorded, entitled "Waqay Vida Llaki Vida," "A Life of Sadness and Tears," performed by the group Santa Rosa de Huancaraylla.

EXAMPLE EIGHT: Santa Rosa de Huancaraylla, excerpt from "Waqay Vida Llaki Vida" ("A Life of Sadness and Tears")

Hermanullay paisanullay yuyallachkanchikmi Brothers, countrymen, we remember
Hermanullay paisanullay rikullarqanchikmi Brothers, countrymen, we have seen
Enterullay continente Americanapi In the entire American continent
Waqay vida llaki vida pasakullasqanta A life of sadness and tears has been passing
Chayllay iskay jatun wasi wichiykullasqanta Those two towers have fallen
Waranqantin runamasinchik chinkaykullasqanta Thousands of people have disappeared
Chaynallataqsi hermanullay Lima capitalpi In the same manner, our brothers in the capital of Lima
Chaynallataqsi paisanullay Mesa Redondapi In the same manner, our countrymen in Mesa Redonda
Waqay vida llaki vida pasarqukullasqa A life of sadness and tears has been passing
Hermanullanchik paisanullanchik Our brothers, our countrymen
ninapi chinkarquptin Have disappeared in the fire
Waqay vida llaki vida pasarqukullasqa A life of sadness and tears has been passing
Hermanullanchik paisanullanchik Our brothers, our countrymen
ninapi chinkarquptin . . . Have disappeared in the fire . . .
Vidallanchik rantinallakanman If we could just buy our lives
Suertellanchik cambianallakanman If we could just change our fate
Vidallanchik rantinallakanman If we could just buy our lives
Suertellanchik cambianallakanman If we could just change our fate
Iskay kimsata rantirullaspanchik We would buy two or three
Toda la vida kausakunanchikta To live a full life
Iskay kimsata rantirullaspanchik We would buy two or three
Wiñay wiñay kausakunanchikpaq We would live eternally
Avionllay avion de guerra Little plane, war plane
Avionllay avion de guerra Little plane, war plane
Kutirimuspa apakullaway Take me back
Vueltarimuspay pusakullaway Turn around and return
Manasa mamallay kanchu I no longer have my mother
Manasa taytallay kanchu I no longer have my father
Maypiraq churiy nispa ninampaq Who will say, "Where is my son?"
Maypiraq waway nispa ninampaq Who will say, "Where is my daughter?"

Not all of the songs Jonathan recorded were so sympathetic to the United States or the Bush administration. One singer criticized the U.S. for "killing and disappearing the people of Afghanistan," while another asked "poor countries, to what point will we be exploited by the U.S.?" But many of the dozens of songs composed about 9-11 by Peruvian singers around Ayacucho in the months following the attacks shared a couple of features. Like the song we just heard, many were couched in the first-person language typical of the genre, implicitly treating the victims and mourners as part of the same community as the singers. And many of them evoked the image of a lost child searching for its parents, or parents mourning the disappearance of a child, a common metaphor for the terrible losses suffered during the time of the Shining Path.


V. Conclusion

In the end, what strikes me about the last musical example, like the others I have played for you today, is that its juxtaposition of empathy and analysis, familiarity and distance, identity and difference seems to hold out the possibility of intercultural understanding in a world that often seems bereft of it. In the voices of these Peruvian singers I hear specific and pointed criticism of the United States government's policies, and at the same time, on another frequency, a generous and universalizing empathy for the victims of terrorism, in Peru, in Afghanistan, in the United States, anywhere. From where I sit, the song is both a poetic expression of these singers' view of the world and a refracting mirror held up to America, its people, and its rulers. This is not to ignore the obvious power differentials between Third World performers and First World listeners, or the hard questions we need to ask about music as a form of cultural capital. But it would be tragic if our understanding of transnational economic and political inequities were to keep us from seeking out the fleeting yet transformative possibilities of human co-presence in music.

The real boundary, albeit one that floats and fluctuates, runs not between experience and non-experience, nor between the world of being and the world of value, but across all the regions between You and It: between presence and object.23

I can understand how the moral force of Martin Buber's valorization of "I-You" over "I-It" relationships appealed to Bob Trotter as a way of formulating his idealistic goals for music pedagogy. Nonetheless, from my position as a musician and social scientist I can't relinquish my commitment to exploring how human beings actually use music to create, texture and defend specific modes of social existence, distinctive ways of being in the world, usually under conditions not of their own choosing. "I-You" relationships are not inherently good, and there is nothing inherently evil about the analytical distance of "I-It" relationships. For better or worse, I believe that Buber's floating, fluctuating boundaries and "regions between You and It: between presence and object" are where the action is when it comes to understanding music's dialectical and constantly-evolving role in human affairs. In music, subjectivity and objectivity, the self and the other are dialectically related and mutually constitutive; they are not guard-posts at either end of an ontological DMZ.

