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British Journal of

Volume 9/ii 2000

Martin Clayton Suzel Ana Reily

Reviews Editor
Carole Pegg

Editorial Board
John Baily Stephen Blum David Hughes
Richard Middleton Mícheál Ó Súilleabháin
Jonathan Stock Janet Topp Fargion
Richard Widdess Udo Will

British Forum for Ethnomusicology

formerly International Council for Traditional Music
UK Chapter
Published by British Forum for Ethnomusicology

The publishers wish to thank the Open University Research Development

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The British Forum for Ethnomusicology is the UK National Committee of the

International Council for Traditional Music.

© British Forum for Ethnomusicology, 2000

ISSN 0968-1221

Cover illustration: photo by Henry Stobart

Copy-editing and page layout Jane Wood

Design Pamela Higgins
Music type-setting Michelle McQuade Dewhirst
Printed by Hobbs the Printer Ltd, Totton, Hampshire, SO40 3YS.



Reading Indian music: the interpretation

of seventeenth-century European
travel-writing in the (re)construction of
Indian music history Katherine Brown 1
The situation of music in Iran since the
Revolution: the role of official organizations Ameneh Youssefzadeh 35
The Andean anacrusis? rhythmic structure
and perception in Easter songs of Northern Henry Stobart and
Potosí, Bolivia Ian Cross 63
No nonsense: the logic and power of
acoustic-iconic mnemonic systems David W. Hughes 95
Listening patterns and identity of the
Korean diaspora in the former USSR Hae-Kyung Um 123


Gulbekian (trans.), Komitas: Armenian

sacred and folk music and At’ayan,
The Armenian neume system of notation Andy Nercessian 145
Kaufman Shelemay, Let jasmine rain down:
song and remembrance among Syrian Jews Sara Manasseh 148
Bakan, Music of death and new creation:
experiences in the world of Balinese gamelan
beleganjur Maria Mendonça 150
Buckley (ed.) Hearing the past: essays
in historical ethnomusicology and the
archaeology of sound Henry Stobart 154
Erlmann, Music, modernity, and the global
imagination: South Africa and the West Janet Topp Fargion 158
Tokita, Kiyomoto-bushi: narrative music
of the kabuki theatre Charles Rowe 160

Musics of Siberian peoples Carole Pegg 161

Index of articles by author, volumes 1–9/ii 167

Index of countries as major article themes, volumes 1–9/ii 169

Editorial policy and subscriptions inside front cover

Notes to contributors inside back cover

KATHERINE BROWN ____________________________
Reading Indian music: the interpretation
of seventeenth-century European
travel-writing in the (re)construction of
Indian music history

Reconstructing the history of an art as elusive as Indian classical1 music,

improvised and largely unnotated, and complete only in the moment of
performance, has proven to be a somewhat problematic undertaking. Recently,
however, there has been a growing interest in trying to place Indian music in its
historical context as a means of understanding better some of its present
manifestations (Wade 1998:lvi). It has increasingly been recognized that
European travel literature, with its easy accessibility and its copious
documentation of cultural detail, constitutes a valuable source of musical
information. However, travel-writing is also a notoriously complex and
contradictory genre, generally denying a straightforward reading.2 This has
rarely been taken into consideration by musicologists using these sources.
When interpreted critically, however, this genre does offer a unique perspective
on music, which is able to make a significant contribution to the reconstruction
of Indian music history. This paper discusses how the travel literature published
during the seventeenth century can be used as a source for the study of music
under the Mughal Emperors Jahangir (r. 1605–27), Shah Jahan (r. 1628–58)
and Aurangzeb (r. 1658–1707).

1 The use of the term “classical music” here is somewhat problematic. In the body of this
article I have tried to restrict my use of the term to references to acknowledged
“classical”genres such as dhrupad (i.e., music which conforms to an authoritative body of
music theory and is patronized by social elites). In the abstract I am using the term in a looser
sense, denoting music representative of centres of political and economic power such as
royal courts, which may conform to theoretical norms more or less closely.
2 See Porter 1993, Teltscher 1997, Introduction and Chapter One and Surendranath Sen’s
Introduction (Thevenot 1949) for a more in-depth discussion of the challenges involved in
interpreting travel literature.



Introduction: recontextualizing travel literature

Seventeenth-century travel literature essentially tells the story of Europe’s
increasing encounter with India. Earlier travellers had detailed many important
discoveries concerning the nature of human diversity, which forced Europe to
reassess its position in the world (Rubiés 1995:38). As a consequence, new
worldviews were generated which influenced the way India was perceived and
written about in the seventeenth century (40). Thus, the ways in which
travellers “read” a music that was strange to them were inevitably affected by
contemporary European perspectives, while still claiming to be true. Frank
Harrison’s call for musicologists to consider the individual biases of earlier
writers when evaluating the reliability of their musical descriptions (1973:2) has
largely been heeded by those using travel literature as a source (e.g. Woodfield
1995:267). However, it seems to have been generally assumed that the veracity
of each journal can be judged by assessing the level of its apparent conformity
with late twentieth-century standards of “objectivity” (Miller and Chonpairot
1994:23). Once an account has thereby been granted authoritative status, it is
arguably then treated as a mine of raw scientific data, from which musical
“facts” can be extracted without need for further textual or contextual analysis.
The main linguistic conventions I have identified as leading to the
acceptance of an account as “objective” are a use of positive or non-derogatory
language, a non-religious outlook, and a distanced, detailed approach in
description.3 On the other hand, it seems to be assumed that bias, or
ethnocentricity, is synonymous primarily with the use of negative or
patronizing language in musical description (Miller and Chonpairot 1994:7–8,
25). Such a bipolar opposition enables an account to be placed somewhere on a
scale from “quasi-fictional” to “photographic” (8), depending largely on
whether the observer seems to like the music or not (26–9). This is overly
simplistic; as Nettl points out, appreciation is not synonymous with
understanding (1983:44).4 Firstly, the tendency to overemphasize individual
bias, and to insist on the unique nature of both the musical moment and the
attitude of the observer (Harrison 1973:2) obscures the deep, often parasitic
relationship between the travel writers, as well as a multitude of common
themes running through the travel literature that demonstrate shared European
presuppositions about India and music. However, the main problem with this
approach is that it is simply not valid to use an interpretative paradigm that is

3 See for example Bor 1988:52–3 and Woodfield 1995:267, 275, 280. xxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxx
4 Despite his considerably more dynamic and complex approach (see 1973:2), even Harrison
is not immune from regarding neutral, positive or “scientific” language as less biased than
supposedly negative description (1971:15–16). He also seems to subscribe to the fallacy that
the world of travel-writing divides neatly into Christian and secular halves, and hence that
religious conviction is the single most important factor in evaluating whether a traveller has
made an “adequate” record of the music described (1973:2). A closer comparison of the
travels of Manrique and Navarette, for example, would serve to dispel this myth (see also
note 3, paragraph 2).
BROWN Reading Indian music: 17th-century European travel-writing and the (re)construction of Indian music 3

largely reacting against the language of late nineteenth-century social

Darwinism to judge the trustworthiness of a seventeenth-century text. If we
look for ethnocentricity primarily in the form of “out-moded” concepts of
“purity” or “progress”, as Woodfield suggests we ought (1995:267), we may be
tempted to assume that some texts do not exhibit bias, simply because we are
not looking in the right place. It is imperative therefore, that we challenge our
present-day understanding of historical reliability by reading these texts in the
light of the contemporary culture and circumstances that produced them.
Seventeenth-century travel journals were not isolated from each other, but
were published in a specific context with an acknowledged set of aims. Their
primary purpose was to entertain the European public with exotic curiosities;
indeed, in the seventeenth century, travel journals poured off the printing
presses of Europe, second only to theology in popularity (Teltscher 1997:4). A
second purpose was to boost the prestige of individuals, nations and trading
companies competing in the region. The English East India Company, for
example, deliberately published travel accounts as propaganda during this
period (Lach and van Kley 1993:302), thereby giving an exaggerated sense of
the influence of various European powers in Asia at this time. Significantly, the
travel literature also fulfilled the purpose of being a major forum in which the
battle between competing European ideologies on a multitude of issues was
played out, using the ethnographic evidence of the travellers’ observations as a
weapon (Hodgen 1964:338–42). For this reason, the basic assumption of the
above model – that it is possible to find an account that is almost entirely
uninfluenced by Eurocentric worldviews – needs to be questioned. Even with a
detailed, neutral description of a musical instrument, for example, I would
argue that a European objective decided its inclusion in the narrative.
The European influences on seventeenth-century travel-writing can be
described simplistically as a series of dichotomies. The most important of these
was that of the medieval worldview of traditional Christianity versus the
embryonic worldview of scientific rationalism. Other important oppositions
included Protestantism versus Catholicism, Anglicanism versus Puritanism,
Royalists versus Cromwell, the Portuguese versus the other European traders,
superstition versus rationalism, absolute monarchy versus embryonic
democracy, woman as Madonna or whore, and Europe versus the Mughal
Empire. This is complicated by the fact that the importance and emphases of
these debates changed over the century; for example, by at least the 1670s the
European traders in India presented a united front to the Mughal authorities on
matters affecting European interests, despite the fact that they were often still at
war with each other in Europe (e.g. Carré 1947:149). It is further complicated
because a range of viewpoints might be expressed on a single issue, which were
not necessarily consistently defended, even by a single author.
The individual backgrounds of the travel writers also played a role in
increasing this complexity; they came from a great diversity of educational,
philosophical, religious and national backgrounds, and had very different
experiences in India. For example, many of the journals referred to in this article
were translated into English contemporaneously from Italian, Dutch, German,

French, Portuguese and Spanish. The authors include East India Company
servants, noble ambassadors, intellectuals, Catholic missionaries, a self-educated
Venetian adventurer, and a French spy. Their positions between the poles of any
of these issues cannot necessarily be inferred from a superficial glance at their
background or position; for example, some missionaries produced surprisingly
perspicacious and sympathetic accounts (Lach and van Kley 1993: xlii). I think
one needs firstly to compare the travel literature and determine which issues were
current at the time, and then decide on the basis of the writer’s observations,
which of those were instrumental in his perception of Indian music.
The travellers’ use of language that appears to signify truthfulness or
objectivity can also be misleading. Claims to be telling a true story, for example,
were commonly held to enhance the entertainment value of a narrative (Davis
1987:112). One of the major conventions used to signify the reliability of a text,
especially in the first quarter of the seventeenth century, was the repetition of
observations made by earlier travellers. This did not necessarily mean that they
had actually seen the same things; Teltscher points out that many published
journals drew quite blatantly on the work of previous writers for both the form
and content of their narratives (1997:15–16). 5 Moreover, the use of “objective”
descriptive language did not signify neutrality; on the contrary, in the latter half
of the century it was used to distance the European observer from the Indian
observed in order to buttress the concept of European distinctiveness and
Finally, the decontextualization of this paradigm allows a traveller’s
interpretations of a musical event to be cited as “fact”, because his journal has
been deemed to be reliable. The practice of bestowing authoritative status on
those whose language seems “objective” to us can lead to poor or partial
understanding of the evidence, and even occasionally false conclusions. 6 Not
even the most educated and sympathetic observers were able to avoid the
influence of European concepts on the conclusions they drew about Indian
music. One major obsession of the travel writers, for example, was the sexuality

5 While this practice decreased as the century progressed, it is still evident in the work of such
writers as the self-educated Niccolao Manucci, who copied extensively from the earlier journal
of François Bernier, despite the fact that he was himself an eyewitness (Maiello 1984:625–7).
6 Wade, for example, is particularly uncritical when it comes to Niccolao Manucci’s Storia
do Mogor. Written from memory several decades after the events it describes (Manucci
1907:lxxii), not only does Manucci’s life story read like a Boys’ Own adventure, but his
hatred for Aurangzeb verges on the irrational, and his reliance on “bazaar gossip” is
proverbial (Maiello 1984:625). Wade’s reliance on his evidence of Aurangzeb’s opposition to
music (apparently on the basis of his lengthy stay in the Mughal Empire, and the agreement
of his sentiments with those of one particular anti-Aurangzeb faction of Indo-Persian writers)
leads her to make a most basic mistake with the contradictory evidence of another European
traveller, Jean-Baptiste Tavernier. He describes the performance in the divan of “sweet and
pleasant” music when he was presented to Aurangzeb at Shahjahanabad on 12 September
1665 (1925:xxi). Wade ascribes Tavernier’s description to the reign of Shah Jahan twice
(1998:135, 165). As Shah Jahan had been ousted by Aurangzeb seven years previously, her
subsequent conclusions (165) must be erroneous.
BROWN Reading Indian music: 17th-century European travel-writing and the (re)construction of Indian music 5

of Indian women, which as Teltscher demonstrates, was heavily influenced by

the current European debate on the virtue and vice of women. (1997:37–9).7

Musical stories: a different approach to interpretation

This is not to suggest that seventeenth-century travellers’ descriptions of music
are historically worthless. I would argue that a musical reality – the “facts” –
did once exist beneath the rhetoric of the travel literature. By this I mean that,
by and large, the travellers were not just making things up wildly in order to
deceive. Descriptions of music and musicians can usually be assumed to reflect
actual musical events or social phenomena – a dance performance during a
banquet, a parade witnessed in the street, the naubat or the music of the
women’s quarters overheard at night. This is particularly so when they are
located in the context of a temporal event personally attended or overheard by
the observer, and even second-hand descriptions or those presented as
normative or essentialist are likely to retain something of the original musical
reality. However, it is impossible for us to comprehend this reality fully and
exhaustively, not merely because it is multi-faceted and complex, but because
we are irrevocably separated from it by time, and twice by culture. As Partha
Mitter argues, “the past, however recent, is a form of otherness” (1994:8).8 In
her study of pardon tales in sixteenth-century France, Natalie Zemon Davis
suggests a possible way in which we can reconstruct and explain at least some
aspects of that reflected musical reality. Rather than “[peeling] away the fictive
elements in our documents so we [can] get at the real facts”, we should “let the
‘fictional’ aspects of these documents be the centre of analysis” (1987:3). She
argues that not only are the shaping elements of true stories of interest in
evaluating their truth claims, but that a study of the construction of stories can
in fact reveal other, equally important historical truths about the society under
consideration (4). If we therefore think of both the travel journal and the
musical description embedded in it as true stories with individual morals
reflecting contemporary European ideas about India, we may be able to
comprehend better some of the functions of music in India through the author’s
choice and interpretation of musical events.
Because these individual narratives were shaped by the required
perspectives of travel literature as a genre, in order to attempt any
reconstruction of Indian music history it is necessary to study general trends in

7 This usually manifested itself as a Hindu–Muslim dichotomy As an example, the musical

descriptions of Pietro della Valle, highly educated and himself a composer and music theorist
(Bor 1988:53) are some of the most informative of the period. However, he was convinced
that Hindu women were “modest and honoured”, whereas Muslim women were lewd and
licentious (1989:216). This prejudicial distinction seems to have coloured his view of
“Mohammedan” female musicians and dancers (1989:206, 224).
8 As an example, contrary to postmodern dogma that there is no such thing as truth, it is a “fact”
that you are at the present moment reading this article. However, the meaning, or the quality
of remembrance of this “fact” in later years may be contested, obscuring the “fact” itself.

musical description during the seventeenth century. In this paper, I have chosen
to concentrate primarily on what I think are the two most important issues
influencing the construction of musical stories in this period: the development
of a scientific worldview, and the increasing strength of the European powers in
India. These are both reflected to a greater or lesser extent mainly in the choice
of material for inclusion in the narrative, and the type of language used.
I will first demonstrate how the rising power of the scientific worldview
influenced a change in descriptive language over the century. Although the
genesis of modern science occurred earlier, it was in the seventeenth century
that the decisive battle was played out between a literal Biblical understanding
of the world and its origins, and a new approach to these issues based on
scepticism, rationalism, and the observation of evidence. The picture is in fact
more complicated than this, as almost all subscribers to the new scientific
position were also Christians (Munck 1990:290–9). On the other hand,
proponents of both sides had already succumbed to the philosophical necessity
of arguing on the basis of evidence. This evidence was largely supplied, and
often interpreted, by the travel writers.9
I will then show how the rising tension between Europe and India due to
increased contact, and the ambivalence this created in the European mind
between fascination and fear, was reflected in the choice of musical subject
matter. Interestingly, a comparison of European and Mughal sources provides
an insight into the way music was used by both cultures to convey specific
messages to each other. In the case of military and ceremonial bands, I argue
that on the whole their symbolic meaning was mutually understood. However,
with respect to women musicians, I contend that the message being conveyed
by the Mughals was consciously or unconsciously misinterpreted by the
Europeans. It is therefore important to note that while the musical world
described by the travellers intersects with the world described in Indian sources,
it is not the same.10 Nevertheless, they have an interesting, if partial, story to
tell about music in seventeenth-century India, valuable in itself, which must be
incorporated into any reconstruction of Indian music history.

Tradition versus reason: the literary use of music as

Christopher Farewell (1613) observed at the beginning of the century, that:
The Moors … drink wine liberally, and strong waters, yet never drunk
but in the night, and then their women, their wives and concubines …

9 See Hodgen 1964 and Rubiés 1995 for comprehensive discussions of this development. xx
10 It is important to note that with one exception, there are no incontrovertible descriptions
of the most prestigious genres of Indian classical music in the journals published in the
seventeenth century, despite the fact that some of the travellers, Manucci for example, must
have been exposed to it at the Mughal court, or at least known about it.
BROWN Reading Indian music: 17th-century European travel-writing and the (re)construction of Indian music 7

sing most melodiously, with such elevated and shrill voices, strained
unto the highest, yet sweet and tuneable, rising and falling according to
their art and skill, (for every country hath his own, and more or less
excelling) … [they] sing aloud to God our strength, make a joyful
noise unto the God of Jacob, take a psalm and bring hither the timbrel,
the pleasant harp with the psaltery, blow up the trumpet in the new
moon, in the time appointed on our solemn feast day …
(Farewell 1971:41–2; my spelling)

It would be unwise to interpret this passage, with its flowery rhetoric and
Biblical overtones, as an accurate description of performance practice inside the
zanana (“women’s quarters”). However, it does tell us something about the
original event. In context, although Farewell states that the participants
“constantly thus celebrate” the change of lunar month, this particular new moon
festival seems to have been no ordinary celebration (41–2). References to a
“feast day”, the putting on of costly perfumes at the first sight of the new moon,
and joyous acclamations of its appearance – “a reward for our watchfulness or
good tidings” (42–3), seem to indicate that this event occurred at the end of
Ramazan. Hence women’s music may have played a distinctive part in the
family celebration of this important festival. This passage also demonstrates
that Farewell appreciated this music, and understood that it required skill.
However, these were arguably not the points Farewell wanted to make with
this anecdote. His use of Old Testament language to identify this music
suggests he thought that European and Indian Muslim culture had a common
Biblical origin. One of the main consequences of contact with non-Christian
cultures was to enhance European awareness of the huge amount of diversity
between human societies (Rubiés 1995:38–9). The Church’s traditional
understanding of diversity was based on a literal interpretation of Genesis, an
understanding which was challenged during the Renaissance by a growing
number of sceptics, who questioned the logic and inerrancy of the Genesis
account. Differences and similarities between various cultures were used by
proponents of both positions to challenge or defend the traditional view that all
societies had originated in Eden, and subsequently degenerated. It was therefore
common to compare newly discovered cultures with the Old Testament
(Hodgen 1964:230–68). Farewell, a devout Christian, might have been
implying that because the Islamic music he heard was similar (in his mind) to
the music described by David in the Psalms, this was definitive musical
evidence for the literal truth of the Biblical view of human diversity.
John Fryer (1672–81), on the other hand, although also a Christian
(1909–15:xxxii), was representative of the new scientific community. 11 This
extract, written more than seventy years later, comes from a section of his
journal which attempted to arrange the various sciences of the Indians, and
describe them objectively using straightforward language:

11 John Fryer became a member of the Royal Society in 1697 (first established in 1662). xxx

In what Perfection Musick stands (as I am no competent Judge) I could

never give my Ears the trouble to examine, it seeming loud and
barbarous; yet they observe Time and Measure in their Singing and
Dancing, and are mightily delighted with their Tumbling and Noise.
They as much dislike our shriller Musick, hardly allowing our Wayts12
fit to play to Bears, and our Stringed Instruments strike not their hard-
to-be-raised Fancies; but our Organs are the Musick of the Spheres
with them, charming them to listen as long as they play.

Here, Indian music was no longer equated with recognizably European

concepts (such as the Psalms of David). Rather, Fryer was able to perceive

Figure 1 The genus of Man divided into two species by Linnaeus, the father of botany,
in the System of nature, 1735. Linnaeus’ system of classification builds on the
foundation of late seventeenth-century systems, such as Dr Petty’s Scale of creatures
(1670s), and the observations of travel writers (Hodgen 1964:422–5).

12 The word “waytes [waits]” in this context most likely refers to the bands of shawms and
sackbuts (and possibly other instruments such as viols and recorders) employed by civic
corporations such as the East India Companies, mainly for processional/heraldic purposes. It
may also refer to the distinctive “signature tunes” played by these bands (Sadie 1980:154–5).
BROWN Reading Indian music: 17th-century European travel-writing and the (re)construction of Indian music 9

Indian music as an abstract object of scientific enquiry, with its own internal
logic that he was able to recognize, but not understand. He had therefore
progressed from Farewell’s recognition of its uniqueness, to being able to put
Indian music on a seemingly equal footing with European music by admitting
their mutual incomprehensibility.
However, in context this also served to stress Indian inferiority, by
emphasizing their absolute otherness to the European observer, who
simultaneously claimed omniscience concerning Indian likes and dislikes.
Fryer’s journal generally displays utter contempt for the Indian people, despite
his appreciation of their scientific achievements. He regarded the Indian
merchants of Surat, for example, as “the absolute Map of Sordidness … Lying,
Dissembling, Cheating, are their Masterpiece”, and equated them with fleas
(1909–15:212). Hodgen argues that some supporters of the scientific
worldview, lacking the belief in a common human descent from Adam, were
increasingly willing to classify non-Europeans as superior animals rather than
humans (1964:408; also Rubiés 1995:37) (see Figure 1 for an early eighteenth
century example of this). John Ovington, for example, travelling in India and
Africa from 1689, regarded the Hottentots as “the very Reverse of Human
Kind, Cousin German to the Helachors [Indian untouchables] … so that if there
is any medium between a Rational Animal and a Beaste, the Hotantot lays
fairest claim to the Species” (in Hodgen 1964:422). 13 While it was probably
coincidental, it is interesting that this attitude became more prevalent at the
same time as the travel literature began to reflect a growing fear of a Mughal
threat to the increasing power of Europe in India, and a desire to strengthen ties
with European interests (see Figure 2 for an example of a classificatory system
tailored for an imperialistic mindset). The main way in which the latter was
demonstrated, however, was in the travellers’ choice of subject matter.

Figure 2 John Fryer’s classification of the residents of India (1909–15:100). N

13 Classifications of humankind into more than one species were being published, using
travellers’ tales as evidence, from at least the 1670s (Hodgen 1964:422).

Engaging the other: musical power struggles and

mutual appreciation
In her book Imaging Sound (1998), Bonnie Wade discusses the use by the
Mughals of the ceremonial and military band, the naubat ensemble,14 as a
symbol of power and status. Her conclusions, which are largely confined to the
Mughal context,15 will not be discussed at length here. However, the narrative
function of the naubat in the context of the travel literature is an interesting
example of communication between rival cultures using musical symbols. Such
a highly “visible and audible presence of power” (Wade 1998:4) was unlikely to
go unnoticed by European travellers, and in my estimation, nearly all the
travellers surveyed here mentioned the naubat ensemble.
Many of the early references were confined to description, taking either a
neutral or occasionally a positive stance on Mughal ceremonial music (see
Figure 3 for an excellent pictorial description of the naubat in procession).
However, as the century drew to a close, most references to the naubat
ensemble became more antagonistic in tone, and emphasized the symbolic
importance of military music in India. By the late seventeenth century, the
European colonies in India were well established, and European trade was
beginning to have a more significant impact on the Mughal Empire (Richards
1993:198). The first half of the century during the reigns of Jahangir and Shah
Jahan saw a mainly encouraging attitude towards European involvement in

Figure 3 The naubat ensemble in Shah Jahan’s entourage, en route to “Darreecabaag”

from Burhanpur in 1632. (Mundy 1914–36, vol. ii:195).

14 According to the A’in-i-Akbari, ‘Abul Fazl’s chronicle of Akbar’s reign (1556–1605), the
naubat ensemble consisted of 18 pairs of large kettle-drums (kuwarga or damâma), 20 pairs
of small kettle-drums (naqqâra), 4 barrel-shaped drums (duhul), 3 pairs of cymbals (sânj), 4
metal trumpets (karnâ), an unspecified number of Persian, European and Indian trumpets
(nafir), 2 curved trumpets (sing), and 9 reed instruments (surnâ) (Wade 1995:98).
15 See Wade (1995) and (1998), Chapters One and Six.
BROWN Reading Indian music: 17th-century European travel-writing and the (re)construction of Indian music 11

India (203),16 a trend that continued to an extent under Aurangzeb. However, as

European power and autonomy increased, and the Mughal empire began to
expand into South India where the majority of the European trading stations
were located, a more confrontational attitude towards those who posed a threat
to European interests became apparent in the travel journals. For this reason, a
metaphorical battle between European military music and the naubat seems to
have been fought through the medium of the late journals. Paradoxically, the
growth in diplomatic relations and trade in the seventeenth century also
produced a certain amount of musical rapprochement between Europe and
India. At the end of the century, when fear of the Muslim threat was reflected
more strongly in the travel literature than ever before, this musical encounter
became somewhat controversial.

Musical rivalry
Judging by the frequency with which the Indo-Persian authors mentioned the
naubat as a symbol of imperial might and victory in battle, the Mughals were
fully aware of the implications of power contained in this particular use of
music. Taken with the Emperor wherever he went, the naubat was allocated its
own room situated prominently at the entrance to the imperial fortress or camp
(Wade 1998:5). In addition, as representatives of the Emperor, regional
governors were provided with their own set of instruments as a sign of delegated
authority (Bruton 1812:262), which were used in maintaining law and order
(Fryer 1909–15:246). The granting of the kettle-drum (naqqâra) represented the
particular favour of the Emperor, and was bestowed only by his express
command (for example Khafi Khan 1977:57; Nagar 1978:94). In a letter to one
of his sons, Aurangzeb demonstrated an almost superstitious belief in the link
between the naqqâra and the inheritance of imperial qualities: “Issue an order
that the drum of victory will be beaten in your own name. You may remember
the words uttered by you in your childhood ‘Babaji, dhun, dhun’” (1972:45).
The Mughal general Mirza Nathan, 17 himself a recipient of the imperial kettle-
drum, described at length a struggle for precedence between himself and
Mukarram Khan, the commander-in-chief of the army. While Mukarram Khan
was legally entitled to sound drums and trumpets to announce the start of the
march, he had not himself been personally favoured by the Emperor. Mirza
Nathan therefore demanded that honour. It appears from Nathan’s account that
all parties involved in the dispute were aware that this battle was a metaphorical
power struggle between the protagonists (1936:224–8).
In the first part of the century, the travel writers were certainly impressed
by the grandeur and symbolic might of the naubat:

16 Although Shah Jahan expelled the Portuguese from Hughli in 1631, the Dutch, English
and French quickly replaced them (Richards 1993:202).
17 Mainly during the reign of Jahangir, but also under Shah Jahan.

In the night, particularly, when in bed and afar, on my terrace this

music sounds in my ears as solemn, grand and melodious. This is not to
be altogether wondered at, since it is played by persons instructed from
infancy in the rules of melody, and possessing the skill of modulating
and turning the harsh sounds of the hautboy18 and cymbal so as to
produce a symphony far from disagreeable when heard at a certain
(Bernier 1891:260)

As the century progressed, however, in response to the signal they were

receiving from the Mughals, the Europeans began to use their own military
bands as a symbol of an alternative authority. It would seem that these had an
identical function to the naubat, and that the Europeans even adopted Indian
[The Mughal] way of living is truly Noble, having a Retinue which
bespeaks their Greatness as they rise in Fortune or the King’s Grace …
However, for the English Honour be it spoke, none of them surpass the
Grandeur of our East-India Company, who not only command, but
oblige their utmost Respect; none of their Servants showing
themselves in Publick without a Company answerable to theirs …
When the Chief made his Entry at his Return from the Fort, it was very
Pompous, all the Merchants of Esteem going to meet him with loud
Indian Musick and Led-Horses: Before his Palankeen an Horse of
State, and two St George’s Banners, with English Trumpeters.
(Fryer 1909–15:87)

That the Europeans were perceived by the Mughals to be a threat is

demonstrated by the fact that the Governor of Surat in the 1670s “actually
forbad our three agencies to blow trumpets, as was the custom, during their
meals, or even in the streets when the chiefs of the Company went into the
town” (Carré 1947:149). As the European companies colluded in ignoring this
ban,19 I would argue that they now perceived themselves as rivals to the
Mughals, not only in cultural supremacy, but also in political stature in India.
This is seen further in the difference between the two official embassies to
Jahangir and Aurangzeb, by Sir Thomas Roe (1615–19) and Sir William Norris
(1699–1702). As Woodfield has demonstrated, music was used by Roe mainly
as a diplomatic tool in order to win trading favours (1990:54–7). In contrast,
nearly a century later, Norris engaged in a battle with the Mughal hierarchy to

18 In this context, Bernier is referring to the karnâ, a large brass trumpet (1891:260).
Hautboy in descriptions of the naubat often refers not to the wooden shawm (shenai or
surnâ) as would be expected, but to the karnâ, mainly because of its similar shape to the
European hautboy (Brown, 1999:16–17).
19 “Our three nations [English, Dutch and French] resolved not to send him any more
presents, nor to visit him, nor show him any courtesy” (Carré 1947:149).
BROWN Reading Indian music: 17th-century European travel-writing and the (re)construction of Indian music 13

be permitted to display and sound English military symbols in his state visit to
the Grand Wazir, Asad Khan. In correspondence conducted via the Wazir’s
Secretary, Norris stipulated that he must be attended by his own kettle-drums
and trumpets. This request was refused. Furious, Norris replied that the
Mughals were ignorant of the honour and respect due to him, as he was subject
only to the King of England. Asad Khan pointed out that even the Emperor’s
sons were not permitted to sound the drums. This matter was never resolved,
and Norris left without visiting Asad Khan, instead going directly to the
Emperor’s camp (Das 1959:270–4). An astute and culturally sensitive diplomat,
it is difficult to believe that Norris was not aware of the potential offence of his
stand. There are numerous descriptions of Norris adopting Mughal customs in
order to please his host country (136), even celebrating the birthday of King
William III in Mughal style (174). Moreover, in an earlier incident Norris
showed that he was fully aware that he had been accorded a higher status than
the Dutch Chief when he cunningly negotiated permission for his military band
to attend him on a visit to Nawab Mahdi Khan (150–1). These battles over
musical symbols can be construed as being symptomatic of the growing power
of Europe in India and the consequent rise in tension.

Musical rapprochement
Musical encounter between Europeans and Indians was not always conflictual,
especially in the first half of the century. It must be remembered that the
number of Europeans in India was still relatively small throughout the century.
However, their numerical strength was arguably outweighed by their influence
as a comparatively wealthy and potentially powerful elite. There are numerous
appreciative descriptions of musicians and instruments in the context of
wedding processions, religious festivals, funerals, temples and especially court
entertainments. Skilled courtesans and accompanists in particular appear
frequently in the travel literature, suggesting that the Indian elites used them as
well as the naubat to impress their guests. Even a traveller as ill-disposed
towards the Indians as Abbé Carré (1672–4) was able to appreciate this music:
[After supper] a troop of instrument-players then entered, and sat down
in a corner of the room, while at the same time came a dozen of
courtesans … Their agility and charm, the rhythm of their voices, and
their skill in showing their passions by their gestures, were all absolutely
perfect. They were really wonderful, and were much applauded by the
guests and praised by the Governor [of Hukeri, Bijapur].
(Carré 1947:232)
The European ambassadors often returned the musical compliment of their
Muslim hosts. To entertain the Persian Governor of “Schamachie” in 1637,
Adam Olearius (1636–8) provided a violinist, a bass viol player, and a singer.
The Governor was apparently “so taken therewith, that he importuned the
Ambassadors to go & sup with him at the castle, and to bring their Musick

along with them” (Olearius 1669:157). Further evidence of a musical

rapprochement between the Indo-Muslim and European cultures is found in a
number of references to European patronage of Indian music, both in India and
Persia. On 25 September 1637, the English ambassadors in Esfahan entertained
the ambassadors of the Duke of Holstein with Indian instrumentalists and
women dancers (Olearius 1669:206). 20 John Albert de Mandelslo (1636–8) was
entertained in the same way, again by the English, in Surat in 1638 (1669:22),
and implied that it was common in European circles to patronize both English
musicians and Indian courtesans simultaneously (47).
Perhaps more significantly, Pietro della Valle’s account (1622–4) provides
the only incontrovertible evidence of which I am aware that Europeans were
also patrons of Indian classical music. In the late 1620s, at the house of Dutch
merchants in Surat, Pietro della Valle was entertained
by the excellent music of an Indian who sang quite well and played on a
certain odd instrument of his, used in India. This pleased me greatly,
because it was not strident music like the ordinary playing of the common
Indians, but low-voiced and very soft; and the musician was skilful
according to the mode of the country, since for many years he had been at
the courts of Bijapur, in the service of ‘Adil Shah … [there follows a
remarkable description of a bîn, included in Bor’s catalogue (1988)]
(della Valle 1989:243–4)

This passage demonstrates that some of the European residents of India, with
their wealth and perceived status, were fulfilling a social role in India approaching
in importance that of a noted connoisseur of music such as ‘Adil Shah of
Bijapur. Furthermore, by mentioning the musician’s skilfulness “according to
the mode of the country” and comparing the music of a royal employee with
that of the “common Indians”, 21 it indicates that they were clearly capable of
discriminating between different genres and statuses of Indian music.
This appreciation of foreign music extended further to the patronage of
European musicians by the Indian elites (for example Woodfield 1990:48, 56).
In Norris’s dealings with Aurangzeb, the English ambassador used as a

20 Della Valle also records being entertained by Indian musicians, specifically women
dancers, in Persia (1989:206). It is important to note that out of a population of 500,000 in
Esfahan in the 1630s, 12,000 or 2.5% were Indians, according to Olearius (1669:200). This
would have been a substantial community, and given that they were mostly traders (della
Valle 1989:128), they would certainly have had the means to maintain a number of
musicians. Given also that there was still a large and influential Persian community in India,
especially in the Deccan, I would suggest that some sort of dynamic musical rapprochement
between the Persian and Indian communities continued well into the seventeenth century. It
is likely that contact between Persian and Indian musicians was reduced from the 1640s
when relations between India and Persia soured (Ahmad 1964:40).
21 This comment about the “strident music” of the “common Indians” refers to an earlier
incident: “after nightfall that evening, we heard music at home, provided by some
Mohammedan women singers and dancers … their music, being so loud, was distasteful
rather than delightful” (della Valle 1989:224).
BROWN Reading Indian music: 17th-century European travel-writing and the (re)construction of Indian music 15

translator “Johannes Pottvleet a ffleminge Musitian to Osman Dara” (Das

1959:211). Moreover, it seems that this extended to the learning of European
instruments by Indian musicians. Jahangir, for example, was most impressed
with the cornetto playing of Robert Trully, and ordered him to teach one of his
own musicians how to play it (Woodfield 1990:52). Furthermore, bands of
Indian musicians playing in (what they perceived to be) European style were
also established by the 1670s:
The Dutch [in Golconda] employ … a fine troop of musicians. These
are poor Christians from Kanara, near Goa. They had passed their
youth in slavery with some Portuguese nobles, where they had learnt to
strum a guitar and sing some airs, almost as melodious as penitential
psalms … I had this diversion at all our meals. One tortured a harp,
another strummed a guitar, a third scraped on a violin, and two others,
having no other instruments but their voices, joined in with the rest in
such a way that one could not listen to their harmonies without pity and
compassion. There was nothing but repetition of helás, háa, híns, hús,
and such like sounds, which lasted about quarter of an hour. After the
meal, they came and asked me proudly what I thought of their fine
concert, and enquired if we had anything so charming and agreeable in
our European countries. ‘No,’ I replied, ‘we certainly have nothing like
it, and I can assure you that, if in France we had a troop like yours, we
would enjoy it with much more pleasure and amusement than all the
tunes we use. But what of it? Every country has its own modes.’ They
were so delighted at hearing me speak in this manner that they
imagined they were the best musicians in the world.22
(Carré 1947:350–1)

It had been quite common at the height of Portuguese power in the

sixteenth century to teach European instruments and styles to Indians under
Portuguese rule, and the most straightforward reading of this anecdote would be
that the musicians were performing European music. However, Carré’s
description of the music strongly suggests that he did not recognize it as
European. The distinct possibility of an Indian band performing a hybrid

22 It is a little difficult to determine in context whether these musicians were in fact Indian,
as the passage follows on from a description of the Christians in Golconda, who were
apparently “mostly Portuguese”. However, Carré seems to have regarded Goa as part of
Portugal, and therefore all Goans as Portuguese; hence the musicians “finding nothing to
attract them in their own country [i.e. Goa/Europe], they visit the oriental courts [i.e.
Golconda/India]” (350). Moreover, he pointed out that the musicians were originally from
Kanara, not Goa, and he certainly did not refer to the musicians as being European. On the
contrary, he refused to “grant them a favour for one of their own countrymen … the
miserable Canarin, who had occasioned such a turmoil by abandoning my baggage” (351).
Lach and van Kley argue that Hindus who converted to Christianity through the Portuguese
were regarded by other Indians as Parangis – foreigners – and especially as Portuguese
(1993:150). I have thus surmised that the musicians were Indian.

Europeanized music would be a further twist in the tale of musical

entanglement between the two cultures. All the evidence of the travel journals
thus seems to indicate a widespread musical rapprochement between India and
Europe throughout the century.
However, there is an alternative explanation for Carré’s inference that this
music is not European. It also provides a fascinating demonstration of the
reason for choosing a particular musical story, as well as the means of
constructing it to make a non-musical point. Even if the music did conform to
the norms of contemporary European performance practice, the nationality of
the musicians might have disturbed Carré’s sense of the separateness and
superiority of Europeans. For this reason, he made it clear to his readers that an
unbridgeable distance existed between himself and the indigenous musicians.
The inflection of the passage is highly ironic, even sarcastic, suggesting the
utter contemptibility of the subjects of the story. This sarcasm is focused on the
quality of the music produced by the subjects, a music that is “piteous”, causing
the music to become an analogy of supplication. Carré further emphasized the
musicians’ role as despicable supplicants and his own as omnipotent benefactor
by using music as a rhetorical device to describe their requests to him on behalf
of a friend:
Never had they played a tune with more vigour than that which they
now employed in importuning me to grant their supplications … He
himself also took a part in this concert … he cried and wailed in such a
way that at last, to get rid of this music, I was obliged to tell him that he
could come with us if he liked.

Whether or not the music performed by the “poor Christians from Kanara”
was recognizably European in style, the import of Carré’s musical anecdote
seems clear. In his eyes, it was unacceptable for Indians to attempt to perform
European music. Presumably many Europeans disagreed with this – the Dutch
patrons of the musicians, for example. However, Carré’s antagonism towards
this music and its performers suggests that musical interaction between Indians
and Europeans in the last quarter of the seventeenth century was at the very
least controversial. I would further suggest that his jeering indicated a fear of
blurring the distinction between the two communities. This tension between
curiosity about and enthusiasm for Indian culture, and the need to bolster a
sense of identification with European interests, became a more strident theme in
the portrayal of Indian women musicians.

Fear and fantasy: Indian women musicians

The names of important male musicians such as Khushhal Khan Kalawant
found their way into many seventeenth-century Indo-Persian chronicles (Khafi
Khan 1977:161). However, written references to female musicians and dancers
BROWN Reading Indian music: 17th-century European travel-writing and the (re)construction of Indian music 17

seem to treat them as little more than metaphors for wealth or celebration. It is
perhaps surprising therefore that they should be so prominent, compared with
male musicians, in the European travel literature. From the travellers’
observations, it seems that female dancers and musicians performed extensively
in public throughout the seventeenth century. In fact, it may be that for
Europeans, women performers formed the main point of close encounter with
Indian culture. However, we need to be very careful that we do not place too
much importance on the role of women musicians in Mughal society on the
basis of the frequency of their appearance in the travel literature. Suleri argues
that the European “will to cultural description” was in fact an attempt to control
the threat of India to European identity (1992:7). This can be seen in the
ambivalent portrayal of the woman musician or dancer in travel-writing. On
one hand, she was the subject of detailed, often admiring, observation. On the
other, the writers were often repelled by her, regarding her almost invariably as
a whore from whom they needed aggressively to distance themselves. This
extreme reaction to the female Indian musician may partially have been caused
by a fear of her symbolic power to subvert the dominant position of the
observer and to threaten his identity (Suleri 1992:2–6) – firstly as a woman, and
secondly as a symbol of India.

The problem of women’s music

Throughout the Renaissance, and particularly in England and France c.
1550–1640, the so-called “Woman Question” debate produced hundreds of
publications arguing the relative virtue or vice of women. In this debate, both
women and music were usually linked inextricably with the arousal of love,
human and divine (Austern 1994:52). Because it was deemed possible for
music to have spiritual benefits, the performance of music in woman’s
approved sphere – the private domestic setting under the control of her husband
– might be considered an acceptable female activity. However, woman’s
irrational and sensual nature meant that a woman who performed music in
public became enhanced in her sexual power, and was therefore a moral threat
to the men who observed her (58). Teltscher argues that the “Woman Question”
was a major factor in the construction of European travellers’ conceptions of
Indian women’s virtue or vice, their chastity and submission, and their sexual
appetite (1997:37). This has obvious implications for the portrayal of Indian
women musicians in published travel accounts.

Kanchani, domni, and the intersection of male and female

The association between women, music and love was prevalent in Mughal
thought as well (Khafi Khan 1977:19). According to al Faruqi, the dual nature
of women’s music (domestic versus sensuous) also appears in Muslim tradition.
Genres associated with the family, such as wedding music, have traditionally

been regarded as legitimate; however, any music performed in a sensuous

context such as those of “drugs, alcohol, lust or prostitution” has usually been
censured (1985:10–12). A link between the music of courtesans, lust, drugs and
alcohol was widely drawn in Indo-Persian sources. The Mughal Emperors
before Aurangzeb, however, being less strict in their application of Muslim
traditions and law, were enthusiastic patrons of courtesans: 23
[Nauruz 1606:] Dancing lulis [lalni] and charmers of India whose
caresses would captivate the hearts of angels kept up the excitement of
the assemblies. I gave orders that whoever might wish for intoxicating
drinks and exhilarating drugs should not be debarred from using them.
(Jahangir 1909:48–9)

Nevertheless, it seems that the courtesan remained a controversial figure:

[Dara] was very fond of music and dancing, and once fell in love with
a public dancing-girl named Ranadel (Ra’na-dil). His love was so
violent that when his father [Shah Jahan] refused his consent to a
marriage with her, the prince began to pine to death … Seeing this …
Shahjahan was obliged to accord permission for the marriage.
(Manucci 1907: vol. iii, 222)

There are a number of stories about forbidden love for dancing girls in the Indo-
Persian chronicles (Wade 1998:84–6) which corroborate the suggestion here
that the Mughals perceived it to be scandalous to actually marry a practising
The dancing girl’s controversial status may have led Aurangzeb to decree
that all “dancing-women” must give up music and marry, according to the
account of Niccolao Manucci (1653–1708). This story forms part of perhaps the
most famous musical anecdote of the seventeenth century. According to
Manucci’s version, Aurangzeb, being a sternly devout Muslim, ordered that all
music be banned throughout the Empire. In protest, “one thousand” musicians
organized a funeral procession for Music. “Report was made to the king, who
quite calmly remarked that they should pray for the soul of Music, and see that
she was thoroughly well buried” (1907: vol. ii, 8). According to Khafi Khan in
the Muntakhab-al-Lubab, the banning of music was decreed in the tenth regnal
year, i.e. c. 1668, while others (e.g. Wade 1998:187) suggest the ban occurred
some time after this. The usual interpretation – that “the prohibition against
music applied to all” for the duration of Aurangzeb’s reign (Wade 1998:187) – is
naïve according to Delvoye (1994:117–18). Manucci and Khafi Khan were both

23 I will use the term “courtesan” in this paper to refer to women who provided both musical
and sexual entertainment; all other terms, such as “women musicians” I will use inclusively
to cover both those who were courtesans and those who were not. The term “prostitute” I
would usually construe as referring to women who derive their main income from sexual
entertainment – in the minds of the travellers, a woman’s musicianship alone might warrant
her such a (pejorative) label.
BROWN Reading Indian music: 17th-century European travel-writing and the (re)construction of Indian music 19

fiercely antagonistic towards Aurangzeb. That some sort of ban occurred seems
the most reasonable explanation of the number of times this anecdote is
repeated. However, according to Khafi Khan’s own account, the ban was very
inefficiently policed, and does not seem to have lasted long (Lari “Azad”
1990:210). Although I do not have space to present a full rebuttal, my contention
is that Aurangzeb withdrew only his personal patronage of music for religious
reasons (although this would have had important symbolic significance).24
Confusingly, Manucci himself later described in great detail the role of
women musicians and dancers in the imperial court after the supposed ban
(1907: vol. ii, 336). The most likely explanation of this apparent contradiction is
that the women who performed inside Aurangzeb’s harem and outside it were
functionally distinct, maintaining the separation of domestic/female and public /
male spheres. Despite Wade’s assertion that female dancers customarily “crossed
the gender boundaries” (1998:84), there is considerable evidence to suggest that
this role was ordinarily confined to a particular caste of female musician, the
domni, who was not a sexual entertainer, who entered the public, male sphere
from the female sphere and not vice versa, and even then only at specific times
of celebration involving both sexes, such as weddings and birth festivities.
François Bernier (1656–68) suggested that:
Shah Jahan … transgressed the bounds of decency in admitting at those
times [birthday weighing] into the seraglio singing and dancing girls
called Kenchens … Aurang-Zebe is more serious than his father; he
forbids the Kenchens to enter the seraglio; but complying with long
established usage, does not object to their coming every Wednesday to
the Am-Kas [throne room].
(Bernier 1891:273–4)

The primary profession of kanchani in Lucknow after Aurangzeb’s death,

according to Sharar, was prostitution (1989:146). 25 Hasan states unequivocally
that in Awadh “the entry of the courtesan was banned in the female quarters”.
The domni, on the other hand, were not courtesans until at least the late
eighteenth century. Moreover, “whenever there were any joyous celebrations,
ceremonies or festivals, the domni was the chief performer inside the female
quarters whereas the courtesan was the main entertainer in the male
apartments.” (Hasan 1990:74–6) This seems to have been the case even in the
1620s, according to Francisco Pelsaert (1620–7):

24 This is the interpretation offered by the Mughal historian Bakhta’war Khan in the Mir-A’t-i
’Alam (Elliott and Dowson 1877:157–8); it is interesting also that one of Aurangzeb’s own
sons, Mohammed ‘Azam Shah, was famous for his musicianship (KBOPL 1977: vol. xiii,
no. 690), and that his long-standing Grand Wazir, Asad Khan, was also a noted music-lover
(Khan 1911:279). I intend to argue this subject at length in forthcoming work.
25 Courtesans from Delhi and the Panjab. Kanchani are still active in the Panjab as
courtesans today (Manuel 1989:48).

[The women] go into the female apartments, where there is music,

singing, and dancing, as there is before the men … It is the custom at all
weddings and feasts to call in these people for the guests’ entertainment.
There are many classes of dancers, among them lolonies, 26 who are
descended from courtesans who have come from Persia to India, and
sing only in Persian; and a second class, domnis, who sing in
Hindustani, and whose songs are considered more beautiful, more
amorous, more profound than those of the Persians, while their tunes
are superior; they dance, too, to the rhythm of the songs with a kind of
swaying of the body which is not lascivious, but rather modest.
(Pelsaert 1925:81)

Unless Pelsaert was repeating second-hand information, it would appear that he

was an eyewitness to a celebration including domni. This would have been
impossible if they were always confined to the zanana. As performers for the
harem, however, and particularly as possible residents in Aurangzeb’s zanana
(Manucci 1907: vol. ii, 336), it is unlikely that domni in the seventeenth
century performed a sexual function.

European perceptions and the confusion of the spheres

I would suggest that their public status might explain why Peter Mundy
(1628–34) classed the domni as courtesans. Apparently, “Lullenees [lalni],
Harcanees [harakni], Kenchanees [kanchani] and Doomenees [domni] (all
whores though not in soe publique a manner) beinge of several Castes and use
different manner of musicke”, performed “at solemne feastes” in Agra (Mundy
1909–36: vol. ii, 216). The social distinction between different types of female
musicians was also denied by the other travel writers. Despite their awareness
of several different castes, most of them argued that all women performing
music were basically prostitutes. Moreover, in sharp contrast to the role of the
woman musician in Indo-Persian accounts, where she often represented
liberality, strength and prosperity, some writers, Manucci in particular, had a
vested interest in portraying all women musicians as sexually available in order
to reinforce the stereotype of the Emperor as a weak and hypocritical Oriental
ruler. According to Manucci, Aurangzeb, apparently “good and holy to look at,
but in reality an ill-doer and devil” (1907: vol. iii, 253):
grew very fond of one of the dancing-women in his harem, and …
neglected for some time his prayers and his austerities, filling up his
days with music and dances; and going even farther, he enlivened

26 These would appear to be the musicians referred to by Jahangir above, and their name
(Persian meaning “public singer”) suggests they performed music primarily in the public
(masculine) sphere, and almost certainly provided sexual entertainment as well. It is less likely
that they were in fact incumbents of the harem, with Jahangir ignoring the conventions.
BROWN Reading Indian music: 17th-century European travel-writing and the (re)construction of Indian music 21

himself with wine, which he drank at the insistence of the said dancing
girl. The dancer died, and Aurangzeb made a vow never to drink wine
again nor to listen to music. 27
(1907: vol. iii, 231)

Manucci in fact used his description of the women musicians in the zanana
deliberately to make the point that “their only occupation, outside the duties of
their office, [is] lewdness” (1907: vol. ii, 336). Many other observations were
unreservedly prurient:
[In Shahjahanabad there] is a Maumetan College for whores, with four
hundred Prostitutes as professors, who carry on the infamous practices
enjoined by their obscene Alcoran [Qur’ân!], also performing as
singers and dancers for the recreation and enjoyment of that Maumetan
barbarity [the Mughal court].
(Manrique 1926–7:161)

This seems explicitly designed not just to denounce the weakness of the
Mughal rulers, but in addition to associate Muslim government and law with
lasciviousness and decadence. Thus, by the first half of the seventeenth century
the figure of the woman musician began to represent the essence of Muslim
India in European thought.28

The quintessential other: India as courtesan

The Oriental woman in the harem, with all the attendant illicit male fantasies
she conjured up, had been stereotypical shorthand for the Orient since the
Renaissance (Teltscher 1997:40). According to Said, the language used by
Europeans to describe the Orient, trying to control cultures it found difficult to
understand, sexualized the Orient by putting it in the subordinate, feminine
position, but making it simultaneously seductive, mysterious and promising
(1978:222). The Oriental woman thus became a matter of both obsession and
identity crisis for the European travel writer. Her presence in the harem, hidden
from the European gaze, subverted his traditional means of retaining his
dominant position – his right as a man to observe the woman, and as a European
to observe the Indian (Teltscher 1997:38). The conundrum of an Indian woman
performing music in public made such a figure doubly dangerous. Through her
public sexuality and her foreignness, her dual “otherness”, she threatened the
traveller both as a man and as a European at the same time. She was thus an

27 This anecdote most probably refers to the courtesan Hira Bai “Zainabadi”, with whom
Aurangzeb fell in love when they met in Burhanpur in 1653. It seems she died nine months
later (Sarkar 1912:170–1). Manucci’s inclusion of this piece of gossip – to explain Aurangzeb’s
supposed antipathy towards music – is clearly misleading, as there is independent evidence of
Aurangzeb listening to music long after this event took place (see notes 5 and 20).
28 See also Farrell (1997).

obvious target for an attempt to contain the Oriental threat by describing her
and dismissing her via the medium of travel literature.
The female musician was clearly an enticing character for the European
traveller. In a number of journals, the frustration caused by the lack of access to
the forbidden pleasures of the harem is evident in the language used to refer to
the music of other men’s wives:
I have been ravished in those silent seasons with the sweet echo, or
reflection thereof from a fair distance, and kept waking hours together,
listening to them, anticipating (in my desires) the new moons, which
they constantly thus celebrate [see p.12 of this article].
(Farewell 1971:41)

The public courtesan, on the other hand, resident “in every Town”
(Navarette 1960–2:319), and patronized by Europeans, Indian merchants (Das
Jain 1981:12), independent rulers (Carré 1947:232), and lesser servants of the
Mughal Empire (Nathan 1936:626), must have provided much more blatant
proof of “Maumetan sensuality and wickedness” (Manrique 1926–7:219). The
fact that she was fully on display meant that the writers could describe her and
“possess” her (Teltscher 1997:38) in obsessive detail. However, many accounts
demonstrated a degree of awkwardness about the encounter. In some cases, this
appears to have been due to a particular traveller’s professional status:
As an agreeable and cheering form of dessert to this feast, twelve
dancing girls now came in, whose lascivious and suggestive dress,
immodest behaviour and posturing, were suited to Maumetan
sensuality and wickedness … [A] pretext served to excuse me from
joining those Maumetan feasts where, in some of them one witnesses
sights little suited to Christians, and still less to priests.
(Manrique 1926–7:219, 222)

Often an apparently admiring description ends dismissively: “Though this

entertainment was most sumptuous and conducted with much eclat and
magnificence, I have never enjoyed a feast less” (Carré 1947:232). Perhaps
many of the travel writers felt the need to stress to their readers their physical
and symbolic distance from the women they were describing because “the loss
of self in sex [or even the suggestion of sex through music] with a foreigner
would become a loss of national identity” (Teltscher 1997:50).
Furthermore, more than one writer referred to the presence of “husbands”
who played instruments to accompany the dance, thus symbolizing masculine
control over this dangerous juxtaposition of women and music (Austern
1994:57). One account, however, suggests a subversion of masculine control in
the context of the performance:
There were brought six young Women, whereof some had their
Husbands with them, who also either Danc’d or Play’d upon Violins …
[the women] had above the instep of the foot a string, ty’d with little
BROWN Reading Indian music: 17th-century European travel-writing and the (re)construction of Indian music 23

Bells fastened thereto, whereby they discovered the exactness of their

Cadence, and sometimes corrected the Musick itself; as they did also
by the Tzarpanes or Castagnettes, which they had in their hands.29
(Olearius 1669:206)

Hence, the performance of music and dance by Indian women before a

European audience was both ambiguous and threatening because, although the
women were under the observation of men, their performance subverted the
norms of masculine control through a combination of feminine control of the
musical material, and the open representation of their sexual power. Because
the figure of the woman musician to some extent represented India, her
performance may have suggested subliminally the possibility of Indian power
over Europe, if Europe were to succumb to her exotic charms.

Using musical stories to reconstruct musical history

When musical descriptions are viewed in the light of the circumstances of their
construction, certain interpretative guidelines can be developed. The first is that
we have to be very careful not to read the frequency with which a musical
subject was mentioned by European travellers as an indicator of its indigenous
importance. The second is that we must be cautious in our treatment of
European interpretations of cultural meaning, or even the function of what they
saw and heard. Instead, we must use our knowledge of seventeenth-century
worldviews and the conventions of story-telling in the travel literature to guide
our analysis. It is thereby possible to establish whether and how their
perceptions conflict with or complement indigenous sources.30 While this will
inevitably expose some of the travellers’ misreadings of musical meaning,
fortuitously the travel writers’ obsession with particular musical subjects also
provides us with unique details that might assist a partial (re)construction of the
musico-cultural complex of seventeenth-century Indian music. I will briefly
demonstrate this with regard to female dancers and musicians.
In the travel literature there is some indication of the extent to which
Persianate culture continued to influence and synthesize with Indian musical
genres. Using only pictorial evidence, Wade suggests that “the Turki female
dancers constitute a presence which is entirely different from that of the Indian
dancers … While the Indian dancers are likely to wear ankle-bells, the Turki
dancers almost always use castanets for rhythmic punctuation” (Wade
1998:86–7). Olearius’s description of a dance performance in the 1630s (above)

29 Male instrumentalists accompanying female dancers are a common feature in Mughal

miniature paintings (see the “Gallery Section” of Wade 1998).
30 Which, incidentally, need to be subjected to the same interpretative process as the
European sources, as the Indo-Persian sources were also inevitably affected by the
circumstances of their production. In other words, the Indian sources are just as “biased” as
the European sources, but reflecting a different set of worldviews.

contradicts her conclusion, observing that Indian dancers in Persia used both
ankle-bells and castanets at the same time. While this may have been a specific
response to the exigencies of having to earn a living in a foreign country, it is
conceivable that these musicians would have transported this synthesized form
of dance back to India. Another example of the increasing synthesis of
Persianate and Indian culture was in the decreasing popularity at Muslim
celebrations of the Persian songs of the “Lolonies” described by Pelsaert in the
1620s, and the heightened desirability of the Hindustani songs of the domni.
From the European travellers we learn something about the social customs
and status of courtesans. A number of journals observed that certain castes,
rather than being paid by the local ruler, were obliged to “pay him a yearly tax,
which they extract from others who wish to employ them” (Carré 1947:232).
Courtesans were clearly important to the local economy on a wider scale. Jean-
Baptiste Tavernier (1641–67) observed that the Shah of Golconda allowed
courtesans to remain in the city at least partially because the popular drink
associated with their entertainments, târî, was subject to a large tax from which
the Shah derived considerable revenue (1925:128). Certain castes of courtesans,
in particular kanchani, also received payment from the Emperor (Aurangzeb)
for their performances (Manucci 1907: vol. i, 189), and did not necessarily
engage in extra-musical activities (Navarette 1960–2:319).
There are a number of invaluable detailed descriptions of women musicians
during celebratory events, including instruments, dance movements, costume,
and setting. Tavernier, for example, wrote that the courtesans in the service of
the Shah of Golconda:
have so much suppleness and are so agile that when the King who
reigns at present wished to visit Masulipatam, nine of them very
cleverly represented the form of an elephant, four making the four feet,
four others the body, and one the trunk, and the King, mounted above
on a kind of throne, in that way made his entry into the town.
(Tavernier 1925:128)

However, the most important piece of musical information taken from a

European source of this period lies in Peter Mundy’s sketch and eyewitness
account of a “banquett” in Agra in 1632 (see Figure 4).31 The musical ensemble
described here – frame drum, a singer clapping the tal, barrel drum,32 and small
tal-keeping cymbals – is consistent with the evidence of seventeenth-century
Mughal paintings (see Wade 1998:89–90). What is most important to note is
Mundy’s reference to the Diapason. My interpretation of this scene is that, apart

31 It is important to note that this sketch may not have been taken from life (Mundy
1909–36: vol. i, 4)
32 This is being played standing up, hanging around the neck of the drummer. It is most
likely that the barrel-shaped drum mentioned so frequently in the travel accounts is the
pakhâwaj; for example “The Indian Timbrels are two foot long, but broader in the middle
than at the extremities, much after the fashion of our Barrels. They hang them around their
Necks, and play on them with their fingers” (Olearius 1669:206).
BROWN Reading Indian music: 17th-century European travel-writing and the (re)construction of Indian music 25

Figure 4 Peter Mundy’s sketch and description of a “Mimmannee”, or banquet, Agra,

1632 (Mundy 1914–36: vol.ii, 217)

from the Diapason, the musicians and dancers sing in unison. According to the
Concise Oxford Dictionary, the secondary definition of diapason is “a fixed
standard of musical pitch”. In other words, it is probable that the Diapason is a
drone instrument. While Wade extrapolates from Mughal miniatures the
widespread use of a pitch referent by the reign of Shah Jahan, she offers no
documentary evidence to support her conclusions (1998:195–8). If I have
interpreted Mundy correctly, this is one of the earliest known pieces of written
evidence for the use of the drone in Indian music. 33

In this study of Indian music seen through European eyes in the seventeenth
century, I have argued that stories were constructed around Indian music as part
of a European attempt to understand their place in the world. Because of this, it
is necessary to question the ethnographic assumptions of the travellers in order
for our own (re)constructions of Indian music history to relate meaningfully to
the musical reality of the period. Attracted by the country he encountered, and
afraid of the threat it represented, the traveller chose to describe the naubat and
the female musician in his musical stories, both public musical representatives
of Mughal wealth and power. Stories about music could be used to assert the
cultural and political superiority of Europeans, and the vast distance that lay
between them and the Indians. On the other hand, both the Indians and
Europeans used music to impress one another, and thus music could be a
metaphor for mutual appreciation and the mingling of cultures. Eventually,
India would itself become symbolized by music, as the exotic figure of the
Oriental dancing girl.
Taken as a whole, the travel literature also tells us a great deal about the
instruments used in the naubat ensemble and to accompany women musicians,
including construction, sound, the context and content of performance, and
their reception. They also reveal valuable information about the social status
and economic importance of courtesans, and especially the existence,
popularity and functions of different castes of female musicians and dancers. It
would seem that the patronage of Indian musicians by Europeans and vice versa
was widespread, and that Indian musicians at least began to play European
instruments, possibly even developing hybrid styles. On the other hand, Indian
instruments were adopted into the military bands of the Europeans, which were
used in Mughal style. The travel literature also provides documentary evidence
of the continuing contact between Indian and Persian musicians, especially in
Esfahan. Moreover, it also confirms that music continued to be important in the

33 It may be the earliest known so far from any source, Sanskrit, Persian or European.
According to John Greig in his study of Sanskrit and Persian treatises from the sixteenth and
seventeenth centuries, “At no time is a drone mentioned anywhere in theoretical treatises on
music, and, in fact, there is no indigenous word to describe the phenomenon” (1987:16–17).
BROWN Reading Indian music: 17th-century European travel-writing and the (re)construction of Indian music 27

Mughal sphere right through Aurangzeb’s reign, contrary to popular belief,

particularly in the Deccan.
This small study of European perspectives on seventeenth-century Indian
music, by focussing solely on published travel literature, has done little more
than scratch the surface of the available documents. The case of Francisco
Pelsaert’s account opens up many new possibilities. Unlike nearly all the other
literature surveyed here (see below), his private report did not enter the public
domain until after his death, and much of it remained unpublished until the
twentieth century. It was therefore not “improved” for public consumption by
the author. Although the musical content of his journal is small, it contains a
unique and most valuable detailed description of the role of different classes of
women musicians at wedding celebrations. It may be that other unpublished
documents, perhaps written by European patrons of Indian music with
significant experience of its cultural context, still exist in the archives. In
combination with much-needed critical studies of the indigenous texts, these
would certainly alter significantly the partial, but nevertheless valuable, picture
of music in seventeenth-century India presented in this article.

The travellers
Unless otherwise stated, the information presented here is taken from editors’
introductions to the travel journals, and the travellers’ own writings. Dates in
round brackets indicate the duration of their travels in India; those in square
brackets indicate the date of first publication.
François Bernier (1656–68) [1670–1] was a French physician, intellectual,
and independent traveller, and a disciple of the philosopher Pierre Gassendi. In
India he was employed by Dara Shikoh as his private physician, and then by
Aurangzeb’s secretary of state for foreign affairs, Danishmand Khan, to instruct
him on philosophical and political developments in Europe. Bernier’s journal,
almost certainly written up on his return from India, is one of the most
important of the entire century, but is of marginal relevance to musicological
study. According to Teltscher, many of his observations were designed to
influence the internal policies of Louis XIV. She argues that his mistaken ideas
about Mughal land policies influenced the theories of oriental despotism
propounded by Karl Marx and others. He was also largely responsible for
turning Aurangzeb and Dara Shikoh into “villain” and “hero” stereotypes in the
European imagination (1997:28–34).
William Bruton (1630–7/8) [1638] was a quartermaster with the English East
India Company in Bengal. His sole claim to musicological fame was his statement
that the Indians “play most delicately out of Tune, Time and Measure” (1812:261)!
Abbé Carré (1672–4) [1699], the son of a French nobleman, was sent to India
not in his professional capacity as a priest, but as a spy on the new French East
India Company. He spoke Latin, Greek, Spanish, Portuguese, Italian, Arabic,
Persian and Urdu fluently, and probably Dutch and English as well. His factual

observations are regarded as accurate and detailed, but unfortunately he is

prone to exaggeration and I think shows little interest in anything that does not
affect European interests. It seems that Indians in positions of authority are
contemptible and to be disregarded, and those that are not are irritants, jokes, or
interesting parts of the scenery when travelling. The journal entries were
written up at the earliest months after the events they described, and the whole
manuscript may have been written after his return to France. It went through at
least two versions (1689 unpublished; 1699), seemingly with the intention of
making it more entertaining.
Pietro della Valle (1622–4) [1650] was a Roman nobleman and philosopher. He
was a highly cultured man, knowledgeable in Italian literature and law, and had a
passion for music and letters; according to Bor he was a composer, poet and
writer on music (1988:53). The original publication was an unrevised compilation
of his private letters, which were not designed to impress a popular audience.
However, according to Lach and van Kley, these letters became one of the most
popular and influential accounts of the century (1993:380). His text is very
informative, and although he is sometimes defensive about religious matters, his
descriptions are more often than not detailed, fair and discriminating. He was also
admitted to the highest levels of society, including into the presence of the Shah
of Persia. (See Gurney 1986 for a discussion of his limitations.)
Christopher Farewell (1613) [1633] was briefly a merchant with the English
East India Company. It was his stated intention even before setting sail for India
to publish an account of his adventures which would support and contribute to
the growing canon of travel literature (1971:1–2).
John Fryer (1672–81) [1698], a surgeon in the employ of the English East
India Company, was a member of the upper middle class. He obtained both an
ordinary (1664) and a medical degree (1683) at Cambridge, and became a
member of the Royal Society in 1697. Upon his return, after reading several
published accounts, he was prompted to improve and publish as a narrative
various letters he had sent home from India, in order to bolster the general
impression of India given by earlier travellers. A staunch royalist, apart from
the Hindus his particular bête noir seems to have been Puritanism, with which
he associated Islam. He spoke no Indian languages and never visited the
Mughal heartlands; thus any references to events outside his immediate
experience must be treated with caution. His scientific observations, however,
are considered to be accurate by Lach and van Kley (1993:581).
John Albert de Mandelslo (1636–8) [1645] was a page in the ambassadorial
party of Frederick, Duke of Holstein to Persia and India, and a fluent Turkish
speaker. According to Sen (the editor of Thevenot’s travels), Mandelslo relied
on the Empire of the Great Mogul by de Laet – who had never been to India –
for his descriptions of things outside his personal experience, without checking
facts or acknowledging his source (1949:xxx). Lach and van Kley, on the other
hand, argue that Olearius (see below) added substantially to Mandelslo’s
account, making it impossible to tell which sections are original, especially in
the English translation (1993:522).
BROWN Reading Indian music: 17th-century European travel-writing and the (re)construction of Indian music 29

Fray Sebastien Manrique (1629–41/3) [1649] was a Portuguese Jesuit based

in India from 1604. An educated man, he understood Latin, Spanish and Urdu
at least, and was held in some esteem by the Mughal establishment (he was
entrusted by Asaf Khan, Shah Jahan’s father-in-law, with important Mughal
business in Sind). Paradoxically, this is a fairly inconsistent account that was
written up some time after the events it describes, borrows from other published
accounts indiscriminately without acknowledgement, and relies somewhat on
hearsay. He was also very antagonistic towards religions other than
Catholicism, and towards the Mughal Emperor.
Niccolao Manucci (1653–1708) [1699–1709], who died in India in 1717, was a
self-educated Venetian adventurer whose life story sounds almost fantastic. He
stowed away on a ship bound for India in 1653, aged fourteen, and was taken
into service by the English Royalist, Viscount Bellomont. In 1656 Manucci
enlisted in Dara Shikoh’s army as an artilleryman, later becoming captain of
artillery for Raja Jai Singh of Amber. Somewhere along the way he picked up
some medical knowledge and set himself up as a physician in Lahore, c. 1670.
In 1678 he returned to the Mughal Court, became physician to Shah Alam’s
wife, and returned to the Deccan in her employ, where he fought in Aurangzeb’s
army, and went from thence to the European colonies, eventually settling in
Madras. He was not, as he seems to have told John Fryer, chief physician to
Aurangzeb for forty years (Teltscher 1997:42). His account of the Mughal
court, written several decades after the events described and full of
unsubstantiated gossip, is well worth reading, but he locates himself firmly at
the centre of the Empire, when really he was a very marginal figure in
Aurangzeb’s court for only a small proportion of his long stay in India. A
reading of his interpretation of musical events requires great care. (See notes 5,
6, and 27; and Maiello 1984.)
Peter Mundy (1628–34) [1909–36] was a ship’s captain in the English East
India Company. Distantly related to the minor English aristocracy, he was an
educated and well-read man, and his journal reveals that he was an amateur
musician. Mundy’s journal is perhaps the very best in terms of the wealth of
detail in his musical observations, his honesty and transparency, and his desire
to be open-minded and fair in his portrayal of Indian culture; the authorial voice
is rarely obvious. Nevertheless, although it remained in manuscript form until
the twentieth century, he always intended to publish his adventures, and his
travels were “written up” for publication in 1650 and 1654 from journal entries,
his memories, and other people’s writing. Moreover, this was a conscious
contribution to the genre of travel-writing, as he himself made clear in his
introduction. The Hakluyt edition includes certain journal entries made after his
return to England that demonstrate a willingness to accept totally false rumour
as fact (1909–36: vol. v, 97, 107), and Sen points out a number of borrowings
and inaccuracies in his account, such as excluding the Deccan from India (in
Thevenot 1949:xxix).
Domingo Navarette (1670) [1675], a Spanish Dominican, was a university
lecturer before becoming a missionary to China. Renowned for his learning, he

was greatly respected by the Chinese for his understanding of their culture and
his humble and humane nature. Although he was dogmatic in his religious
beliefs, he was rarely patronizing, and had a great deal of respect for the Indians
he met on his brief visit. His travels were written up as part of a longer
polemical work in Madrid, based on notes made previously. There is apparently
a constant undercurrent of censure towards what Navarette saw as royal
anarchy in Spain, which is often unfavourably compared with Asia.
Sir William Norris (1699–1702) [1959] was an English aristocrat, a classicist
who, as a Fellow of Trinity College, Cambridge from 1681, was the envoy
between the University and the King. He became MP for Liverpool in 1695 and
was sent by King William III as ambassador to Aurangzeb in order to secure
more favourable trading conditions for English merchants, a task in which he
failed. The 1959 publication is in fact a twentieth-century analysis of William
Norris’s letters and journal by Harihara Das, with extensive quotations from the
original sources. Norris’s writing is complex; although he is sometimes
contemptuous of aspects of Mughal life and policy, he is culturally sensitive
and often appreciative of Mughal culture.
Adam Olearius (1636–7) [1645] was the librarian and mathematician of
Frederick, Duke of Holstein, and was the secretary of the Duke’s embassy to the
King of Persia. He never went to India, but his excellent descriptions of Indian
musicians in Persia, and the Persian musical context, are important.
John Ovington (1689–92/3) [1696] was ordained as a priest in the Church of
England after completing his education at Dublin and Cambridge, and took up a
casual post as chaplain to the English East India Company. He seems also to
have been a proponent of the new natural sciences. Ovington’s travels in India
were confined to Bombay and Surat, and his writings on things he had not
experienced were heavily criticized by more experienced travellers. His
account, which was paid for and approved by the Company, was compiled and
published on his return.
Francisco Pelsaert (1620–7) [1627?] was a low-grade merchant in the Dutch
East India Company who rose to become senior factor in Agra. His journal was
compiled as a commercial report towards the end of his stay, possibly going
through two versions, and was not intended for a popular audience. However, the
cultural information it contains, based on extensive travel and personal contact
with Indians, is substantial. Two thirds of the report were published by the uncle
of Jean de Thevenot, and extensively quoted by other travellers at the time.
Sir Thomas Roe (1615–19) [1625] was a courtier of Elizabeth I, and MP for
Tamworth, becoming the ambassador of James I and the English East India
Company to Jahangir. As Indian music is almost entirely absent from his
narrative, this journal is of only marginal relevance to this article.
Jean-Baptiste Tavernier (1640–67) [1676–7] was a Franco-Belgian jewel
merchant whose uncle and brother were distinguished cartographers. Although
he was widely travelled and spoke many European languages, he is not known
to have spoken any Indian languages, and he was not as well educated as some
of the other independent travellers such as Bernier, who was at one stage his
BROWN Reading Indian music: 17th-century European travel-writing and the (re)construction of Indian music 31

travelling companion and a significant source of Tavernier’s information. He is

likely to have taken notes during his travels, but the account was compiled and
published on his return to France in two versions, becoming one of the most
popular travel journals of its day. From the beginning there has been a
considerable amount of controversy over how much of it was actually
Tavernier’s work, and how much should be credited to his editor, Samuel
Chappuzeau; many statements are incorrect and others confusing. However,
according to Lach and van Kley, “modern scholars” have agreed, by comparing
it with other contemporary accounts, that it is more original and accurate in
point of fact than previously thought (1993:417).
Jean de Thevenot (1666) [1664–84] the nephew of a famous geographer, was
himself a student of geography and natural science, and an independent
traveller who spoke Turkish, Arabic and Persian. He died in 1667 on his way
home from travels in Gujarat and the Deccan (he was the first European to
describe the caves at Ellora). However, as his previous travels had been
published in 1664 to popular acclaim, it can be assumed that he went to India
with the intention of publishing his adventures, a task later undertaken by
friends. Thevenot’s descriptions of his personal experiences are original and
detailed, but elsewhere he occasionally demonstrates credulity, a reliance on
hearsay, and a tendency to borrow from Bernier and Tavernier without


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Note on the author

Katherine Brown trained as a viola player, and recently completed her MMus in
Ethnomusicology at the School of Oriental and African Studies, University of
London. She is currently undertaking doctoral research on Persian manuscript
sources for Indian music during the reign of Aurangzeb, under the supervision
of Dr Richard Widdess. Address: 34 York Terrace, Cambridge, CB1 2PR;
AMENEH YOUSSEFZADEH ______________________
The situation of music in Iran since the
Revolution: the role of official

This article consists of a brief description of the politico-cultural situation of

music in Iran, of the different official organizations that govern music, and of
the importance attributed to “regional music”. The article also describes the
emergence of a new cultural policy following the election of Khâtami, the
reformist-minded president of the Islamic Republic, in May 1997. Although this
description does not claim to be exhaustive, since the political situation in the
country remains both volatile and fluid, it will give the reader a general idea of
the place of music in contemporary Iran.1

From the very beginning of the Islamic Revolution of 1979 up to the present
time, music has been the subject of fierce political and religious debate in Iran.
Its legal and social status has constantly been changing and continues to do so,
and it is still the object of various restrictions and threats because of its alleged
powers of seduction and corruption (see below).
Twenty years after the establishment of the Islamic Republic, Iran remains
the location of struggles between various socio-religious tendencies, even
among the highest authorities of the country. These conflicts naturally affect
music, and the organizations in charge of representing and supervising it. Thus,
even a powerful government organization such as the Vezârat-e farhang va

1 The article is a result of investigations made in Tehran and northern Khorasan from 1987 to
1997, within the framework of my research on the bards (bakhshi) of Iranian Khorasan
(Youssefzadeh 1997; see Figure 3). It is also based on conversations with musicians and
members of the official organizations concerned with music during field-trips to Tehran in
1999 and 2000.



ershâd-e eslâmi (Ministry of Culture and Islamic Guidance, henceforth Ershâd)

has to negotiate with other political authorities, who sometimes disregard its
decisions and authorizations.2 Indeed, opposing agendas affect all aspects of
life in the country, music hardly being an exception.

Before the Revolution

In Iran, the phenomenon of gharb-zadegi (Westernization) goes back to the
early twentieth century, under the Qâjâr dynasty – a period in which relations
with the West grew closer. Although Iranian music continued to follow its own
path of evolution, Western influences began to appear in it from the late
nineteenth century and influenced this evolution until the eve of the 1979
revolution. (Regarding Western influence on Iranian music, see Darvishi 1995;
During 1989 and Sepantâ 1990.)
There were two prevailing attitudes amongst musicians during this period:
one stressed the composition and practice of Western music, hence the creation,
in 1302/1923, of the Tehran Conservatory of Music – Madrese-ye `âli-ye
musiqi – where Western music was taught by European teachers (Sepantâ
1990:134–6); the other favoured the creation of a new kind of music by
introducing Western elements into arrangements of tunes of Persian origin. The
latter, for example, was the case with Ali Naqi Vaziri, who set out to modernize
Persian music. 3
Westernization gathered pace in the second half of the twentieth century (in
the 1970s in particular), under the Pahlavi dynasty which ruled Iran from 1921
until 1979. This phenomenon applied both to the politico-economic and to the
cultural domain; for example, more than 90% of the national Radio and
Television programmes broadcast music that appealed to the masses, 4 mainly
consisting of imitations of Western pop music sung by such Iranian “pop” stars
as Ebi, Dariush and Googoosh, superstars of Iranian pop music in the 1970s.
(Many such stars now live in exile, as will be seen below.) This may be

2 For example, in 1995 a poetry evening (Shab-e she’r) was organized in Qûchân, a city in
north Khorasan, where Kurdish poets and musicians from Khorasan were to appear. The
Qûchân Ershâd had supported the event, yet the performance was interrupted by the Friday
imâm (imâm-e jom’e – the priest in charge of the Friday prayer), who remarked: “I don’t see
such a crowd during the prayer”.
3 Ali Naqi Vaziri (1266/1874 – 1358/1979) established a conservatory to train musicians in
Persian music as well as Western music and adapted Western staff notation to Persian music.
He wrote countless compositions using Iranian melodies harmonized in a Western style. For
further information on Vaziri, see Mir ‘Alinaqi 1998.
4 “Radio and Television” is used in this article as a translation of “Sedâ va simâ-ye jomhuri-
ye eslâmi” (literally, Sound and Image of the Islamic Republic), the Iranian national
broadcasting organization.
YOUSSEFZADEH The situation of music in Iran since the Revolution: the role of official organizations 37

considered as one of the many reasons for the violent reaction of the 1979
revolution and its “back to our roots” movement.
Ayatollah Khomeini himself had already criticized this Westernization back
in 1964 (prior to his exile). He had indeed denounced the Radio and Television
programmes as issuing “from a colonized culture” (este’mâri) and producing “a
colonized youth” (“Enqelâb-e eslâmi va eshâ’e-ye farhang-e isâr va shahâdat”
in the daily newspaper Ettelâ’ât, 3 February 2000/1378). 5 Virulently
condemning the influence of “the culture of foreigners” (farhang-e bigânegân)
in Iran, he insisted on the need for a “cultural reconstruction” (nowsâzi-ye
farhangi), pointing out, for example, that “the road to reform in a country goes
through its culture, so one has to start out with a cultural reform.”
At the same time, both traditional and regional music aroused fresh interest.
Thus the year 1971 marked the creation of the Markaz-e hefz o eshâ’ye musiqi-e
sonnati (Centre for the Preservation and Propagation of Traditional Music),
which to a great extent relied on Iranian National Television, itself a leading
vehicle for the propogation of traditional Iranian music in the 1970s. 6 This
same institution followed the initiative of Fozieh Majd, a composer and
musicologist, in financing various expeditions throughout the country to make
recordings of regional music. This led to the founding, in 1972, of a group
entitled Collection and Knowledge of Regional Music (Gerdâvari va shenâkht-e
musiqi-e mahali). The group carried out 13 trips into various regions, until the
revolution put an end to their activities. More than 500 tapes were thus recorded
– all of them of excellent quality. These recordings are at present kept under
close watch in the Radio and Television building, and nobody has access to
them. Although they are still among the archives, they are inaccessible to
researchers and amateurs alike.
It should also be added that the music of various regions of Iran continued
to be played in numerous festivals, such as those of Shiraz and Tus. Festivals
were organized in Shiraz and Tus before the Islamic Revolution by the Ministry
of Culture and Arts and the Ministry of Information, with the technical co-
operation of the National Television, under the patronage of the Empress of
Iran. The Shiraz Festival presented not only invited traditional and regional
Iranian musicians, but also great world masters of traditional music (such as the
Indian musicians Bismillah Khan and Ali Akbar Khan), as well as Western
composers (John Cage, Karlheinz Stockhausen, etc.), and famous European
conductors (H. von Karajan, etc.).

5 Although Iran was never actually colonized, Russian and English influences made
themselves felt in the nineteenth century, to be replaced in the twentieth century, under the
Pahlavis, by a strong American influence. See Avery 1967; Digard, Hourcade and Richard
6 It still depends on the Radio and Television. After the departure, in 1980, of its director D.
Safvat, it went through several hands and is now headed by D. Ganji (a former pupil of Markaz).

The Revolution
From the very outset of the Islamic Revolution, the situation of music went
through a radical change. Indeed, the official position of the regime, following
Ayatollah Khomeini as its major authority, was unmistakable:
… music is like a drug, whoever acquires the habit can no longer
devote himself to important activities. It changes people to the point of
yielding to vice or to preoccupations pertaining to the world of music
alone. We must eliminate music because it means betraying our
country and our youth. We must completely eliminate it.
(“Radio and Television must strengthen the young”, Keyhân, 1 mordad 1358/1979)

As a result, all concerts, and especially all radio or television broadcasts of

foreign and Iranian, classical and popular music were banned. According to an
Iranian composer, Roshanravân (1996), “the payment of musicians was illegal
in terms of the religious law, shar’ia. The very act of signing a document
mentioning the word ‘music’ was considered a sin (mas’iyat)”.
Nor did these measures spare the village population, in whose life music
had always played an important part. According to my informants in Khorasan,
the pâsdârân (revolutionary guards) organized raids to collect and destroy
musical instruments. Playing music was forbidden. The bards who had
participated in concerts and festivals under the old regime were summoned and
cross-examined by the revolutionary authorities. Some of those who had
performed at festivals, such as Kâregar, died in obscurity. On the other hand,
Hâj-Qorbân Soleymâni (a famous bard from the Quchân region in northern
Khorasan) told me: “Since I had stopped playing eighteen years before the
Revolution, they left me alone. It was after the change of regime that I took up
my instrument again”.7
Nevertheless, despite all the measures designed to combat music, it could
not be eliminated from Iranian culture. Besides, even if the state has a grip on
the media, there is a great difference in Iran between what is theoretically
allowed and what people actually do in private.
Moreover, the very intention of abolishing music in public life
unexpectedly led to increasing practice of music within the family circle by the
younger generation of all social classes. One might deduce that this resurgent
interest also stemmed from a continued desire, manifested by the Revolution
itself, to rediscover the cultural heritage of Iran, as a reaction to the

7 Personal communication, 1994. The reason he gives for having stopped playing is as
follows: “Twenty years ago, I returned from a wedding, and having made a pilgrimage to
Mecca, a sheikh [mollâ] told me that my instrument was cursed, that I myself was cursed. So
I threw my instrument into a corner and didn’t touch it for ten years. Then two other seyyed
assured me that my music was a gift from heaven and that they were convinced that my
instrument was to be found in the home of the prophets. They themselves placed my dotâr
[lute with a long neck and two strings], which was hanging on the wall, into my hands and
ordered me to play.”
YOUSSEFZADEH The situation of music in Iran since the Revolution: the role of official organizations 39

Westernization of the imperial regime. Thus when an old Jewish instrument

maker8 was asked about his trade after the revolution, he replied:
I have no reason to complain. You know how the Iranians are: the
moment they are prohibited from doing something, they immediately
want to do it. It’s like alcohol; never has so much vodka been drunk on
the sly as there was after it was banned. It’s the same with music. I can
hardly keep up with the demand. I’m snowed under with work…
(Anquetil 1980)

In 1989, Khomeini appeared to go back on his absolute ban of music by

issuing a fatwâ (a religious decree establishing the licit or non-licit character of
an act) authorizing the purchase and sale of instruments. In an interview with
the daily newspaper Keyhân Journal (19–16–1368/1989), he declared that
“there are no objections to the purchase and sale of instruments serving a licit
purpose”. Little by little, some concerts were authorized, albeit under certain
restrictions: thus there was a ban against sensually arousing rhythms, as well as
women’s voices in the presence of a male audience. 9
After the end of the Iran–Iraq war (1980–88) and following the death of
Ayatollah Khomeini (1989), a desire for change made itself felt and a wind of
liberalism started blowing through the institutions (especially those dealing
with international relations and culture), giving rise to overtures towards the
outside world. In the wake of the campaign launched in 1992 by Ayatollah
Khâmene’i against the “cultural aggression of the West” (tahâjom-e farhangi-e
gharb), traditional Iranian music recovered a certain legitimacy. This
liberalization even led to the increased production of cassettes and records.
However, since this music could not alone meet the demand, the various
cultural organizations also looked to the music of various regions of Iran.
The situation continues to evolve. Today a great variety of music is
available by satellite for those who can afford the necessary equipment (they
can thus receive the American MTV channel, MTV-India). During the first
years of the revolution, there also existed “pop” music produced by musicians
and singers who lived mainly in exile, especially in California, and continue to
make a living from their art. These illegally imported cassettes, which could
cost their owners considerable fines or even prison terms, have always had a
vast audience. For the last few years, however, these very tunes have been
openly circulating in the country: the difference is that now local Iranian singers
are singing the songs – and in a strange twist, putting the rhythms and melodies

8 In Iran, lute-makers are traditionally of Jewish descent. xxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxx

9 As is the case in literature (poetry, novels, etc.) and movies, the suggestion and actual
display of what is deemed “erotic” has been heavily forbidden. What goes under the name
“eroticism” is quite vague, and essentially concerns any emotional or physical relationship
between a man and a woman, outside of married life. Government authorities, even the so-
called “reform-minded” ones, have never moved on this issue since it relates to what they
view as one of Islam’s fundamental tenets.

imported from Los Angeles to the words of classical poets such as Hafiz, Saadi
and Rumi.
This market is flourishing to such an extent that some of its products are
being exported. According to Morâdkhâni, the Director of Ershâd,
This kind of music nowadays exists in Iran. It caters to the needs of
young people, but does not require our financial or economic aid
(hemâyat). We have to let it exist, while at the same time preventing it
from becoming too repetitive. Some people indeed believe that the
repetition of tunes is liable to discourage the young and plunge them
into a melancholy mood. That is why we have to watch this production.
As for what people do in private, we are not responsible for it; it’s for
them to decide what they want to hear.
(Personal interview, February 2000)

Such speeches are a great novelty. In terms of the new and more liberal
policy of Dr Mohâjerâni, the Minister of Culture, they certainly reflect the
preoccupations of the leaders, confronted as they are with a country in which
more than 60% of the population are under the age of 20.
In a different field – namely the official teaching of Western classical music
in the universities – knowledge of traditional Iranian music is no longer
required, as it used to be, for the entrance exam in the musical department in
Tehran. Since 1999, Western classical music is again included in the syllabus,
and forms the subject of a separate exam. The third year of studies today
includes courses in Western composition (personal conversation with M. Kiâni,
director of musical studies at Tehran University, February 2000).

Official views about music expressed by various

authorities of the Islamic republic
Although all Muslim countries have a musical tradition which they keep alive,
Islam has always approached music with a certain mistrust, suspecting it of
being endowed with magic or even diabolic powers liable to drive people to the
worst extremes. Music is said to unsettle the soul, to put people into a kind of
trance and make them take leave of their senses. It leads them to forget their
duties and indulge in the pure sensuality of the physical experience of their
bodies. According to Shiloah (1995:34), “this quasi-somnambulistic state is
considered to be in contradiction to the exigencies of rational religious
A hadith (tradition of the Prophet) concerning the Imam Sadeq (the 6th
Imam of the Shi’ites) thus says: “Listening to music leads to discord [nefâq],
just as water leads to the growth of vegetation” (Ayatollâh Moravveji 1999:74).
It is interesting to observe in contemporary Iran to what extent even the most
highly placed members of the government are conscious and worried about the
powers of music on the human mind. For example, Ayatollâh Khâmene’i, the
YOUSSEFZADEH The situation of music in Iran since the Revolution: the role of official organizations 41

Guide of the Revolution, has declared: “Music has to serve mankind to attain
supreme objectives and lead to a pure and humane life. It is an art, a divine
creation that has to be used in the interest of humanity. When applying it, we
must make sure that we are on the right track” (Ahang 9, 1374/1996. This
publication is the official brochure for the Fajr Festival).
Khoshru (former Assistant Director of Arts at the Ershâd) states:
Music exercises an undeniable influence on people. It can provide the
deepest emotions and, as a result, strengthen each person’s moral
beliefs. But by its very power, it can also become dangerous and
exercise an evil influence by changing its original nature. So among all
art forms, music is the one to which most attention must be paid and
which has to be most closely watched and controlled. The only kind of
music that can lead to transcendence is the one that is based both on
science and lofty ideas and on the virtuous feelings of mankind.
Ennobling music must be endowed with musical technique and high
ideals. It must strive to attain a lofty aim and be the product of a
cultural and artistic community scrupulously attached to morality. It
must kindle the deepest human emotions and stimulate men to respect
and honour their moral principles. In short, it must be connected with
the noblest of human cultures.
(Khoshru 1996)

To quote Mir Salim (former Minister of Culture and Islamic Guidance):

“By way of music, the behaviour of men can be influenced; so it can be said
that music may, on the one hand, reinforce moral values, and, on the other hand,
lead to their oblivion” (1996).
Ayatollah Azari Qomi, another religious leader, says:
Dance music is illicit; music accompanying vulgar [mobtazal] and
useless [bâtel] poems is illicit; however, music that is not motrebi
[urban entertainment music, corresponding with light music] and is not
danced to, but accompanies a normal [tabi’i] voice and constructive
and edifying poems is not illegal.
(“Bahsi feqhi piramun-e musiqi”, Daily Resâlat, 26 May 1370/1991)

As we have seen, the country’s cultural policy has evolved and is now
determined “to preserve the heritage and culture of the various regions of Iran”.
Therefore, organizers and overseers of cultural events purport to legitimize
music by reinforcing its moral and national character. Thus musical festivals,
which I shall discuss below, were placed under the following directives:
“Development of spiritual culture” (E’telâ-ye farhang-e ma’navi) and
“Recognition of national identity” (Shenâsâ’i-e hoviyat-e melli). Others are
described by the slogan “Preservation of [these musical cultures] to support and
uphold the national culture”.