I haven't yet had a chance to play Santa Rosa de Huancaraylla's rendition of "Waqay Vida Llaki Vida" in the classroom, but I will. And when I do, I will do my best to prepare my students to appreciate the shock of the familiar, and to engage music, not as a "universal language," but as one tool in our ongoing struggle to communicate across the boundaries drawn by culture, nationality, and power.

Thank you.

1I am grateful to Jonathan Ritter for sharing his recording of Santa Rosa de Huancaraylla's performance of "Waqay Vida Llaki Vida" ("A Life of Sadness and Tears"), to Dan Neuman, Tony Seeger, Larry Starr and Patricia Waterman for reading the paper in draft form, and to Robert Walser for correcting my grammar.

2"Suggestions for Teaching a Course in Music Listening," Journal of Music Theory Pedagogy 4 (1990), 51-62.

3Buber, Martin, Ich und Du (Heidelberg: Lambert Schneider Verlag, 1923). In this paper I am relying upon the translation by Walter Kaufmann (New York: Touchstone Books, 1970).

4In using the English "You" rather than "Thou" as a gloss for the German Du I am following Walter Kaufmann's translation strategy. Kaufmann argues that the archaic term Thou does not convey the implied intimacy of Du, which in any event has no direct equivalent in English.

5Buber (1970), pp. 62-63.

6Blacking, John, How Musical is Man? (Seattle: University of Washington Press, 1973).

7It might be assumed that I am speaking only of north American students, particularly those who belong to the historically dominant white, English-speaking majority. But my observations are equally apposite in the case of students from Africa, or Asia, or Latin America who, as members of a formally educated and cosmopolitan middle or upper class have grown up at some distance from "traditional" forms of musical expression in their own countries. The cultural distance created by socioeconomic class may be different from, but is potentially no less profound than the distance created by national or ethnic distinctions.

8This perceptual tendency, sometimes referred to as "tonal fusion," is exploited in a wide variety of musical systems around the world.

9Inuit Throat and Harp Songs (Eskimo Women's Music of Povungnituk) / Chants Inuit - gorge et guimbarde (Musique des esquimaudes de Povungnituk). 1981: Canadian Music Heritage MH-001. Side B, track 6.

10And many who are not, given the prominence of this theme in popular cultural forms such as the Stanley Kubrick film A Clockwork Orange.

11IREX U.S.-U.S.S.R. Seminar in Ethnomusicology. Organizer, Mark Slobin (Middletown, CT).

12Recall for example the scene from the film Men in Black (1997) where Tommy Lee Jones plays Will Smith an 8-track tape of Elvis.

13"Suggestions for Teaching a Course in Music Listening," 51.

14Konkombe - The Nigerian Pop Music Scene, Harcourt Films. Directed by Jeremy Marre, 1988.

15This is the same sort of response that a septuagenarian musician in a west African port town recounted to me as he described his initial response to gramophone recordings of Afro-Cuban influenced ballroom dance music, way back in the 1930s. Familiar, yet so weird. . . .

16See, for example, Waterman, Christopher, "Big Man, Black President, Masked One: Models of the Celebrity Self in Yoruba Popular Music," in Playing with Identities in Contemporary Music in Africa, A. Kirkegaard and M. Palmberg, eds. (Uppsala, Sweden: The Nordic Africa Institute, 2002), pp. 19-34.

17Irving Berlin: All By Myself, Notable Compositions 1926-1933, Rusty Dedrick and His Orchestra, with Steve Clayton (vocalist), Monmouth-Evergreen MES/6811 (1968).

18Legend of the Boys (track 14). Victor Japan VICL-61714, also reissued on Teichuku Entertainment TECH-25064 (track 4).

19Atkins, E. Taylor, Blue Nippon: Authenticating Jazz in Japan (Durham and London: Duke University Press, 2001), p. 102.

20Silverberg, Miriam, "The Modern Girl as Militant," in Gail Bernstein, ed. Recreating Japanese Women, 1600-1945 (Berkeley, University of California Press, 1991), p. 239.

21It's worth noting that the symbolism of the rooster as a harbinger of new knowledge (and of Japan's cultural ambitions) was also reflected in its being selected as the Emblem of the Japanese Society for the Promotion of Science in 1938, within a year or two or the Akireta Boys' recording.

22Ritter, Jonathan, "Terror and the Global Village: September 11th in Ayacuchan Song," paper presented at the Society for Ethnomusicology annual conference, Estes Park, CO, 2002, p. 5.

23Buber (1970), p. 63.

Read 2012 times

Last modified on Thursday, 04/10/2018

Go to top