In practice, the emphasis thus laid on national identity, a concept closely

connected with the preservation of purity as against foreign elements, is
tantamount to the demand for an authenticity of musical expression which goes
beyond the tradition it claims to respect. To quote Jean During (1994:15–16):
“The idea of tradition, or rather of ‘authenticity’, appears to be closely linked
with that of national or even ethnic identity, and is thus indissociable from
politics”. Hence music, which today is more easily accepted within the Iranian
social sphere, nevertheless continues to be closely controlled by governmental
authorities, and to be subjected to a very insidious form of censorship.
We must not forget that the Iranian nation is above all a multi-ethnic state.
Non-Persian ethnic groups form almost half of the country’s population.10 The
integration of various regional musics of Iran within festivals and other cultural
arenas thus responds to the aim of the central power to reinforce the unity of the
Iranian nation as such, while allowing ethnic groups to enjoy a certain official

Official organizations of the Islamic Republic dealing

with music
Today there are three official organizations dealing with culture, forming a
particular field of confrontation between the various politico-religious
tendencies in Iran:
1 The Ershâd, which has often changed its head (Hojjat ol-eslâm Khâtami
[present-day president of the Iranian Republic], Hoseyn Lârijâni, Mostafâ
Mir-Salim); today Dr Mohâjerâni, a “reformer” close to President Khâtami,
is responsible for this ministry.
2 The Islamic Propaganda Organization (Tabliqât-e eslâmi), which is not
dependent on any governmental organizations and is placed under the
direct aegis of the Guide (rahbar) of the Islamic Revolution, Ayatollah
3 Radio and Television, which is also controlled by Ayatollah Khâmene’i.
The first two of these organizations have accomplished considerable work
in the domain of regional music.

10 Persian-speaking people occupy the centre of the Iranian plateau, while the others
generally live on the circumference (see map, Figure 3). Most Iranians speak Iranian
languages. This is true of the Kurds, the Baluchis, the Lors and the Caspian populations
(Gilaki and Mâzandarani), and of course of the Persians. Nevertheless, Turkic-speaking
people (Turkomans, Qashqâ’is and especially Azeris – at least 25% of the population)
occupy a very important place in Iranian history, since for many centuries Iran was ruled by
sovereigns of Turkic origin. See Digard, Hourcade and Richard 1996:13.
YOUSSEFZADEH The situation of music in Iran since the Revolution: the role of official organizations 43

The Ministry of Culture and Islamic Guidance

The musical direction of the Ershâd was entrusted in 1990 to Morâdkhâni, who
still holds this position (as of 2000). His centre is the old Rudaki Hall (Tâlâr
Rudaki), which is now renamed Vahdat (Unity Hall). Before the Revolution,
this was a concert hall which housed the General Direction of Artistic Activities
(Edâre-e koll-e fa’âliathâ-ye honari), including theatre, music and the plastic
arts. This new organization has offices in all Iranian cities.
During the anti-musical period following the revolution the centre became
a Centre for Revolutionary Hymns and Songs (Markaz-e sorud va âhanghâ-ye
enqelâbi), a name designed to satisfy the government authorities. In 1999, this
name was changed to Centre for Ershâd Music (Markaz-e musiqi ershâd),
without any further reference to revolutionary hymns. The new title is
symptomatic of the new cultural policy which has been gradually asserting
itself for the last few years.
Today this centre, according to its director Morâdkhâni (interviews, 1996,
1999) exercises a number of functions with regard to music and musicians. The
work of this organization will be discussed below under the following headings:
1 Protection and support (hemâyat)
2 Guidance and orientation (hedâyat)
3 Supervision and control (nezârat)
(a) control of recorded music
(b) permits for music teaching
(c) organization of musical events
(d) other projects

1 Protection and support (hemâyat)

This function consists of providing musicians with an official affiliation in the
form of a card allowing them to work in this capacity. In practice, the issuing of
this card has been abandoned, and was never really enforced. The protection did
not go beyond the official recognition of musicians to include, for example,
health insurance or other benefits. However, five of the old masters of music in
various regions of Iran have recently received medical coverage, as well as
salaries. 11 According to a representative from the Ershâd, this protection will
gradually be extended to other musicians.

11 These musicians include the Khorassani bard Hâj Qorban Soleymâni, and also Shir
Mohammad Espandâr from Baluchistan, a famous player of the doneli (a double duct flute).
This practice actually dates back to the years prior to the revolution. For example, the Centre
for the Preservation and Propagation of Traditional Music paid a salary to old musicians of
various regions (interviews with the musicians themselves and with F. Majd).

2 Guidance and orientation (hedâyat)

The musicians are guided so as to preserve their music and safeguard the
authenticity (esâlat) of their culture. According to Morâdkhâni (interviews,
1996, 1999) the function of his department consists of lending greater
importance to native music, which is in danger of disappearing. Therefore he
wants to “keep a protective (hemâyati) eye on the music of different regions of
Iran [musiqi-e navâhi-e mokhtalef-e Iran12] by means of a policy of orientation
and encouragement”.

3 Supervision and control (nezârat)

Among the major responsibilities of this organization is the control of all
marketable sound productions. Supervision consists of “preserving the
authentic [asil] and ancient [qadimi] culture of our country”, according to
Morâdkhâni. It is exercised as follows:
(a) by controlling recorded music (on cassette or CD) by issuing a permit
(mojavez) for its distribution;
(b) by issuing other permits for the teaching of music, for organizing concerts,
(c) by organizing musical events such as festivals and concerts
(d) through other projects (e.g. creating a Museum of Musical Instruments)

(a) Production control

The control of sound recordings, especially those on cassette, is one of the main
responsibilities of the Supervising Department. All sound media to be marketed
or exported have to obtain a permit from the Ershâd. In my own case, for
example, I had to apply to this organization for permission to take my field
recordings out of the country: a numbered lead seal was affixed to my cassettes,
together with a letter I was to present at customs. Musical instruments also have
to be visaed in the same way.
Marketable cassettes are classified and coded with letters and numbers on
their cover, stating: “Authorized number of the Ministry of Culture and Islamic
Guidance (Shomâre-ye mojavez-e vezârat-e farhang va ershâd-e eslâmi).” All
sound productions – cassettes and CDs – have to bear the authorization number,
followed by a letter and another number. The letters indicate the musical genres
and the number indicates the quality of the production.
The letters describing musical genre are as follows:
S sonnati (traditional)
N navâhi (regional)
A âmuzeshi (educational); âmuzesh-e setâr, donbak, etc.
T (taghyir karde – modified)

12 This name was originally used during the last years of the former regime by the Radio and
YOUSSEFZADEH The situation of music in Iran since the Revolution: the role of official organizations 45

J jadid (new)
M mellal (nations); meaning in this case world music (essentially Muslim)
K kelâsik-e gharb (classical Western music)
P pop
This classifying system is in fact the responsibility of Kiâni.13 He
explained that Morâdkhâni had asked him, five years earlier, to describe the
types of recordings, the volume of which continued growing (interview,
February 2000). The Ershâd wanted “the buyers to know what they were
acquiring”. He added that category J (for jadid) was a later addition to the list,
and that T (standing for taghyir karde, i.e. modified music) was sometimes
understood by certain editors as an an abbreviation of tejârati (commercial).
For instance, the recordings of Alizadeh,14 who is considered both as a follower
and as an innovator of traditional music, used to be labelled T, but had now
acquired the letter J.
Numbers 1 to 4 serve to describe the quality (keyfiyat) of the product
(recording, presentation, etc.), with 1 ranking highest. Morâdkhâni explained:
“It may happen that a master is ranked no. 2: his work is of high quality, but the
recording on the whole is poor. We would have preferred not to make such
judgements, but they are unfortunately necessary” (interviews, 1996, 1999).
This classification is the responsibility of the Council of Evaluation of
Music (Shorâ-ye karshenâsi-ye musiqi), dependent on the Ershâd and
consisting of professional musicians such as Davud Ganje’i,15 Abdol-Majid
Kiâni, Razavi Sarvestâni16 and Roshanravân.17 The members of this council
are elected every two years. However, some of them, such as Ganje’i and Kiâni,
have been members for five years. They sometimes ask the opinion of other
musicians on subjects in which they do not specialize. Such decisions used to
be taken during meetings. Currently, however, the cassettes are sent to the
musicians, who give their opinion in writing.
On this subject, Kiâni told me:
The situation of music was better in the early 90s. There were not as
many modifications [tahrif] in music. There were a lot of good
recordings that we graded with the letter N because the authenticity
was respected. Today, most of the cassettes we examine only receive a
T, because they are arrangements. For instance, you hear a dotâr [two-

13 A virtuoso of the santur, born in 1320/1941. He is the director of the Music Department of
Tehran University and is considered to be a musician of pure tradition.
14 Born in 1330/1951, considered by many as one of the most important figures in
contemporary Persian music.
15 A virtuoso of the kamânche, born in 1321/1942. Before the Revolution he taught this
instrument at the Markaz-e hefz o eshâ’ye-e musiqi-e sonnati (Centre for the Preservation
and Propagation of Traditional Music) of which he is presently the director.
16 A singer of traditional music.
17 A composer who often writes newspaper articles about the situation of music and the
debates around it.

stringed long-necked lute] from Khorasan accompanied by such

instruments as the daf [tambourine] [although traditionally, percussion
was never used with a solo instrument such as the dotâr].
According to statistics, the total number of permits (mojavez) issued for
cassettes in 1367/1988 was 81; by 1376/1997, it had risen to 253. The
production of traditional Iranian music was highest between 1988 and 1997.18
Roshanravân (1996) explained that, due to the protection granted to
traditional (sonnati) music by the Ershad’s Centre for Issuing Permits for
Cassettes, the production and distribution of cassettes recorded in this field has
considerably increased, so that even non-specialists have started producing
them. There is, in fact, a certain saturation of the market because of the
similarity of a lot of these cassettes.
The control exercised by this organization does not, however, prevent the
existence of a very active and very well organized (black) market in cassettes,
among them an abundance of both Iranian and Western pop music. For
example, according to a cassette-seller, the interval between the issue of a
Michael Jackson song and its arrival in Iran is very short (Adelkhâh 1991:26).
There also exists a Council for the authorization of poems (Shorâ-ye
mojavez-e she’r). Poems sung at a concert or recorded on cassettes have to be
announced and translated into Persian (owing to the diversity of the languages
and dialects spoken in Iran). Thus for example the contents of the Kurdish or
Turkish poems sung by the Khorasani bards at a concert must be examined
beforehand.19 One of the members of this agency gave me the following
Poems containing words that might offend social dignity must be
avoided. Thus certain folk songs express improper beliefs and
superstitions. For instance, we have had a problem with Bakhtiyâri
poems.20 One of them goes as follows: ‘If the lover sees his beloved
naked on a river bank, it is considered a pious deed [savâb]’. We
cannot accept this kind of declaration.
This significance attributed to words and their meaning – which find their
origin in Islam itself – are often disparaged by the musicians. Thus Alizâdeh
explains: “According to the responsible authorities, music is defined as a sum
of the sounds produced. But their sensibility is mainly turned to the content of
the poems. That kind of sensibility is of a very low level. A government that

18 “Gozareshi az ‘amalkard-e mo’âvenat-e honari-ye Vezârat -e Farhang va Ershâd Eslâmi”,

Motâle’ât-e Kârbordi-ye Honar 7, Markaz-e Motâle’ât va Tahqiqât-Honari, Vezârat-e
Farhang va Ershâd-e Eslâmi, 1378/1999.
19 The Khorasan bards are of various ethnic groups (Turks, Kurds, Persians and Turkomans)
settled north of this region. For more detailed information about the bards of Khorasan, see
Blum 1972a and Youssefzadeh 1997.
20 The Bakhtiâri are a semi-nomadic tribe living at Châhâr-mahal and in the Bakhtiâri
YOUSSEFZADEH The situation of music in Iran since the Revolution: the role of official organizations 47

considers itself rightly and legitimately established ought not to be upset by a

few words in a piece of music” (interview in “Adamhâ-ye kuchak dardhâ-ye
kuchak dârand”, Iran, 30 November 78/1999). Musicians are often exposed to
such hypersensitivity towards words in pieces of music.
This control of content explains the fact that in most musical performances
and festivals, the poems chosen are usually those having a religious or mystical
character (‘erfâni), for, according to the responsible officials, “Some love
poems are vulgar and common (mobtazal)”. Among other unacceptable themes
are “poems of despair (nâomid konande)”. Epic (hemâsi) poems are, on the
other hand, appreciated, and as a result it is possible to hear the bards of
Khorasan in frequent musical performances, since epic figures are pre-eminent
in their repertoires.

(b) Issue of permits (mojavez) for teaching music; authorization

for giving concerts, etc.
Music teaching, which consists mostly of instrumental training, nowadays
requires the authorization of the Office of State Schools (Edâre-ye
âmuzeshgâhâ-ye keshvar), which submits the application to the Ershâd, which
will then issue or refuse the permit (mojavez).
Today, according to Morâdkhâni, “all kinds of people call themselves
masters [ostâd] and start teaching music without a proper knowledge of the
tradition” (interview, 1996). It is to be expected, however, that the requirement
of a permit implies control of musical courses.
My conversations with various professional musicians taught me that, in
order to receive an authorization, certain criteria have to be observed (personal
conversations with D. Tala’i – master of the târ and setâr – and M. Kiâni,
February 2000). The teacher has to have a degree in music; if the candidate
does not, he or she has to be examined by a commission (shorâ) of the Ershâd.
Candidates who have passed the examination have the right to display a public
sign as professor of music and to teach instruments. The exercise of this
profession requires that certain standards be kept up: the space must be
adequate and measure between 50 and 60 square metres. Before authorization is
granted, experts (karshenas) from the Ershâd have to make sure that “Islamic
standards” are observed (for example, that female students are taught by a
woman). However, the reputation of certain musicians (D. Tala’i, M. Kiâni, D.
Ganje’i) suffices to exempt them from this authorization. In fact, according to
Kiâni, the authorities are hardly strict on this point and may allow a man to
teach an instrument to a female student, especially if no woman can be taken on
to teach. As usual, there is a great difference between official declarations and
the actual practice.
Official courses take place at the Faculty of Arts of Tehran University
(Honarkade-ye honarhâ-ye zibâ), the Academy of Music (Honarestân-e ‘Ali-ye
Musiqi), the School of Art and Literature (Madrese-ye Honar o Adabiyât), and
the Centre for the Preservation and Propagation of Traditional Music (Markaz-e
Hefz o Eshâ’e-ye Musiqi-e Sonnati). Outside such schools or official courses

(some of which already existed under the former regime), the teaching of music
is carried out in innumerable undeclared private courses, sometimes attended
by dozens of students under one professor. Most of the recognized masters of
traditional music (M. Kiâni, D. Talâ’i, H. Alizâdeh, etc.) offer such courses. In
their case, however, a twofold aim is pursued. Talâ’i, for example, tries to
transmit the practice (amali) of music by teaching the Radif, following an oral
method,21 but also a knowledge of music (shenâkht-e musiqi) as far as theory is
concerned. The fees are adapted to the students’ financial capacities. The
majority of students are between 20 and 25 years old. Kiâni, for example, has
students who come from the provinces and continue studying with him for five
or six years; after they go home, they occasionally return to see their master.
Kiâni has between 40 and 60 students whom he teaches three times a week, in
classes consisting of 15 to 20 students.
The cultural centres (farhangestân) which were for the most part set up
after the Revolution on the initiative of Tehran’s Municipal Council, started
organizing unauthorized instrumental classes at the beginning of their
activities.22 The most important of these is Farhangsarâ-ye Bahman, situated in
southern Tehran (a rather poor quarter of the city, where the old slaughterhouses
used to be). Kiâni told me in 1996 that since they were not subject to control,
“music was taught by non-specialists; hence this bad music we are hearing
today; these tunes suiting current tastes (âhanghâ-ye ruz) and dubbed ‘Los-
Angelesi’ were played on instruments like electric organs.” (Today, as we have
seen, “Iranian pop music” is competing with the genre called “Los-Angelesi” –
in other words, music made by Los Angeles-based Iranian pop musicians living
in exile.)
It appears that the absence of official authorization for the musical
activities of such centres led to the sudden ban of all music classes for young
people, as announced by Ayatollah Khâmene’i, in 1995. Since this decree
applied to all such institutions, including the Conservatory of Music
(Honarestân-e musiqi) and the University of Tehran, the situation of music
became uncertain for a few months. It was not until the deputy of the Ershâd
wrote to the Guide, asking him to grant his organization the power to issue
authorizations, that things became normalized again (inteview with Kiâni,
1996). The Ershâd itself has in the meantime taken the initiative, since 1994–5,
to organize free music courses in the Vahdat Hall, exclusively devoted to
traditional instruments.
No concerts may take place without the authorization of this organization,
except those having an aspect (janbe) of research (pazhuheshi) or scholarship
(‘elmi). As a result, the concerts given at the University are often called
pazhuheshi, indicating that there will be an explanation of the music to be played,
even if this is only rarely the case, the term mainly serving to obtain a permit.

21 This is the traditional method, although today most musicians often refer to scores. xxxxx
22 I might also mention Eshrâq, Ebn Sinâ, Arasbârân, Khâvarân, Andishe, Shafaq and
Farhangsarâ-ye Niyâvarân (the only one situated in northern Tehran, which already existed
before the Revolution).
YOUSSEFZADEH The situation of music in Iran since the Revolution: the role of official organizations 49

(c) Musical events

Another of the activities of the Ershâd consists of organizing music festivals.
Many of these events take place within the framework of ceremonies, whether
religious or revolutionary, marking for example the anniversary of the
revolution (Dahe-ye fajr), the week of union (Hafte-ye vahdat) on the occasion
of the anniversary of the Prophet; 23 and the week of Holy Defence (Hafte-ye
defâ’e moqadas) commemorating the beginning of the Iran/Iraq war.
These thematic concerts (which acquire, as we have seen, politico-religious
titles) play an important role in bestowing on music a kind of legitimacy, for
according to Morâdkhâni: “The organization of festivals requires much effort
and money. Within a revolutionary and religious framework, the role of music
as such is not easily acceptable” (interview with Morâdkhâni, 1996).
The Festival of the Week of Union is intended to reinforce the union
between Shiites and Sunnites (who do not celebrate the birthday of the Prophet
on the same date). Its theme is religious and mystic music. It often takes place
in Western Iran, in the Kurdistan region, where mystical music has its roots and
where there are many khâneqâhs (Dervish mosques). The music of Khorasan
plays an important part in the festival, and bards from the northern part of this
region are always invited.
The most important of these festivals however, is that of Hymns and
Revolutionary Music (Jashnvâre-ye sorud va âhanghaye enqelâbi), inaugurated
in 1986. It marks the anniversary of the revolution and is held in February, and
lasts for eight to ten days. It takes place both in the capital city and in most of
the provinces.
An important part of the festival, as we shall see, is devoted to competitions
among musicians (in sections such as traditional music, regional music and
music for the young). From the outset great importance has been attached to the
music of different regions of Iran. In 1987, there were 312 regional musicians to
be heard and 164 concerts. In 1989, this event changed its name and became the
Fajr (Dawn) Festival of Music. This new designation has also brought about a
fresh upsurge of activities.
During the first three years of its existence, only 12 groups performed. The
titles of the items played point to the revolutionary nature of the festival: Râh-e
khun (The Way of Blood), Bahâr-e khun (The Spring of Blood), Basij
(Mobilization). In 1989, some songs reflected the death of Ayatollah Khomeini.
In 1990, the festival tried to address the new generation: young musicians from
different regions took part. In 1991, it extended its sphere of activities beyond
the Iranian border and invited other Muslim nations with the aim, according to
the organizers, of “restoring the common cultural identity among Muslim
countries, so as to oppose and defeat the foreign cultural invasion”.24 The 10th
festival, in 1373/1995, included several sections: Muslim nations (Tadjikistan,

23 When, at the age of 40, Mohammad had the revelation of his prophecy. xxxxxxxxxxxxxxx
24 These slogans reflect the political situation in Iran. They date from the early 1990s. Today
the slogan has changed to “Dialogue between civilizations” – see below.

Figure 1 Ranjbar, a bard from northern Khorasan, performing at the 15th Fajr Festival,
Tehran, January/February 2000

Syria, Lebanon, Bosnia); competitions (including 417 musicians) devoted to

traditional music (radif-e dastgâh) and maqâm (maqâmi, a new term in Iran for
regional music);25 young people (74 of them); another section consisted of 53
groups playing traditional music and 28 groups playing regional music. Finally,
the section devoted to revolutionary hymns and Western classical music, played
by the Tehran Symphony Orchestra, comprised four programmes. Since 1997,
two sections have been added: one devoted to the music (both traditional and
regional) of women, sung for and by women. The other section is a competition
for compositions (âhangsâzi).
The festival programs of 1999 and 2000 reflected the political “overture” of
the reforming president Khâtami (the name of the festival held in 1999 was
“Fajr International Music Festival” – Jashnvâre-ye beynol-mellali-ye musiqi-ye
Fajr). Thus its 15th edition (in February 2000) welcomed countries such as
France, Germany and Austria, and also the Jewish community of Iran, who
contributed for the first time.26 According to Morâdkhâni, the director of the

25 During (1994:43) says: “In response to the term sonnati, which exclusively belongs to the
music of urban art, the professional adherents of regional music increasingly tend to define
their art as maqâm (musiqi-e maqâmi)”. This term hence aims at stressing the legitimacy and
validity of this form of musical expression.
26 The orchestra consisted of four male and four female musicians, all of them very young
(16–20 years old), who played both traditional Jewish melodies and pieces by Brahms
(Ahang 1, brochure of the 15th Fajr festival, February 2000).
YOUSSEFZADEH The situation of music in Iran since the Revolution: the role of official organizations 51

Figure 2 A group of Iranian Turkmen musicians from Gonbad at the 15th Fajr Festival,
Tehran, January/February 2000

Markaz-e musiqi and organizer of the festival, “the main slogan of these latter
festivals was peace [solh] and dialogue [goftegu], following the policy of the
President of the Republic” (“Conversation with Morâdkhâni” in Ahang 1,
brochure of the 15th Fajr Festival). The brochure of the 14th festival of Fajr
(1999) featured a quotation by the Minister of Culture, Dr Mohâjerâni: “Music
is the best language for a dialogue between men” (Ahang 4, 14–19 February
The competitive section has also acquired a different organization this year.
The section for the music of the various regions of Iran (maqâmi) took place in
Kermân (see Figure 3 at the end of this article), at a different date from that of
the other activities (from 28 November to 3 December 1999), and under a
different title: First Festival of Regional Music of Iran (Nakhostine jashnvâre-ye
musiqi-ye navâhi-ye Irân). Another section has become the First Festival of
Music of the Young, and took place in Tehran for a week in January. The
participants (boys and girls) were between 4 and 18 years old. This section is
itself divided into three parts: traditional instruments (târ, setâr, santur, ney),

27 The slogan “Gofteguy-e tammadonha” (Dialogue between civilizations) is a central theme

of Mr Khâtami’s policy. Since his election as President of the Republic and under his
auspices, an organization dependent on his office has been created, called International
Centre for Dialogue between Civilizations. An international congress on this theme is to be
held in Tehran in 2001.

regional instruments (târ and kamânche Azari from Tabriz, dotâr from Khorasan
and kamanche from Lorestân), and Western instruments (violin, piano, flute and
clarinet). The winners subsequently performed at the Fajr festival, at which they
received prizes from the Minister of Culture, Dr Mohâjerâni.28
In Tehran, Ershâd’s concerts are performed in the two Vahdat halls and in
various cultural centres (farhangestân) belonging to the municipality. The
budget for these festivals proceeds from the Hefze mirâs-e farhangi
(Organization for the Protection and Conservation of Cultural Heritage) 29 and
from the Tehran municipality.
As stated earlier, these festivals usually assume the form of competitions.
The winners receive prizes, which in 1989 consisted of either a gold coin and a
certificate of recognition (lôh-e taqdir); a TV set; a pilgrimage to Mecca (haj),
or a camera and a Koran. The value of these prizes has risen since then. For
example, in February 2000, it rose to five gold coins, together with a certificate
of recognition and an honour diploma.
In the beginning participants were simply housed and fed, without any
financial compensation – a situation about which musicians have often
complained. At times they had to even leave their work and pay someone to
replace them in order to participate in these events. Ali Almâjoqi (a shepherd
bard from Khorasan) told me he had had to hire someone to take care of his
flocks in his absence. Although the musicians now receive a subsidy, it is
inadequate to cover their expenses.
A specialized jury normally judges each section of the competitions. For
example, for traditional (sonnati) music, the jury often consists of Majid
Kiâni, Dâvud Genje’i and Nâser Farhangfar. For the music of various regions
of Iran, there would be, in addition, specialists such as the late
ethnomusicologist Mohammad Taqi Mas’udieh30 or Mohammad Rezâ

28 The award winners for regional music that year were: from northern Khorasan two bards
and a group of âsheq (the term in northern Khorasan refers to professional musicians playing in
ensembles composed of the sornâ – a type of oboe – and dohol – a barrel drum with two skins
– or the qoshme – double clarinet – and dohol; see Blum 1972b); from eastern Khorasan two
musicians from Torbat-e-Jam; from Azerbaijan, a group of âsheq (in Azerbaijan and Turkey the
term denotes a bard) from Urumieh; and a group of three young musicians from Tabriz.
29 The Mirâs-e farhangi agency itself organized a festival in Tehran in 1996, devoted to the
music of various regions of Iran (Khorasan, Kurdistan, Lorestân, etc.). The music of various
regions of Iran is, according to this organization, “a rich cultural heritage for the protection
and conservation of which we feel responsible”.
30 This well-known figure of Iranian music, a composer and ethnomusicologist, was born in
Mashhad in 1306/1927. He obtained a master’s degree as a violonist from the Conservatoire
National, Paris, and, under the supervision of Marius Schneider, a doctor’s degree in
ethnomusicology from Köln (Cologne), Germany. In 1347/1968, he returned to Iran to teach
Iranian music and ethnomusicology at the University of Tehran. He died in Tehran in
1377/1998. He wrote several books, some of which deal with music of various regions of
Iran (e.g. Mas’udieh 1980 and 1985). For a detailed bibliography, see Safarzâdeh
YOUSSEFZADEH The situation of music in Iran since the Revolution: the role of official organizations 53

Darvishi.31 They are now assisted by expert advisers, chosen from among
regional masters such as Hâj-Qorbân Soleymâni and Abdollâh Sarvar Ahmadi
(one of the most famous dotâr players of the Torbat-e Jâm region). Thus the
jury of the first festival of regional Iranian music (a section of the competition
of the 15th Fajr music festival) consisted of Hâj-Qorbân Soleymâni, Razavi
Shahrestâni, Dariush Pirniyâkân,32 Hamid Rezâ Ardalân33 and Mohammad
Rezâ Darvish, the first secretary of the first festival of Iranian regional music.
The following is a list of the criteria (established by the main judges)
applied in judging the music of various regions of Iran:
1 attention paid to the authentic (asil) manner of interpreting the music of
each region, as it appears in its form and improvisation, as well as in the
way it is played or sung solo;
2 respect for the original manner of each region without the introduction of
alien elements which do not stem from that particular region;
3 the use of typical and authentic instruments of the region without resorting
to non-native instruments;
4 the use of poems from the oral or written literature belonging to the region,
with emphasis on religious or epic themes;
5 respect for the tradition set by the old masters, and abstaining, for example,
from playing in an ensemble if this was not regional practice;
6 proper apprenticeship and oral instruction of music with a master.
I cannot confirm that all the points of this list are actually respected in practice
(as pointed out several times above, there is a great difference in Iran between
what is officially decreed and what is actually done). Thus, in spite of the
criteria I have just mentioned, it is not seldom that we hear a dotâr from Torbat-
e Jâm accompanied by the daf, although according to Sarvar Ahmadi, “that is
not the way to play the music of Torbat-e Jâm. It is based on solo interpretation.
In these current ensembles, some theatrical element has intruded, where the
musician has to content himself with playing with others” (conversation quoted
in Ahang 8, February 1996).
Hâj Qorbân Soleymâni confirms this idea, saying:
In the past, ensembles were unknown. Today you see groups of 10 or
15 dotâr players performing together side by side with string
instruments like the dotâr, or the daf and the dohol [two-headed drum].
Such percussion instruments do not belong together with string
instruments, because they smother the sound of the strings. In the old

31 A musician himself, he has spent several years studying and doing research on the music
of various regions of Iran. Today he is considered a specialist on the music of different
regions of Iran.
32 A târ player who worked for a number of years with the classical singer Shajariân.
33 Working with Ershâd as “expert of the music of various regions”, although he specializes
in dramatic arts rather than in music.

days, dohol and sorna were used at wedding ceremonies, for dancing
or for wrestling (koshti). They were also used to inform the population
of an event. They are not indoor instruments.
(Interview, 1995)

He was also at odds with some of Ershâd’s injunctions: “They’re [the

Ershâd] now telling me that we have no right to play the music of other regions.
According to them, a Quchâni must not play the music of Torbat-e Jâm.” This
example offers a good illustration of the distance that separates Ershâd’s
policies from the traditional practice of bakhshi.
The emergence of these ensembles may be explained as the direct result of
the nature and origin of these festivals, which initially provided no part for solo
instruments – it appears that the solo instrument resembles a woman’s voice,
and women are not allowed to sing solo in front of a male audience, but only in
a chorus. It seems that things are, however, about to change, and according to
Darvishi, the first secretary of the festival, the judges will make sure that the
established criteria are respected (personal communication, February 2000).
The manifesto of the jury of the first festival devoted to Iranian regional
music states:
The music of each region of Iran has its own structure and style, which
each regional musician must strictly interpret. To do that, he must take
account of the aesthetic criteria, the techniques of interpretation and the
sound of the instruments, and he must respect the rhythm and the
musical intervals, as well as the structures of the instruments, the rules
of the concert, the improvisation and the interpretation.
(Bayâni-ye he’at-e dâvarân-e nakhostin jashnvêre-ye musiqi-ye navâhi-ye Iran)34

(d) Other projects

The Ershâd, in co-operation with a private recording company, Moassesse-ye
Mâhur, has issued 19 albums of regional music, each comprising six cassettes
published in the course of the year 1997–8. Directed by Musavi (an enthusiastic
amateur performer of this type of music), this is the greatest and most
productive project in the realm of traditional (sonnati) music, as well as in that
of the regional music of Iran.35 The catalogue contains: Music of Khorasan
(four albums); Music of the Qashqâ’i; Music of Mazandarân (two albums);
Music of Lorestân; Music of the Turkomans; Music of Gilân and Tâlesh; Music

34 I was able to consult this manifesto courtesy of Mr Darvishi in February 2000. xxxxxxxx
35 Mâhur Publication started work in 1987. It presents traditional Iranian music as well as
the works of contemporary Iranian composers, players and singers. This company has also
published some music from different regions of Iran. Moreover, Mâhur Publication has
produced a number of instructional books and cassettes on playing Iranian musical
instruments and fundamental theories of Iranian music for learners and enthusiasts.
YOUSSEFZADEH The situation of music in Iran since the Revolution: the role of official organizations 55

of Azerbaidjan (the âsheq); Music of Kurdistan (two albums); Music of

southern Alborz; Ritual and religious music of the two slopes of the Albors;
Music of Baluchistan; Music of the Bakhtiyâri; Music of Bushehr; Music of the
Muslim nations.36
In addition, this ministry plans to create a Museum of Musical Instruments,
in co-operation with the Tehran Municipality.37 It will include sound archives, a
museum of instruments, and a lecture hall with 100 to 150 seats, and will
present exhibitions and workshops for instrument making.

2 The Musical Unit of the Department of Art for Islamic

Propaganda (Hoze-ye honari-e tabliqât-e eslâmi)
Another active organization in the field of Iranian music is the Musical Unit of
the Department of Art for Islamic Propaganda (Hoze-ye honari-e tabliqât-e
eslâmi). This organization, as we have seen, depends on no other government
administration and comes under the direct leadership of the Guide (Rahbar) of
the Revolution, Ayatollah Khâmene’i, who is said to be a lover of traditional
(sonnati) music himself. The Hôze (as this organization is called) has been in
existence since 1982. But its activities in the field of music did not start until
1991, with the appointment at its head of Jalilpûr, a philosophy graduate
interested in preserving, collecting and propagating regional music.
This department runs an art school (honarestân) (which also teaches
traditional arts such as painting and calligraphy), as well as a dâneshgâh-e âzâd
(literally “free university”), in which music is taught.38 “We encourage our
students to work and write their theses on regional [navâhi] music”, said
Jalilpûr (personal conversations, 1995–7). The department also has offices in
most of the provinces – in Mashhad for the Khorasan province, for example,
where no musical activity has yet taken place however.
This institution has so far organized four festivals in Tehran, all of them
devoted to traditional (sonnati) music and music of different regions of Iran.
The first one was devoted to wind instruments (ney navâzan). At the second
festival, which took place in 1991 and was called Haft owrang (the Great Bear),
more than 120 participants were present, chosen from amongst the best
musicians of the country. The Ayene-o âvâz (Ceremony and Song) festival of
1994 had 400 musicians from various provinces (ostân) and counties
(shahrestân) participating. And lastly, in 1997, it chose epic (hemâsi) music for
its theme. According to Jalilpûr, “the festival focused mostly on the veterans

36 All these sets bear the inscription “Local Iranian Music” (musiqi-ye navâhi-ye Irân)
followed by the name of the region and the name of the edition “Iranian Music Association”
(Anjoman-e musiqi-ye Irân). The set for each region is also accompanied by a booklet.
37 I have this information from Morâdkhâni, 1996. In the year 2000, he informed me that for
financial reasons the project had not yet been carried out.
38 This term is deceptive, because fees are very high when compared with those of the
universities. Perhaps it is called “free” because the students who enroll there are exempt from
the normal university entrance examination and, as it were, “buy” their admission.

and elder players of epic music: out of 2,000 candidates, 380 were selected for
the performance”. All these concerts were recorded and filmed on video.39
Unlike those organized by the Ershâd, these festivals do not celebrate any
specific occasion. According to Jalilpûr, “they assume an aspect of research
[pazhuheshi] and investigation [tahqiqi]”.
This organization has set up a research group in charge of collecting the
music of various regions, as well as identifying and selecting those that will be
presented at concerts. It includes Darvishi (who organizes the festival), a local
guide, a photographer and a sound technician. Their aim consists of
“identifying native [bumi] artists whose art has remained genuine and original
without being influenced by other types of music”. As I have noticed myself,
each trip leads to the building up of archive collections.
Following the festivals organized by the Hôze, three sets of audio-cassettes
have been published.
1 Haft owrang. This is a set of four cassettes devoted to regional music
(Darvishi 1991). The first contains a live recording of the last concert by
Mohammad Hoseyn Yegâneh (a famous bard from northern Khorasan) and
his son Mohammad. It marks the last public appearance of the great master.
The cassettes also feature music from Bushehr, Lorestân, Torkaman-sahrâ,
Kermanshâh and Baluchestân.
2 Musiqi-e shomâl-e Khorâsân (music of northern Khorasan) is a box of
three cassettes, recorded on location in Khorasan (Darvishi and Tavahodi
3 Ayene-o âvâz (Ceremony and Song), a set of 28 cassettes of music from
various regions of Iran (Darvishi 1997), recorded during the third festival.
The Haft owrang set has, like most recordings destined for sale, received
the authorization (mojavez) of the Ershâd, and the back of each cassette bears
an authorization number (shomâre-ye mojavez). It obtained the codification
“N/2” (Navâhi = regional; 2 indicates its poor recording quality). For reasons
unknown and unascertainable, the second set is not marked with a number.
The budget for these festivals stems from several sources. In addition to the
Hôze agency itself and the municipality of Tehran, there are contributions from
private sources. The director has always complained about the inadequate
budget: “We find it difficult to organize a festival each year. The first festival
cost 2 million tumân, the second 8 million, and the festival titled ‘Ayne-o âvâz’
cost 20 million. The last one, Hemâsi, rose to an expense of 50 million tumân”,
said Jalilpûr.40 This seemingly exorbitant cost is partly explained by the high
rate of inflation in Iran: the price of a Mashhad–Tehran flight, for instance,
which used to be 2,000 tumân in 1994 has risen to 10,000 tumân at the time of

39 These video-cassettes are kept in the archives of the Hoze. They have unfortunately not
been published, nor can they be consulted by researchers.
40 Because of inflation, it is difficult to provide US dollar equivalents for the tumân. For
example, before the Revolution one dollar was worth 7 tumân, while at the time of writing it
is worth about 800 tumân.
YOUSSEFZADEH The situation of music in Iran since the Revolution: the role of official organizations 57

For its first festival, Hôze paid each musician 10,000 tumâns, along with
transport fees and accommodation. Jalilpûr has told me, however, that for the
last festival, the musicians received between 20,000 and 30,000 tumâns. This
sum is inadequate – as we have seen above in connection with the festivals
organized by Ershâd – and the musicians complain of the considerable expense
their participation incurs.

3 Radio and Television

Since the revolution, Radio and Television has been in the hands of the
“conservatives” and under the direct supervision of the Guide of the Revolution,
Ayatollah Khamene’i. Until a few years ago, music was rarely broadcast by
these media, and when it was, one would, for example, hear only a short piece of
a traditional musical sequence accompanied by the motionless image of a flower
or a landscape, as an interlude between two television programmes. The
performer, the actual piece broadcast and so on, were never announced.
Before the Revolution, the major part of this production was light, “easy
listening” music (what was called Iranian “pop” music, an imitation of Western
pop). It was banned, as we have seen, along with most other kinds of music in
1979. Some categories of music were spared, however; for example, military
march (mârsh) and certain patriotic hymns and songs (sorud), which were
abundantly broadcast. Singers specializing in patriotic songs have thus become
stars thanks to the Radio and Television. An example is Ahangarân, whose
songs constantly extolled the combats of the war between Iran and Iraq and
reminded everyone of their duty as a martyr (shahid). His songs introduced
each commentary about the war, so he was heard every day, at peak viewing
hours, just before the evening news. As for the radio, it featured him “with
clockwork regularity” (Adelkhâh 1991:25).
Today Radio and Television is the greatest producer and consumer of music
in Iran. It uses music heavily in advertising, in signature tunes, and as
background music during and between programmes (including sport
broadcasts, documentaries and scientific programmes). The kind that is
broadcast mainly consists of Western tunes and songs, with the text expurgated.
Where traditional music is concerned, many Iranian musicians think poorly
of the music broadcast by the Radio and Television. According to Kiâni, it is
always modified, revised (tahrif shode), and made to please the crowds
(personal conversation, February 2000). Similarly, when regional music is
broadcast, the musicians imitate urban music, although it is well known that
Radio and Television has important archive recordings of music of the different
regions of Iran. On the other hand, there is today a definite increase in “pop”
and ‘âme pasand (generally appreciated) music.
Iranian Television has six channels, none of which, despite various
promises, is oriented toward cultural activities. Even today, when a concert of
traditional music is relayed, everything is done to hide the instruments
themselves (for instance large vases of flowers are used, or the camera will

show only the faces of the performers). Other genres such as marches and
hymns (sorud) continue to be broadcast on special occasions.
As we have seen, access to foreign programmes (mostly Western ones,
such as CNN, BBC World and TV5, as well some Arabic channels) is also
provided by satellite, for those who have the financial means.41
Radio and Television is also endowed with its own Musical Sound and
Image Unit (Vâhed-e musiqi-ye sedâ va simâ-ye jomhuri eslâmi), as well as a
council for the evaluation of music, which decides what kind of music is
authorized (mojâz) and what kind is not (gheyr-e mojaz).

The status of music in Iran is still the object of controversy and its role is still
ambiguous, partly because the political and economic situation itself is
constantly evolving. The degree to which music will be accepted will depend
on whether those who hold the reins of power in the country happen to be
“reformers” or “conservatives”. For instance, an institution such as the Radio
and Television, though making massive use of music, only rarely broadcasts
concerts; and when it does, it will not show the instruments, since their public
display still poses problems.
It should be noted that every point I have tried to establish here deserves an
article of its own. For example, the attitudes and practices of the Iranian Radio
and Television would justify publication of a far greater depth. A more detailed
enquiry into the phenomenon of “pop” music is also called for. It would equally
be interesting to analyze the debate which is beginning to come to the fore
within the ranks of the traditional musicians themselves: worried about the
upsurge of “popular” music, they fear that, having survived the rigours of the
Islamic Revolution, they might now be doomed to marginalization.
However, certain encouraging signs must not be forgotten. In late 1999, for
example, a House of Iranian Music was established in Tehran, which aims at
playing the role of a syndicate for musicians. It is the first time that a musical
organization of this type (senfi = guild) has been founded in Iran. Its statutes
state: “This is a professional foundation, independent from the state, non-profit-
making, and composed of the country’s professional musicians. It is established
for a non-specified period, within the framework of the laws and decrees in
force in the Republic, under the supervision of the Ministry of Culture and
Islamic Propaganda.”42 Several points of the mission this guild has adopted are
similar to the present attributes of the Ershâd, such as the protection of the
musicians. It will be interesting to see how it will go about assuming its tasks.
Currently we can only be pleased about the fresh interest and respect shown
for regional music. However, we may also have reason to worry about the
swing of the pendulum by which the tradition upheld by the bards is set up by

41 The cost is about 300,000 tumâns. xxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxx

42 This charter was communicated to me by Darvishi, February 2000.
YOUSSEFZADEH The situation of music in Iran since the Revolution: the role of official organizations 59

official cultural authorities as an intangible and insuperable dogma. Even if the

initial wish to defend the true value of the practice they represent is
praiseworthy, the extreme and extremist applications may reduce the
musicians’ freedom as interpreters. Of the long tradition of which these
musicians are the carriers, there would then remain merely a dead museum
piece, sterilized by the dangerous obsession with “purity” and authenticity.
Figure 3

Adelkhâh, F. (1991) “Michael Jackson ne peut absolument rien faire – Les
pratiques musicales en République Islamique d’Iran.” Cahiers d’études sur
la Méditerranée orientale et le monde turco-iranien, 11.
Anquetil, P. (1980) “Iran. Silence! On islamise.” Le monde de la musique, 24,
Avery, P. (1967) Modern Iran. London: Ernest Benn Limited.
Ayatollâh Moravveji (1999) Musiqi va ghanâ dar âineh’ye fegh. Lectures on
Shi’a jurisprudence by Ayatollâh Moravejji. Tehran: Pazhuheshgah-e
farhang va honar-e eslâmi.
Blum, R.S. (1972a) “Musics in contact: the cultivations of oral repertoires in
Meshhed, Iran.” Unpublished PhD thesis, University of Illinois.
_____ (1972b) “The concept of the ‘Âsheq in Northern Khorasan.” Asian
Music 4.1:27–47.
Darvishi, M.R. (1991) Haft owrang: bakhsh-e musiqi-ye navâhi-e mokhtalef e
Iran [The Great Bear: musical samples from various parts of Iran]. Tehran:
Hoze-ye honari-e tabliqât-e eslâmi.
_____ (1995) Negâh be gharb dar ta’sir-e musiqi-ye gharb bar musiqi-ye Irân
[Westward Look, a discussion on the impact of Western music on Iranian
music]. Tehran: Mahoor.
_____ (1997) Ayene-o âvâz. [Ceremony and song]. A set of 28 cassettes.
Tehran: Hôze-ye honari-e tabliqât-e eslâmi.
Darvishi, M.R. and Tavahodi, K. (1992) Musiqi-ye shomâl-e Khorâsân [Music
of northern Khorasan]. Set of 3 cassettes. Tehran: Hôze-ye honari-e
tabliqât-e eslâmi.
Digard, J.P., Hourcade, B. and Richard, Y. (1996) L’Iran au XXe Siècle. Paris:
During, J. (1989) “Les musiques d’Iran et du Moyen Orient face à
l’acculturation.” In Y. Richard (ed.) Entre l’Iran et l’Occident. Paris:
Maison des sciences de l’homme.
_____ (1994) Quelque chose se passe: le sens de la tradition dans l’Orient
musical. Lagrasse: Verdier.
Khoshru, M. (1996) “Musiqi, ehsâsât-e ensâni va ‘eteqâdât-e akhlâqi” [Music,
human feelings and moral beliefs]. Ahang 7.
Mas’udieh, M.T. (1980) Musiqi-e Torbat-e Jâm [The music of Torbat-e Jâm].
Tehran: Sorush.
_____ (1985) Musiqi-e Baluchestân [The music of Baluchestan]. Tehran:
Mir ‘Alinaqi, S.‘A. (1998) Musiqi nâme-ye Vaziri. Majmu’e âsâr-e qalami va
goftâri-ye ostâd ‘Ali naqi Vaziri [Ali Naqi Vaziri’s lectures and writings
about music], ed. Seyyed ‘Alirezâ Mir ‘Alinaqi. Tehran: Enteshârât-e
Mir Salim (1996) “Az tariq-e musiqi mitavân bar raftâr-e ensânhâ ta’sir
gozâsht” [Human behaviour can be influenced by music]. Ahang 1.
Roshanravân, K. (1996) “Ghorbat: barresi-e vaz’iat-e fe’li-e musiqi dar Irân”
YOUSSEFZADEH The situation of music in Iran since the Revolution: the role of official organizations 61

[Exile: a study of the present state of music in Iran]. Tehran: Salâm (daily
paper) 1429, 1375.
Safarzâdeh, F. (1999) “Dar vatan-khish, qarib” [A stranger in one’s own
country]. Faslnâme-ye musiqi-ye Mâhu. 5, autumn 1378:153–6.
Sepantâ, S. (1990) Cheshmandâz-e musiqi-ye Irân [A survey of music in Iran].
Tehran: Mash’al.
Shiloah, A. (1995) Music in the world of Islam, a socio-cultural study. England:
Scolar Press.
Youssefzadeh, A. (1997) “Les bardes-bakhshi du Khorassan iranien.”
Unpublished PhD thesis, Université de Nanterre, Paris X.

Note on the author

Ameneh Youssefzadeh is a member of the French CNRS (Centre National de la
Recherche Scientifique) research team “Monde Iranien”, and a member of SFE
(French Society of Ethnomusicology). Her book on bards of Khorasan is to be
published soon by Peeters diff. (Travaux et Mémoires de l’Institut d’études
Iraniennes). Address: 9, rue de Monttessuy, Paris 75007, France; e-mail:
The Andean anacrusis? rhythmic
structure and perception in Easter
songs of Northern Potosí, Bolivia

Simiyki kuyuchun Chakiyki tusuchun

(“Let your mouth move Let your feet dance”)

This paper is the result of a collaboration between an ethnomusicologist (Henry

Stobart) and music psychologist (Ian Cross). It examines the interaction of a
variety of processes underlying the rhythmic structure and perception of a song
genre of the Bolivian Andes: these include linguistic prosody, movement
patterns, perceptual constraints and the dynamics of the culture’s musical
aesthetics. The “Easter songs” which form the focus of this study, present
particular problems of rhythmic perception for outsiders to the culture (such as
the authors), who often tend to misperceive these songs as anacrustic. This
phenomenon is addressed through an exploration of the unequal proportions
and accent placement in the charango accompaniment, and an analysis of
stress patterns of Quechua (and Aymara), the languages in which these songs
are sung. It is shown that the first syllable of a phrase is treated as a functional
“downbeat” and, despite outsiders’ perceptions, the anacrusis appears to be
absent from the Quechua and Aymara musical genres of the region. The paper
questions whether these findings might be relevant to other musical genres of
the Andes, and considers the problems of perception in the transcription and
analysis of Andean music.



Recordings on the Worldwide Web

This paper is accompanied by a series of recorded examples available on the
Worldwide Web []
I Cholita Chapareñita
II Sakista Jilatay
III Viacha Puntapi (a) charango (b) voices and charango
IV Suwamay Sakista
V Composed recorder melody, with tapping of Bolivian subject

The issue of rhythm perception is mentioned in the first major study of Andean
music, La Musique des Incas et ses survivances (“The music of the Incas and
their survivors”), published by Raoul and Marguerite d’Harcourt in 1925. Their
chapter devoted to rhythm begins by recounting the pride of the inhabitants of
Arequipa at the inability of a famous Spanish pianist to reproduce the rhythmic
particularities of Peruvian music. According to the d’Harcourts:
This demonstrates how these particularities differ from those which
characterise Spanish songs and those of Europe in general. The
illiterate Indians and cholos of the country, most of whom sing, dance
and play the flute, carry these rhythms in the blood and their instincts,
more securely than the musical culture of the pianist, permitting them
to reproduce them with precision.1

The d’Harcourts go on to explain that by mingling with the people of the

country and observing the rapid movements of their feet on the ground –
beating the “rhythmic accents” (temps rhythmiques) rather than the “measure”
(mésure) – they were able to overcome their initial disorientation and discover
the “secret” of the rhythm. A “secret” which unfortunately they fail to divulge!
Such ambitious claims, especially alongside their contentious thesis of
prehispanic pentatony, has sometimes rendered this pioneering study of Andean

1 It is interesting to note the parallels between the d’Harcourts’ attribution of rhythmic skill
to their “illiterate Indians” and Myers’ (1905) claim in respect of the “Sarawak Malays” that
their music had “rhythmical characteristics … [such as] … change and opposition in rhythm
… carried [to such lengths] … that their aesthetic effect may neither be appreciated nor
reproducible by more advanced peoples”. It seems quite feasible that both views are
coloured by the notion, prevalent in much late nineteenth-century anthropological thinking,
that “primitive” peoples could be capable of finer grades of “sensory” distinction than could
“more advanced” (on the whole, Western) peoples, and that this reflected fundamental racial
differences, a notion that can be traced to the prolific Darwinian popularizer Herbert Spencer
(see Shore, 1996, Chapter 1).
STOBART & CROSS The Andean anacrusis? Rhythmic structure and perception in Easter songs, Potosí, Bolivia 65

music all but “unreadable”,2 but it is difficult not to be impressed by the

d’Harcourts’ immense engagement with Andean music and culture, and by
their considerable efforts to make sense of what they encountered.3 Subsequent
scholars of Andean music have been surprisingly silent about issues of rhythm
perception, even in discussions of the process of musical transcription.
In his study of the relationship between musical thought and notation,
entitled Fraseologia – La Música Popular Argentina (1941), Carlos Vega also
reveals his awareness of the “imperfections” of music notation (1941:523).
However, he dedicates little space to practical issues of perception and the
majority of his musical examples are drawn from European repertoires.
Problems of transcription are intriguingly and dubiously attributed to the
“mentality” of the performer, rather than the perceptions or lack of adequate
contextual knowledge of the transcriber. For example, Vega distinguishes
between two types of musical “mentality” among singers of “popular” (or
today’s notion of “folk”) music; singers of concepts (conceptos) and the much
rarer singers of pictures or images (diseños). For the singers of concepts “the
song is a skeleton which may be externalised changing its details”, making the
transcriber’s task a “nightmare”. In the case of singers of pictures, who are
“much esteemed by collectors”, the song takes a “precise form of pitches and
fixed values”, which may be repeated with great precision (Vega 1941:484–5).
Aretz and Ramón (1976) follow the methodologies of Vega, but do not mention
issues of perception in the creation of their comparative transcriptions.
(However, most of the songs included in this collection are in Spanish and
hence are only marginally relevant to this paper).4
In the preface to his selection of 53 transcriptions of music from various
regions of Peru, Rodolfo Holzmann rightly emphasizes the “personal
interpretation” involved in the transcription process. However, his later and
seemingly contradictory claim for the validity of his transcriptions, due to being
based on the “objectivity of the recorded tape” (1966:9–10), seems highly
anachronistic today. A decade later, in her assessment of the problems facing
ethnomusicologists, Maria Ester Grebe was to observe the “difficulty of
producing valid musical transcriptions which objectively describe the sonic
phenomenon”, thus also betraying a focus on abstract sound, rather than
musical process (1976:19). 5 As a number of authors, working in other parts of
the world, have noted (Blacking 1976, Kubik 1979, Baily 1985), it is a mistake
2 See Strathern 1987 for discussions of how shifting attitudes render certain key texts
“unreadable”. Such texts may however become “readable” once more at a later date:
Strathern cites the example of Frazer’s “The Golden Bough”.
3 Despite presenting their notations as “absolutely exact” (thereby compensating for the
“regretful” lack phonographic documentation), the d’Harcourts revealingly add the proviso
that “certain rhythms were particularly difficult to grasp in notation” (1925:202).
4 For more general issues concerning perception and interpretation in transcription see
Ethnomusicology 8 (1964), Nettl 1983:65–81, and Ellingson 1992:110–52.
5 However, in her study of the panpipe music of the Aymara speakers of Tarapacá of Chile,
Grebe is very revealing about musical process and ethnography, but adopts a structuralist
rather than cognitive approach to rhythmic relations (1980:419–23).

to analyse rhythm, or other aspects of musical performance, simply in terms of

abstract, acoustic cues or “raw sound”. The sounds created in musical
performance are dependent on the interaction of a variety of processes of
production and cognition that are both abstract and corporeal.
The experience of rhythmic patterning reflects this interaction of motoric,
prosodic, acoustical and conceptual processes (see Handel 1989 Chapter 11),
but the forms in which these processes manifest themselves and the ways that
they come into being and interact are likely to differ not only according to
culture but also genre and performance context. Thus, for example, whilst
Western classical rhythmic patterns are largely structured according to a
hierarchical, metrical framework, much African music tends to be based on
“pulse”, which, unlike metre, does not carry with it an implicit organizational
framework (Arom 1991). Human movement patterns are also a highly
important aspect of musical performance, and, as Gerhard Kubik notes for
African music, sometimes “the auditory complexes may even be an, albeit
important, by-product of the motional process” (1979:227).6
Although few scholars of Andean music have focused on rhythm
perception, several theories have been developed concerning the rhythmic
“feet” employed in songs of the region. For example, Carlos Vega has
suggested that “the Incas only knew and employed binary feet” (1941:496),
whereas the colonial music of the region employed ternary feet (Aretz and
Ramón 1976:13).7 From more localized and practical perspectives, several
writers have identified a number general rhythmic characteristics of certain
genres of Andean music. These include:
• polyrhythmic relationships typically of duplets against triplets, for example
between melody and percussion (d’Harcourt 1925:156, d’Harcourt
1959:74, Holzmann 1966:18).
• linear interplay between duplets and triplets, which according to Ellen
Leichtman “adds bounce to much Andean music” (1987:161). Leichtman
also distinguishes between “Indian rhythm” and “mestizo huayño rhythm”
Indian rhythm:

Mestizo huayño rhythm:

6 Although it should be noted that the identification of music with movement can itself be
conceived of as the product of a specifically situated point of view. As Waterman puts it
those arguments concerning a critical importance for movement in African music tend to
“flow from the same intellectual wellspring, a German psychological tradition linking the
Berlin School and Boasian cultural anthropology” (1991:175).
7 This is contrasted with an association of the colonial music of the East coast of the
continent with binary feet (Aretz and Ramón 1976:13).
STOBART & CROSS The Andean anacrusis? Rhythmic structure and perception in Easter songs, Potosí, Bolivia 67

Leichtman also notes that what she finds “interesting about the mestizo
huayño is that there is no Western metre that can be used which is able
to distinguish between triplet and duplet subpulses within each
measure. This means that there must always be the addition of triplet
(or duplet) markings over each group of notes in addition to the metre”.
She suggests that the mestizo huayño is thus “a blending of Indian and
European rhythmic understanding” (1987:170)
• typical rhythmic gestures, for example:
(Turino 1998:216)
Dale Olsen has contrasted the articulation of Andean rhythms
with those of African music, suggesting that the rhythmic articulation in
Andean music may be derived from the breath attack required in panpipe
performance (1980:410).8


• rhythmic diminution, where imitative motifs become progressively shorter

through the course of a phrase, resulting in an additive aspect to rhythmic
organization (Holzmann 1986:241).9
We shall return to consider some of these observations later in the paper,
but at this stage we simply wish to stress that most theories and scholarly
discussions about rhythm in the Andes, as in many other parts of the world, are
shaped by notational conventions and the process of musical transcription.

8 The articulation he describes, if attack is construed in terms of relative energy, appears to

differ from our findings for the Quechua songs discussed in this paper.
9 Holzmann also identifies a form of “natural heterophony” resulting from two instruments
being played together with “complete rhythmic independence”. He relates this to a lack of
preoccupation with metrical organization and rhythmic coordination (1986:349). However, it
is difficult not draw the simple conclusion that the recording used for his transcription (on
instruments which in many parts of the Southern Andes would never be played together in
consort) captured two independent performances. Indeed it is common practice for socially
distinct groups of musicians to perform side by side during feasts, thereby asserting their
contrasted musical identities and creating a sense of cacophony and musical saturation. This
stresses the inadequacy of basing musical analysis merely upon the “sounds”.

The trials of transcription

Besides its potential value for musical analysis, transcription is also a practical
way of documenting and referencing certain types of field recordings.10 It was
during the transcription of numerous tapes of peasant music recorded in northern
Potosí, Bolivia – principally for referencing purposes – that the question of
rhythmic perception emerged as a problematic issue.11 On several occasions
when returning to the transcription of a song in the indigenous languages
Quechua or Aymara, after a break, a highly disorientating sense that the
transcription had been made in entirely the wrong metre was experienced,

Figures 1a and 1b Part of song “Cholita Chapareñita” – sung and played on the
guitarilla by Alesandro Mamani (Quichi Vilki, province Charka, northern Potosí), recorded
in Sacaca 4 February 1987 (Tape 21a:26)

10 Ethnomusicologists have traditionally distinguished between “descriptive” and

“prescriptive” transcriptions, where (in the simplest terms) the former are intended for
analysis purposes, and the latter to realize or reproduce the music (Seeger 1958). However, in
many ways this distinction is unsatisfactory (Nettl 1983:68–70). For example, the
theoretically “prescriptive” transcriptions of the music discussed in this paper, which were
initially intended for referencing purposes, became the focus of analysis.
11 These particular recordings were made by Henry Stobart during a year of fieldwork
(1986–7). Ideas in this paper are informed by a further six subsequent fieldwork visits to
Bolivia, principally based in northern Potosí.
STOBART & CROSS The Andean anacrusis? Rhythmic structure and perception in Easter songs, Potosí, Bolivia 69

making it necessary to abandon the previous version and start all over again.12
Similarly, it was only years later – by listening very carefully for the dance steps
– that we realized that many songs which had sounded and been transcribed as
strongly anacrustic, actually began on the beat (Recording I, Figures 1a and 1b).
In order to appreciate the problems in perception addressed in this paper, the
reader is strongly advised to read this essay in combination with listening to the
sound examples that may be accessed via the Worldwide Web.

Text on recording
Sawsillurunchu kasqani? Kumuykuspa waqanaypaq
Am I a weeping willow to weep with my head bowed down?
Chaypaq kani Margaritay, asikuspa qhawanaypaq
For this I am Margarita to watch laughing
The immediate aural impression of “Cholita Chapareñita” for most readers
of this paper is likely to be of an initial anacrusis followed by an on-beat accent
by the guitarilla and voice (1a). 13 However, it is clear from the footfalls, audible
at the end of the recording, that the voice begins on the beat and that most of the
notes of the melody and strums of the guitarilla occur off the beat (1b).
This raises the question: have other transcribers of Quechua songs from this
part of Bolivia suffered similar rhythmic misperceptions or confusions? And,
are similar kinds of problems of rhythmic perception (by outsiders) more
widely relevant to Quechua or Aymara songs from other parts of the Andes?
One of the few sets of published transcriptions to include songs from northern
Potosí is Max Peter Baumann’s “Sixty-six Quechua songs from Bolivia”
(“Sojta chunka qheshwa takis bolivia llajtamanta”, 1983). In the explanatory
notes of this attractive and, in many ways, exemplary volume, Baumann does
not mention any problems of rhythmic perception encountered in the
transcription process. However, judging from our experience of a large number
of songs collected in the region, it seems likely that the metric organization of at
least five of these transcriptions would be at variance with the pulse perceived
(and expressed as footfalls) by the performers themselves. For example, the
transcription of “Lari wayñu 2” (Baumann 1983:6), which has also been
published in Europe with the recording (Baumann 1982:19, 35 and track C8),
presents the rhythm of the voice as: 14

12 As one of the authors is fluent in Quechua, we will focus on this language rather than
Aymara. However, some of the songs we shall consider incorporate both Quechua and
Aymara words. Also, the stress rules, which will be discussed later, apply for both Quechua
and Aymara.
13 We would be pleased to receive feedback from readers concerning their perceptions of
these recordings.
14 According to the documentation this transcription was made by Bözene Muszlalska,
rather than Baumann himself.

No footfalls are audible in the recording to confirm the pulse perceived by

the performers, but footfalls in other recordings of this genre (which is found in
several parts of the northern Potosí region) make it evident that the first syllable
should coincide with a footfall:

Easter songs
The genre which, more than any other, alerted us to the problems of rhythmic
perception in the music of northern Potosí, was a form of courtship song
accompanied by the charango which is often locally known as pascuas or
“Easter” (referred to hereafter as “Easter songs”). This seasonal genre, in which
young women’s voices are accompanied by a young man strumming a metal-
string (mandolin-like) charango, was commonly performed informally in bars
or in the streets during feasts in such towns as Chayanta, Sacaca, Toracari and
San Pedro de Buenavista during the late 1980s.15 Easter songs were performed
by Quechua or Aymara-speaking campesinos (“peasants”) from the surrounding
countryside, rather than the cholo (or mestizo) populations of these rural towns.

Figure 2 Dancing to Easter songs through the streets of Toracari (Charka province,
northern Potosí) October 1986. Dance steps are often the only clue for outsiders to the
participants’ perceptions of the pulse.

15 For descriptions of Andean dance-song genres accompanied by the charango see Martinez
1992:30–31 (although the Easter music to which she refers is quite different from that
discussed in this paper), Solomon 1994:59–68 (for the case of ayllu Chayantaqa, including an
example of the genre discussed in this paper), and, for the case of Southern Peru, Turino 1983.
STOBART & CROSS The Andean anacrusis? Rhythmic structure and perception in Easter songs, Potosí, Bolivia 71

Figures 3a and 3b Takiririllasun wiritay – from “Sakista Jilatay” (excerpt from Recording
II; see Figure 7 for full transcription)

Figure 3c Sakista jilatay – with timings and ratios


Our analysis will suggest that, alongside our own problems as outsiders in
perceiving the rhythmic structure of these songs, Easter songs appear to
highlight rhythmic ambiguity as an important aspect of tension creation and
aesthetics for the performers themselves.
To our ears, the acoustic accents in recordings of many Easter songs often
suggest a compound anacrustic 6/8 rhythm. Similarly, the European subjects to
whom examples of these recordings were played have tended to perceive and
tap the metre as 6/8 (Figure 3a). However, the footfalls of the dancers imply an
on-beat 2/4 rhythm (Figure 3b). As the reader will note, the relative durations of
these two likely ways of transcribing these alternate perceptions of the rhythm
do not match up.
When the rhythmic values of individual notes were measured in
milliseconds16 it was discovered that relationships between the durations of
individual notes were often asymmetrical and variable, but that the pulse and
durations of rhythmic groups (e.g. of two or three notes) were highly regular.
The notation of Figure 3c comes closer to the true durational values (the use of
a time signature and bar lines is to aid analysis and should not be taken as
implying metrical strong and weak beats). 17
An iambic (short–long) relationship between paired shorter value notes,
both in the strummed charango accompaniment and voices, was found in many
examples of this style.18 In the case of bars 1 and 3 (Figure 3c) this is in close
approximation to the ratio 3:5, although in other songs this variable ratio was
nearer 2:3, and occasionally nearly equal. However, European listeners tended
to hear this pattern as the ratio 1:2 (quaver–crotchet), leading them to perceive
the second note of the pair as a marker of pulse. Thus, small differences in
durational values were “misperceived” by the European listeners who
assimilated them into metrically conformant categories or “conventional”
proportions (see Clarke 1985), these “categorical perceptions” (see Harnad,
1987) occurring without any conscious effort (or indeed awareness) on the part
of the listeners.

16 Using SoundEdit and Alchemy software on Apple Macintosh. xxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxx

17 The durational values of these measurements are, for practical reasons, only
approximate. Defining the start of a rhythmic event using computer-generated imaging of the
sound envelope is often somewhat subjective and arbitrary, especially in the case of the human
voice. For example, the onset of phonemes initiated by stops may be measured quite precisely
whereas those initiated by sibilants and nasals are more gradual and difficult to define.
18 Ellen Leichtman has transcribed charango rhythms from Sacaca, northern Potosí
(probably for Easter songs) with the consistent rhythm e qe q (1986:153), which comes quite
close to the 3:5 ratios of our measurements.
STOBART & CROSS The Andean anacrusis? Rhythmic structure and perception in Easter songs, Potosí, Bolivia 73

Tunaririllasun hiyaway wiritay tunaririllasun

Let’s make merry hiyaway wiritay let’s make merry19
Puntapi, puntapi Viacha puntapi; Q’illu rosas t’ika
On the peak, on Viacha [mountain peak]; Yellow rose flower 20

Figures 4a and 4b “Viacha Puntapi” (see Recordings IIIa and IIIb). Charango player:
Alonzo Vilka; singers from Cairuma community province, Alonzo de Ibanez, northern
Potosí, recorded in Sacaca 19 April 1987 (Easter Day) (Tape 29b:1-79)

19 The verb stem tuna- implies dancing, singing, drinking and other ingredients which
enliven a ceremonial occasion. The words hiyaway wirita appear in numerous dry season
song texts. Wirita is derived from the Spanish vida (life), but to date performers have been
unable to supply an explanation of the meaning of hiyaway.
20 The word rosas implies both the colour rose (pink) and the flower itself.

The charango upstroke

Another example of this tendency for European listeners to “misperceive” the
rhythm of Easter songs is found in “Viacha Puntapi” (Recordings IIIa and b,
Figures 4a and b). The powerful strummed accent of the charango on the
upstroke (second event) of the regular paired down–up strums (in a variable
iambic rhythmic ratio approximating 2:3) is likely to be heard by many listeners
as the pulse, thus leading to an anacrustic interpretation of the sounds (Figure
4a). Two short sound examples of this song are presented; the first (Recording
IIIa) features the charango with the voices heard in the background and the
second (Recording IIIb) highlights the voices. Towards the end of the first of
these recordings (IIIa) the dancers’ footfalls may be heard very clearly, marking
the regular pulse of the song (as shown in Figure 4b).
In a number of recordings of Easter songs the downstroke of the charango
accompaniment, which coincides with the pulse (and performers’ footfalls) was
almost inaudible. Thus, the only part of the player’s motion realized in sound
was the upstroke. This may result from the fact that many players dampen (or
even entirely stop) the strings on the downstroke, but allow them to ring out on
the upstroke. Similarly, as Figure 6 demonstrates, the charango upstroke in
Viacha Puntapi is sounded with much greater intensity than the downstroke,
thereby heightening rhythmic tension and leading to a tendency to perceive the
upstroke as the pulse. Figure 6 also highlights the iambic (approximate 2:3
ratio) nature of the charango motor programme which in turn supports the
rhythmic inequality of the voices.

Figure 5 A charango player

holding his instrument at an
exceptionally steep angle (Bustillo
province, northern Potosí) April
1989. In rural music it is more
common to see charangos held
almost parallel to the ground and
quite low against the player’s body.
STOBART & CROSS The Andean anacrusis? Rhythmic structure and perception in Easter songs, Potosí, Bolivia 75

Figure 6

The combined duration of the downstroke and upstroke of the charango

(which is also the pulse and inter-footfall interval) is generally in the region of
500ms. This approximates Fraisse’s “spontaneous tempo” (1956), which Clarke
relates to the “intrinsic pendular movements of the body” (1999:488). Pöppel
and Wittmann (1999:842) suggest that at, or above, this time period of 500ms,
fine temporal control of repeated actions is possible as it allows for “the
collection of somatosensory information”, so that the performer is able to use
muscular feedback to time each subsequent event accurately. However,
durations of each individual downstroke or upstroke of the charango in Easter
songs are between 150 and 280ms. According to Pöppel and Wittmann periodic
motor actions with durations of around 200ms are at, or beyond, the limit of
such control and must rely on “course pre-attentive control” (1999:842). This
means that Easter song rhythms appear poised between control and autonomy,
with the larger combined downstroke/upstroke movement susceptible to fine
temporal control while the components of that movement are freer to vary,
within the constraint of the first event of the pair being shorter – and less
intense – than the second.

Listening exercises
The first Easter song excerpts (Figure 3a, b and c) were taken from “Sakista
Jilatay”, the vocal part of which is transcribed in full in Figure 7. Readers may
achieve a crustic or “on-beat” perception of this song (Recording II) fairly
easily by tapping along with the charango introduction and maintaining this
rhythm through the rest of the song. At the ends of phrases the reader may well
find himself or herself slipping into an anacrustic (6/8) hearing of the song
(Figure 3a), a phenomenon which we shall consider later. Also, like the authors,
the reader may well find it difficult to consciously switch between an on-beat
(crustic) and an anacrustic perception of the rhythm.
In our transcriptions we have avoided using complex note values to
represent precise durations (besides sometimes showing an approximate 2:3
ratio as a group of 5). Such complex notation would be both difficult to read and
probably fail to convey the flexibility of the iambic rhythmic relations. To give a
sense of this variability, in Figure 7 we have included the durations of individual
notes and groups measured in milliseconds. A fair degree of variation in
individual durations may be seen through the course of the piece, but there is
considerable consistency on repeats suggesting that this rhythmic inequality may
have an expressive function. Such potential expressivity operates within
remarkably consistent values at the level of three-bar isorhythmic phrases
(2643–2750ms), one-bar trisyllabic units (855–927ms), and individual “long”
events, shown as crotchets (426–484ms) – even when “syncopated”. The value
of these “long” events (which is the same as the pulse and inter-footfall
durations) also closely approximates the sum of the “short” and “medium”
events, which appear to be negatively correlated (the longer the first, the shorter
the second). Thus, the variable and potentially expressive iambic nature of
STOBART & CROSS The Andean anacrusis? Rhythmic structure and perception in Easter songs, Potosí, Bolivia 77

Takiririllasun wiritay tunaririllasun wiritay siwatillas t’ika

Let’s sing wiritay / let’s make merry wiritay / barley flowers
Sakista, sakista jilatay jinacha sakista kullakay siwulla wirta mayu
Tell me, tell me brother / Just like that, tell me sister / Onion garden river.

Figure 7 Transcription of “Sakista Jilatay”, showing durations of individual notes and

groups in milliseconds (the values in bar 9 refer to the charango accompaniment)
(Recording II)

individual “short” and “medium” durations in Easter songs operates within a

highly regular broader rhythmic structure and phrase structure.21
It is also evident from Figure 7 that the first event in each ternary group (or
bar) is always the shortest, whether followed by a note of “medium” or “long”
duration. The first “short” event coincides with the pulse (marked by footfalls)
and the downstroke of the charango, whereas the second event coincides with
the high intensity charango upstroke. Similarly, when the second event is
“medium” in duration, the third (“long”) event coincides with the second
charango downstroke, but when the second event is “long” in duration the third
(“medium”) event coincides with the second charango upstroke. It is only at the
ends of phrases that this isorhythmic pattern is temporarily distorted, as we
shall discuss later.
Figure 8 shows the co-ordination between the charango motor programme
and the first and second syllables of the voices in each trisyllabic unit. The
synchronization of the first syllable and pulse (footfalls) with charango
downstroke perform a “referential” function within the broader rhythmic
structure, whilst the co-ordination of the variably timed second syllable with
higher intensity charango upstroke appears more “expressive” in nature.
Complex rhythmic relations in previous studies of Andean music, such as
those discussed by Leichtman above (1987:161, 170), have been explained in
terms of the juxtaposition of triplet and duplet subpulses – an approach
undoubtedly derived from Western European notational conventions. However,
it seems likely that real time measurements might reveal rather different types
of asymmetrical rhythmic relationships and interactions, perhaps comparable
with those of Easter songs.
The measurements in Figure 7 highlighted the close interaction between the
iambic rhythm of the charango and that of the voices. But in certain Easter
songs, such as “Suwamay sakistathis,” iambic effect is much less pronounced

Figure 8 Referential/expressive function of charango and vocal rhythm

21 See Gabrielsson 1999 for comparable studies of expressive timing in the performance of
Western tonal music.
STOBART & CROSS The Andean anacrusis? Rhythmic structure and perception in Easter songs, Potosí, Bolivia 79

Takiririllasun hiyaway tunaririllasun

Let’s sing hiyaway let’s have a good time
Sakista, sakista suwamay sakista
Tell me, tell me “I’ll steal you away”
Sasay engañesta cholita q’illu rosas t’ika
Saying, girl, you cheat me, yellow rose flowers.

Figure 9 Transcription of “Suwamay sakista” (Recording IV)

(a) Typical offbeat perception of rhythm by Western Europeans
(b) On-beat perception of rhythm based on performers’ footfalls

Figure 10 “Suwamay sakista” (excerpt), showing interaction between the charango

strumming and the vocal melody syllabic stress of the voices.
STOBART & CROSS The Andean anacrusis? Rhythmic structure and perception in Easter songs, Potosí, Bolivia 81

and the paired notes of the charango accompaniment are of almost equal
duration (Recording IV, Figure 9a and b).
Western European listeners have tended to perceive “Suwamay sakista” as
anacrustic or offbeat,22 like the other Easter songs discussed, but the relative
equality of paired events, especially in the charango accompaniment, leads to a
1:1 or 2/4 perception of the rhythm (Figure 9a) rather than the 2:1 (6/8)
categorization found in, forexample, “Viacha Puntapi” (Figure 4a, Recording III).
Once again, in the charango accompaniment of the song “Suwamay
sakista” a higher intensity second event (upstroke) and relatively weaker first
event (downstroke) is maintained. This is shown in Figure 10, alongside a
simultaneous stress on the second event in the vocal melody, marked by
capitalised syllables. These various aspects of performance practice push
towards an offbeat (anacrustic) perception of the rhythm – where the final three
notes of the vocal melody in each section are likely to be misinterpreted as
coinciding with the pulse, rather than as “offbeats”.

Production or perception?
The strong tendency for Western European listeners to hear Easter songs as
anacrustic led us to wonder whether Bolivian peasant musicians presented with
these recordings, outside the performance context, would also perceive them as
anacrustic. Was such anacrustic interpretation of the rhythm a by-product of the
production process and likely to be shared by listeners from different cultural
backgrounds? Or alternatively, were the Western Europeans and Bolivians in
question perceiving these rhythms in different ways?
To investigate these questions we carried out some informal explorations of
how listening strategies might relate to the experience of rhythmic patterning.
These involved playing a tape that included a number of Bolivian recordings, a
synthesized melody (imitating an Easter song but with equal stress on every
duration), and several European melodies that were either anacrustic or non-
anacrustic, to Bolivian and Western European participants. Each subject was
asked to clap (or tap) along with the music as though they were dancing to it
and the result was recorded on a second tape recorder. Although the informal
nature of the tests limits the extent to which the results may be generalized, a
number of standard types of response appears evident.
For the Easter song recordings of Northern Potosí, without exception the
Bolivian subjects, who all spoke Quechua or Aymara as their mother tongue,
clapped in time with the performers’ footfalls, even though many of them were
unfamiliar with this genre. Furthermore, for the examples of anacrustic
European melodies, the Bolivian subjects tended to treat the anacrusis or
“upbeat” as synchronic with the pulse, thus functionally as a “downbeat”.

22 This perception of the rhythm should perhaps be described as “offbeat” rather than strictly
anacrustic as we have transcribed it with three notes (rather than just one) before the barline.

Figures 11a, b and c

STOBART & CROSS The Andean anacrusis? Rhythmic structure and perception in Easter songs, Potosí, Bolivia 83

This tendency for the Bolivians to include the first note of a melody as a
clapped or “pulse” note was especially evident in an unaccompanied recorder
melody that was composed and played especially for the experiment. The
melody was composed so that it might be performed to emphasize either an
on-beat, duple (2/4) or anacrustic, compound (6/8) interpretation. It was
recorded twice, the two versions separated by another piece. The first version
was performed so as to favour an anacrustic, compound (6/8) metre (see Figure
11a) whilst the second was played so as to favour an on-beat, duple (2/4)
interpretation (see Figure 11b). 23
For both versions, the tapping of the Bolivian subjects implied an on-
beat/duple (2/4) or on-beat/ternary (3/8) perception of the rhythm (Recording
V). In contrast, the responses of many of the Western Europeans implied that
they perceived both melodies as anacrustic and compound (6/8) (see Figures
11a, b and c opposite).24
These initial results remain at present inconclusive. However, it would
seem that Western European subjects have a tendency to perceive the second
and longer duration of short–long rhythmic events as determinants of metrical
stress (see Lee, 1991) whereas Bolivians appear to ascribe that stress to the first
and shorter duration.25
Bolivian subjects Western European subjects
(short–long) (short–long)
first-note stress second-note stress
The fact that this shorter duration is the first sound that is heard is also
significant. For the Bolivian subjects this first sound within a phrase appears to
initiate and mark the pulse of the piece. 26 Thus, for them, the hierarchy of
rhythmic events would appear to be organized according to the order in which
these rhythmic events are heard rather than on the basis of their durational
relationship to one another. It appears that for the Bolivian subjects the first note
of a melody tends to be perceived as hierarchically dominant (as a marker of
pulse) in respect of the second, even when the first pair of notes is in the relation
short–long, an interpretation that would run counter to rules that have been
adduced as being universally applicable to all musics (Metrical Preference Rule

23 This metrical distinction was made using Western performance conventions. For the
anacrustic (6/8) interpretation this involved a short, light anacrustic quaver, leading to a
lengthened crotchet, and for the on-beat (2/4) interpretation a stressed first quaver followed
by an unstressed and shortened crotchet.
24 John Blacking (1995 [1967]:164) has noted a similar tendency among the Venda to treat
short-long durations as iambic (as in Figures 11b and c) rather than as anacrustic (as in Figure
11a). However, the context and performance strategies he describes to explain this
phenomenon appear rather different from the Bolivian case discussed here.
25 Significantly, many Quechua songs feature iambic (short-long) rhythmic relations. For
example, the majority of the Carnival songs from Ayacucho, Peru, transcribed in Vásquez
and Vergara 1988 follow the pattern: e qe q.
26 This is also the case for the many Bolivian melodies which begin with the rhythmic
durations long–short.

5a, Lerdahl and Jackendoff 1983:348). It also accords with David Hughes’
suggestion (1991:330) that metre, as construed within Western music-theoretic
tradition, may not have the universal applicability that is generally assumed for it.

Cognitive perspectives
The contrasted perceptions of the rhythmic structure of Easter songs by
Bolivian and Western European subjects suggested the possibility of differing
cognitive processes at work. We hypothesized a number of cognitive
explanations to account for the iambic (short–long) pairs of durations present in
many Easter songs, such as the possibility that Bolivian musicians were
perceiving rhythmic structure in some figural way, independent of regular time
hierarchies (see Hargreaves, 1996:160), or that they were employing different
rhythmic categories from Western listeners. This led us to design an experiment
which aimed to compare how small time differences in durational proportions
were perceived by subjects from rural Bolivia and Europe. However, there were
several methodological flaws in this experiment, which seemed to demonstrate
(although inconclusively) no significant differences between the patterns of
judgements of the European and Bolivian listeners (except a greater tendency
for Europeans to be able to distinguish between regular equal patterns and
irregular patterns).
Neither the figural nor the categorical hypotheses appeared helpful here,
but the iambic nature of the pairs of durations did suggest the possibility that
the rhythmic structure of Easter songs might be constrained or shaped by the
phenomenon of “time-shrinking”. This process, first proposed by Nakajima et
al. (1991), suggests that when two short time intervals are experienced
consecutively and comparatively, the second must be significantly longer than
the first for both of them to be experienced as equal in duration. It has been
suggested that time-shrinking, which occurs most strongly when durations of
less than 200–300 milliseconds are involved, “probably reflects a universal
perceptual mechanism operating at a level before linguistic idiosyncrasies
determine listening behaviour” (1991:18).
The durations in Easter songs lie close to the upper threshold (c. 200ms) of
those employed in the experiments demonstrating time shrinking. Nakajima et
al. suggest that below this threshold time shrinking is more-or-less unavoidable
in perception, becoming less so as the threshold is approached, which might
help explain the rhythmic ambiguity encountered by many listeners to Easter
songs – especially those aiming to make symbolic and consistent judgements
about the durational relations between paired notes, such as an
ethnomusicologist attempting to transcribe this music. But, whilst time
shrinking may help us to understand how paired iambic durations might be
employed to produce a subjective equality of duration in Easter song
performance, it does not explain the differences in rhythmic perceptions
encountered between Bolivian and European listeners. One area which does,
STOBART & CROSS The Andean anacrusis? Rhythmic structure and perception in Easter songs, Potosí, Bolivia 85

however, offer a possible explanation for this complex situation, is the prosodic
structure of the Quechua (or Aymara) language of these songs.

The stress rules of the languages Quechua and Aymara, in which these songs
are sung, work in a rather different way from most European languages. 27 The
primary stress in Quechua (on which we shall now focus) appears on the
penultimate syllable of a word, and the secondary stress comes on the first
syllable (Cerrón-Palomino 1987). As a suffix-based language, this means that
the position of the primary stress in Quechua is highly variable. For example:
Ta-ki-ku-ni Ta-ki-ri-ku-sha-ni Ta-ki-ri-ku-sha-lla-ni28
I sing I’m singing I’m just singing
It is significant that the secondary stress always occurs on the first syllable
of a word, and as such is the only “fixed” stress feature. Thus, in terms of stress,
the initial sound or syllable of a word is usually privileged as a referential
feature in respect of, for example, the second syllable. This may help to explain
why the Bolivian subjects tended to perceive the first note they heard as
marking the pulse.
However, an exception to this pattern for Quechua stress would appear to
occur in the case of words with three syllables where the primary stress comes
on the second syllable, thus favouring it over and above the first syllable. Might
we then expect mother tongue Quechua speakers to treat songs that started with
such words as anacrustic?
Trisyllabic stress: Wi-ri-ta [“Life”: Spanish loan word]
Bruce Mannheim (1986) has noted that such tri-syllabic words, where the
primary and secondary stress are placed consecutively, are rare in Quechua and
form an exceptional category. These exceptional tri-syllabic words are also
found in adolescents’ riddle games in Peru, and have been interpreted as a
means of achieving verbal competence (Isbell and Roncalla 1977).
Significantly, this exceptional class of tri-syllabic words is particularly common
in Easter songs and even appears to form the rhythmic basis of this genre,
where three-syllable words (or six-syllable words treated as two tri-syllabic
words) are incorporated into isorhythmic figures.

Ta-ki-ri - ri-lla- sun wi-ri-tay

Sa-ki-sta, sa-ki- -sta ji-la-tay

27 Both Quechua and Aymara are widely spoken in the areas where these songs are sung and
many of the performers from our recorded examples spoke both these languages (and
sometimes Spanish).
28 Primary stress in bold, secondary stress underlined. xxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxx

The exceptions to this essentially trisyllabic rule and structure come only at
the ends of phrases when words of even syllable number (e.g. two or four) are
introduced. This has the effect of skewing the isorhythmic pattern set up by the
repeated tri-syllabic combinations of words. From the authors’ perceptions, the
skewing of the tri-syllabic isorhythmic figures by the introduction of words
with even syllable number also seems to have the effect of emphasizing an
anacrustic (6/8) interpretation. It seems likely that Bolivian performers of these
songs might also experience some form of rhythmic tension at these points,
perhaps adding to the aesthetic pleasure of the song.
Despite the prosodic tri-syllabic rhythmic configurations of Easter songs,
which Western listeners usually seemed to perceive as anacrustic, the Bolivian
performers and subjects all treated the first syllable as a “downbeat” or dance
step. It would seem that Quechua stress rules, which might imply an anacrustic
interpretation in the trisyllabic case, are not followed in this genre.
Alternatively, it may be necessary to reconsider these stress rules and question
Bruce Mannheim’s classification of the first syllable in tri-syllabic Quechua
words as “extra-metrical” (1986:58). Perhaps, for the poetry of Easter songs at
least, it may be appropriate to identify two distinct forms and functions of
Quechua stress: (a) “primary” stress, marked by intensity, pitch or duration (as
commonly used in English), which signals the termination of a word;29 and (b)
“secondary” stress, which may be perceived in other ways and serve a
qualitatively different function.30
The perception of “secondary” stress in Quechua might be compared to
modern Welsh, in which intensity and pitch give no indication of stress. Indeed,
the regular stress that occurs on the penultimate syllable is often wrongly
perceived by English people to occur on the final syllable, due to the increased
duration of the post-stress consonant (Williams 1983). It seems possible that the
“secondary” stress at the start of a Quechua word may act as some kind of
perceptual anchor, as the onset of a delimited stream of sonic linguistic
information, which is marked in song by a dance step.31 In the case of the tri-
syllabic words of Easter songs, where exceptionally “secondary” and “primary”
stress occur adjacently, this unusual juxtaposition would seem to heighten
rhythmic interest for the performers.

The Andean anacrusis?

As we have argued, Easter songs are an exceptional genre in a number of
respects, and have required us to focus on rhythmic structure and perception in

29 Where a Quechua word consists of a variable length cluster of suffixes added to a stem.
30 This also suggests that the classification “primary” or “secondary” is somewhat arbitrary
– reflecting the Western history of linguistics and its categories rather the reality of how
stress might actually function in Quechua.
31 This is in part prepared for by the “primary stress” which marks the end of a preceding word.
STOBART & CROSS The Andean anacrusis? Rhythmic structure and perception in Easter songs, Potosí, Bolivia 87

Figure 12 Young charango players about to accompany Easter songs. The charango is
closely associated with courtship. (Sacaca, Alonso de Ibañez province, northern Potosí,
Easter 1997)

considerable detail. The typically iambic and higher intensity charango

upstroke and second syllable, alongside elements of play in language stress
patterns, are clearly of great aesthetic importance for the performers, adding to
rhythmic “tension” and interest. But even if outsiders, such as the authors, often
find themselves hearing this music anacrustically, an anacrustic interpretation
of these songs was notably absent from Bolivian mother tongue Quechua (or
Aymara) speakers. This raises the question of whether the absence of the
anacrusis, or rather the tendency to treat the first syllable of a phrase as a
functional “downbeat”, is more widely generalized among the songs of mother
tongue Quechua (and Aymara) speakers. A thorough survey of music from
across the Andean region would be necessary to reach any firm conclusions on
this question. Although such a survey is beyond the scope of this paper, it is
worth noting that none of the several hundreds of Quechua or Aymara songs
(and instrumental pieces) from the peasant communities of northern Potosí that
we have recorded and analysed were found (after overcoming our initial
misperceptions) to be anacrustic. 32
The implications of Quechua stress on the construction of melodies (and
thus perception) has also been discussed by Vásquez and Vergara who note that
“the rhythm of Carnival melodies [from Ayacucho, Peru] responds to the

32 A few instrumental pieces from Yura, to the south of Potosí, were however undoubtedly
anacrustic. These may have been based on Spanish rather than Quechua songs.
33 Incidentally, none of the Carnival melodies transcribed by Vásquez and Vergara include
an anacrusis and many begin with iambic (short–long) rhythmic pairs.

rhythm of the Quechua words, and because of this when the melody is presented
with Spanish, sometimes, it seems to contradict the accentuation of this
language” (1988:196 our translation).33 This linguistic basis for difference in
the rhythmic structure of Andean songs seems to be significant. For example,
an anacrustic rhythmic structure is common in predominantly Spanish language
genres, such as the Peruvian Yaravís and Marineras transcribed by Rodolfo
Holzmann (1966:25, 29, 70 etc.). In the few examples from this collection
where Quechua songs have been transcribed as anacrustic, it seems likely that
Holzmann has been subject to rhythmic misperceptions similar to those that we
encountered (1966: 40, 62, 67).
Whilst language seems to be of considerable significance for understanding
the rhythmic structure in Andean music, it is important not to present Spanish
and Quechua/Aymara musics as neatly isolated spheres of musical activity. The
juxtaposition of Spanish and Quechua (or Aymara) stress patterns in the Andes
needs to be understood in the historical context of these languages’ close
proximity, interactions and mutual borrowings since the sixteenth century, as
well as widespread bilingualism. Indeed, like many other essentially Quechua
(or Aymara) genres, Easter songs incorporate a number of Spanish loan words,
such as wirita, from the Spanish vida (“life”). Also, Quechua (or Aymara)
words have often been set to melodies derived from Spanish prosody, and vice
versa. For example, Carlos Vega has observed how singers unconsciously apply
their own “rhythmic system” to renditions of a “foreign song” (canción
extraña) – thereby creating a hybrid (1941:495–6) and Ellen Leichtman has
described the mestizo huayño in terms of “a blending of Indian and European
rhythmic understanding” (1987:170)
This leads us to wonder how often Spanish melodies have been
reinterpreted by mother tongue Quechua or Aymara speakers without anacruses
(as we discovered in their tapping to anacrustic European melodies), or how
often speakers of European languages have added anacruses to Quechua or
Aymara melodies. For example, one of the authors played and sang the song
“Cholita Chapareñita” as anacrustic (Figure 1a) for several years before
becoming aware of the placing of the footfalls on the original recording (Figure
1b). It seems likely that similar forms of rhythmic misperception, or
reinterpretation, may underscore the development of many Andean musical
genres through the course of the region’s complex history of mestisaje (cultural
mixing) and Westernization.

We have seen how the interplay between features of language (in the form of
rules of prosody), motoric patterns and other aspects of performance acts to
shape Easter songs, enabling the charango players and singers to sustain the
“unevenness” of rhythmic relations. These act together in opposition to the
referential function implied by the fixed – perhaps even default – status of the
initial syllable stress to create and sustain tension, affording a dynamic
STOBART & CROSS The Andean anacrusis? Rhythmic structure and perception in Easter songs, Potosí, Bolivia 89

rhythmic structure to the performance, keeping it “on the edge”.

It can be hypothesized that the fixed status of the stress on the initial
syllable leads to the initial event in a temporal pattern coming to act as a
“perceptual anchor”, a determinant of the temporal structure in respect of which
other elements will be perceived. It may not be too far-fetched to conceive of
this “orienting” function for Bolivian musicians of initial events in respect of
later events in perception as being similar (in function, if not in form) to the
orienting function exercised by, e.g., the tonic in respect of other scale notes
within Western tonal music. Hence patterns of tension and resolution might be
articulated in this Bolivian music in terms of match or mismatch of temporal
structure with the accent structure expected on the basis of prosodic rules
together with other elements, such as motor patterns, in performance.
It is interesting to consider Easter song performance in terms of what
appears to be the most highly developed theory of temporal musical cognition,
Jones’s theory of dynamical attention (Jones 1976, Jones and Yee, 1993).
According to this theory, the function of rhythmic and metric frameworks in the
experience of patterns unfolding in time is to reduce the amount of cognitive
effort involved in interpreting such patterns by enabling listeners to align their
expectations with predictably spaced reference points marked by the occurrence
of beats. However, the mechanics of this theory, in which relative duration
constitutes an important cue in the abstraction of a regular periodic framework
of beats, would appear to require considerable reformulation in order to account
for Easter song performance. Moreover, the prosodic and motoric factors
central to the articulation of the experience of time in Easter songs scarcely
figure in either Jones’s theory or, indeed, in most theories of the cognition of
time in music (although see Pressing et al. 1996, and the accounts of Todd and
Parncutt’s theories in Clarke, 1999).
Overall, a conclusion that may be drawn from this study is that while
certain capacities and propensities can be shown to be operational in the
cognitions of Western and non-Western subjects and might thus be deemed to
be “cognitive universals”, the ways in which the operation of these cognitive
universals might be actualized in the performances of different cultures can be
highly divergent. Although inevitably conforming to general timing constraints
on human perceptual systems and on periodic motor behaviours, the ways in
which rhythm and metre are structured in a culture’s music appear, from this
study, to be highly culture-specific. Whereas rhythmic complexity in much
Western music can be accounted for in terms of the expectancies generated by
the periodic and hierarchical nature of “conventional” Western phrase-structure
(albeit that these have historic origins in dance), the capacity to produce
complex and ambiguous rhythms appears in this instance to derive from a
complex interaction between linguistic prosody, movement patterns, perceptual
constants and the dynamics of a culture’s musical aesthetics.
It may be that an account of the experience or cognition of music within the
peasant culture of Northern Potosí either should not or cannot be expressed in
terms of what might be thought of as the sorts of “natural kinds” that have been
applied to account for the cognition of music within a Western cultural context.

These natural kinds constitute things like pitches and durations, which,
according to Lerdahl and Jackendoff, constitute the musical surface, a level of
description that (in Jackendoff’s 1987 account) mediates between auditory
input and conceptual representations of musical structure in cognition. The idea
of a musical surface that is comprised of pitches and durations as constituting
the substrate for natural kinds in music cognition may simply reflect
specificities of much Western musical usage and may accurately reflect
elements in and of Western musical cognition. But the close ties between
language, movement and rhythmic structure evident in Easter songs would
suggest that an appropriate mechanism for mediating between sensory (not just
auditory) input and conceptual structure can be described only by taking into
account all these contributory and interacting factors.
This view is similar to that of Kofi Agawu, who has characterized Ewe
conceptions of rhythm as “not a single unified or coherent field, but rather one
that is widely and asymmetrically distributed, permanently entangled, if you
like, with other dimensions” (1995:388). Similarly, Agawu’s aim to “develop a
view of African rhythm in which its mechanical aspects are shown to reside in
broader patterns of temporal signification (movement, language and gesture)”
(1995:395), has many resonances with our own approach for the case of the
Andes. However, for us, the focus is less on the “broader patterns” but rather on
the factors that motivate them, locating these in the domain of embodied and
encultured cognition.
Easter songs comprise just one of the countless and extraordinarily varied
genres of rural musics of the Andes. Their performance and specific type of
rhythmic interplay are appropriate to a specific time of year and limited to a
small geographical area. However, we may have an important lesson to learn
from the rhythmic structuring of these songs in our approaches to Andean
music in general as well as in our understanding of the relation between music
and cognition. It is significant that while many English songs – indeed, poetic
metres, such as iambic or anapaestic – are anacrustic, very few (if any) songs in
the Andean languages Quechua or Aymara can truly be classified as such.
Those which have been transcribed or claimed as anacrustic, necessarily by
(ethno)musicologists schooled in the European classical tradition, might tell us
more about the perceptions of the researcher than about the Andean music or
musicians in question.
STOBART & CROSS The Andean anacrusis? Rhythmic structure and perception in Easter songs, Potosí, Bolivia 91

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Note on the authors

Henry Stobart is lecturer in Ethnomusicology at the Music Department of the
Royal Holloway, University of London. Since 1986 he has made regular
fieldwork trips to Bolivia and has written many articles on a variety of aspects
of rural Andean music. He co-edited the book Sound (Cambridge University
Press 2000) and is currently completing a musical ethnography of an Andean
community for publication with Ashgate. As a performer, he is member of the
Early/World Music ensemble Sirinu, with whom he has toured and recorded
widely. Address: Music Department, Royal Holloway, University of London,
Egham, Surrey TW20 0EX; e-mail:

Ian Cross is a University Lecturer in Music and Fellow of Wolfson College,

Cambridge. He is responsible for teaching all aspects of science and music in
the Faculty of Music at Cambridge (where he leads the Science and Music
Group), and is presently involved in research into the cognitive and
evolutionary psychology of music. He has published many articles and chapters
as well as two books, Musical structure and cognition (Academic Press, 1985)
and Representing musical structure (Academic Press, 1991), both co-edited
with P. Howell and R. West. Address: Faculty of Music, University of
Cambridge, West Road, Cambridge CB3 9DP; e-mail:;
DAVID W. HUGHES______________________________
No nonsense: the logic and power of
acoustic-iconic mnemonic systems

Oral mnemonic systems for transmitting or representing melodies are

examined in several diverse music cultures, to demonstrate that certain
acoustic–phonetic features of vowels and consonants lead to similar systems of
mnemonics existing independently in widely separated cultures. The primary
relevant features are Intrinsic Pitch, Intrinsic Intensity and Intrinsic Duration;
it is argued that largely subliminal yet universal awareness of these features
leads to their use in structuring mnemonic systems. The article also reports on
an attempt to begin testing the universal accessibility of the relevant

1 Introduction
In the New Grove dictionary of music (Sadie, 1980), solmization is defined as
the “use of syllables in association with pitches as a mnemonic device for
indicating melodic intervals.” The paragraph goes on to claim: “Such syllables
are, musically speaking, arbitrary in their selection…” (in Sadie 1980:458;
The present article demonstrates that many systems of syllables for
transmitting melodic intervals are far from being “musically speaking,
arbitrary”: on the contrary, in such cases the particular choice of vowels to
represent melodic flow is acoustically well motivated, highly regular and shows
consistency across numerous music cultures. In addition, there are syllabic
systems that transmit information other than or in addition to intervals, such as
duration, loudness, resonance, timbre, attack and decay; most of these similarly
use vowels and consonants in non-arbitrary ways. Since the latter are not,
strictly speaking, solmization systems, a broader term is needed to embrace all
systems where there is a close and highly regular connection between sonic
aspects of the mnemonic syllables and of the corresponding musical
phenomena. I propose the admittedly awkward term acoustic-iconic mnemonic
systems. This reflects the fact that certain phonetic features of the syllables –



both vowels and consonants – are in an iconic relation to the musical sounds
they represent; that is, they mimic or resemble them closely acoustically, as
onomatopoeic words imitate sounds. But the connection between an
onomatopoeic word and its referent is often far from obvious to someone who
does not already know, whereas the principles behind acoustic-iconic systems
(though not their precise application) are universally accessible to human
experience. Thus we shall see that musicians from Japan and Uganda might
well be expected to find each others’ mnemonic systems mutually intelligible.
The term “nonsense syllables” is often used to describe such mnemonics.
This article, however, endeavours to show that, although lexically meaningless,
such syllables make eminent sense once their logic is understood.
Such systems depend for their effectiveness upon their orality: to fully
experience the impact of the syllables, one must sing or recite them, preferably
aloud but at least in one’s head. Such systems have often come to be written
down as well, as we shall see, but even in these cases their oral use is likely to
continue in parallel.
The basic logic underlying acoustic-iconic mnemonic systems allows them
to function successfully and with impressive consistency even though the users
are generally unaware of the full details of this logic. Consciousness is not
necessary for these systems to function, because they are based on perceptions
that are universally available, even if subliminally. It is a major aim of this
article to demonstrate that these perceptions do exist, and then to explain why.
This discussion may have some practical relevance. In Japan, for example,
there is some resistance among younger students to the use of such mnemonics.
As I believe in their utility, I would like to have the evidence to convince such
learners that the traditional method is still useful.1

2 Oral mnemonics in Japanese music

Let me describe my first few lessons on the n<kan, the flute of Japan’s Noh
theatre, in 1979. The teacher was Fujita Daigor<, a “Human National Treasure”.
At the first of our 25-minute weekly lessons, I proudly showed him the Noh
flute that I had just bought. He looked it over, said “Very nice”, and to my
surprise handed it back without even trying it. Then we spent the rest of the

1 I have dealt with aspects of these matters in two previous articles. Hughes 1989 introduced
the basic features of what I then called “vowel-pitch solfège”, while Hughes 1991 traced the
phenomenon through five centuries in Korea. Some of their main points are summarized
briefly here, without full details and sources. This article both presents new data and
interpretations and reports on an attempt to test the universal accessibility of the relevant
perceptions. (Two misprints in Hughes 1991: the formula in footnote 5 needs a slash mark
after 100 and should read 100/(2n)%; the “n” in footnote 9 should be “ni”.)
HUGHES No nonsense: the logic and power of acoustic-iconic mnemonic systems 97

Figure 1 Noh flute solmization for “Ch3 no mai” repeated section. Pitches are notional:
both pitches and intervals can vary each time they are sung.
session singing the syllables in Figure 1. This is the melody of the four-line
repeated flute motif central to the “Ch3 no mai” dance. The flute was not used.2
At our next lesson, once he was satisfied that I had memorized these lines,
he handed me a folded Japanese fan and had me imitate his finger movements
on a similar fan while I sang the mnemonics. The fan was held more or less as
the flute would be, but not against the mouth.
Finally in the third lesson he allowed me to pick up my flute. We then
practised as we had with the fan, singing the mnemonics over and over yet
again, only this time with me fingering on the flute. It was not until the fourth
week, however, that I was at last allowed to actually blow into the flute. At no
time during these four weeks did my teacher ever pick up his own flute.
Playing the flute for that first time, “thinking” the mnemonics as I did so,
the melody seemed to come out naturally (although not with the subtle
ornamental detail of a mature version). The fingers knew where to go, and the
syllables continued to course through my mind. The pitches and intervals were
doubtless different, since we had never sung at any specific pitch, and as I
already knew, there was no standard pitch or tuning pattern for Noh flutes
anyhow, as they never need to accompany another melodic instrument or singer.

2 In this article, vowels in square brackets indicate a loose usage of the International
Phonetic Alphabet (IPA), sufficient to our needs but with some typographical substitutions
for a non-specialist readership. The symbols [i I e a à ¿ o u] are to be pronounced
approximately as in American English “beat, bit, bait/bet, bah, but, bought, boat, boot”
respectively, though never as diphthongs; [¹] is as in “book” but with the tongue somewhat
farther forward and less lip-rounding; [ü] is like [i] but with lips rounded; [y] represents its
normal English value as in “yet”, and [ng] is as in “sing”.

But I felt a very close identity between what we had sung and what I was now
playing. Eventually I learned the entire “Ch3 no mai” by the same method. No
written notation was offered by my teacher at any time.
Mnemonics of this type in Japan are most commonly called sh<ga (or
kuchi-sh<ga by modern scholars). They exist for many instruments, both
melodic and rhythmic. Singing of sh<ga is standard in learning not only the
Noh flute but also, for example, the wind instruments of gagaku (court music).
And it is equally valued in the latter case, as the following example shows.
In the late 1980s a group of London-based musicians had been striving to
perform gagaku, using five-line staff notations and recordings, with some
guidance from myself. When an ensemble of gagaku musicians conducted
workshops at my university, we performed our two pieces for them. Their
leader charitably claimed to be impressed with how close we had come to the
sound, considering that our instruments were mostly Chinese rather than
Japanese. But he remarked that it was obvious that we had not learned in the
traditional way, namely by first singing the sh<ga: had we done so, he said, the
entire flow of the music would have been different – more natural and correct.
Even today, beginning court musicians may spend not weeks but years learning
pieces via sh<ga before playing the relevant instrument.
Why is sh<ga considered – and indeed why is it – so valuable in learning
Japanese music? On one level it could be merely that singing the melody in
advance, with much of its ornamental detail, implants it firmly in your mind.
But then, why not just sing “la la la” (or “ra ra ra”)? It is clearly because the
acoustic-iconic nature of the vowels and consonants adds an important
dimension to the memorization process, one that (from my own experience)
seems to translate easily into direct performative action on the instrument. Let
us now consider the elements that make such mnemonic systems effective.

3 The nature of acoustic-iconic systems

Both the consonants and the vowels of sh<ga and other acoustic-iconic systems
help the learner internalize the sound of the desired musical output and often its
technique of production. They can do this because each choice of consonant
and vowel is likely to reflect some feature(s) of the musical sound in a relatively
direct and intrinsic way. This is in sharp contrast to, say, tonic sol-fa, where the
choice of “do, re, mi …” to represent particular scale degrees is truly “musically
speaking, arbitrary”, a historical accident; or to North Indian sargam, whose
syllables were also selected for reasons other than their sound. Each type of
system has its advantages. Sol-fa is arbitrary but 100% consistent; acoustic-
iconic systems are rarely 100% consistent, but what they lose in precision they
gain in relevance.
Space will not permit extensive notated examples (for which see Hughes
1989, 1991), but here are a few observations, beginning with the role of
consonants. For wind instruments, initial consonants generally mimic the attack
or onset of a pitch. In Figure 1, the lack of a consonant before the opening [o]
HUGHES No nonsense: the logic and power of acoustic-iconic mnemonic systems 99

indicates a relatively smooth onset rather than an abrupt tongued attack. (An [h]
begins many breath phrases whose first note falls on a downbeat, and is
similarly non-abrupt.) The following [hy-] does not interrupt the air flow, and
nor does the flautist do so, but the two-element sound reflects the fact that there
is usually a grace-note ornamentation at this point linking the first two main
notes. The ensuing [r] between identical vowels, which is pronounced as what
acousticians call a “flap”, indeed marks a simple finger-flap to articulate the
beat, with no breath pulse. The sh<ga for the superficially similar flute (ry3teki)
of gagaku has some differences: thus the attack at the start of a phrase is
similarly gradual, yet unlike the Noh flute it is marked in sh<ga by a [t], with its
inevitable abrupt onset as the tongue tip is pulled away from the roof of the
mouth: [taa-fa’a-roru ta…]. The [t] may not mimic the attack with precision,
but it does mark a cutting of the air stream that distinguishes this note’s attack
from those of the subsequent notes of the phrase ([fa, ro …]).
Looking at other cultures as well, we find that “stop” consonants such as [p,
t, k, b, d, g] generally mark the sharp attack of a plucked string or struck
membranophone or idiophone. The deeper pitches are more commonly marked
by the voiced consonants [b, d, g]; thus the open bass string of Japan’s shamisen
lute is sung as [don] vs. the [ton] of the higher-pitched open middle string, and
[d] represents a deeper, more resonant sound than [t] or other voiceless sounds in
mnemonics for Javanese drums ([tak dung dhah]), many Middle Eastern drums
([dum tek]), Brazilian musical bow berimbau ([chin don]) and so forth. There
are acoustic-phonetic reasons underpinning this which cannot concern us here.
To reflect a two-element sound, a consonant cluster may be used: a rapid
two-hand sequence on the Javanese ciblon drum is called [dlang]; the octave
chord on a Javanese gambang xylophone is expressed as [klèng] or [klong] in a
nineteenth-century poem (Poerbatjaraka 1987:267). Or a chord on a string
instrument can be marked by a more complex fricative or affricate [sh] or [ch]
rather than a simple stop consonant, as in shamisen double-stop [chan, shan] vs.
single-string [ten, ton].
Final consonants often help show decay. In many drum mnemonics, a final
[k] (or other stopped sound) represents a damped stroke, while a final nasal or
vowel shows that the sound is left to resonate and decay naturally. Since a wind
or bowed instrument generally can sustain a note with little or no decay or
timbral change, their solmization tends simply to prolong the vowel. But a
longer note on a plucked string or a struck instrument is often distinguished
from a shorter one by adding a nasal consonant [n, m, ng]. 3
In sum, consider then finally a shamisen passage such as [tereren don]: [t]
for normal pluck, [r] for gentler left-hand pizzicato or up-pluck, [d] for deeper
pitch, [n] to indicate that the last two sounds are prolonged but decay
noticeably. Thus every consonant has an acoustic-iconic role to play. But what
about the vowels?

3 Thomas Porcello’s paper at the 1999 Society for Ethnomusicology meeting, “Metaphors of
sound”, explored consonant symbolism with reference to music in natural-language words such
as “hiss”, “thump”, “rumble” and “clack”. There are obvious points of contact between this
widespread linguistic phenomenon and acoustic-iconic mnemonic systems.

4 Vowels, mnemonics and relative pitch

The remainder of this article will focus on the role of vowels and on homologies
between their acoustic features and those of the musical phenomena they
represent. In general, the use of consonants in mnemonics strikes me as being
fairly straightforward and common-sense. With vowels, the factors determining
their use seem less immediately apparent to most people, although after
explanation many people suddenly do find them relatively intuitive or obvious.
Vowels are often used in accordance with any of three characteristics: what
phoneticians call their Intrinsic Pitch, Intrinsic Duration and Intrinsic Intensity.
Let us look first at Intrinsic Pitch, which is by far the most powerful and
interesting of these three. In a sonogram, each (normal, voiced) vowel appears
as a fundamental (the pitch at which the vocal cords vibrate) plus various
relatively dense regions of overtones reflecting that vowel’s characteristic
resonance pattern (just as for a musical instrument). These latter regions are
called formants, and they are crucial to “forming” the vowel’s acoustic profile.
To simplify the situation for our purposes, we can consider the vocal tract, from
larynx to lips, as consisting of two primary resonating chambers: one between
the larynx and the point of narrowest constriction between the tongue and the
roof of the mouth; the other between this point of maximum constriction and
the lips. Figure 2 shows the approximate shape of the vocal tract for the vowel
[i]. The deeper chamber, marked “F1 [first formant] area”, can be called the
throat cavity, and the other (F2 = second formant) the mouth cavity.
Although in normal speech the tension on the vocal cords determines the
vowel’s most clearly heard pitch, its fundamental, these two cavities also
resonate in response to certain harmonics of the vocal cords, producing pitches
which are at least subliminally perceived – necessarily so, or else the vowel
would lose its identity. The pitch of the fundamental can vary freely, but the
sizes of the mouth (F2) and throat (F1) cavities, and hence their vibrational

Figure 2 Shape of vocal tract for vowel [i], showing the F2 and F1 resonating chambers
(a = lips; b = palate; c = tongue; d = to the larynx; e = point of maximum constriction)
HUGHES No nonsense: the logic and power of acoustic-iconic mnemonic systems 101

frequencies, remain fairly constant for a particular vowel. The resonant

frequency is, of course, in inverse proportion to cavity size, and due to the
structure of the vocal tract, F1 will always be lower than F2. Figure 3 shows
typical F1 and F2 values for five standard vowels in three languages.

i e a o u
Spanish F2 2300 1900 1300 900 800
F1 275 450 725 450 275
Japanese F2 2200 1900 950 750 900
F1 250 450 600 450 300
Korean F2 2031 1834 1292 840 920
(Å = 1155, í = 999)

Figure 3 Frequencies in Hz of first formant (F1) and second formant (F2) of Spanish,
Japanese and Korean vowels (from Delattre 1965:49, Han 1963:56 and Onishi
1981:672). Spanish and Japanese figures = average male voice; Korean figures = one
male speaker. Absolute pitch will vary, but relative pitch patterns persist.

Of course, the vowels are not quite the same in each language, but you will
notice a similarity in ordering. In any language, a vowel close to [i] will have an
F2 value higher than a vowel close to [e], and both will be considerably higher
than for [a], and so on. For F1 a different pattern obtains. The reasons for these
patterns, though too complex to explain here, make good physiological sense.
The values shown in Figure 3 will also vary somewhat with the individual
speaker, and under influence of neighbouring sounds, and of course with the
specific dialect. For example, Japanese [u], which in the standard language is
pronounced with minimal lip-rounding, has an F2 value closer to 750Hz when
more rounded, as often in sh<ga, in most dialects, and when adjacent to the
more rounded [o].
Now let us return to the sh<ga of the Noh flute. It turns out that there is a
remarkably regular correlation between the ordering [i a o u] of the four vowels
used and the relative pitches of their associated notes. To demonstrate this, I
made a matrix as shown in Figure 4, with the four vowels used listed on both
axes. Next I compared the sh<ga and the melody: for each successive pair of
syllables, I made an entry in the matrix showing whether the associated melody
pitches ascended (+), descended (-) or stayed the same (=). For example, the
first two syllables [o hya] in Figure 2 are linked to a rise in pitch, so I add one
point after the plus sign in row [o], column [a]. An examination of five
representative Noh flute compositions yielded the data in Figure 4.4

4 The pieces are four diverse dances (“Ch3 no mai”, “Ha no mai”, “Hayamai”, “Gaku”) and
a free-rhythm mood-setting piece (ashirai), “Deha hataraki”. I relied on Western
transcriptions by Gam< Satoaki in Otani 1973, and those in Berger 1965, checking them
against recording D3 for accuracy of melodic direction. (Precise pitch is not important for
our purposes, nor would it be the same on different flutes.) Sh<ga was drawn from these
same two sources, from Ejima 1936 and from Morikawa 1940.

2nd vowel i a o u
1st vowel
i +1 +0 +1 +0
-0 -28 -34 -23
=7 =1 =0 =1
a +30 +4 +0 +4
-4 -0 -13 -17
=0 =17 =1 =1
o +17 +31 +0 +11
-0 -1 -0 -8
=0 =0 =4 =0
u +28 +8 +5 +2
-0 -9 -6 -4
=0 =8 =0 =2

Figure 4 Vowel pitch succession in Noh flute solmization

This table shows, for example, that when a syllable containing [i] was
followed by one with [o], the melody at that point descended in 34 of 35 cases
in our sample. It can be seen from Figure 4 that [i] represents the highest
position in this hierarchy: in pairs involving [i] and another vowel, the former’s
corresponding pitch is higher in 160 of 167 cases (96%). (Let us ignore the
repeated pitches for now.) The vowel [a] ranks second: it is lower than [i] in 58
of 62 cases, and higher than [o] in 44 of 45 pairs (the exception falling across a
phrase boundary). The vowels [o] and [u] are not clearly ranked in relation to
each other: they seem to share the bottom rung. Notice that the sequence [a u]
represents a falling interval in 17 of 22 cases, whereas the reverse sequence [u
a] is equally often rising or falling. Intrinsic Intensity or Duration may be the
reason in the latter case; these will be discussed shortly. Overall, then, we can
say that the four vowels of this system are ranked in pitch from high to low as
follows: [i], then [a], then [o/u] together, with some exceptions.
Is this an arbitrary ordering? Could we switch, say, [i] and [a] throughout
Noh flute sh<ga with no disruption to the learning process? No: the vowels
must be correlated with melodic direction in close correspondence to their F2
ordering. I base this claim on a number of similar examples, mostly reported in
Hughes 1989 and 1991, where relative pitch is indicated by syllables whose
vowels are in approximate F2 order. Figure 5 is a summary chart of several of
these, but others could also be cited.
What all of these systems have in common is that there is no extrinsic
reason why the vowels in each case should be in this order, unlike the origins of
Western solmization with Guido of Arezzo and a certain poem text. The
systems in Figure 5 owe their existence, structure and utility precisely to their
close adherence to F2 ordering. I say only “close adherence” because in both
Japanese and Korean, as Figure 3 shows, [u] generally has a higher F2 value
than [o], yet [u] overwhelmingly represents a lower pitch. A possible
explanation was offered above and is developed in the discussion of the natural
HUGHES No nonsense: the logic and power of acoustic-iconic mnemonic systems 103

Intrinsic Pitch (F2) ieaou

1 Noh flute i a o/u (see above)
2 hichiriki (gagaku oboe) i e a o u (unpubl.)
3 ry3teki (gagaku flute) i a o u (1989:6)
4 p’iri (Korean oboe) i e a 3 o u; or: i e a/3/o u (1991:313)
5 chík (early Korean flute) i a/o í /u (1991:313ff.)
6 Kim Kisu’s notation system
for Korean ornamentation i e a/3 o í (1991:315ff.)
7 berimbau (Brazilian musical
bow; Hélène Rammant personal
communication, December 1999) i o (as in [din don])
8 Sundanese gamelans’
comparative overall pitch levels i e a o u (1989:11)
9 Scots bagpipes canntaireachd
oral notation (fixed pitches) i e a o à (1989:11)
10 Lesotho drums (Joe Legwabe
personal communication 5/92) i a/u (as in [digidagididum]); also: e o
11 Thai drums i a o (as in [ting t’am / cha cho])
12 Middle East drums e u (as in [dum tek])
13 Manding drums (discography D5) i a u (as in [ba di nin kun])
Figure 5 F2-based relative-pitch syllabic systems. Vowels listed from high to low; see
Hughes 1989, 1991, pages shown, for details and original sources. Korean Å = [¹], í =
near [¿].

perception of Intrinsic Pitch in section 8 below. In any case, it will be

convenient and not too misleading to call these “F2 systems”.
The systems shown are varied in their functions. The F2 principle can be
found operating to represent: relative pitch of successive melody notes (examples
1–7 in Figure 5); relative pitch of the tuning systems of entire gamelans (example
8); fixed scale degrees (example 9); relative pitch of different drumstrokes
(examples 10–13); and yet other possibilities not discussed here.
Note that the majority of F2 systems indicate relative pitch relations, not
absolute pitch. For example, in Noh flute solmization (Figure 1), the vowel [i]
can occur in conjunction with several different absolute pitches, and so can the
other three vowels. There is no one-to-one association of a vowel and a pitch
(unlike, say, the names of Western pitches). Unlike the Noh flute, the two
melodic winds of gagaku are tuned to specific pitches and operate within a
fixed-pitch system, and yet here too there is no regular connection. Figure 6
shows how often each vowel is associated with each pitch in a varied sample of
gagaku pieces. 5

5 I used the piece “Etenraku” in three different modes, to ensure that modal differences would
not go unremarked, and “Ringa”, a piece of a somewhat different character and origin.

hichiriki ry3teki
d'' - 5i
c'' - 2i
b' - 18i, 5a
a' 13i 10i, 23a
g' 5i, 4e 19i, 7a, 10o, 3u
f(#)' 1i, 31e, 20a 6i, 15a, 17o, 11u
e' 41a, 2o, 2u 35a, 9u
d(#)' 17i, 1a, 3u 4i, 4a, 29o, 2u
c(#)' 16i, 1a, 8o, 5u 6o, 8u
b(b) 43o, 2u 32o
a 1i, 11o, 10u 13o, 4u
g - 2i, 1o
f(#) 6u 1i, 4u
e - 1u
Figure 6 Relation between vowels and absolute pitches for hichiriki and ry3teki.
Hichiriki sounds one octave higher than shown; ry3teki sounds two octaves higher.

It can be seen that in ry3teki mnemonics, which follow the order [i a o u]

98% of the time, the vowel [i] is linked to nine different pitches over a range of
nearly two octaves; in the hichiriki with its narrower range, it is linked with six
of the nine possible pitches. The other vowels are also promiscuous, if less so.
This sort of variation is characteristic of what I have called “vowel-pitch
solfège systems” but perhaps could have better named “relative-pitch F2
systems”. It relates directly to the fact that the users of such systems are almost
never consciously aware of the acoustic logic behind them, as is discussed later.

5 An example from Uganda

My previous publications have documented and analysed relative-pitch F2
systems in detail only for Korea and Japan. Of course, there is at least a chance
that the systems of these two neighbour countries are historically connected and
that their similarities result not from the operation of similar principles but from
borrowing or genetic relations. This cannot be true, however, of the following
example from Uganda. When Peter Cooke played the recording for me, I sensed
immediately that the royal harpist Temusewo Mukasa was using such a system.
Detailed analysis of this example indeed reveals precisely the same
characteristics as the East Asian cases.
All vocables here consist of a consonant plus a vowel; although there is, as
usual, a patterning to the consonant occurrences, 6 only the vowels relate to
pitch in this case. My rough phonetic transcriptions are detailed enough to
reveal that differences in F2 values play the major role here.

6 A repeated pitch is sung with [r] 23 times, [t] 24 times; a pitch change uses [r] only 9 times
but [t] (or rarely [d]) 216 times.
HUGHES No nonsense: the logic and power of acoustic-iconic mnemonic systems 105

The recording opens with 12 repetitions of a harp theme of 8 bars of 3/32

metre, accompanied by the harpist’s solmization. Each bar (with a few
exceptions) consists of three syllables, each of roughly equal duration (notated
here as 1/32 notes), sung on the same pitch as the harp part (as far as could be
discerned). There is some variation in the sung syllables across the 12 cycles.
Figure 7 shows two cycles only.

Figure 7 Ugandan harp vocables from “Okwagala Omulungi Kwesengereza” (recording

D2, track 1), 2nd and 5th cycles only; performed by Temusewo Mukasa, royal harpist of
Uganda, recorded 1950 or 1952

Note first of all that, exactly as in Figure 6 for Japan, there is no regular
correlation between particular vowels and pitches. Figure 8 shows that each of
the five pitches in this example co-occurs with from three to five different
vowels. Likewise, seven of the eight vowels occur with more than one pitch; [u]
occurs with all five pitches.
vowel i ü I ¹ Ã ¿ o u
g 39 2 2
e 66 1 2 2 24
d 9 6 12 5 23
c 2 2 7 38
A 3 2 9 15

Figure 8 Pitch–vowel correlation in “Okwagala Omulungi Kwesengereza” solmization

(for all 12 cycles)

It follows, then, that vowel succession does not indicate interval size,
unlike the syllables of tonic sol-fa: movement between [i] and [u], for example,
can represent several different intervals. Instead, as in the East Asian examples,
we are dealing with the relative pitch of successive notes. Figure 9 shows the
direction of melodic movement between the vowels of this example. (Here I
have written the vowels in the descending order of their F2 frequencies as I
perceive them through whispering or tapping the cheek; this is explained below.
Repeated vowels and pitches are disregarded.)

2nd vowel i ü I ¹ Ã ¿ o u
1st vowel
i -3 -3 -3 -1 -1 -40
ü -3
I +1 -1 -1 -1
¹ +2 -2 -5
à +3 +1
¿ +1
o +3 +5
u +41/-1 +3 +6 -5

Figure 9 Vowel pitch succession in “Okwagala Omulungi Kwesengereza” solmization

(for all 12 cycles)

As in the East Asian examples, the correlation of vowel and pitch

succession is impressive. Of 136 successive vowel-pitch pairs, 125 (92%)
follow the expected F2 order. And 10 of the 11 exceptions involve the
sequences [o u] and [u o]; if we were to switch the order of these two vowels in
the system, then over 99% of pairs would follow the expected order. 7
Consider next that the performer clearly did not memorize this melody in a
fixed form and with a fixed sequence of vowels to represent it. An inventory of
all the one-bar motifs occurring in the 12 cycles finds 10 recurring motifs: 4 that
each occur 12 times (namely, in the same bar of each cycle), and 6 others that
occur respectively 11, 8, 7, 6, 5 and 4 times. What is interesting is that only one
of these 10 motifs uses the same three vowels in all occurrences. Figure 10
shows the vowel patterns and number of occurrences for each motif.

7 A hypothesis for why [o] and [u] are out of F2 order: seeing that [o] is restricted to the
lower pitches – played on thicker strings and thus sounding somewhat louder to my ears –
Intrinsic Intensity may be a more important factor than F2 order (see below).
HUGHES No nonsense: the logic and power of acoustic-iconic mnemonic systems 107

gee: i i i (10 times), i ¹ ¹ (1), i I I (1)

ege: u i i (9), u i u (3)
edd: i i i (4), u u u (2), u o o (2), i I I (2), ü u u (1), i ¹ ¹ (1)
eAA: i u u (6), u o o (3), i o o (1), i à à (1), i ¿ ¿ (1)
cdc: u ¹ u (6), u u u (3), u ¹ o (1), u ¹ u (1), Ã ¹ Ã (1)
gcc: i u u (6), ü u u (2)
ced: u i u (7)
dge: ¹ i i (2), I i i (1), i i i (1), u i i (1), u u i (1)
Age: u i i (3), o i i (1), Ã i i (1)
-ed: - i u (3), - u u (1)

Figure 10 Vowel variation for melodic motifs in “Okwagala Omulungi Kwesengereza”


What this demonstrates is that Temusewo Mukasa is using a relative-pitch

F2 system as an active, creative system. Even without knowing the
ethnographic details, it is clear that he was not taught this system in the way that
one learns sargam or tonic sol-fa, nor could he have learned the melody and its
solmization as a fixed unit. Rather, the melody he sings can vary somewhat
(e.g. dge and Age as alternatives), and a single motif can be represented by
several different sequences of vowels. In this respect, Mukasa’s system differs
from those for most Japanese genres, where a melody is learned in a fixed form
and sung to a specific sequence of syllables; in Japan, variation occurs between
schools rather than within a single piece.
And yet the principles behind this Ugandan example are identical to those
found in Japan, Korea and elsewhere. And the performer manages to follow the
vowel order shown despite singing at 330 syllables per minute! In such
systems, deviation from precise F2 order occurs most commonly when the F2
values of two vowels are quite close. But exceptions also occur due to
competition from two other features of vowel acoustics.

6 Intrinsic Duration and Intrinsic Intensity

In several such systems in Japan and in Korea (where they are called yukpo or
kuÅm), and also elsewhere, this highly regular relation between vowels and
melodic direction based on Intrinsic Pitch (IP) is often disrupted due to the
competing vowel acoustics of Intrinsic Duration (ID) and Intrinsic Intensity (II).
Phoneticians have found that in the vast majority of languages the vowels
closest to [i] and [u], those spoken with the mouth relatively closed, will take
less time to articulate and will also register a lower volume on a vU meter than
will more open vowels; by contrast, the “longest” and “loudest” vowel is [a],
followed by [o] and [e]. 8 This is why [i] and [u] are often favoured for short

8 Details in Ladefoged 1982, Lehiste 1970 and other standard studies in acoustic phonetics.

notes or those in weak metric positions in oral mnemonic systems, while [a]
tends toward the opposite.
Thus the Ugandan harpist above, who must sing more than 300 syllables of
solmization per minute, relies overwhelmingly on a simple two-way pitch
distinction between [i] and [u] (79% of all syllables), since these are the
quickest vowels to pronounce, the ones with the lowest Intrinsic Duration;
conversely, [a] is avoided totally because there is insufficient time to move the
tongue and jaw so far at this tempo. Still, considerations of ID do not lead in
this case to violations of IP. They do so, however, in many other systems. In
mnemonics for the Korean oboe p’iri (reported in Hughes 1991: Figures 2, 3), a
pitch associated with the vowel [i] is, as expected, higher than its neighbours in
96% of 178 cases. The seven exceptions are all on grace notes, where extreme
brevity favours, indeed requires, a vowel of low ID despite the demands of IP. 9
Meanwhile, in Japanese shamisen mnemonics [a] is used to represent
double-stops regardless of pitch: [shan, chan]. This is a matter of Intrinsic
Intensity overriding IP: the much greater loudness of plucking two strings
rather than one – a technique used sparingly and thus strikingly – calls for a
vowel of significantly higher II. There is also a tendency in both Korean
mnemonics and those of Japanese court music to prefer the more intense vowels
[a, o] for strong modal degrees; however, this never seems to override the
requirements of Intrinsic Pitch (see next section).

7 Conscious or unconscious?
Many acoustic-iconic mnemonic systems are highly regular, adhering to the
pattern of Intrinsic Pitch well over 90% of the time, with the bulk of exceptions
often explained by reference to Intrinsic Duration or Intensity. Among the most
consistent are the various systems of Japan and Korea, but a glimpse at Uganda
suggests that the same principles can operate anywhere.
And yet the Japanese and Korean systems seem to have developed and
continued to operate successfully without conscious awareness on the part of
the musicians of the principles underlying them. Given the diversity of detail in
such systems within and between these two countries, it seems unlikely that
some single personage, fully cognizant of the details of vowel acoustics,
consciously devised a single system, originally 100% consistent, that then
diversified over the centuries even as later musicians forgot the original
principles. Already by 1470 in Korea, the Annals of King Sejo state: “As for
musical notation, formerly there was only yukpo [one name for written notation
derived from acoustic-iconic mnemonics] … Its complexities are difficult to
comprehend” (translation revised from Lee 1981:31). That seems like a gentle
way of admitting that nobody could explain how the system worked; yet it
worked then and it works now to make Koreans into competent musicians.

9 Some of the Korean tendencies were noted by Kaufmann (1967), but he did not explore the
matter systematically or in detail and also made numerous errors in romanization.
HUGHES No nonsense: the logic and power of acoustic-iconic mnemonic systems 109

Indeed, the Japanese and Korean systems seem not to have merited much
conscious thought until the twentieth century, when scholars in both countries,
possibly due to their encounters with Western music and its vastly different
approach, began to focus on their countries’ unique systems. In Japan, this led
first to the record set D4 (see Discography, below), which in the 1970s
surveyed, described but notably did not attempt to explain the mnemonics for a
wide range of instruments, and then to several papers in Tokumaru and
Yamaguti 1986 which began to reveal at least the patterning if not quite the
explanation. Musicians, meanwhile, carried on unaffected.
In Korea, a different response occurred. (See Hughes 1991: section 7 for
details of the following discussion.) As scholars and musicians began to pay
conscious analytical attention to mnemonics (kuÅm, yukpo), they apparently
came to see their traditional systems as inferior by comparison with the more
rigorous rules of Western solfège. Chang Sahun (1984:137) reported that the
variability of traditional kuÅm was eliminated “after 1930 at the National
Classical Music Institute [a new Western-style conservatoire for traditional
music] and similar institutions”, which attempted a rationalization for teaching
purposes by standardizing the correspondence between particular syllables
(N.B. not vowels)10 and scale degrees. The syllables were selected from among
the many used in traditional mnemonics. If we ignore the consonants, the one-
to-one correlations adopted at that time equated the pentatonic scale Eb, F, Ab,
Bb, c with the vowels [a, u, í, o, Å]. In another publication Chang equated the
upper octave eb with [i] instead, and other scholars and musicians have also
given slightly different matchings, yet agreement with the conservatoire model
is generally close. (These schemata seem intended primarily for p’iri and the
haegÅm fiddle.)
The problem is, these new theoretical models do not accord with practice.
Korean scholars have written down on occasion the mnemonics associated with
particular extant pieces of p’iri music (in the manner of figures 1 and 7 above).
Using two such pieces as data (see Hughes 1991:318), we find that indeed there
is a tendency for one specific vowel to be associated with each of the five scale
degrees. Taking the best matches, however, the vowels are [a, Å, i, o, e]: only
two of these five agree with the conservatoire model! Moreover, they only
match their favourite scale degrees 76% of the time (206/271), which is far less
than the near-perfect 97% correlation between vowel timbre and successive
relative melodic pitch for the same passages. It is clear that the new, conscious,
explicit system linking vowels with absolute pitches has not yet overcome the
subliminal application of the principles of relative-pitch mnemonics. A further
survey of several sources for oboe, zither and flute since the sixteenth century
reveals the same pattern, despite quite different details in each case (Hughes
Still, there does seem to be a tendency in Korea for the vowels [a] and [o]
to be associated with strong modal degrees. Something similar was noted by

10 The tendency to think in terms of syllables rather than vowels (seen also in Japan) derives
perhaps from two factors: the syllabic nature of the writing systems and the influence of
Western sol-fa.

Garfias for Japanese t<gaku court music, where [a] and [o] are “usually
ascribed” to the “uninflected” degrees of each mode (1975:69). Indeed, the data
in Figure 6 above confirm that the pitches b and e', which “are not inflected in
any of the choshi [modes]”, are linked 91% of the time (151/166) with [o] and
[a] respectively. (On the other hand, both of these vowels occur often on other
pitches as well.) A likely explanation lies in the realm of Intrinsic Intensity and
Intrinsic Duration: these two vowels rate high in both qualities, which perhaps
makes them suitable for representing strong, stable, often sustained pitches.
Once again we find that a mnemonic system based primarily on the
unconscious representation of relative pitch also leaves room for the workings
of rhythm, accent and duration.
Still, many readers will have been begging to point out that an awareness of
a link between vowel colour and pitch is widely recognized in the world of
Western classical music at least. Singing teachers in particular are aware of the
relative ease of singing higher notes on [i] as opposed to [u]. Other cultures may
also have observed this connection from time to time. Cyril Birch (1998) writes
that Chinese poet-composer Tang Xianzu (1550–1616), creator of the Kun
opera The Peony Pavilion, “paid too little attention to the singability of his
lyrics. He [protested] at the revisions of his arias made by lesser men overly
concerned with such matters as pitching front vowels [e.g. [i, e]] at high points
of the melody and back vowels [e.g. [o, u]] at low: Tang wanted his poetry sung
as he wrote it, [even if] it cracked the throat of every singer in the empire.”
These two examples pertain to singing, but of course they could lead one by
analogy to impose a similar vowel ordering on instrumental solmization.
It appears, though, that very few traditional musicians in Japan at least are
consciously aware of the principles of vowel acoustics underlying the
mnemonics they use. In August 1999, following the experiments reported in
section 11 below, I discussed my observations with several senior musicians
who had just taken part, each individually. 11 All of them expressed surprise at
the patterns I had found, particularly the highly regular association of the vowel
ordering [i e a o u] with descending pitch. A typical reaction to my explanation
was the word naruhodo – perhaps best translated here as “I see, I get it” – often
repeated with some surprise, as if suddenly they now understood the basis of
their own musical behaviour. None of them said anything like, “Yes, we’ve
know that all along; that’s how my teacher explained it to me” and so forth. And
yet, whatever their momentary intellectual excitement, I doubt if the knowledge
gained could make these superb musicians still better; it must be reiterated that
consciousness is not necessary for the operation of these systems.12

11 They included Imafuji Masatar< (nagauta shamisen), Isso Yukimasa and Matsuda
Hiroyuki (Noh flute), Takahashi Y3jir< (folk shamisen), and Ueno Mitsumasa and
Wakayama Taneo (flutes of matsuribayashi and sato-kagura). All had had some experience
of sh<ga for other instruments as well; none were well versed in Western music or its theory.
12 For Korea, passing conversations with several musicians visiting England suggests that
the conservatoire explanation – one vowel (syllable) for one scale degree – dominates
consciousness. For discussion of one Korean performer with a partial awareness of the true
patterning, see Hughes 1991:323, footnote 24.
HUGHES No nonsense: the logic and power of acoustic-iconic mnemonic systems 111

But even given that there is a logical physical explanation for the elements
of acoustic-iconic systems, how could the latter have developed so
systematically, and continued to work so well, with minimal consciousness?

8 “Natural” perception of Intrinsic Pitch

I suggest that there are a number of ways in which humans internalize a link
between vowel colour and relative pitch, outside of formal musical contexts,
which could then provide a non-cognized model for such mnemonic systems.
The second formant pitch is the most readily available. By far the easiest
way to access it is whispering. This eliminates the fundamental – the vocal
cords are left slack and do not vibrate – so that what one hears is basically the
resonant frequency of the oral cavity, F2. We also hear F2 when we whistle. The
American “wolf whistle” could be represented by the vowel sequence [ui uiiu];
it is impossible to whistle [u] at a higher pitch than [i]. These are common
perceptions; some strange people will also have accessed F2 by striking the
cheeks, teeth or lips while altering the shape of the articulatory channel.
Nor is it only the vocal tract that lets us associate vowel timbre and pitch:
any resonating chamber could do this. For example, Isaac Newton noted that
filling a flagon with “beere or water” produced vowel colours in an order which
we now recognize as that of their ascending F2 values (Elliott 1954:12). I
myself had often found this phenomenon useful when filling a bottle in the dark
(don’t ask), but only upon reading Newton’s description did I understand why.
Could it be that I simply knew that the bottle was full when a certain high pitch
had been reached? No, because I do not have perfect pitch. I believe that it was
the arrival of the vowel [i] that subliminally signalled me to turn off the tap.
Through such associations, normal people – without benefit of a vowel-
aware singing teacher or a cognized theory – come to link vowels and relative
pitch. Here are several examples where ordinary people accurately employ F2
pitch ordering:
• A musically untrained Japanese friend sang a four-note fragment of a radio
theme tune (relative pitches: a e f e) with her own spontaneous syllables:
kin kon kan kon. Thus the descending order is [i a o].
• English speakers represent the high-low pitches of an old-style chime
doorbell as dingdong; in Japan, ambulances are said to repeat the sound
piip<; instructions on Japan’s NiceCall international phone card tell users to
listen for the sound pimpom (shown in romanization) before proceeding to
the next step. In each of these cases, the vowel sequence [i o] represents a
descent of around a fourth or fifth.
• In Chengdu, China, a street sweets vendor is called the “ding ding dang”
peddler, reflecting the two-pitch rhythm he beats with his candy-cutting
chisel and hammer (Zevik and Zou 1998:88). Pitches are not musically
precise, but [i a] does represent a descent.
Another interesting phenomenon is the association of F2 vowel pitch with
relative height in the spatial (specifically, somatic) rather than sonic dimension.

Many people feel that different vowels resonate in different parts of the body. A
highly systematized case is Kundalini yoga, where the bodily energy centres
called cakras are linked with specific vowels: in one school at least, [i e a o u]
equate respectively with head, throat, chest, stomach and lower abdomen. The
exact same pattern was demonstrated by the dhrupad singer Fariduddin Dagar
around 1982 (Gert-Matthias Wegner, personal communication). Given the
common metaphoric link, surely in a majority of music cultures, between
spatial height and musical pitch height (frequency), one can posit that even an
unconscious perception of these bodily resonances could lead to an association
between vowels and relative musical pitch. Not having heard an acoustic
explanation for this somatic pattern, my tentative introspective hypothesis is
that as the point of articulation of the vowels (the point where the tongue is
nearest the roof of the mouth) proceeds backward in the mouth, towards the
descent into the throat, so too is the mouth cavity extended back and down, and
so we might well perceive this as a lowering of the resonant region. In any case,
this perception of bodily resonance is mutually reinforcing with the F2
sequence perception derived from whispering and so forth.

9 Intrinsic Intensity and Duration in informal contexts

I am not aware of any simple way similar to whispering, filling flagons etc., by
which people could internalize an association between vowels and their
Intrinsic Intensity and Duration. Apparently we are subliminally aware of these
features even though our brains manage to hide the fact from us in daily life.
That is, even though we do not notice that the vowel [a] assails our ears more
loudly than [i], our brain records this fact even as it makes allowances for it.
In any case, both musicians and civilians often draw on Intrinsic Intensity
or Duration rather than Intrinsic Pitch to convey musical information
informally. This often happens when someone is asking, “You know that tune
that goes …?” Here are just a few of many examples collected over the years. In
each case, vowel choice distinguishes strong and/or long from weak and/or
short notes. (The three examples from London newspapers use vernacular
rather than phoneticians’ spelling.) The melodies are shown in Figure 11.
(a) “Lara’s Theme” from Doctor Zhivago: [ta ra ri ra] (unknown student,
March 1996).
(b) “Tara’s Theme” from Gone With the Wind: “lah-da dee-dah” (Evening
Standard, 2 August 1996). Here “ee” represents [i]. As in “Lara’s Theme”,
the shortest note is the only one represented by [i].
(c) Arthur Wood’s “Barwick Green”, theme tune for BBC Radio’s “The
Archers”: “dum di dum di dum di dum, dum di dum di da da”, or “tum ti
tum ti tum ti tum, tum ti tum ti tum tum” (Independent, 1 November 1994;
“dum di” presumably rhymes with “dumb Dee”).
(d) A bass guitar riff from Fleetwood Mac’s “The Chain”: “dang, der der dang,
der der der der dang, dong” (Sunday Independent, 2 March 1997). Here F2
affects only the choice of the final “dong” to reflect a significant pitch drop
HUGHES No nonsense: the logic and power of acoustic-iconic mnemonic systems 113

Figure 11

from the preceding “dang”.

(e) Finally, a well-known joke from the United States: “Where does the Lone
Ranger take his garbage? To the dump, to the dump, to the dump dump
dump.” (Familiarity with the William Tell Overture is essential here.)

10 Intrinsicality in non-solmization musical contexts

Another common way people might become aware of intrinsic vowel pitch
without specific explanation is through musical activity where vowels are
generated but are apparently not a conscious part of the process of musical
production or transmission. Examples are playing a jew’s harp or musical bow,
or singing biphonically: all require shaping the mouth to bring certain overtones
into prominence. Shaping the mouth for this purpose inevitably produces a
vowel timbre. But the vowels themselves are not the focus.13 Indeed, the
vowels required to produce a particular melody on, say, a musical bow will
differ depending on the pitch of the fundamental as determined by the tautness
of the bowstring. In such cases the vowel colour is only an accidental by-
product of the process of generating the required overtone. If a bow or jew’s
harp melody were to be sung with mnemonics, the vowels would not
necessarily match those needed actually to produce the melody on the
instrument. The performer adjusts his mouth shape according to the feedback
from listening to the pitch produced, not to the vowel colour. The resultant
vowel timbres may not even correspond to vowels of the performer’s native
language (see Hughes 1989:9-10, 14).

13 I do not know whether traditional teachers of such styles ever refer to the correlation of
vowels and pitch.

By contrast to F2, the first-formant frequency (F1) assumes acoustic

prominence much more rarely, which is surely one reason that there seem to be
no vowel-pitch mnemonic systems based on F1. The easiest way to hear it is by
tapping the throat, but Ladefoged (1982:174-5) noted that speaking in a low-
pitched, gravelly, “creaky” voice (so-called laryngeal phonation) will produce a
relatively audible first formant in addition to the fundamental. One musical
application of F1 is in the Tuvan overtone singing genre called kargyraa (of
which a good example may be found on recording D1; see Discography),
where, as Aksenov tells us (1967:296), high tongue position yields low
overtones while low tongue position produces the higher tones. We are clearly
hearing F1, not F2 as in most other overtone singing types.
Three other musical phenomena reflect vowel acoustics, though in a less
formalized way than the Japanese and Korean systems. In lilting or “diddling” –
the singing of Irish or Scottish dance melodies to non-lexical syllables –
Intrinsic Intensity and Duration play an important role. In a phrase in a 6/8 jig
such as “dih-dl-ly i-dle deet’n daht’n dee-dle di-dle dum”, the relatively strong
backbeat tends to be represented by syllables with “heavier” vowels, such as
“ah”, “um” or “i” (here pronounced [ay]), whereas the weaker or shorter notes
tend to use the sounds [I] or [i]. My impression is that Intrinsic Pitch plays little
or no role in lilting.14
In “scat singing” in jazz, Ian Bent has noted, vowels and consonants work
in partly “onomatopoeic” ways; for example, “doo is used for a stressed and
sustained note, bee for a short unstressed note and bop for a [stressed] staccato
note” (1980:339). Aside from its use as performance, he further observes,
scatting can be used “as a verbal communication of the rhythmic pattern and is
thus half way to being a notation of a rudimentary and imprecise kind” (ibid.). I
would add that syllables are sometimes chosen to reflect pitch as well,
following F2. Thus a singer executing a rapid portamento swoop up and then
down again will more likely choose “dwee-oop” /u-i-u/ or something similar
rather than “dyoo-eep”. This superficially resembles vowel use in whistling; in
the latter, however, one has no control over the correlation of vowel and pitch,
whereas in scat singing it is a free choice (the fundamental being set by the
vocal cords rather than the resonating cavities), and yet F2 still tends to win out.
Both of these resemble our Ugandan example in being less systematized
than the Japanese and Korean mnemonics; but the Ugandan example follows
Intrinsic Pitch while virtually ignoring the other two parameters, whereas these
two do the reverse.
Finally, consider also yodelling, which tends weakly to follow F2, although
there are many exceptions. An easily available example where F2 dominates is
the “yodelling exercise” from Gabon on the CD accompanying Stock 1996.15

14 Madden 1989, not yet seen, is reported to be a good introduction to this topic. XXXXXX
15 The pseudo-yodel in “The Lonely Goatherd” from The Sound of Music (“lay-dee yodel
lay-dee yodel lay-hee-hoo”), although it bears little resemblance to yodelling as actually
practised in the Alps, is nonetheless a good example in its own right.
HUGHES No nonsense: the logic and power of acoustic-iconic mnemonic systems 115

Yodelling generally does not involve imitation of instrumental melodic

contours, so far as I know: these lexically empty syllables are not a device to
help internalize a melody. Perhaps the relevant factor here is the same
“singability” scorned by Chinese composer Tang Xianzu and touted by voice
teachers in the West today.

11 Testing “naturalness”
Concluding my 1991 article, I suggested that we could test musicians’ living
performative knowledge – their generally unconscious yet functional usage – of
such systems by asking them to provide solmization for a melody that previously
had none, such as a well-known melody from a different genre. Recently, I
instead took a somewhat different approach. The aim was to explore whether not
only musicians but other people might instinctively recognize certain vowel
sequences as more or less appropriate for particular melodies depending on the
matching of the vowels’ Intrinsic Pitch, Duration and Intensity with the same
features in the melody. To this end, I concocted an experiment in which people
were asked to choose which of two or three vowel sequences better matched a
particular melody. Intending first to conduct this experiment in Japan and
England, I chose three melodies, two of Western origin and one Japanese, that
were potentially familiar to most people in both cultures: “Mary Had a Little
Lamb”, “Auld Lang Syne” (“Hotaru no Hikari” in Japanese) and – with some
coaching for non-Japanese – “Sakura Sakura” (“Cherry Blossoms”).
The English-language version of this test is reproduced in the Appendix.
Since the experiment focused primarily on pitch, for each melody I created one
vowel sequence that corresponded 100% to the F2 theory (choices 1b, 2a, 3c),
and another that opposed it 100% (1a, 2c, 3b). The “naturalness” hypothesis
expected that the former would be perceived as far more suitable by most
people. In Choice 2b, all metrically strong/long notes were marked with [a] and
weak/short ones with [i] or [u], without regard to pitch; this example should
have found favour with those more sensitive to Intrinsic Duration or Intensity.
Finally, Choice 3a was a vowel sequence not correlating with any of the
intrinsic parameters; I expected this to be firmly rejected.
Testing was then conducted on several types of subject: Japanese with
significant experience of F2-based sh<ga; Japanese with only Western music
experience; Japanese with little or no music training; non-Japanese university
music students (with little or no exposure to F2-based solmization systems);
non-Japanese with little or no music training; and my audiences at three
conferences in Japan, including the 1999 ICTM World Conference:
musicologists, about half of them Japanese, some having significant exposure
to F2-based sh<ga. Figure 12 gives the raw results.
Each of the “correct” choices indeed won out, though to different degrees
(Figure 12a). Overall, the correct choice was made on average 62% of the time,
and for tunes 2 and 3 it trounced the nearest opposition (60% to 20% and 69% to
25%). Still, many people did not “instinctively” choose the F2 examples as I had

(a) all respondents:

1a: 41 (39%) 2a: 91 (60%) 3a: 5 (6%)
1b: 63 (61%) 2b: 30 (20%) 3b: 20 (25%)
2c: 30 (20%) 3c: 55 (69%)
(b) Japanese with experience of F2-based sh<
<ga (when known to me):
1a: 2 (12%) 2a: 14 (82%) 3a: 2 (12%)
1b: 15 (88%) 2b: 3 (18%) 3b:4 (23%)
2c: 0 (0%) 3c: 11 (65%)
(c) respondents in England (no experience of sh<
1a: 24 (50%) 2a: 22 (47%) 3a: 3 (12%)
1b: 24 (50%) 2b: 13 (28%) 3b: 4 (17%)
2c: 12 (25%) 3c: 17 (71%)
Figure 12 Responses to solmization test. N =157, but only 104 answered for tune 1,
151 for tune 2, 80 for tune 3. Only first choices are shown; hypothesized “correct” F2
choices are in bold, underlined. Percentage choosing each example is given.

predicted, and for tune 1 a sizeable minority preferred the “anti-F2” example.
Detailed analysis of respondents’ comments and backgrounds turned out to be
necessary. In this short paper I can only hint at the factors that came to light.
First, those subjects who are known to have had significant exposure to
traditional Japanese sh<ga (mostly students and/or teachers of Noh flute or
gagaku) very strongly preferred the F2-compliant choices (average 78%
overall; Figure 12b). One could hypothesize either that they perceived an
analogy with the very strict F2 ordering of the sh<ga of those genres (despite
claiming to have been unaware of this patterning), or that as active musicians
they were unusually musically sensitive and thus attuned to pitch in the first
place. The latter hypothesis fails since other Japanese who were highly trained
Western musicians preferred F2 only 57% of the time, and music students in
England (Figure 12c) preferred F2 only 53%. It does seem, then, that exposure
to an F2-based mnemonic system enhances one’s preference for such settings.
However, only one respondent expressed an awareness of such a connection; as
noted in section 7 above, the F2 patterning of sh<ga operates subliminally.
Still, even for those with no experience of F2-based solmization, for tunes 2
and 3 the F2 choice was far ahead of the nearest competitor. It was tune 1, “Mary
Had a Little Lamb”, that sorted the sheep from the goats: musicians with known
experience of sh<ga preferred the F2 choice by 88%, whereas all other respondents
(some surely having sh<ga experience) preferred it by only 55%. Why?
Respondents’ comments show the complexity of designing and interpreting
such an experiment. Five people (three Japanese) agreed that 1a was better than
1b because it was “soft and feminine”, “bright and sunny” (akarui), starting
with “light” vowels ([na ne ni ne] vs. [na no nu no]) which better suited a song
about a little girl and her little lamb. (Similarly, two Japanese chose 3b because
it was “soft and pliant” (yawarakai) like the cherry blossoms of the song.) One
Japanese student of Western music said that “1b looked better but 1a sang
better” in that it suited the song’s mood. Three others rejected 1b because it
began “like a tongue-twister”, with vowels that were “too close in sound” ([na
HUGHES No nonsense: the logic and power of acoustic-iconic mnemonic systems 117

no nu no na …]), thus hardly singable. (Indeed, these three vowels are much
closer in F2 values than the opening three of 1a; see Hughes 1991:325, 311, 313
concerning the problems this poses for F2 systems.)
This discussion, alas, shows the inadvisability of choosing texted melodies,
or perhaps any programmatic melodies, for such an experiment: the role of F2
in representing pitch may conflict with emotive or other aspects of vowel
colour. It seems that the lyrics had even more impact on those lacking formal
musical training of any significance, but with only seven such respondents such
a claim is premature.
Another problem needs mentioning. In Japanese and in English I tried
various ways to explain to subjects what the criterion should be for choosing an
answer. Obviously I could hardly ask, “Which of these sets of syllables most
closely reflects the pitch of the melody through vowel colour?” or some such.
In preliminary testing I tried such phrases as “closest to the melody”, “most
natural”, “easiest to sing”, “easiest to remember”, “most suited” and “matching
most closely”. One Japanese found 2a “closest to the melody” (as I had hoped)
but 2b “easiest to remember” (for obvious reasons).
Notice finally that for all types of respondent, for tune 2 the F2 example
(2a) was by far favoured over the Intrinsic Intensity example (2b), which in turn
beat out the anti-F2 example (2c). This corresponds with the general nature of
mnemonic systems for melodic instruments (as opposed to rhythmic ones).
Taking all this into account, on balance I would claim that the results
indicate that most people sense a correlation between F2 values and relative
musical pitch, and that this is heightened by formal musical experience and
even more so by previous exposure to F2 solmization systems. Further testing
on musically “naïve” subjects, using purely instrumental melodies, is needed.
It is worth noting that several Japanese students of shamisen actually
claimed to find their teacher’s use of sh<ga a hindrance to learning. All of them
were students at a (Western) music conservatoire and had mastered tonic sol-fa;
they thus instinctively thought of those syllables when learning a shamisen
melody, and thus their teacher’s singing sequences such as [totechiririn] was
confusing to them. He was pleased that my testing revealed to them that even
they tended to follow F2 and thus could benefit from learning sh<ga.

12 Summing up
The strengths and weaknesses of acoustic-iconic mnemonic systems have been
noted at various points above (e.g. the beginning of section 3). In most cases
they add a useful redundancy to the oral learning process: one sings the correct
melody, rhythmic pattern etc., but memorization and recall are made easier by
associating the sequence with specific syllables which are acoustically iconic to
the desired sonic output. (Again, this is why singing merely “la la la” is less
Indeed, there are certain cases where this redundancy is crucial, namely
when the melody sung while learning deviates from the performed one. In such

cases, it may be only the vowel sequence that indicates the correct pitch
sequence. Thus the ry3teki flute player of gagaku may sing the two notes of the
sh<ga sequence [to ri] on the same pitch, whereas they are played as an octave
leap from [to] to [ri]. In this case, it is precisely the vowels of the sh<ga that
remind the performer of the true melodic contour: because of the information
they provide, there is no need for the flautist to strain to sing the actual melodic
jump.16 A similar situation occurs when a teacher wishes to direct a student’s
attention to a particular passage: this can be done by saying, “Start again from
[chichitetsuton]”, without actually singing the pitches.
This redundancy is also apparent in the various written notations of Japan
and Korea. In Japan, there is no standard notation system: the principles are
different for each instrument and genre (see Malm 1959: Appendix; Malm and
Hughes, 2000). Let us consider the Noh flute. The earliest notations were
nothing but the syllables of sh<ga written down (for a 1776 example, see
Hirano and Fukushima 1978:152). The twentieth century saw two refinements.
One system (see ibid.:154, from Morikawa 1940) added a fingering diagram to
the left of each mnemonic syllable but did not indicate the correct octave or
actual pitches: the sh<ga was necessary to deduce these. The other (Ejima
1936) simply placed the syllables over an eight-beat grid, thus showing the
rhythm but with no indication of fingering, nor of octave or pitch: again, only
the sh<ga conveys pitch information. The (written) notation for the ry3teki flute
of gagaku has a column of symbols representing specific fingerings – thus a
tablature – alongside a column of acoustic-iconic mnemonics, with other
devices to show rhythm. Even Western-influenced twentieth-century notations
for shamisen, which use Arabic, Japanese and Roman numerals in a version of
the Galin-Paris-Chevé system to show pitch and fingering quite precisely, still
include the sh<ga. Many Korean systems are similar in these respects.
I hope to have made it clear that acoustic-iconic mnemonic systems are
useful precisely because they are “natural”. However, the reader might fairly
ask whether I have introduced only those examples that fit my model: might
there not be mnemonic systems that work well on other principles, or without
any particular principles at all? Certainly it is true that I have not described any
systems that work in direct opposition to IP, II and ID. But this is because there
are no such systems.
There are at least two common sorts of mnemonic systems, already
encountered above, that work on principles other than intrinsicality, but neither
of these oppose intrinsicality, they simply ignore it; thus they are pseudo-
exceptions. One is represented by the solfège of Guidonian origin: do re mi etc.:
these syllables originate in a poetic text whose lines just happened to begin with
the syllables ut re mi etc., with ut being changed to do later for reasons having
nothing to do with intrinsicality and everything to do with theology. (English
naming of pitches as a, b, c etc. is a similar phenomenon: logical but arbitrary in

16 An example of this, from “Konju no ha”, was provided by Gam< Mitsuko during her
paper “On the oral tradition of shoga for training in the wind instruments of gagaku”, 35th
ICTM World Conference, Hiroshima, August 1999.
HUGHES No nonsense: the logic and power of acoustic-iconic mnemonic systems 119

The other pseudo-exception is the kind of tablature exemplified by

notations for the winds and plucked lute of gagaku: whatever the original logic
behind the choice of symbols to represent particular fingerings, it is surely not
an acoustic one. Singing the names of the fingering positions would seem
potentially useful, and yet this is never done for the flute and oboe: an
advantage is clearly perceived in singing acoustic-iconic mnemonics instead.
That is precisely why the notations for these instruments – and of similar
instruments in traditional Korea – needed to add a separate column to reflect IP,
II and ID. There are of course other instrumental mnemonic systems where only
the fingering names are sung or written, including Japan’s shakuhachi flute.
Singing these will indeed help you recall the fingerings, if not directly the
melodic contour.
As a final example of the utility of acoustic-iconic mnemonics, consider
how villagers in Iwate, northern Japan, learn the “Devil Sword Dance” (oni
kenbai). While dancing, the student simultaneously sings [den suko den den …]
– the combined mnemonics for stick-drum and cymbals – to the tune of the flute
melody, thus learning the dance and three instruments all at once. There is much
to learn via, and about, oral mnemonics.

This article is a revision and extension of a paper “Common elements in East
Asian oral mnemonic systems”, presented at the 35th ICTM World Conference,
Hiroshima, August 1999. Research and conference attendance in Japan was made
possible by a grant from the Japan Foundation Endowment Committee. I am
grateful to all those in Japan and England who took part in my testing and shared
their opinions during August–November 1999; particular thanks to Imafuji
Masatar<, Isso Yukimasa, Matsuda Hiroyuki, Oshio Satomi, Shiba Sukeyasu,
Takahashi Y3jir<, Ueno Mitsumasa, Wakayama Taneo, Rick Emmert and Linda
Fujie. Interpretations of data and of others’ comments are my own responsibility.

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Otani, Jun, ed. (1973) Booklet accompanying record set D3 (see “Recordings”).
[In Japanese with English summary]
Poerbatjaraka (1987) “Radèn inu main gamelan: bahan untuk menerangkan
kata pathet.” In Judith Becker et al. (eds) Karawitan, vol. 2, pp. 261-84.
Ann Arbor: Center for South and Southeast Asian Studies, University of
Michigan. [In English]
Sadie, Stanley, ed. (1980) New Grove dictionary of music and musicians, 6th
edn. London: Macmillan.
Stock, Jonathan (1996) World sound matters. London: Schott.
Tokumaru Yosihiko and Yamaguti Osamu, eds (1986) The oral and the literate
in music. Tokyo: Academia Music.
Zevik, Emma and Zou Xiangping (1998) “Sichuan street songs.” CHIME
HUGHES No nonsense: the logic and power of acoustic-iconic mnemonic systems 121

D1: Pesni i instrumentalnye melodii tuvy [Songs and instrumental melodies of
the Tuvins] (LP, Melodiya D 030773, n.d.)
D2: Royal court music from Uganda (CD, Sharp Wood Productions
SWP008/HT02, Utrecht, 1998) (
D3: N<gaku hayashi taikei [Compendium of Noh instrumental music] (6 LPs,
Japan Victor SJL 64-69, 1973)
D4: Kuchi-sh<ga taikei [Survey of Japanese oral mnemonics] (5 LPs,
CBS/Sony AG457-61, 1978)
D5: Sénégal: The Saoruba from Casamance (CD, VDE-Gallo CD-926, 1999).

Appendix: Solmization test, English version,

September 1999
[Author’s note: Japanese version used the consonant [r] rather than [n]
throughout, for complex reasons. Vowels are pronounced as in Japanese or
Spanish; for English-speaking audiences I demonstrated with a fully lip-
rounded [u], but for Japanese subjects I tended to unround somewhat, as in the
standard language but not in many dialects.]

1 Which of the following two examples seems to you to match most closely (or
be most suited to) the melody of “Mary Had a Little Lamb”? Please circle either
(a) or (b).
| na ne ni ne | na na na - | ne ne ne - | na nu nu - |
| na ne ni ne | na na na - | ne ne na ne | ni
| na no nu no | na na na - | no no no - | na ni ni - |
| na no nu no | na na na - | no no na no | nu

2 Which of the following three examples seems to you to match most closely
(or be most suited to) the melody of “Auld Lang Syne”? Please mark the closest
with a circled number 1, and the second closest with a circled number 2.
nu | na • na na ni | ne • no ne ni | na • na ne ni | ni - - ni |
| ne • na na no | ne • na ne ni | na • no no nu | na
nu | na • ni na ni | na • ni na ni | na • ni na ni | na - - ni |
| na • ni na ni | na • ni na ni | na • ni na ni | na
no | ni • ni ni no | ne • ni ne no | ni • ni ne no | nu - - nu |
| no • na na ne | no • ne no nu | no • ne ne ni | ne

3 Which of the following three examples seems to you to match most closely
(or be most suited to) the melody of “Sakura Sakura (Cherry Blossoms)”?
Please mark the closest with a circled number 1, and the second closest with a
circled number 2.
| ne no ni - | ne no ni - | ne no na ni | ne noni na - | ni no na ni | no nani no …
| na na no - | na na no - | na no nu no | na nona ne - | ne ni ne na | ne neni ni …
| na na ne - | na na ne - | na ne ni ne | na nena no - | na no na ne | na nano nu …

4 Which non-Western musical instruments have you studied (performance


5 Did you learn any of these with the aid of oral mnemonic syllables (such as
bols for tabla)? If so, which ones?

Thank you for your help!

Note on the author

David Hughes is Senior Lecturer in Ethnomusicology at the School of Oriental
and African Studies, University of London. His other research interests include
Japanese folk song, Central Javanese gamelan, musical grammars, and music of
Okinawa. Address: Department of Music, SOAS, University of London,
Thornhaugh Street, London WC1H 0XG, England; e-mail:
HAE-KYUNG UM________________________________
Listening patterns and identity of the
Korean diaspora in the former USSR1

This article examines the relationships between listening patterns and the
construction of identities amongst the Korean diaspora in the former Soviet
Union. This examination uses both quantitative and qualitative methods in an
attempt to analyse the ways in which musics are consumed by these
communities, and to understand better how a variety of self, social and ethnic
identities are constructed and contested through music consumption.

Although diaspora is not a uniquely modern or postmodern condition, the
number of diasporas and minorities appears to have increased dramatically since
the breakup of the former Soviet Union and the subsequent realignment of power
relations in both international and inter-ethnic politics. For example, in some
states Russians have become diasporas themselves 2 and some former minorities

1 This is an extended version of a paper presented at the annual conference of the British
Forum for Ethnomusicology at King Alfred’s College, Winchester, in 1996. My research on
the Korean diaspora in the former Soviet Union was funded from 1993 to 1996 by the
Leverhulme Trust and the Economic and Social Research Council in the United Kingdom.
From 1998 to 2000 the continuation of this work has been supported by a fellowship from the
International Institute for Asian Studies in the Netherlands.
2 According to the 1989 Soviet Census, the Russian population in the Soviet Union reached
over 145 millions making them the largest nationality (50.78%) in this superstate (total
population 285,600,000). At the time of the collapse of the USSR, more than 25 million
Russians found themselves outside Russian territory, facing an uncertain future in the
independent post-Soviet states. In addition to their new citizenship status, their previous
position as the dominant “Big Brother” also changed to that of a Russian minority and a
diaspora in the new states. See Shlapentokh et al. 1994, Aasland 1996 and Tishkov 1997 for
the changing political roles and social positions of Russians in various former Soviet



have now become ruling majorities. 3 Studies of transnational communities and

ethnic minorities, as Barkan and Shelton (1998:3) noted, have also become
important topics of investigation and discourse across all disciplines of
Within the past decade, discussions of diaspora and transnational
culture, motivated in part by technological advance, have become
central to the intellectual investigation of postmodernist culture.
Innumerable groups are increasingly categorised as minority cultures,
part of an all-encompassing network of diasporas. Initiated in the needs
of the displaced and culminating in changed opportunities, diasporic
existence in its all inclusive terms has become culturally and politically
affirmed around the globe, albeit as a solution to an impossible
(Barkan and Shelton 1998:3)

The concept of the term “diaspora” has undergone considerable

transformations especially in the last decade of the twentieth century. For
example, Tölölyan suggests that “the term diaspora that once described Jewish,
Greek, and Armenian dispersion now shares meanings with a larger semantic
domain that includes words like immigrant, expatriate, refugee, guest-worker,
exile community, overseas community, ethnic community” (Tölölyan
1991:4–5). He also adds that the term diaspora which was “once saturated with
the meanings of exile, loss, dislocation, powerlessness and plain pain became a
useful and even desirable way to describe a range of dispersions” (Tölölyan
1996:9). For Clifford, the term diaspora is “a signifier, not simply of
transnationality and movement, but of political struggles to define the local, as
distinctive community, in historical contexts of displacement” and can be
perceived as “a loosely coherent, adaptive constellation of responses to
dwelling-in-displacement” (Clifford 1997:287).
If aesthetic tradition, used symbolically, is considered to be the basis of self
and social identity, as De Vos (1995:22) suggests, and if music and music
bearers are examples of “travelling cultures” of diasporas (Clifford 1992:108),
then music certainly plays a critical role in both the construction and
articulation of the personal, social and ethnic identity of these peoples (Stokes
3 For example, in Kazakhstan, the titular nationality (Kazakh) was a minority population.
According to the 1989 Soviet Census, Kazakhs constituted 39.7% of the total population
while Russians and Ukrainians constituted 42% (Olcott 1993:313). At the time of
independence in 1991 Kazakhs at 41.1% were still outnumbered by Russians and Ukrainians
at 42.6%. However, Kazakhs, both in gross numbers and percentage, steadily increased and
in 1993 they reached 43.1%, making them the largest group (Akhmetov 1998:82). This
increase of the Kazakh population can be attributed to the changing patterns of migration in
Kazakhstan since the early 1990s, namely, the departure of other nationalities such as
Russians, Ukrainians, Jews and Germans on the one hand and the repatriation of Kazakhs
from other former Soviet republics on the other (1998:186–8). For the changing patterns of
ethnic stratification and politics in the independent Kazakhstan see Khazanov (1995:156–74)
and Olcott (1993, 1995).
UM Listening patterns and identity of the Korean diaspora in the former USSR 125

1994, Sugarman 1997). The interface between music and the construction of
identity may occur in all sites, media and agents that are engaged in both the
production and consumption of music. In this sense, music consumption is also
a social performance and “practice” (Bourdieu 1977, de Certeau 1984) in which
individual users (audiences or listeners in the case of music) choose,
appropriate and reappropriate the properties and meanings of music.
The term “listening” in this paper is used in the same sense that Barthes
(1991:245) and van Zanten (1997:44) use it when they refer to listening as a
“psychological” and “conscious” act respectively. 4 In this paper I will explore
the various issues associated with music listening as social performance and
“practice” amongst the Korean diaspora in the former Soviet Union.5 This will
be done by first providing a brief history of the events that led to the
establishment of this diaspora. Secondly I will describe how political and social
changes in the former Soviet Union shape the musics of Soviet Koreans and the
contexts in which these musics are consumed. Then I will describe and analyse
the various listening habits and preferences of these peoples illustrated with
both quantitative and ethnographic data collected from the Korean communities
in Russia, Kazakhstan and Uzbekistan between 1993 and 1995. Finally I will
discuss how the analysis of these listening patterns and how they are to be
understood in terms of the construction of their self, social and ethnic identity.

Korean migration to the former USSR

The 1989 Soviet census6 recorded a population of 438,650 Koreans in the
former USSR making them the 28th largest ethnic group amongst 127 officially
recognized “nationalities’. The three largest Soviet Korean communities are in
the Republic of Uzbekistan (population 183,140), the Russian Federation
(107,051) and the Republic of Kazakhstan (103,315). Of the Koreans in Russia,
about 40% (approximately 40,000) are concentrated on the island of Sakhalin
making them the most cohesive Korean community in the contemporary
Commonwealth of Independent States. (For a review of these demographic

4 A number of studies have been made on a variety of ways in which musics are heard or
listened to by different individuals and in various cultural and social contexts (Shimeda 1986,
Baumann 1992, 1993, 1997, Chernoff, 1997, Chopyak 1997, During 1997, Elsner 1997,
Howard 1997, van Zanten 1997). For audience analysis, see McQuail (1997) and
Abercrombie and Longhurst (1998).
5 A number of studies have been made on the issues of music and identity amongst the Asian
diasporas, for example, Chinese in the USA (Riddle 1983; Zheng 1990, 1994), South Asians
in the UK (Baily 1995, Gopinath 1995), Japanese in Brazil (Hosokawa 1999) to name a few.
For the studies of music in diaspora Slobin (1994) also offers a general framework that
includes “the activity of the superculture,” “the idea of a subculture,” “the networks of
interculture,” “the flexibility of music-cultural definition,” “activists” and “oppositionality.”
It is interesting to note that in many ways these six principles are comparable to the author’s
theoretical model associated with the processes of music-making in a diaspora (Um 1996).
6 The result of the 1999 census was not available when this paper was written.

issues see Yi and Chôn 1993).

Russian involvement with Korea began in 1860 when the Treaty of Peking
was signed and China gave up its Far Eastern maritime region around
Vladivostok to Russia, making Korea a close neighbour of Russia itself.
According to some Russian sources Koreans had already settled in the Russian
maritime region by 1863 (Kho 1987:16). However, it was the poor harvest of
1869 which drove many peasants from the northern part of Korea into the
Russian Far East.
The number of migrants rapidly increased at the turn of the twentieth
century, with the signing of the second Korean-Japanese Treaty in 19057 and
Japanese annexation of Korea in 1910 after which the Russian Far East, in
addition to the USA and China, became one of three bases for the Korean
nationalist movement opposed to Japanese colonialism.8 By the late 1920s the
Korean population in the region was estimated to be 250,000 (Kho 1987:18).
During this period a Korean quarter called Sinhanch’on (New Korean Town)
was formed on a mountainside in the eastern part of Vladivostok. The October
Revolution of 1917 brought many changes to the life of Korean migrants in the
Russian Far East. Most importantly the new policies of integration and
sovietization of Koreans in the region were initiated and this led to Korean
migrants becoming involved in the revolutionary movement.
In 1937 nearly all of these Koreans were transported to Soviet Central Asia
by Stalin under a resettlement scheme which included many other ethnic groups
such as Volga Germans, Crimean Tatars and Chechens (Hosking 1992:254–5).
Since the forced migration to Soviet Central Asia, Almaty (located in what is now
the Republic of Kazakhstan) has become the most important centre for Korean
culture in the region, with a Korean theatre, radio station and newspaper. 9
After Russia lost the southern part of the island of Sakhalin to the Japanese
at the end of the war of 1905, Japan began to move Koreans to the island to
provide a cheap labour force to operate the mines and railways. However, when
the Japanese withdrew at the end of the Second World War, 40,000 Koreans
were left behind in the reclaimed territory of the Soviet Union, which now
included the entire island. In an effort to integrate sympathetically this new
population into Soviet society the process of sovietization for these Korean
migrants living in Sakhalin included opportunities to be educated in their native
language, a privilege which had been denied under Japanese rule.
Unfortunately, these Korean schools were forced to close in the mid 1960s

7 This treaty removed any rights of diplomacy from Korea. xxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxx

8 These nationalist activities were undertaken by both Korean political refugees from the
peninsula and Soviet Korean migrants in the Russian Far East in association with nationalist
organizations such as the Korean Nationalist Society (Taehain Kungminhoe) and the Society
for Encouragement of Industry (Kwônôphoe) (Kim 1989, Yun and Pak 1994).
9 During the Soviet period the capital of the Republic of Kazakhstan was called Alma-Ata.
Then in 1991, it was changed to Almaty, which is closer to the Kazakh pronunciation.
However, the capital was subsequently moved from Almaty in the south-east to Astana in the
north-west in 1995–6.
UM Listening patterns and identity of the Korean diaspora in the former USSR 127

when the Soviet authorities reversed this policy in an effort to accelerate the
process of sovietization of the Sakhalin Koreans.
During the Stalinist period voluntary internal migration of Soviet Koreans
was permitted only within the region of Soviet Central Asia. However, after the
island of Sakhalin became a Soviet territory at the end of the Second World
War, several hundred Central Asian Koreans were sent to Sakhalin as teachers
and civil servants. The Soviet authorities did this to facilitate the education and
administration of the Korean population on the island who had no knowledge of
the Russian language and Soviet system. When the official 1937 restrictions on
the movement of Koreans and establishment of residence was lifted shortly
after Stalin’s death in 1953 several thousand Central Asian Koreans moved
back to the Russian Far East, which they considered “home”. Since the 1960s a
number of the Sakhalin Koreans have also moved in the opposite direction, to
the Russian mainland and Soviet Central Asia, in an effort to gain access to
higher education and improve their job prospects (Um 1996).

Political and social influences on the musics of the

Korean diaspora in the former USSR
As with all aspects of their lives, the listening patterns of Soviet Koreans have
been under the influence of the wider social and political changes in the former
USSR. For example, the beginning of the sovietization of Korean migrant
culture since 1917 is marked by the songs of the October Revolution, sung in
Russian and Korean,10 and new Soviet Korean songs 11 with socialist themes. 12
These songs have become a part of Soviet Korean culture and they are now
regarded as a part of their “tradition” although few young Soviet Koreans
would choose to listen to them.
After the forced migration and resettlement in Soviet Central Asia in 1937,
the folk and popular songs of local ethnic groups, such as the Kazakhs and
Uzbeks, also became a part of the Soviet Korean song repertoire through the
process of adaptation to local regional cultures. In Korean weddings in Soviet
Central Asia, for example, both Russian and Korean popular music are played
in Kazakhstan, while Uzbek popular music is also included in Uzbekistan. For

10 For example, according to Han Ch’ôl-chu (b. 1921) and Yang Lora (b. 1923), “The Song
of Lenin” and “The Song of the Tractor” were widely sung amongst Soviet Koreans in the
Russian Far East (fieldwork 1994).
11 The most well-known new Soviet Korean song is “Let’s Vigorously Sow Fields with
Seeds” (Ssirûl Hwalhwal Ppuryôra), which was written and composed in 1931 by Soviet
Korean artist Yôn Sông-yong (born in 1909 in Vladivostok and died in 1998 in Almaty).
This song describes the joyful rural life of a socialist state and employs a Korean folksong
style with a pentatonic scale. For other works by Yôn Sông-yong see Um (1996).
12 Since 1917 a variety of revolutionary and socialist music “for the people by the people”
was composed and arranged to create forms of proletarian popular culture in the former
Soviet Union. See Stites (1992) for changes in official policies and popular culture in Russia
and the former Soviet Union since 1900.

instance, I attended a Korean wedding in Tashkent, Uzbekistan in 1994. At the

reception, the Uzbek Korean ensemble Ch’ôngch’un (The Youth) performed a
variety of music including Russian, Uzbek, Korean and Western popular music
for the ethnically mixed guests. It was notable that the type of music played
often shaped the way the people at the wedding reception interacted with each
other. For example, when Uzbek pop songs of Yulduz Usmanova and the pop
group Yalla were played, some guests started showering the newly-weds with a
handful of bank notes as is the custom in modern Uzbek weddings. When the
music changed to Russian pop songs, a few guests started shouting “Gorka,
Gorka (Bitter, Bitter)!”, soon joined by everyone at the party, to encourage the
bride and groom to kiss as is the custom in contemporary Russian wedding
receptions (fieldwork 1994).13
Since Gorbachev’s programme of political and economic reform in 1985
and the disintegration of the Soviet Union in 1990, all types of music have been
made available throughout the former Soviet Union. Contemporary Soviet
Koreans now listen not only to Russian, Western and Korean pop music but
also to Christian hymns and gospel songs which have been introduced by South
Korean and Korean American14 missionaries.
The listening patterns of Soviet Koreans are also influenced by cultural
contact and exchange from both North and South Korea via the media of audio
and video tapes, printed music and concerts and music workshops organized by
the parent country as a part of a cultural policy for their overseas population.
Until the late 1980s North Korea had a strong influence on the culture of all
Soviet Korean communities, but since the 1990s the influences from South
Korea have become predominant. North Korean revolutionary and
contemporary folk songs have given way to South Korean popular music that is
available through the new technologies of karaoke in audio and video format,
CDs and video tapes of South Korean television programmes.

Listening patterns of the Korean diaspora in the

former USSR

The description and analysis of the listening patterns of the Soviet Korean
diaspora are drawn from both my quantitative and qualitative data collected in
various Korean communities in Russia, Kazakhstan and Uzbekistan between
1993 and 1995.15 This research began in 1992 when a draft questionnaire was
developed and pre-tested in Seoul, South Korea.16 The questionnaire was then

13 For Yulduz Usmanova, who is best known outside Uzbekistan as the Uzbek pop queen,
see Levin (1996:80–84).
14 i.e. (ethnic) Korean missionaries from the USA.
15 For data collection methods see Frankfort-Nachmias and Nachmias (1996:203–333).
UM Listening patterns and identity of the Korean diaspora in the former USSR 129

revised to collect information on the Soviet Koreans’ experience and attitudes

towards what they determined to be “Korean” and “local” culture. During the
summer of 1993, the draft questionnaire, in Russian and Korean, was tested in
Almaty in the Republic of Kazakhstan and revised yet again using a portable
computer and printer. This revised questionnaire was then used to collect the data
presented in this paper in Ush-tobe and Almaty in the Republic of Kazakhstan,
Moscow and Yuzhno-Sakhalinsk in the Russian Federation and Tashkent in the
Republic of Uzbekistan. All the data were coded, entered into a Microsoft Excel
spreadsheet and analysed using cross-tabulations and correlations to explore the
relationships that exist between the demographic profile of the migrants and their
associated musical and cultural values and practice.17
The questionnaire included sections on language, literature, dress, food,
music and dance as well as demographic variables relating to age, gender,
education, occupation and history of migration. The question designed
specifically to explore issues relevant to listening patterns and music preferences
was as follows:
From the following list, please select three types of music you listen to
most in order of frequency.

1st_________ 2nd_________ 3rd_________

1 Korean traditional music

2 Korean old popular music
3 Korean modern popular music
4 Western popular music
5 Western classical music
6 Russian popular music
7 Russian traditional music
8 Traditional music of other ethnic groups in USSR
9 Other (Please specify)__________
It should be noted that in this questionnaire the definition of each type of music
was open to the respondent’s own interpretation. The aim of the survey was not
to define various types or genres of different musics in the former Soviet Union
but to give the respondents every opportunity to indicate their musical
preferences as they perceived them.18 Although the question can be used to

16 On the issue of the perceptions of traditional Korean music and Western music in South
Korea see Howard 1997.
17 The total number of questionnaires completed and entered into the database was 450. Care
was taken to ensure an even distribution in terms of geographical region, age, gender and
education. All those interviewed had Korean ancestry.
18 The criteria used were made after extensive interviews with Soviet Koreans from different
backgrounds and several tests in the field. The question attempts to avoid the researcher’s
bias as much as possible, and also to include all of the various types of music available to
different Soviet Korean communities.

generate many different correlations and variables it was coded specifically to

distinguish preferences for “Korean” (K) and “Other” (O) musics as well as
each of the “Types of Music” as in Figure 1. Education was coded on a scale
from 0 to 6 as indicated in Figure 2.19
Gender was coded simply as M(ale) or F(emale), age was grouped into blocks
of ten years, migration generation ranged from first to fourth and place of
residence was either Sakhalin, Kazakhstan, Uzbekistan or Moscow.
K = Korean music
O = Other music
KT = Korean traditional music
KOP = Korean old popular music
KMP = Korean modern popular music
WP = Western popular music
WC = Western classical music
RP = Russian popular music
RT = Russian traditional music
OET = Other ethnic traditional music
Figure 1 Types of music

0 = No education
1 = Korean traditional education only
2 = Primary school
3 = Secondary school
4 = College
5 = University
6 = Graduate school

Figure 2 Levels of education

From this coding of variables it is now possible to examine the first

listening preference of the Korean migrants – first simply in terms of “Korean”
vs. “Other”, and then according to a more differentiated list of “Types of
music”. We can see below how these preferences are correlated to age,
education, gender, migration generation and place of residence.

19 Some Korean migrants who had not received a school education had studied classical
Chinese readings in the pre-modern and pre-Soviet education systems. The distinction
between “college” and “university” was made because the former is associated with
technically oriented trainings whereas the latter is associated with a higher level of academic
studies as defined in the education system of the former Soviet Union.
UM Listening patterns and identity of the Korean diaspora in the former USSR 131

Age group and musical preference

As illustrated in Figure 3 below, the younger Soviet Koreans prefer to listen to
“Other” types of music whereas the older age groups prefer “Korean” music.

Figure 3 Age group and preference for “Korean” or “Other” music

These relationships between musical preference and age group can be further
divided according the musical genres as illustrated in Figure 4.

Figure 4 Age group and preference for type of music

Soviet Koreans in their 10s (48% of the age group 10 to 19) and 20s (44%) have
a strong preference for Western popular music while those who are in their 30s
(40%) and 40s (27%) most strongly favour Russian popular music. Korean
modern pop music is the second most popular genre for Soviet Koreans in their
10s (17%) and 20s (16%). Notably these age groups had an opportunity to study
the Korean language in university or visit Korea on an exchange programme.
Through this exposure to contemporary Korean culture they seem to have
acquired a preference for Korean modern pop just as young South Koreans do
in their home country. Soviet Koreans in their 40s appear to have a wide range
of musical tastes, from Russian popular (27%) to Western popular (15%) to
Korean traditional (15%) to Western classical (13%) and Korean modern
popular (13%). It is from the 50s age group and older that preferences switch to
Korean music, especially to what they consider to be traditional Korean music.
These correlations between listening habits and age groups were also
illustrated by the ways in which Soviet Koreans perceive the various musical
preferences of different age groups. For example, a Soviet Korean woman in

Almaty suggested to me that she could fill out the questionnaire on behalf of her
teenage son. When I asked her how she could possibly answer all the questions,
especially his musical preferences, for him, she relied, “Of course, I know what
he likes. At home I can hear that he listens to Michael Jackson all the time. But
I much prefer our own singers like Song Georgy from here and Mun Kongja
from Sakhalin who can sing much better.”20
The activity of music listening amongst Soviet Koreans was sometimes
extended to social practice through networking and the exchange of musical
resources within the age group. For example, when the daughter of my host
family in Almaty found out that her friend had brought back some of the latest
South Korean pop music on tapes and CDs from Seoul, she immediately
contacted other friends and organized a gathering to listen to these new albums
together. She told me that it is their own social event, implying that I was not
invited. When a close friend of my host family came to borrow some Korean
folksong cassette tapes for her mother’s birthday party she brought her own
video tapes of South Korean TV shows as a token of exchange. 21

Education and musical preference

As illustrated below, less educated Soviet Koreans choose “Korean” music. It is
from the secondary school education level and higher (columns 3–6) that
preferences switch to “Other” music (see Figure 5).

Figure 5 Education and preference for “Korean” or “Other” music

(0 = No education; 1 = Korean traditional education; 2 = Primary school; 3 = Secondary
school; 4 = College; 5 = University; 6 = Graduate school)

20 Interview with Yi Yevdokia (b. 1941), Almaty, Kazakhstan, in 1993xxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxx

21 Fieldwork in Almaty, Kazakhstan, in 1993 and 1994. 22 In Ush-tobe, Kazakhstan, I met
other nationalities such as Russians and Kazakhs who had acquired the Korean language
from their Korean-speaking neighbours.
UM Listening patterns and identity of the Korean diaspora in the former USSR 133

Again the relationships between musical preference and education levels can be
further divided according the music types as illustrated in Figure 6.

Figure 6 Education and preference for type of music

(0 = No education; 1 = Korean traditional education; 2 = Primary school; 3 = Secondary
school; 4 = College; 5 = University; 6 = Graduate school)

Soviet Koreans with no education or with primary school education only

have a strong preference for Korean traditional and Korean old popular music.
Notably 100% of Soviet Koreans who considered themselves to be traditionally
educated choose Korean traditional music as their favourite type of music with
none of them selecting the other types of music. On the other hand, more
educated Soviet Koreans (above the secondary school level) choose Russian
popular music (15% to 28%) and Western popular music (18% to 50%) over
traditional Korean music (9% to 25%). We might interpret this as a result of
integration into the culture of the host country through education.
The education levels of Soviet Koreans are often related to the urban/rural
dichotomy of the social environment they live in. Soviet Koreans with less
education tend to live in rural areas, such as Ush-tobe in Kazakhstan and
Politotzel in Uzbekistan. Their social life also tends to be organized within the
village or collective farm where many of the residents are Korean speaking.22

Gender and musical preference

The relationship between gender and listening patterns is relatively weak as
illustrated in Figures 7 and 8. Gender seems to have little or no significant
influence on musical preference.

22 In Ush-tobe, I met other nationalities such as Russioans and Kazakhs who had acquired
the Korean language from their Korean-speaking neighbours.

Figure 7 Gender and preference for “Korean” or “Other” music

Figure 8 Gender and preference for type of music

Migration generation and musical preference

As illustrated in Figure 9, the first-generation Soviet Korean migrants have a
strong preference for “Korean” music. Their musical preference shifts to
“Other” types of music from the third generation and onwards.

Figure 9 Migration generation and preference for “Korean” or “Other” music

The relationships between musical preference and migration generation can be

divided according the music types as illustrated in Figure 10.
UM Listening patterns and identity of the Korean diaspora in the former USSR 135

Figure 10 Migration generation and preference for type of music

The first generation Soviet Koreans have a strong preference for Korean
traditional music (79%) while the second generation Soviet Koreans have a
relatively wide range of musical preferences from Korean traditional (32%) to
Korean modern popular (28%) to Russian popular music (18%). The third
generation chooses Russian popular (29%) and Western popular music (21%)
as their favourite music types. The fourth generation Soviet Koreans have a
strong preference for Western popular music (63%) over all other types of
music. Clearly migration generation is one of the strongest correlations with
matters of musical preferences.
In Soviet Korean homes it is common to find separate audio and video
collections for individual family members with different listening habits.
Typically, grandparents would listen to Korean folksongs on cassette tapes or
tune in to the local Korean-language cable radio programmes; parents would
listen to “easy listening” Russian popular music on FM radio or occasionally
watch South Korean TV programmes on video tapes while their children prefer
to watch MTV or listen to the latest Russian and Western pop songs on their
Walkman or CD player.

Place of residence and musical preference

The relationships between the listening patterns and place of residence are
illustrated in Figures 11 and 12.

Figure 11 Place of residence and preference for “Korean” or “Other” music


Amongst the four Soviet Korean communities, Sakhalin Koreans showed

the strongest preference for “Korean” music (61%). This is followed by Kazakh
Koreans (52%) and Uzbek Koreans (41%) while Korean migrants in Moscow
prefer “Other” music (87%) to “Korean” music (13%).
These relationships between the listening patterns and place of residence
are influenced by a number of factors. For example, the Sakhalin Korean
community, with a relatively short migration history, still has a large number of
the first-generation migrants who moved to the island in the 1930s and 1940s.
Additionally, the second generation Sakhalin Koreans also had an opportunity
to receive a Korean language education from 1945 to the mid 1960s. The
Sakhalin Korean community also has a Korean language newspaper and radio
and TV stations that broadcast Korean programmes.
On the other hand, the Moscow Korean community comprises Korean
migrants from various regions of the former USSR. The total number of the
Soviet Korean population in the city also fluctuates a great deal because many
of them frequently travel to and from the other former Soviet republics. Korean
cultural organizations and activities in cosmopolitan Moscow are also limited
when compared to other Soviet Korean communities.
The relationships that exist between the listening patterns and Soviet Korean
communities in Kazakhstan and Uzbekistan are more complex. As illustrated in
Figure 9 above, a relatively higher percentage of Kazakh Koreans (52%) choose
“Korean” music over “Other” music (48%) when compared to Uzbek Koreans
(42% for “Korean” music and 58% for “Other” music). However, as illustrated
in Figure 12, Uzbek Koreans choose Korean traditional music (22%) as their
favourite type of music, followed by Russian popular and Western popular music
(both at 21%). On the other hand, Kazakh Koreans prefer Western popular music
(25%), followed by Korean modern popular music (23 %).

Figure 12 Place of residence and preference for type of music

It should be noted that in Central Asia, Koreans in Uzbekistan pride themselves

as being more Korean than those in Kazakhstan because they believe they have
retained more of the Korean culture, primarily the language. On the other hand,
Koreans in Kazakhstan consider themselves more sophisticated and modern,
i.e. European (Um 1996). This self-identification of these two migrant
UM Listening patterns and identity of the Korean diaspora in the former USSR 137

communities is reflected in their preference for type of music as illustrated in

Figure 12. For example, Uzbek Koreans have a stronger preference for Korean
traditional music (22%) compared to Kazakh Koreans (14%) while Kazakh
Koreans have a stronger preference for Western popular music (25%) compared
to Uzbek Koreans (21%).
However, as illustrated in Figure 11, Uzbek Koreans’ overall musical
preference for “Korean” or “Other” music does not appear to reflect their self-
identification of Korean ethnicity. This dissociation between the practice of
music listening and self-identification can be attributed to several factors. First,
although the largest Korean community exists in Uzbekistan, the centre of
Korean migrant culture in the former Soviet Union is located in Kazakhstan,
with its Korean theatre, newspaper, radio and TV station. Consequently many
Korean-speaking artists, actors, writers and journalists from Uzbekistan and
Sakhalin have moved to Kazakhstan because there are more opportunities for
jobs and activities related to Korean culture. Additionally and importantly,
Kazakh Koreans have more cultural contacts with South Korea and the outside
world because the Kazakh government23 has adopted relatively flexible
policies with regard to immigration and foreign investment in comparison with
the more authoritarian and nationalist Uzbek government.24

Political and social influences from the wider society of the former USSR and
Korea have shaped both the content of music and the contexts in which music is
consumed by the Korean diaspora in the former Soviet Union. The practice of
music consumption among this diaspora varies depending on the age,
immigration generation and education of individuals and the regional context of
the different migrant communities. For example, the older generations
appreciate Korean traditional music and Korean old popular music. Younger
and more educated Soviet Koreans in all regions tend to have a preference for
modern popular songs of various origins including those from the West, Russia
and South Korea.
It should be noted that the ways in which Soviet Koreans perceive different
types of music are both personal and social constructions. The definition of
Korean traditional music varies depending on the place of origin, age, migration
generation and community. For example, Central Asian Koreans who were born
in the Russian Far East would consider folksongs from northern regions of the
Korean peninsular to be Korean traditional music while the first generation
Sakhalin Koreans from the southern regions of the Korean peninsular would

23 See Olcott 1993, 1995 and Svanberg 1996 for the processes of nation-building and
political leadership in Kazakhstan.
24 See Gleason 1993, Carlisle 1995 and Akiner 1996 for the processes of nation-building
and political leadership in Uzbekistan.

regard folk songs from their place of origin as Korean traditional music. On the
other hand, older Soviet Koreans in all regions would consider the Korean
songs created in the Russian Far East and Central Asia to be “Soviet Korean
music”.25 For younger generations, these Soviet Korean songs are “traditional”
because of their association with the past.
If music plays a critical role in both the construction and articulation of
personal, social and ethnic identity, how does music contribute to this process?
Musical symbols and emblems can be effective in rallying entire populations, as
national anthems and revolutionary songs often do. However, it is clear from
the evidence of the Korean migrant communities studied here that the same
musical symbols and emblems can have different meanings depending on the
listeners’ age, education, generation of migration and geographical location.
De Vos (1995:24) suggests that ethnic identity consists of the “subjective,
symbolic or emblematic use of any aspect of culture, or a perceived separate
origin and continuity in order to differentiate themselves from other groups”.
He also considers that ethnic identity is past-oriented whereas social identity
such as citizenship, occupation and ideological affiliation is present- or future-
oriented (1995:27).
Ethnic identity in the former Soviet Union and post-Soviet republics is not
simply a “subjective feeling of belonging” (De Vos 1995). It can also be a set of
political and social criteria which is officially defined by a government as a
“nationality” to be indicated on the passport under the category of
“citizenship”. 26 The loyalty of ethnic Koreans toward the Soviet Union was
questioned by the Soviet government, although Koreans in the Russian Far East
had voluntarily joined the Bolsheviks during the October Revolution,27 and
consequently they were transferred to Central Asia as traitors to the Soviet
Union by Stalin in 1937. Their honour was not restored until 1991 by the new
Russian Federation. At the same time, ethnic identity for the Korean diaspora in
the former Soviet Union also faces the challenge of geo-political changes in
their home country. They now have to reassess their past in relation to a Korea
their forebears left a century ago, and construct their present and future identity
in relation to the two home counties of South Korea and North Korea. For the

25 Representative of the new types of Soviet Korean music are the “longing for home songs”
(manghyangga), which are to be found in all Korean communities in the former Soviet
Union. These songs have different musical styles depending on their region. The Central
Asian Korean songs employ the melodies of a hybrid of Christian hymns and Japanese
marching songs (ch’angga), which were popular in Korea and the Russian Far East at the
turn of the twentieth century. On the other hand, the Sakhalin Korean versions are in the style
of Japanese and Korean popular songs of the 1930s and 1940s. Older Soviet Koreans in
Central Asia and Sakhalin usually consider these Soviet Korean songs to belong to the broad
category of “Korean old popular music” used in this survey.
26 See Bremmer (1993), Smith (1996) and Wilson (1996).
27 Koreans fought against Russian and Japanese imperialism, feeling that Bolshevik socialist
ideology could provide them with a better status and quality of life in the Russian Far East
(Kim 1989).
UM Listening patterns and identity of the Korean diaspora in the former USSR 139

Korean diaspora in the former Soviet Union, both their social identity and
ethnic identity are past-, present- and future-oriented.
These complexities in the social and ethnic identity of Soviet Koreans are
also reflected in the ways in which different musics are perceived by this
diaspora. Barthes considers that hearing is essentially linked to evaluation of
the spatio-temporal situation. According to him, based on hearing, listening is
the very sense of space and of time (Barthes 1991:247). In this way, Korean
traditional music is linked to the real or “imagined” homeland and past which,
in turn, is associated with Korean ethnic identity. However, as different
individuals and migrant communities have their own definition of Korean
traditional music, their semantic associations of the homeland and past with
ethnic identity may be different.
According to Frith (1996:109), music creates and constructs an experience.
It is also a “key to identity because it offers a sense of both self and others, of
the subjective in the collective” (1996:110). In this sense, for the Korean
diaspora, the practice of listening to a variety of modern popular music is a way
of constructing and redefining their self, social and ethnic identity. For
example, Korean modern popular music may be associated with an imagined
homeland and past because of its assumed linguistic and cultural connection. At
the same time, this music also represents the “otherness” of contemporary
South Korea, which exists in the present as a foreign country. 28 Another
example is Russian rock music of the late Victor Tzoi,29 which has a significant
importance to many Soviet Koreans, including older generations who rarely
listen to this type of music. For the Korean diaspora, Victor Tzoi and his music
represent both “self” and “others”. They consider that Tzoi’s half-Korean and
half-Ukrainian ethnic background and his songs, which predominantly relate to
alienation and marginalization, reflect their diasporic existence.30
With regard to self-identity Giddens (1991:5) suggests that:
In the post-traditional order of modernity, and against the backdrop of
new forms of mediated experience, self-identity becomes a reflexively

28 In fact, many Soviet Koreans, especially elderly Soviet Koreans who speak an older
northern dialect, find it difficult to understand the lyrics of modern South Korean popular
songs in the contemporary standard South Korean language. For example, when the author
was speaking Korean with a Kazakh Korean historian, who studied the Korean language in
Seoul, his mother, who was born in the Russian Far East, said to us, “What are you two
talking about? It sounds nice, but I cannot understand a word of it” (fieldwork 1994).
29 See Ramet et al. 1994 and Cushman 1995 for more details about Victor Tzoi in the Soviet
rock scene.
30 For example, a young Kazakh Korean in Almaty, Nam Tatyana (b. 1971), said to me: “I
feel that Victor Tzoi and his music belong to us. Soviet Koreans, are ‘in between’ just like
Victor Tzoi himself. We are not ‘completely’ Korean because we were not born there and did
not know much about Korea until a few years ago. But we are always seen as being Korean
here, by Russians, Kazakhs, Uzbeks and others. Because we are displaced we are also
‘power-less’ like what Victor Tzoi’s songs are all about” (fieldwork 1993).

organized endeavour. The reflexive project of the self, which consists

in the sustaining of coherent, yet continuously revised, biographical
narratives, takes place in the context of multiple choice as filtered
through abstract systems.
But I would like to suggest that this reflexive project is not just limited to
self-identity. For the Korean diaspora in the former Soviet Union their social
and ethnic identity also involves what Giddens terms “a reflexively organized
endeavour”. They continuously construct and redefine their personal, social and
ethnic identity and diasporic existence in space and time – between the host
country and the real or imagined “homeland” and between the past, present and
In summary, this examination of self, social and ethnic identity amongst the
Korean diaspora of the former Soviet Union informs us that they are individual,
social and political constructions, which are associated with all of the “past,
present and future” (De Vos 1995) of this diaspora. They are also continuously
revised through “a reflexively organized endeavour” (Giddens 1991), which, in
turn, is shaped by social and political influences from the host country, home
country and the outside world. For this people, music-listening is a way of
creating and constructing not only an “experience” (Frith 1996) but also a
multitude of personal and social experiences – both a sense of belonging and a
sense of alienation in different “time and space” (Barthes 1991). The practice of
music-listening for this Korean diaspora, as a social performance and as a way
of defining their personal and social life in the changing world, both reflects
and shapes the multiple identities of this people. It is not a simple process that
can be easily described or defined by one social or semiotic theory, but requires
a multitude of analytical perspectives for its better understanding.

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Note on the author

Hae-kyung Um received her PhD at The Queen’s University of Belfast, UK
where her research focused on the traditional Korean musical drama, p’ansori.
Um completed a three-year project (1993–6) in Russia, Uzbekistan and
Kazakhstan in which she studied the relationship between music-making and
identity amongst the Korean diaspora in these post-Soviet states. Her research

was funded by the Leverhulme Trust and the Economic and Social Research
Council, UK. She is presently a research fellow of the PAATI (Performing Arts
in Asia: Tradition and Innovation) programme at the International Institute for
Asian Studies in Leiden, the Netherlands. Her current research focuses on the
performing arts of Korea and of the Korean diaspora in the former Soviet Union
and China. Address: International Institute for Asian Studies, Nonnensteeg 1–3,
2311 VJ Leiden, The Netherlands; tel: +31–71–527–4126; Fax: +31–71–
527–4162; e-mail:



Books called himself Komitas, after a seventh-

century hymn-writer), dating from the
Komitas: Armenian sacred and folk 1890s and 1900s. Komitas was born in
music. Trans. E. Gulbekian. 1869 and was sent to a seminary in
Introduction by V.N. Nersessian. Echmiadzin (now in Armenia) to study
Richmond (UK): Curzon Caucasus liturgical singing. Some years after
World, 1998. 192pp., works, graduating, he went to Berlin to study
musical exx., index, glossary of composition, and on his return to what
musical terms, bibliography. ISBN was then still the Ottoman Empire, began
0-7007-0637-2 (cloth) collecting and transcribing folk songs.
The 1915 Armenian massacres affected
ROBERT AT’AYAN, The Armenian neume
his mental health, and he suffered a
system of notation. Trans. and nervous breakdown. Sadly, much of his
work had been destroyed, or at least lost,
introduction by V.N. Nersessian.
Richmond (UK): Curzon Press, in the massacres. The present volume
1999. 287pp., 13 plates, musical includes eight essays that are taken from
the Collected works of Komitas
exx., appendices, notes, index,
bibliography. ISBN 0-7007-0636-4 published (in Armenian) in Yerevan in
(cloth £40) 1941. Two are reproduced in the original
German and one in the original French
Komitas has long been regarded in (translated by Arshak Tchobanian), and
Armenia as the founding father of an the remaining articles are in English.
“Armenian national music”, and is still Four of the essays discuss Armenian folk
viewed as the most important music, and five are about Armenian
musicologist to have worked on church music. Perhaps the most
Armenian music. Although he was also a important essay for the English-speaking
composer and musician, his contribution reader interested in early
to musical life is remembered primarily ethnomusicological thought, is the
through the collection and transcription article-length essay entitled “The Plough
of folk songs which he carried out at the song of Lori in the style of the village of
turn of the century, at a time when Vardablour”. In this work, musical
interest in “folk culture” was growing, analyses are intertwined with
but when systematic collection and study descriptions of the physical settings and
of folk music had not yet begun in activities in which the music is
Armenia. At’ayan, on the other hand, has embedded. Given the period in which
not acquired “national status”, but has, At’ayan was writing, this intense interest
nonetheless, done a lot of work on a in the social and extra-musical activities
number of periods in Armenian music that “furnish the conditions of musical
history, and is well known in production” is unusual.
musicological circles in that country. Transcriptions and arrangements by
This review considers recent published the author are included throughout the
collections of both these authors’ work. book. All kinds of songs that are meant to
Komitas: Armenian sacred and folk demonstrate the supposed “uniqueness”
music comprises a selection from the of the Armenian national style are
writings of Sogomon Soghomonian (who present. These construct an image of both

the nature of the music and the equally competently elements of

ideological attitude of the linguistics, musicology and historical
ethnomusicologist who finds a balance research as he works his way through a
between “retaining the original” and large number of sources. The study is an
“harmonizing to enrich the sounds and attempt to trace the origins and evolution
spirit” of what he might call “his people.” of the khaz system of notation that
Ideology can at times become obtrusive reached its peak of development in the
as, for instance, when the author claims twelfth and thirteenth centuries. The
that “the folk songs of a given nation are system is separated into two subsystems:
so characteristic that it is not possible to musical and prosodic. After examining
confuse them with those of foreign or the origin and development of both
related nations” (159) and then goes on to individually, and their interrelations, the
demonstrate how a collection of songs author critically reviews the major
“correspond in structure and harmony studies of the subject, by both Armenian
with the spirit and style of Armenian folk and European scholars. The final chapter
songs”. Such attempts are not always gives an account of tenth–twelfth century
convincing, and although well written, khazes and the principal features of the
demand of the reader a certain (if only system.
minimal) acquaintance with Armenian The author attempts to use Armenian
music. Sometimes the, at times, deeply folk music (from a century ago to the
technical (or as Komitas sometimes calls present day) as a vital tool in our
it, “scientific”) nature of his musical understanding of the music of almost a
analyses threatens to become tiresome. millennium ago. Attacking previous
Komitas’s total commitment to theories on the origins of the Armenian
Armenian music is remarkable and his khaz system because of their common
knowledge of it unmatched. Yet, his assumption that “the Armenian khaz
academic work is only one of the many system is not original but borrowed from
ways Komitas attempted to reconcile his other traditions” (43), he then attempts to
musical interests with his ideological prove the system’s originality. At’ayan
position. The concerts of Armenian gives interesting examples of the
music given in Paris and elsewhere in problems of earlier scholarship, for
Europe reveal the dedication, evident in instance, Fleischer’s conclusion that
this book, to both his interest in the Armenian khaz signs are influenced by
nation and his interests in music. The Indian and Greek accent signs. Fleischer
author’s realm of influence in bases his assumption on the
musicology, arrangement and resemblances in the notational shapes,
composition is unsurpassed within contending that “the Armenian sign of
Armenia, as is attested by the included erkar is evidence that the Armenian
bibliography of works about Komitas. notation system constitutes a middle link
If Komitas’s work is of greatest between the Indian accentuation and
interest to enthusiasts of the history of Greek prosody system [because] the
ethnomusicology, At’ayan’s book, The Indian equivalent of the erkar is a
Armenian neume system of notation, is of vertical line” (45). At’ayan points out
particular interest to those interested in that such similarities could easily be
historical ethnomusicology. Written in discovered in any two texts. Yet his
the 1950s (but translated into English for criticism of the “superficiality” inherent
the first time here), it demonstrates the in Fleischer’s similarities prompts a
author’s remarkable ability in handling rather larger question for the book. Can

we go much further than Fleischer into even a century ago. One could as easily
what At’ayan calls the “essences” of argue that church music had influenced
these notations? the subsequent development of folk
To indicate how much the European music. Elsewhere he claims that khazes
scholars before him had erred, At’ayan were “affiliated with the monodic
cites their unfamiliarity with the national style of music” (104) yet is also
Armenian musical tradition: unable to give evidence of the existence
The majority of scholars have of a “national” style a thousand years
ascribed khazes with unprovable ago. The insistence on a distinctive
definitions and concluded the “Armenian musical tradition” that may
question as being exhausted have evolved independently of external
without even making attempts to influences over a thousand years
verify their conclusions by becomes even more problematical given
transcribing any melody. Those that Armenia has been under Arab,
who did transcribe the odd melody Mongolian, Russian, Persian and
(Schroeder, Peterman) were never Ottoman rule since the days of the origins
aware that the melodies they of khaz notation.
selected were never in their At’ayan’s argument for a cultural
essence (modal intonation) close to tradition that has survived intact
Armenian musical tradition. throughout centuries of foreign rule and
(43) that lies at the root of the Armenian
In an age with a heightened awareness nation and national identity is speculative
of the significance of invented traditions, and a good example of how an imagined
such faith in what is loosely called history of the nation relates to the
“Armenian musical tradition” cannot be prevailing ideology. However, his use of
accepted so readily. Comparisons are material from the Institute of Ancient
unhesitatingly implied (and considered Manuscripts in Yerevan, is meticulous
legitimate) between music of the eighth and careful. A lucid and penetrating
to twelfth centuries and an Armenian analysis of many previously unexplored
musical tradition that we know only from manuscripts makes this book, despite its
the late nineteenth century. Written when faults, a must for anyone interested in the
Armenia was under Soviet control, music of this period, whether or not some
At’ayan’s concerns with folk music and idea of the actual sound of this Armenian
with an “Armenian” music are deeply system is attainable. Though the
rooted in politically-imposed ideology. translation is not always smooth, and
The equation of “Armenian musical there are a number of typing errors, it is a
tradition” with the Armenian folk very readable text even to those without a
tradition forms the basis of the author’s direct interest in the areas covered.
theoretical perspective and refutation of The two books are in many ways
earlier scholarship. In attempting to trace paradigmatic of the ways in which
the origins of the khaz system, he claims national attitudes or ideologies, if you
that “the link that exists between the prefer, have imposed themselves on the
modal basis of Armenian folk and sacred way music is perceived and in due time
music is evidence that the church made “transformed” in Armenia. If the study of
extensive use of folk music” (76), yet ideological factors influencing
there is, of course, no evidence that the ethnomusicological scholarship (as
modal system of folk music a millennium opposed to the object of this scholarship)
or so ago was the same that it is today, or is still in its infancy, these two books are

a welcome addition to our understanding (vocal “overture”) to establish the mood

of why and how the field shapes itself the and key, just as a composition in Arab
way it does. music may be preceded by a taqsîm or
layâli (instrumental or vocal
improvisation, respectively) (12–13).
Faculty of Music,
University of Cambridge Similarly, the book is structured
according to this aesthetic principle, each
of the six chapters being preceded by a
“Prelude” which introduces the reader to
a specific pizmon related to the issues
rain down: song and remembrance addressed in the following chapter. Each
among Syrian Jews. Chicago and Prelude discusses the circumstances of
London: University of Chicago, composition and performance of the
1998. xvii + 291 pp., photographs, particular pizmon, and presents a music
figures, table, musical exx., song transcription with word underlay in
texts, index, glossary, references, transliteration, the original song text in
CD. ISBN 0-226-75211-9 (cloth Hebrew and an English translation; the
£41); 0-226-75212-7 (pb., £17.50). performance of each pizmon, by (male)
In this study of pizmonim (paraliturgical members of the Syrian Jewish
hymns; s. pizmon) in the Syrian Jewish community in New York, is presented on
diaspora of New York, Israel and Mexico the CD that accompanies the book.
City, Kay Kaufman Shelemay focuses on Shelemay’s presentation results in an
the evocation of “several domains of attractive formula; the sharp focus on a
memory” (7) through song performance. single song and its performance brings
The introduction cites studies of musical the material to life, introduces the
traditions that embody music and reader/listener to a core repertory and
remembrance and observes that, unlike provides a practical introduction to
recent studies in the humanistic theoretical issues.
disciplines, “the musical construction of Two poems by Ronny Someck
remembrance” (6) has remained in the (1989:18, 19) to the divas of Arabic song
background in most ethnomusicological – Fairuz and Umm Kulthûm – act as
literature. Shelemay makes effective use prologue and epilogue, the main title of
of verbatim reports from interviews, the book emerging in the first poem.
noting that the transcription and analysis Each chapter focuses on a different
of interviews highlighted memory as an domain of memory. Chapter 1, “Song and
ever-present theme. Acknowledging the remembrance” considers music
work of Soja (1995) and Foucault (1986), transmission and confirms tradition and
she views “each pizmon … as a history as community values in the
heterotopology, a site for various “multi-functional” performance of
constructions of present and past …” (10). pizmonim. While pizmon composition,
Shelemay describes Syrian Jewish performance and transmission appear to
religious song as “a hybrid, emerging be almost exclusively male-oriented,
from the bifurcated historical experience Shelemay underlines the vital female role
of this Judeo-Arab community” (11): the taken in domestic events. In Chapter 2,
song texts, in Hebrew, are Jewish, while “Music and migration in a transnational
the melodies derive from Arab song. She community”, Shelemay addresses Syrian
notes that pizmon performance is often history from the late nineteenth century,
preceded by an improvisatory petihah discussing the strong sense of community

among Syrian Jews, particularly in the This book with its accompanying CD
New World. The “multiplex identity” is a valuable contribution to
(74) of this Judeo-Arab community ethnomusicological literature, both in its
(Sephardic–Levantine–Arabic) prompts theoretical framework addressing the
Shelemay, following Clifford (1994), to subject of memory, and as a specific
present a “decentered view of a modern study of an aspect of religious music in
diaspora” (68). Chapter 3 provides the Syrian Jewish community. It secures
diachronic evidence of the strong a place for Syrian Jewish music traditions
identification of Syrian Jews with Arab on the “Jewish music” map, and helps to
music, confirming the centrality of the redress the east-west imbalance in this
maqâm system in worship and discussing corpus. It also creates resonances with
a number of fundamental and familiar other areas of research. For instance, the
issues regarding the latter, such as collaboration of Iraqi and Syrian experts
referring to vocal recitation of the Qur’ân in New York outlined in Chapter 1 forms
as “reading” (rather than “singing”). (In an interesting parallel to contemporary
Jewish practice, chanting from the Bible practice in Israel, where Iraqi
is also described as “reading”.) In instrumentalists and hazzanim (cantors)
Chapter 4, “Lived musical genres”, are featured in communal and
Shelemay discusses social and musical professional performances of Syrian
attributes of the pizmon, stressing the baqqashoth (Habusha, 1989). Nostalgia
importance of defining a genre by its (Chapter 6) was seen to be a strong factor
context and describing pizmonim as for the maintenance of religious and
“compound aural memories … secular musical traditions in my own
connecting moments in the present to research with Iraqi-Israelis (Manasseh
broader themes and historical memory” 1999:194–6) and, by extension, the
(171). Chapter 5, “Individual creativity, sustenance of music tradition is of
collective memory”, reviews the role of therapeutic value to transnational
the individual in commissioning, communities (Baily, 1999).
composing and performing pizmonim and Within the main subject of enquiry –
notes the importance of improvisation in that of song and the evocation of
performance. The sixth and final chapter compound memories – the book
summarizes the role of the pizmon as an addresses issues such as diaspora, identity
agent for individual and collective and gender, and the theory and practice of
memory and explores broader Arab music, particularly as experienced in
implications regarding processes of the performance of the Syrian Jewish
memory. Shelemay points to a “close and pizmon. While pizmonim are performed
symbiotic relationship” (214) between by all Jewish communities, who share a
“popular” and “traditional” musics and number of song texts, the Syrian practice
notes that the pizmonim are “particularly of memorializing numerous individuals
powerful venues” in arousing an “affect for specific events within pizmonim is of
of nostalgia” (215; Feder, 1981). special interest, as is the convention of
Shelemay views the pizmon as a source borrowing melodies of Egyptian “classic”
for social history: “an anthology of the song – today, the latter custom is
Syrian Jewish sound world since at least increasingly practised by other Eastern
the late nineteenth century” (220), Jewish communities in Israel (for
enabling “an individual in the present to instance, some Iraqi communities),
re-sing, re-hear, and re-experience the perhaps influenced by the Syrian
past” (223). example. In today’s political climate, with

efforts for peace between Israel and her California.” Forced migration review
Arab neighbours, this book expresses the 6 (December):10–13 (“Music of Iraqi
shared heritage of all those from Arab Jews in Israel”, p.13).
lands, regardless of religion: the strong Clifford, James (1994) “Diasporas.”
identification by the Syrian Jewish Cultural anthropology 9:302–38.
community with the “classical” Egyptian
Feder, Stuart (1981) “The nostalgia of
repertoire of such artists as the singers
Charles Ives: an essay in affects and
Umm Kulthûm and Asmahân, and the
music.” Journal of psychoanalysis
composer-performer ´Abd al-Wahhâb,
echoes the esteem in which these artists
continue to be held in the transnational Foucault, Michel (1986) “Of other
Arab world – my own work among Iraqi spaces,” translated by Jay Miskowlec.
Jews in Israel confirms their continued, Diacritics 16:22–7.
strong attachment to this “golden age” of Habusha, Moshe (musical director)
Egyptian music. (1989) Mizmor shir leyom hashabat –
My only criticism of the book is that bakashot songs of Shabat (“Sing a
the great attention to detail is marred by song for the Sabbath day –
some inconsistencies in the transliteration baqqashoth songs of the Sabbath”).
of the Hebrew song texts. The main Jerusalem: Yeshivat HaHayim
weakness occurs regarding the letter VeHashalom. (Set of 18 cassettes,
‘ayin, clearly pronounced by the singers: with accompanying booklet of song
in the text it is sometimes indicated texts.)
correctly, as in “ra‘yonai” (18, ex.1, bar Manasseh, Sara (1999) Women in music
3), but omitted in numerous words in the performance: the Iraqi Jewish
same example (18–20); other letters are experience in Israel. PhD thesis,
very occasionally inconsistent – “h” and London University.
“s” shown as “kh” and “z”, respectively
Soja, Edward W. (1995)
(19, bars 41 and 45); there are also
instances of incorrect vowel “Heterotopologies: a remembrance of
other spaces in the citadel-LA.” In S.
transliteration (“rov” and “yassed” shown
Watson and K. Gibson (eds)
as “rav” and “yossed”, bars 40, 59–60,
respectively), although these may be Postmodern cities and spaces, pp.
13–34. Oxford: Blackwell.
typographical errors. The pizmon
transliterations would benefit from Someck, Ronny (1989) Panther. Tel
correction. Furthermore, as a general Aviv: Zmora Bitan [in Hebrew].
background, a brief historical review of
Jewish religious song – the piyyut and
Kingston University
associated genres, such as baqqashoth
(“supplications”), pizmonim and zemiroth
– would have been helpful.
This perceptive and attractively
presented book, together with the MICHAEL B. BAKAN, Music of death and
energetic performances on CD, is greatly new creation: experiences in the
welcomed, and invites a wide audience. world of Balinese gamelan
beleganjur. The University of
References Chicago Press, 1999. xxiii +
Baily, John (1999) “Music and refugee 384pp., 17 halftones, 8 tables,
lives: Afghans in eastern Iran and notes, index, glossary,

bibliography, discography. CD. the ensemble and its context, followed by

ISBN 0-226-03487-9 (cloth £42); a discussion of conceptions of
ISBN 0-226-03488-7 (pb. £21). ethnomusicology and ways of writing
ethnography (his view of the radical
The subject of this book (which builds on
position of his ethnography seems a little
Bakan’s doctoral dissertation) is the
overstated). The section “Discovering
Balinese gamelan beleganjur, the
Beleganjur” is perhaps the most
powerful processional ensemble
successful, and sets up the ethnography
comprising a range of hand-held gongs,
that follows.
cymbals and drums. Originally with
“Part Two: Kawitan” begins with the
martial and ritual functions, gamelan
chapter “The Gamelan Beleganjur in
beleganjur has undergone a rejuvenation
traditional Balinese musical life”, which
through the recent institution of
discusses the history and format of the
beleganjur competitions. These have not
ensemble and its relationship to other
only nurtured interest in the ensemble
Balinese ensembles. Bakan points out
and its traditional repertory, but have also
that, because of the power and influence
spawned a new musical style, kreasi
of the competitive beleganjur format
beleganjur, which in keeping with the
(1986 onwards), most of the information
newer competitive context is more
on traditional practice is based on the
overtly formalized and virtuosic.
observations of his teachers rather than
The book is divided into four sections
his own experience, as traditional
that correspond to the four movements of
beleganjur has largely been displaced by
the opening demonstration section
the competition version. The central
(demonstrasi) of a piece for a beleganjur
section of the chapter is a detailed
contest: awit-awit, kawitan, pengawak,
discussion of the musical processes
pengecet. As with the drum prelude that
involved in the genre as this relates to the
begins the demonstrasi, Bakan’s awit-awit
function of each of the main instruments
attempts to juxtapose various fragments in
in the ensemble. This discussion is clear
an impressionistic way; the kawitan (the
and well-illustrated by both written
central section of the demonstration) is the
musical examples (some in modified staff
musical ethnography; the pengawak, the
notation, others in table format) and
slower more lyrical movement, here
recorded ones (the tracks on the CD tie in
comprises the problematization of the
well with the text). The final part of the
preceding musical ethnography, and the
chapter discusses the various contexts and
pengecet, the “movement of freedom and
functions of the ensemble in traditional
release” (19) is Bakan’s reflexive section,
Hindu-Balinese life. These centre on the
a frank discussion of his own experience
five categories of ritual offerings, the
of learning beleganjur drumming, and
panca yadna (beleganjur’s primary ritual
more broadly speaking, a discussion of the
role is to accompany yadna processions).
value of reflexive writing in
Of particular interest is his evocation and
explanation of the role of beleganjur in
The introduction is somewhat diffuse,
ngaben (cremation) and memukur
combining a number of different angles
(purification of the soul) ceremonies. It
on the material. In particular, the
brought to mind vividly the presence of
relevance of this opening reflexive
beleganjur at the first Balinese cremation
section to the rest of the book is unclear;
ceremony I attended; his description is
the circumstances described do not seem
thoroughly readable and accompanied by
to surface elsewhere in the writing. The
some excellent recorded examples.
remainder of the introduction describes

The chapter titled “Lomba influence, but the goal-directed

Beleganjur” is a fascinating account of competitive fervor exhibited by
the rise and development of the participants in modern Balinese music is
beleganjur competition, which has ‘indigenous’” (213). Through his
achieved such “widespread popularity observations of competitions, the author
and official endorsement” that beleganjur explores the strategies participants use to
has become a site for the interplay of negotiate the local, regional and national
multiple ideologies and agendas, “a levels of interaction and the complicated
symbol of mediation among traditional politics this often involves.
Balinese cultural values, modern Gender is the topic of the following
Indonesian political ideals, and the chapter, which introduces the subject of
realities of contemporary Balinese women’s beleganjur groups, the ways in
Indonesian life” (85). Bakan connects the which they are perceived and presented
contemporary competition to inter-court by both participants in the beleganjur
gamelan competitions in pre-colonial world, and more broadly, the
Bali, but his focus here is the way in governmental agencies behind their
which “the products and performances promotion. Bakan’s conclusion is that
displayed and comparatively assessed in women’s beleganjur is more radical and
lombas reference the specific localized subversive than other genres that have
cultural worlds of their origin, while seen female participation in recent years,
symbolically transforming those worlds because beleganjur is seen as a “male
into something more globally form of expression and a formal
‘Indonesian’” (87). The following expression of maleness” (275). This is a
chapter is a detailed breakdown of the fascinating topic, with several “voices”
musical specifics of kreasi beleganjur presented, but the chapter nonetheless
(the style created by the competition suffers from being based predominantly
format), again illustrated by numerous on the perspectives of older male
written and recorded examples. In musicians. The opinions of only a few
contrast to this dense technical women players are cited. In addition,
discussion, the following chapter focuses composer and drummer Suandita seems
on I Ketut Sukarata and I Ketut Gedé to be the only younger male voice, and as
Asnawa, two major participants in the his perceptions of female beleganjur
beleganjur world and Bakan’s two main groups seem by contrast to be more open,
teachers. Bakan presents biographies of it is interesting to speculate whether the
the two, discusses their contrasting arguments presented against women’s
positions in the beleganjur world and groups (by the majority male musicians)
their musical styles. are in part indicative of the generation
“Part Three: Pengawak” begins with a interviewed, and whether the arena for
careful investigation of the “high stakes women will open up in the next few years
of competition”, pointing out not only the (or indeed has already opened up, as the
complex feelings that competition research for this book was conducted up
engenders, but more broadly how to 1995).
Western anthropology has constructed The final part of Bakan’s book I found
the Balinese as more interested in process particularly interesting. Here he addresses
than product, and how “the modern what he terms the “intercultural musical
lomba, with its formalized evaluation encounter” between himself and his
criteria and quantified grading scheme, teacher Sukarata. Bakan relates the
may bear the indelible marks of Western teaching–learning method that he and

Sukarata devised in the course of their recording session that he and his teacher,
interaction and the way it compared with Sukarata, had agreed would mark the end
traditional Balinese musical pedagogy of his initial research project.
(maguru panggul, literally, “teaching with Some may object to the way in which
the mallet”). Bravely, he charts the the author inevitably becomes the centre
development of his lessons, including his of the discussion here, or the extent of
failures with his successes: “In our efforts some of his claims (which sometimes
to understand each other and make music exceed the amount of evidence
together, we improvised, compromised, available). However, the focus on the
and often struggled through conflicting ethnomusicologist’s role as musician
personal agendas and frustrating (rather than researcher) in the
misconceptions, musical and otherwise” construction of ethnography was
(292). Even more bravely, perhaps, he refreshing and thought-provoking rather
exposes his own ways of learning, than conclusive.
identifies their inherent Western-ness, and One additional small point: as Suharto
describes his own motivations for was officially toppled by the time this
adopting them. It is a sensitive account of book went to press, it would have been
the development of a working useful to recognize this in the text (which
relationship between teacher and foreign refers to the regime as if it were still in
student/researcher that raises many operation). This aside, the book is an
questions. As he points out, this type of informative, multi-perspective account of
encounter is usually pushed to the fringes a previously unmapped Balinese genre,
of musical ethnography, and his argument well illustrated with audio examples. The
here focuses on its centrality to any such final chapters, dealing with reflexivity,
work. He questions whether an outsider fieldwork and the notion of musical
“can understand a music ‘from within’ at understanding, should provoke some
all” (294), following on from Brinner interesting discussion.
(1995), Berliner (1994) and Rice (1997).
Drawing on Blacking (1992), Bauman
(1978) and Bruner (1986), he rather Bauman, Zygmunt (1978) Hermeneutics
controversially suggests that and social science. Columbia:
“…‘understanding’ need not occur within Columbia University Press.
a context of shared conception of Berliner, Paul (1994) Thinking in jazz:
meaning in performative action. As long the infinite art of improvisation.
as multiple participants in a performance Chicago: University of Chicago Press.
all believe themselves and each other to
Blacking, John [1977] (1990) “Some
be functioning effectively, and as long as
they are collectively meeting the problems of theory and method in the
study of musical change.” In K.
objectives demanded of the performance,
Kaufman Shelemay (ed.) Garland
those participants are all operating, on
some level at least, from a position of readings in ethnomusicology: musical
processes, resources and
‘understanding’, even if such
technologies, 6, pp. 259–84. New
understanding lacks language-like criteria
of mutual intelligibility” (297). Citing York and London: Garland
Blacking’s 1977 notion of “tuning in to an
alien musical expression” (316), the final ______ (1992) “The biology of music-
chapter demonstrates this type of musical making.” In H. Myers (ed.)
understanding, in an account of the Ethnomusicology: an introduction, pp.

301–14. New York: W.W. Norton & Co. questions. As with many volumes of
Brinner, Benjamin (1995) Knowing collected essays that result from
music, making music. Chicago: conferences, there is little sense of
University of Chicago Press. coherence in the approaches of the
contributors to Hearing the past.
Bruner, Edward (1986) “Experience and
However, there is much food for thought
its expressions.” In V. Turner and E.
for ethnomusicologists, not least in terms
Bruner (eds) The anthropology of
of helping us reflect on the status and
experience, pp. 3–10. Urbana and
objectives of our discipline, and
Chicago: University of Illinois Press.
sometimes to feel fortunate that we can
Rice, Timothy (1997) “Toward a hear, see and interact with living
mediation of field methods and field musicians – even then still struggling to
experience in ethnomusicology.” In understand what on earth is going on!
Greg Barz and Timothy Cooley (eds) Issues of status and objectives of the
Shadows in the field: new perspectives discipline are initially brought out in a
for fieldwork in ethnomusicology. short paper entitled “What is wrong with
New York: Oxford University Press. music archaeology?” by Cajsa Lund, who
identifies the low value ascribed to the
work of music archaeologists by
St David’s Hall, Cardiff
mainstream Scandinavian archaeology.
She concludes that a “broader social
perspective” should be applied to the
study of sound tools (though sadly
ANN BUCKLEY (ed.) Hearing the past:
without giving any practical examples
essays in historical herself). The focus of some branches of
ethnomusicology and the music archaeology often seems to
archaeology of sound. E.R.A.U.L. concern questions of whether or not an
86 (Études et Recherches archaeological find is a potential sound
Archéologiques de l’Université de tool, and thereby whether it may be
Liège) 1988. 251pp, illustrations, appropriated to specifically musical
plates, musical transcriptions. concerns, from which other
Dépôt légal: D/1998/0480/25 archaeologists – as non-specialists – are
“The people that come together at tacitly excluded. A somewhat analogous
conferences to discuss early music relationship has sometimes emerged
cultures are a pretty motley group,” between ethnomusicologists and
observes Kenneth DeWoskin in his anthropologists, where specialization in
chapter about interpreting early Chinese “music” has led to a sense of
instruments from this volume. This is exclusiveness with the consequence that
reminiscent of meetings of ethnomusicological insights have
ethnomusicologists, where the frequently failed to feed into broader
participants tend to hail from a variety of anthropological discourse. It is no
different backgrounds and disciplines and coincidence that some of the most
to approach their areas of study with respected figures in ethnomusicology
varying degrees of adventurousness – refuse to be dubbed with the title
some scarcely peeking outside their “ethnomusicologist”, asserting instead
immediate areas of studies and others that they are anthropologists. Similarly a
using their material as launch pads to number of the other contributors to this
ponder broader or even universal volume present music as a privileged

source of knowledge about past cultures. Many other chapters in this volume
Rather than taking the view that the are excellently illustrated, however,
archeological study of musical making this an attractive and valuable
instruments is a dry and dusty side-show book for its iconographic impact alone.
that is largely irrelevant to the main The visual aspect is particularly evident
business of archaeology, Kenneth in Reis Flora’s chapter, which considers
DeWoskin asserts that musical objects music culture contact between the Sumer
and representations recovered from early and Indus regions. I’m afraid I found the
Chinese graves “have voices which tell text excessively descriptive and dry,
about themselves in ways that other ritual although such a style is probably
objects cannot”. For DeWoskin, music is welcome to hard-core archaeo-
the realm of human behaviour in which organologists and those used to wading
significance is most fully encoded in through archaeological reports. However,
structural relationships, handily linking the illustrations and their evidence for the
the conceptual and empirical. Through it, extraordinary antiquity of, for example,
the purely abstract can be rendered harps and long-necked lutes in the
concrete (visibly and audibly), as for Persian Gulf and Indus regions (some
example in the number of strings or pipes dating back almost five millennia) are
of instruments. While one has to be fascinating.
careful not to over interpret such aspects, The final three chapters of the book,
as is evident from working with living in a section entitled “Representations and
musicians, this sort of approach is Reflections”, are dedicated to Ancient
interesting and gives music the initiative, Greek and Roman material. The first two
rather than assigning it a marginal role. (I essays are richly illustrated. Jane Snyder
strongly recommend Joseph Needham’s focuses on representations of women
fascinating chapter on Sound, in his study musicians in Attic vase-painting, and
of Ancient Chinese Physics, argues that Greek literary sources give
1962:126–228, as background to the false impression that women’s music-
DeWoskin’s essay.) making was confined to essentially two
DeWoskin bases his argument on the models: (a) the activities of a few noted
analysis of paired Jiahu flutes and the aristocratic individuals, such as the
tuning systems and inscriptions of an famous poet-musician Sappho of Lesbos,
extraordinary hoard of 65 bronze bells who composed wedding and love songs,
and 32 stone lithophones from the and (b) performances of low status
Marquis Yi of Zeng’s tomb, located close professionals, who played the harp or
to Wuhan in China, dated (from a bell aulos at men’s drinking parties. From an
inscription) to around 300 BCE . He analysis of vase-painting she suggests
interprets the different languages used for that upper-class women principally
the inscriptions on these bells and the played for their own pleasure and the
varied forms of tuning nomenclatures as a pleasure of other women in the
means by which the Marquis manipulated household, who lived in separate quarters
his affiliations with competing from those of the men. Music appears to
genealogical and political groups. This is have served as an important medium for
fascinating material, although not always the transmission of female ideas and
easy to follow for the non-specialist, culture in Athenian society, where
partly due to the failure of the figures to women were severely restricted from
materialize, despite tantalizing references participation in public life – a situation
to them in the text. reminiscent of that described by Veronica

Doubleday for modern Afghanistan papyrus on which are written what

(1999:116–7). survives of Philodemus of Gardara’s
Jon Solomon’s chapter is also Commentaries on music. The chapter
dedicated to music and dance includes a useful overview of earlier
representations from Greek pottery, in Greek writers’ views on the ethical
this case focusing specifically on the qualities of music, which is essential
geometric style. From an art history background to his later discussion of
perspective, I found his discussion of the Philodemus’s text. Philodemus was an
development of design conventions, such Epicurian, and Delattre argues that his
as representations of the horse, book should be read as a “coherent and
fascinating. However, as a means of critical examination” of a work written a
reaching a better understanding of century earlier by the Stoic, Diogenes of
musical performance practices in pre- Babylon. Following Stoic aesthetic
classical Greece, the interpretation of doctrine and the line of earlier writers on
these vase paintings is fraught with the ethical powers of music (such as
problems (as Solomon is evidently well Damon and Plato), Diogenes reasoned
aware himself). He points out that while that music was indispensable for the
“individualized” images of the positions upbringing of children, seeing it as the
and postures of musicians and dancers gateway to all virtues, which effected
may come close to portraying actual morality and reasoning. (According to
musical practices, those that are highly this view, certain melodies were
decorative or regularized are unlikely to conducive to vice just as others were to
be a reliable source of information about virtue.) In his Commentaries, Philodemus
performance practice. But we are also refutes the moral effects of music and
reminded that there may have been excessive intellectualism of Diogenes’
occasions (as there are today) when a approach, focusing instead on the
chorus group adopted regularized and pleasurable sensations and affections that
decorative postures that could have been music produces. Philodemus wrote his
represented on pottery. While I concur text in Italy where, despite ample interest
with many of Solomon’s points, I do not in performance – as evidenced by the
feel that this sort of iconographic material musical exploits of, for example, Nero –
(especially if truly geometric) can be the Romans evidently ascribed less
seriously fed into debates about whether importance to music theory than did the
or not ancient Greek music was played in Greek tradition. Delattre suggests that
ensembles or solo, or whether polyphony Philodemus’s commentary was a skilful
or “harmony” was used. This is a theme attempt to reconcile Epicurian doctrine
that he briefly touches upon at the close with the Roman reality of the time, while
of his essay. Was this a case of clutching attacking a Stoic opponent, and
at straws? Being desperate to say promoting a more cultivated status for
something about actual music Epicurians. This rich and engaging
performance practices even though the chapter has many resonances with
material is not conducive to such continuing debates about the power of
interpretations? I am certainly music and its role in music education.
sympathetic to his dilemma. Without considerable specialist
In a chapter that brings together knowledge of the Javanese gamelan or
ancient Greek and Roman ideas about gong ensembles of Borneo, I find it
music, Daniel Delattre confines himself difficult to evaluate Inge Skog’s wide-
to literary sources – specifically a ranging chapter on this theme. Basing his

reasoning on a range of historical, instruments. I found myself squirming at

anthropological, linguistic and Homer-Lechner’s apparent assumption
musicological approaches, he argues that that it is “the search for authenticity” (30)
gong ensembles are a much later – as some sort of utopian desire to relive
phenomenon than many earlier scholars the past – which motivates performers of
have suggested. The view that the first early music. However, this essay is full of
gamelan ensemble was created in Java lively questions and it is a piece that I
some 2000 years ago is consigned to will undoubtedly continue to return to
myth and interpreted as a means of and refer to students. It highlights the
legitimating more recent institutions. shifting subjectivities in our relationships
While individual gongs have probably with past musical cultures and
been in use for more than a 1000 years, accordingly the place of historical
Skog maintains that ensembles with context of current performance practices.
suspended gongs probably developed no In general I very much enjoyed
earlier than the fifteenth century. He also reading this volume, though from time to
relates the dissemination of these time I felt relieved to be working in
instruments and playing traditions, ethnomusicology rather than music
especially during the sixteenth century, to archaeology, where the possibility of
European interests and the spice trade. “hearing the past”, or even its vaguest
The argument is compelling and chimes semblance, sometimes seems excessively
resonantly (gamelan-like!) with much remote. This attractive book covers a
recent work on invented traditions, wide range of materials and cultures and
suggesting a shallower and more should certainly be included in the library
colonized cultural history for gamelan of any self-respecting department of
performance practices. However, a few ethnomusicology, music or archaeology.
suspicions concerning methodology and
historiography were aroused for me by
Skog’s use of the anthropological present Doubleday, Veronica (1999) “The frame
in certain places, when referring to drum in the middle east: women,
practices referenced to the 1970s, as well musical instruments and power.”
as to unattributed comments such as Ethnomusicology 43:1.
“which symbolizes a soul within the Needham, Joseph (1962) Science and
body” (81). We are left to wonder: for civilisation in China, vol. 4, Part 1,
whom, when, why and where…? Physics and Physical Technology.
Specialists will undoubtedly have their Cambridge: Cambridge University
own strong feelings about this chapter. Press.
Much food for thought is provided by
Catherine Homer-Lechner’s challenging Orders: 1500 BEF + p.&p. to: Emmanuel
Delye, Université de Liège – Archéologie
and wide-ranging study enigmatically
Préhistorique, Place du XX Août, 7, bât.
entitled “False. Authentic. False
authenticity. Contributions and failures of A1, B-4000 Liège, Belgium; e-mail: Credit card
experimental archaeology as applied to
payments acceptable.
musical instruments”. This essay ranges
from an overview of the beginnings of HENRY STOBART
the early music movement in France to a Royal Holloway, University of London
multiplicity of issues concerning
experiments in the reconstruction and
performance of early or ancient musical

ERLMANN, VEIT, Music, modernity, and (front flap) as well as the group Ladysmith
the global imagination: South Black Mambazo. Analysing history
Africa and the West. New York and through such texts, Erlmann describes an
Oxford: Oxford University Press, “imagined totality – a totality united not so
1999. 312pp., notes, index. ISBN much by things such as international trade,
0-19-512367-0 (£50). multilateral agreements, or the institutions
of modern society as by a regime of signs
Erlmann’s work on South Africa has
and texts” (4). The signs and texts allow us
taken a logical course. African stars:
to explore the ways in which people see
studies in Black South African
and express the world, and the ways in
performance (1991) was a broad
which they see themselves within it. This
overview of many performance genres in
“ethnography of the global imagination”
South Africa; Nightsong: performance,
(4) thus explores the processes involved in
power and practice in South Africa
the creation of personal and cultural
(1996) examined one genre,
isicathamiya, in detail, while referencing
Rather than the narrative presenting a
the role of the West in terms of
continuous stream of events from one
performance practice theory. Music,
point in time to another – as is usual in the
modernity, and the global imagination:
presentation of history – here a period of
South Africa and the West completes the
100 years separates the two episodes
“trilogy” by providing insight into the
described. These are moments in history
relationship between Africa and the West,
and political thought – late nineteenth
not only by describing actual events, but
century colonialism and late twentieth
also by exploring the social contexts in
century postcolonialism – that Erlmann
which the events occurred. The book
sees as “orders [that] are at heart societies
examines how music genres emerged by
of the spectacle” (5). In the late 1900s
asking what are or were the social
new technologies for representing the
conditions that facilitate(d) the
world with narrative came into being. The
emergence, formulation, change and
panorama (the earliest form of mass
perpetration of such genres. Thus Music,
media, followed some time later by film)
modernity, and the global imagination is
facilitated the portrayal of images without
not a book about “world music” (6).
interruption; it created a “total space …
Rather, it is a history of political ideas
that enabled the viewer to become …
articulated within a musical context.
someone who enters an image rather than
Erlmann describes two episodes in the
someone who contemplates it from
history of Black South African music:
outside” (5–6). Erlmann views the
tours made by the African Choir and the
(colonial) panorama as a “proto-
Zulu Choir between 1890–4 to the UK and
cyberspace” (5–6), cyberspace being a
USA; and the emergence of Paul Simon’s
sphere we now take as real. It is within
Grammy Award-winning album
this total space that Erlmann examines the
Graceland in 1986. He invokes a wide
tours of the South African choirs, and the
range of “texts” including the music, press
Graceland album and subsequent
releases, travel accounts, and a host of
Ladysmith Black Mambazo collaborations.
“players [including] African National
The book is divided into two parts.
Congress co-founder Saul Msane, Queen
Part I, “Heartless swindle”: the African
Victoria, African-American musician and
Choir and the Zulu Choir in England and
impresario Orpheus McAdoo, Xhosa
America, consists of seven chapters
Christian prophet Ntsikana, W.E.B. du
examining songs, texts and narratives
Bois, Michael Jackson, and Spike Lee”

making up the “drama” (165) that “racial ambiguities” (172) emergent in

determined the destinies of those directly both black and white cover versions of
involved in the tours of the African Choir the famous isicathamiya tune “Mbube”
(1890–4) and the Zulu Choir (1892–3) to (Chapter 14), and the inclusion of
the UK and USA. But arguably as Ladysmith in Michael Jackson’s video
important, we learn how the events also Moonwalker (Chapter 15). These
helped to define more wide-scale chapters very clearly demonstrate the
perceptions that shaped political ways in which South African music and
developments over the following century. performers have been incorporated into
Many of the choir members became the mainstream of popular music. In a
active politically on their return to South sense, they provide case-studies for the
Africa. To their services they brought examination of the globalization process.
their perceptions of the potentials of the In taking on the subject of
West where, for a time before the globalization, Erlmann has accepted an
institutionalization of apartheid in 1948, ambitious task. The concept in many
they “were able to put into practice at senses has come to resemble “world
least some of the visions of justice and music”, that is, it is freely used but also
enlightened leadership which their tours freely interpreted, to the extent that its
had enacted” (166). The “heartless use may have become meaningless. We
swindle” encapsulates the fact that the all know we live in a “rampant global
tours were financial disasters which left age” (3) but the precise characteristics of
the artists in debt and abandoned by the this age remain elusive. Erlmann’s work
white managers, as well, perhaps, as the achieves an analysis and as such is
fact that it was to be almost another important for anyone who is interested in
hundred years before the “visions of furthering their understanding of the
justice and enlightened leadership” world they live in.
would result in the envisaged liberation.
Part II, “Days of miracle and
wonder”: Graceland and the continuities Erlmann, Veit (1991) African stars:
of the postcolonial world, examines not so studies in Black South African
much the events surrounding publication performance. Chicago and London:
of the album in 1986 as the aesthetics, University of Chicago Press.
practices and genres upon which the work ____. (1996) Nightsong: performance,
draws (see, for instance, “world beat”, power and practice in South Africa.
Chapter 10, and isicathamiya, Chapter Chicago and London: University of
11). Positioning the isicathamiya group, Chicago Press.
Ladysmith Black Mambazo, and its
leader, Bhekizizwe Joseph Shabalala, at Thembela, Alex J. and Radebe, Edmund
P.M. (1993) The life and works of
the centre of the analysis, the section goes
Bhekizizwe Shabalala and the
on to explore, in Chapter 13, biographical
texts presented in a documentary Ladysmith Black Mambazo.
Pietermaritzburg: Out of Reach
(Journey of dreams, directed by David
Lister, 1988), in the biography The life
and works of Bhekizizwe Shabalala and JANET TOPP FARGION
the Ladysmith Black Mambazo (Thembela International Music Collection
and Radebe, 1993) and in Shabalala’s British Library National Sound Archive
works recorded on over 30 albums.
In the final chapters, Erlmann looks at

ALISON MCQUEEN TOKITA , Kiyomoto- provided at the end of the book.

bushi: narrative music of the This book addresses a question which
kabuki theatre. Studien zur may well have perplexed theatre-goers
traditionellen Musik Japans 8. and others who are familiar with the
Kassel, Basel and London: various genres of shamisen music used in
Bärenreiter, 1999. 400pp., kabuki: why kiyomoto (and related genres
illustrations, musical exx., indexes, which developed in Edo) are classed as
transcriptions, bibliography, jôruri (narrative singing) while they seem
discography. ISBN 3-7618-1469-0. closer to the “lyrical” nagauta than to the
more obviously narrative gidayû which
This is the eighth book to appear in the
developed in Osaka. In fact it is Tokita’s
series “Studien zur traditionellen Musik
concern to identify those elements which
Japans”, which has so far yielded
place kiyomoto within the narrative
volumes in German on such subjects as
tradition. Taking as her starting-point
Buddhist ritual singing and the music of
Ong’s concept of “residual orality” (Ong
the shakuhachi, koto and satsuma-biwa.
1982), she seeks these out in the
Kiyomoto-bushi: narrative music of the
formulaic material used in kiyomoto
kabuki theatre is the first in the series to
composition, remembering to relate these
be written in English. It is also the first
to formulaic elements in the texts and
book-length treatment of this genre to be
also to the structure of kabuki dance. Just
published outside Japan, and is a
identifying and classifying such melodic
welcome, indeed long-awaited successor
patterns or formulae is not nearly as easy
to such works as Malm’s 1963 book on
a task as one might imagine in Japanese
nagauta and Gerstle, Inobe and Malm’s
music, and kiyomoto, with its many
1990 book on gidayû.
named and unnamed patterns and their
Tokita’s extensive knowledge of
variants, would seem to be no exception.
kiyomoto, gained through many years of
Through her analysis on different levels,
practice as well as study of the literature
Tokita convincingly establishes the
in Japanese, makes her well qualified to
position of kiyomoto within the tradition
write on the subject. In this book she has
of Japanese narrative, and in so doing
provided the English reader with a
leaves the reader with an enhanced
thorough treatment of one of the more
awareness of the richness of this music.
neglected genres of music associated
The subject of mode and scale might
with the kabuki theatre. The first two
have been given fuller treatment in the
chapters give ample historical
introductory part of the book (mode is
background on the wider narrative
dealt with only briefly, in the section on
tradition and on kabuki dance; the third
shamisen tunings); readers who need to
chapter deals with the instrument that
familiarize themselves with the Koizumi
accompanies kiyomoto, the shamisen.
tetrachord theory followed in the
The next four chapters analyze the
analyses should refer to the same author’s
kiyomoto repertoire as a whole on the
Ethnomusicology article (1996). A key to
level of the piece, the section, the phrase
the conventions used in the transcriptions
and the sub-style. A further chapter
would also not have gone amiss. Ideally,
examines the treatment of quotations
the reader would be provided with sound
from other genres. The final chapter
recordings; unfortunately the items listed
offers detailed analyses of three pieces,
in the discography are not easily
one each from the narrative-dramatic,
accessible, although perhaps it is worth
lyric-dance and ceremonial categories.
mentioning here that the 30-LP anthology
Transcriptions of these pieces are

Kiyomoto Shizudayû zenshû: kiyomoto Recordings

gojûban has recently been reissued as a
20-CD set by Japanese Victor (VZCG- Musics of Siberian peoples
This is such an important book that it This review evaluates two recent
seems a pity to have to point out the collections of recorded music of
many typographical errors that more indigenous Siberian groups: a five CD set
careful proof-reading might have from the independent French company
prevented: words are misspelled, figures Buda Records and a single CD from the
wrongly numbered, and for some reason state-funded French company Inédit
the first page of Appendix IX (the list of (Peer, 1999). All of the peoples
Japanese terms), which should list terms represented on these CDs suffered under
beginning with the letters A to C, has the Soviet system from attacks on their
come out as a duplication of the page traditional musics and beliefs, together
with terms beginning with N and O. with enforced regrouping, settlement and
Rather more serious, perhaps, is the economic changes. Now they all find
absence from the bibliography of some of themselves part of the Russian
the works cited in the text. Nevertheless, Federation, trying in dire economic
this is an extremely valuable book that circumstances to recreate and re-establish
should be read by anyone interested in their own traditions.
Japanese music. It is to be hoped that it Sibérie 1–5. Buda Records: Musique
will stimulate similar treatments of so-far du Monde. Recordings, photographs and
neglected genres such as tokiwazu and texts by Henri Lecomte.
shinnai, and indeed further studies of Each of these five CDs offers
nagauta and gidayû. extraordinary aural experiences.
According to the accompanying booklets,
References the groups represented all traditionally
Gerstle, Andrew C., Kiyoshi Inobe and practised shamanism, although in some
William P. Malm (1990) Theater as cases the designation may be open to
music: the bunraku play “Mt. Imo and question.
Mt. Se: an exemplary tale of womanly Sibérie 1. Nganasan: chants
virtue”. Ann Arbor, MI: Center for chamaniques et narratifs de l’arctique
Japanese Studies, The University of sibérien. MCM 92564-2, rec. 1992.
Michigan. Nganasans, who live in the Tai’myr
Malm, William P. (1963) Nagauta: the peninsula, are the most northerly people
heart of kabuki music. Tokyo: Tuttle. in Siberia and number about 1300 (1989
census). They form two groups: the
Ong, Walter J. (1982) Orality and Avam in the north-west of the peninsular
literacy: the technologizing of the and the Vadeyev in the north-east. With
word. London: Methuen. the collapse of Soviet control, a few
Tokita, Alison McQueen (1996) “Mode families returned to the more traditional
and scale, modulation and tuning in life of hunting wild reindeer, geese and
Japanese shamisen music: the case of partridges, and fishing. Others still live
kiyomoto narrative.” Ethnomusicology (with a number of other ethnic groups) in
40.1:1–33. one of the three Soviet-created villages:
CHARLES ROWE Ust’-Avam, Voloèanka and Novaïa,
where most of these recordings were
made. The contents comprise a mixture

of narrative and “shamanic” songs, the circle dance osvokhai and other rituals.
themes of which are innately sad: songs Yet the notes are confusing since
of farewell or possible farewells, the khlysakh, the head voice that uses glottal
search for lost family members, enduring stops and guttural sounds and is
an arranged loveless marriage. There is a explained as being typical of dieretii, is
serious suicide problem among young also used to perform a lament in the
Nganasans, as among many Siberian degeren style (track 17). A wide range of
peoples, and their songs are deeply vocal sounds is deployed, including
troubled: Korore Khententeeviè Kokore, gravelly textures during epic
a former wild reindeer hunter, performance, rapid-fire delivery during
impressively and expressively growls “hurried speech” (èabyrgakh), and
extracts from traditional narratives; the throbbing glottal stops during long
dressmaker Valentina Bintalaevna laments. Impressive also are the guttural
Kosterkina’s more melodic narratives sounds and harmonics used by Ivan
express traditional struggles between Egoroviè Alexeev during improvisations
men and women as well as between male on the khomus (jew’s harp); and
shamans; and former hunter and demonstrations of different playing styles
fisherman Numore Bojanteviè’s long on the indigenous kyrympa fiddle. Some
decorated monotone is part of “The basic details about this fiddle would have
Orphan”, a tragic tale of young orphan been appreciated, for instance that it has
girls. There is an intriguing change from four horsehair strings and is made from a
lyrical to hoarse vocal timbre by single piece of wood (Voyage en URSS;
seamstress Nina Demnimeevna Vertkov, Blagodatov and Yazovitskaya
Lorvinova when she moves from “song” 1975).
to “shamanic song”; and a Bear cult Sibérie 3. Kolyma: chants de nature et
shamanic session (kamlanye) d’animaux. Èukè, Even, Jukaghir. MCM,
reconstructed by the brother and nephew rec. 1992.
of the “last real” Nganasan shaman (d. The Kolyma region (from the name of
1989) provides a rare opportunity to the river that flows through it) lies north
appreciate the complex of sounds created of Yakutia. Most of these recordings were
by vocals and drum patterns made north of the Arctic Circle, an area
accompanied by rattling metal inhabited for many centuries by the
attatchments (bells, pendants, animal Èukès (Chukchis), Evens and Jukaghirs.
figures etc.) to the shaman’s costume and All of these peoples perform “throat-
inside of the drum. singing” (Chukchi piè eynen; Jukaghir
Sibérie 2. Sakha. Yakoutie: épopées et tumun khontol; and the basis of the Even
improvisations. MCM 92565-2, rec. seedie dances), a vocal “panting style”,
1992. which may be incorporated into drum-
The Sakha (Yakhut) population dances or sung autonomously, performed
numbers 382,000 (1989 census); they are also by the Siberian Evenks and Koryaks.
one of the largest indigenous Siberian Similar to that used during throat-games
groups. According to the notes, the vocal by the Inuit of Canada (katajjaq) and the
music of these sedentary breeders falls Kraft Ainu of Hokkaido island, northern
into two styles: dieretii used for both Japan (rekutkar), it is not to be confused
traditional songs (of which the main with Tuvan or Mongolian overtone-
genre is tojuk) and epics (olonkho); and singing, also sometimes called “throat-
degeren, used for the shamanic session singing”. (“Throat-singing” is used in
(kamlanje) as well as to accompany the this review to refer only to the technique

used in Arctic and Siberian musics.) the process of being re-established and
Listen to the remarkable sounds produced musical ensembles have been formed
by Slava Egoroviè Kemlil of the Èukès, with the aim of reviving Koryak culture.
whose improvisations include animal and Examples on this CD range from stylized
bird imitations and throat-singing expressions of traditional music and
accompanied by the single-headed frame dances (e.g. the Mengo ensemble) to
drum jarakh (tracks 11,12), to Anna those that remain much closer to the
Dimitrievna Neostroeva of the Even traditional forms and transmission
(track 26), and to Ekaterina Ivanova processes (e.g. the Lauten or Numun
Tymkil of the Jukhagir (track 39). ensembles). There are impressive
Also typical of these Siberian peoples examples of throat-singing (tracks
are “personal songs”, often but not 11–13) and “personal songs” (tracks
always executed during drum-dances. 18–20). Many of the songs are linked to
Èukès, for instance, offer unaccompanied dances, often imitating animals, sea
personal songs to their grandchildren or mammals, geese, seagulls or ravens. The
parents (tracks 1–15). Even and Jukaghir single-headed frame drum, jajar or
songs, many of which are performed zjazjaj, with its metallic percussive
using more lyrical vocal textures, devices, features throughout and,
celebrate their horses and reindeer, the together with the wide variety of vocal
sea and their homeland. There are several sounds, often produces an electrifying
moving examples of the personal songs atmosphere. Listen, for instance, to
from Even women, whose love of the Ev’zin singing of her recently deceased
homeland shines through despite their husband (track 29) and the calls, whistles
extremely hard lives. (For more details and other vocal sounds of Ejgili singing
about different types and social contexts about the tundra and her children
of throat-singing and personal songs, see working there (track 30).
Bours 1991; Nattiez, 1999). Sibérie 5. Chants chamaniques et
Sibérie 4. Korjak. Kamtchatka: quotidiens du Bassin de l’Amour
tambours de danse de l’extrême-orient (Shamanic and daily songs from the
sibérien (Kamtchatka: dance drums from Amur basin). MCM 92671-2, rec. 1996.
the Siberian Far East). Korjak. MCM The Amur Basin is traditionally
92598-2, rec. 1994. inhabited by peoples belonging to the
The Koryak (Korjak) live in the north Tungus-Manchu linguistic group and this
of the Kamtchatka peninsula and fall into CD represents four of those: the Nanaj
two groups: those who speak Èavèuven, (12000, 1989 census), Oroè (900), Udìgì
who traditionally breed nomadic (1469) and Ulè (3200). The Nanaj, once
reindeer, and those who speak Nimlane, called “fish-skin” Tatars, live by fishing
live along the sea coast and hunt sea and retained shamanism throughout the
mammals. Their exact number is debated, communist period. There are two Nanaj
possibly in the region of 7500–7900 vocal genres: jajaori, an improvised,
(1970 figures). As with other Siberian recitative chant, and the dzariory, a
peoples, these groups suffered melodic chant based on repetition. The
persecution and violence as traditional former is described as “traditional” since
villages were closed, people were it is used to address the spirits, the latter
regrouped and resettled (sometimes is used when contemporary folk groups
several times) and shamans and imitate shamanic rituals. The sweet vocal
traditional leaders purged. Many fled to tones of the young female singers, who
the tundra. Traditional villages are now in improvise a cappella or accompanied by

a light drum stroke (tracks 1–5) contrast the notes. Nevertheless, it is a convincing
greatly with those used by older singer, performance in which she accompanies
Marija Vasil’evna Bel’dy (tracks 10-11), herself with the un-shruh frame drum and
and the two older female shamans, one of percussive sounds of her shamanic rattle
whom impressively sings of her former belt. Interesting illustrations are given of
strength and current weakness (track 7), the shaman’s drum, rattle belt
and the other who divines using a range (comprising thick strips of metal attached
of vocal sounds during a shamanic to a band and worn around the waist).
session (tracks 8, 9). Other instruments played in this
The Oroè, who live in the region collection are the metal jew’s harp
bordering the gulf of Tatar (which (Nanaj, Udìgì) and the ja or buzz-disk
separates the continent from Sakhalin aerophone (Udìgì, 24).
Island), are represented by three lyrical a Musiques de la toundra et de la taiga.
cappella songs sung by women. The URSS: Bouriates, Yacoutes, Toungouses,
Udìgì, from a small village, Gujasugi, in Nenets et Nganasan. Inédit, Maison des
the midst of a tiger-inhabited forest, are Cultures du Monde.
hunters and fishermen who traditionally This Inédit CD features five of the
engage in Bear and Tiger cults. They are same Siberian groups whose music
also notable for their birchbark bunjuku appears on the Buda collection – Yakut,
or kuinkui horns, played by inhalation, Nganasan, and three Tungus groups from
which are used to produce a complex the Amur Basin: the Üdegeï (Udegì),
heterophony of sounds when played in Oultch (Ulè) and Nanai (Nanaj). As a
ensemble (Udìgì, tracks 18, 23), Their bonus, however, it also includes the
one-string julanku fiddle, with birch-bark music of the Nenets, who live along the
sound-box, cedar neck and salmon-skin Russian coast of the Arctic Ocean in
sounding-board, has a rough and edgy adjacent European and Asian parts of the
tone (track 21), as does the one-string taiga and tundra. It is a mystery why two
sirpakta fiddle of the Ulè (track 30). The tracks from the Buryats are included,
Ulè also have traditions related to the since they are Mongols, who see
cults of the Bear and Tiger. Two Ulè themselves as neither of the tundra or
women, Tiké and Eïki, perform taiga but rather of the steppes or
shamanic songs accompanied by the untu mountain. As this CD was recorded in
drum (tracks 27, 28). Eïki, whose studio conditions in Paris, the
performance is particularly powerful, performances are smoother, more
uses a vocal tremolo that evokes for me arranged and cleaner than those in the
the hororuse falsetto voice of the Aïnu of Buda collection. The notes give basic
Sakhalin. By contrast, the song musical and contextual details.
performed by apparently the only Some of the most astonishing sounds
remaining male Ulè shaman, Mikhail are those of Yakut khomus (jew’s harp)
Semenoviè Duvan, is sung with a lyrical playing (track 1): 16 minutes 27 seconds
vocal tone (track 31). of spellbinding textures by solo
Unlike the Buda collection, which performers, a duo and a quintet. Although
devotes 14 tracks to the Nanai, here they the jew’s harp playing of the Tuvans has
are represented by a single track “song of become well known on the world music
a Tungus-Nanay shaman”. It is unclear scene, this remarkable track takes some
whether the singer, Maria Salkazanova, is beating. The tayuk singing style of the
also the shaman whose song she is Yakuts also features here. The notes tell
singing, referred to as “an old woman” in us that the tayuk singer uses kolerach

(presumably the same as the word listener (tracks 14–16) but it also
transcribed as khlysakh on Sibérie 2) here illustrates the extraordinary Nenet
described as the “rapid passage of the technique of “expanding melodies”. Not
chest to falsetto accompanied by glottal referred to in the accompanying notes,
jerking” and that tayuk may be sung in this comprises a gradual widening of the
popular degaran mode or in djebo interval size of melodic intonations that
solemn mode. may eventually exceed an octave (see
Five Nganasan propitiatory kamlaniye Abromovich-Gomon, 1999).
incantations are performed: an invocation These two sets of recordings
of the sun and sky; an invocation of complement each other in that they
thunder; the (pivotal) healing song; an enable us to compare sounds recorded in
invocation of the wind; and a call to the different fields: the home environments
spirits during the Bear dance. In contrast from which the music has sprung (Buda)
to those on the Buda collection, these are and recording studios in the West
performed by two women, Yevdokia (Inédit). The kaleidoscopic sounds
Porbina and Nina Loguinova, who produced during shamanic ritual
exchange interleaving musical motifs. performances (reminiscent in some
Two tracks (8, 10) feature Udìgì respects of the mbira music used to
birchbark-horn playing, neither of which communicate with spirits among the
summon up the tension of Sibérie 5, track Shona of Zimbabwe, as described in
23, where horns appear to play Berliner 1978); the lyrical “secular”
simultaneously in different keys sounds introduced by the Russians; and
accompanied by the whirring ja buzz- the sounds produced by newly-formed
disk. Perhaps not surprisingly, the only ensembles attempting to recreate their
remaining Oulch shaman, Duvan, also traditional cultures or to fuse traditional
puts in an appearance (track 7). The with “modern” sounds. They provide an
recitation of the genealogical poetry of introduction to small groups who have
his clan, during which he accompanies endured hardship under the Soviet
himself with the um-tu-hu (frame drum) regime, and who continue to do so,
and yanpah (rattle belt), is faster, more giving them a well-deserved higher
intense and dramatic, and uses a different profile on the world music map. Not only
melody from his performance on Sibérie do they provide a leaping off point for
5. Although a photograph shows Duvan debates on the relationships between
in concert accompanied by a jew’s harp sound-ideals and contexts as outlined
player, the jew’s harp does not feature on above, but also on music and colonialism
this track. In the group song that follows (the effects of Soviet cultural policies on
(track 8), an operatic-sounding female indigenous peoples) and
voice predominates; and the sounds of ethnomusicology and ethics (are there
the Isir-pak-taki (single-string fiddle) any ways in which the people who
produced by Ivan Rossough-Bou on the benefit from these recordings can help
final Oultch track (track 9) are much these peoples?).
smoother than those heard on Sibérie 5 of As an introduction to the musics of
traditional players in their home different peoples, projects undertaken by
environments. recording companies should, however, be
It’s a real treat to hear the recognized for what they are. They
unaccompanied singing of Yelizaveta cannot be expected to give the same
Ardieva of the Nenets. Not only does her insights that would be gained from
introverted singing gently draw in the extended periods of fieldwork in an area.

Caution must be exercised when faced Peer, René van (1999) “Taking the world
with accompanying booklets in which for a son in Europe: an insider’s look
concepts are often broadly applied at the World Music recording
without any hint of the debates that rage business,” Ethnomusicology
within the specialized literature (for more 43.2:374–87
detailed ethnographic information on Pegg, Carole (2001) Mongolian music,
“shamanism” among the Nenets, dance and oral narrative: performing
Nganasans, Yugagirs, Koryaks, Chukchis diverse identities. Seattle: University
and Yakuts, see Diószegi, Vilmos and of Washington Press.
Mihály Hoppál, 1978, and Kim and
Thomas, Nicholas and Humphrey,
Hoppál, 1995; and on different types of
Caroline (1994) Shamanism, history
“shamanism” see Pegg, 2001, Thomas
and the State. Ann Arbor: University
and Humphrey, 1994). Translations may
of Michigan Press.
be inaccurate (here we have translations
first into French from indigenous Vertkov, K.G. Blagodatov, and
languages and then into English) and Yazovitskaya, E. ([1963] 1975)
confusion may arise, for instance, that “Musical instruments of the peoples
surrounding the different vocal styles inhabiting the USSR.” Atlas
used by the Yakuts (Sibérie 2). That muzikal’nikh instrumentov naradov
being said, these introductions to SSSR (Atlas of the musical
Siberian musics are both tantalizingly instruments of the peoples of the
rich. USSR). Four floppy disks and English
summary. Moscow: State Publishers
References Music.
Abramovich-Gomon (1999) The Nenet’s Voyages en URSS. Anthologies de la
song: a microcosm of a vanishing musique instrumentale et vocal des
culture. Studies in Ethnomusicology, peoples de l’URSS 10: Sibérie:
Aldershot: Ashgate. extreme orient, extreme nord, Le
Berliner, Paul F. (1978) The soul of Chant du Monde LDX 74010.
mbira: music and traditions of the
Shona people of Zimbabwe. Chicago: University of Cambridge
University of Chicago Press.
Bours, Etienne (1991) Musiques des
peoples de l’arctique: analyse
discographique. Une publication de la
Médiathèque de la Communauté
française de Belgique, asbl.
Diószegi and Hoppál, eds (1978)
Shamanism in Siberia. Budapest:
Akadémiai Kiadó.
Kim, Tae-Gon and Hoppál, Mihály
(1995) Shamanism in Performing
Arts. Budapest: Akadémiai Kiadó.
Nattiez, Jean-Jacques (1999) “Inuit
throat-games and Siberian throat
singing”, Ethnomusicology

Index of articles by author, of musical performance”, 2:1–30

volumes 1–9 (1992–2000) Gray, Catherine, “The Ugandan lyre
endongo and its music”, 2:117–42
Baily, John, “The Naghma-ye kashâl of Gray, Catherine, “Compositional
Afghanistan”, 6:117 techniques in Roman Catholic church
Ballantine, Christopher, “Joseph music in Uganda”, 4:135–55
Shabalala: chronicles of an African Gray, Nick, “ ‘Sulendra’: an example of
composer”, 5:1–38 petegak in the Balinese gendér
Bithell, Caroline, “Polyphonic voices: wayang repertory”, 1:1–16
national identity, World Music and the Hesselink, Nathan, “Kouta and karaoke
recording of traditional music in in modern Japan: a blurring of the
Corsica”, 5:39–66 distinction between Umgangsmusik
Brown, Katherine, “Reading Indian and Darbietungsmusik”, 3:49–61
music: the interpretation of Ho, Edward, “Aesthetic considerations in
seventeenth-century European travel- understanding Chinese literati musical
writing in the (re)construction of behaviour”, 6:35
Indian music history, 9/ii:1–34 Hosokawa, Shuhei, “Singing contests in
Buisman, Frans, “Melodic relationships in the ethnic enclosure of the post-war
pibroch”, 4:17–39 (erratum, 5:187) Japanese-Brazilian community”,
Cannon, Roderick D., “What can we learn 9/i:95–118
about piobaireachd?”, 4:1–15 Hughes, David W., “Thai music in Java,
Clayton, Martin, “Two gat forms for the Javanese music in Thailand: two case
sit1r: a case study in the rhythmic studies”, 1:17–30
analysis of North Indian music”, Hughes, David W., “No nonsense: the
2:75–98 logic and power of acoustic-iconic
Clayton, Martin, “Ethnographic wax mnemonic systems”, 9/ii:95–122
cylinders at the British Library
National Sound Archive: a brief Jones, Stephen, “Chinese ritual music
history and description of the under Mao and Deng”, 8:27–66
collection”, 5:67–92 Kertész Wilkinson, Irén, “Genuine and
Dawe, Kevin, “The engendered lyra: adopted songs in the Vlach Gypsy
music, poetry and manhood in Crete”, repertoire: a controversy re-
5:93–112 examined”, 1:111–36
Dawe, Kevin, “Bandleaders in Crete: Lanier, S.C., “ ‘It is new-strung and shan’t
musicians and entrepreneurs in a be heard’: nationalism and memory in
Greek island economy”, 7:29–50 the Irish harp tradition”, 8:1–26
Durán, Lucy, “Birds of Wasulu: freedom Lau, Frederick, “Forever Red: the
of expression and expressions of invention of solo dizi music in post-
freedom in the popular music of 1949 China”, 5:113–31
southern Mali”, 4:101–34 Lewisohn, Leonard, “The sacred music
Eydmann, Stuart, “The concertina as an of Islam: Sam1‘ in the Persian Sufi
emblem of the folk music revival in tradition”, 6:1
the British Isles”, 4:41–9 Li, Lisha, “Mystical numbers and
Farrell, Gerry, “The early days of the Manchu traditional music: a
gramophone industry in India: consideration of the relationship
historical, social and musical between shamanic thought and
perspectives”, 2:31–53 musical ideas”, 2:99–115
Gourlay, Kenneth A., “Blanks on the Lucas, Maria Elizabeth, “Gaucho musical
cognitive map: unpredictable aspects regionalism”, 9/i:41–60

McCann, May, “Music and politics in Stobart, Henry and Cross, Ian, “The
Ireland: the specificity of the folk Andean anacrusis? rhythmic structure
revival in Belfast”, 4:51–75 and perception in Easter songs of
Mackinlay, Elizabeth “Music for Northern Potosí, Bolivia”, 9/ii:63–93
dreaming: Aboriginal lullabies in the Stock, Jonathan, “Contemporary recital
Yanyuwa community at Borroloola, solos for the Chinese two-stringed
Northern Territory”, 8:97–111 fiddle erhu”, 1:55–88
Menezes Bastos, Rafael José de, “The Stokes, Martin H., “The media and
origin of ‘samba’ as the invention of reform: the saz and elektrosaz in urban
Brazil (why do songs have music?)”, Turkish folk music”, 1:89–102
8:67–96 Swanwick, Keith, “Music education and
Neto, Luiz Costa Lima, “The ethnomusicology”, 1:137–44
experimental music of Hermeto Tian, Qing and Tan Hwee San, “Recent
Paschoal e Grupo (1981–93): a trends in Buddhist music research in
musical system in the making”, China”, 3:63–72
9/i:119–42 Tingey, Carol, “Auspicious women,
Nooshin, Laudan, “The song of the auspicious songs: ma ngalin i and their
nightingale: processes of music at the court of Kathmandu”, 2:55–74
improvisation in dastgah Seg1h Tingey, Carol, “Musical instrument or
(Iranian classical music)”, 7:75–122 ritual object? The status of the
Pegg, Carole, “Mongolian conceptualisations kettledrum in the temples of central
of overtone singing (xöömii)”, 1:31 Nepal”, 1:103–9
Pegg, Carole, “Ritual, religion and magic in Travassos, Elizabeth, “Ethics in the sung
West Mongolian (Oirad) heroic epic duels of north-eastern Brazil:
performance”, 4:77–99 collective memory and contemporary
Pennanen, Risto Pekka, “The practice”, 9/i:61–94
development of chordal harmony in Ulhôa, Martha Tupinambá de, “Música
Greek rebetika and laika music, 1930s
romântica in Montes Claros: inter-
to 1960s”, 6:65
gender relations in Brazilian popular
Plemmenos, John G., “The active
song”, 9/i:11–40
listener: Greek attitudes towards
music listening in the Age of Um, Hae-kyung, “Listening patterns and
Enlightenment”, 6:51 identity of the Korean diaspora in the
Ramnarine, Tina Karina, “ ‘Indian’ music former USSR”, 9/ii:123–44
in the diaspora: case studies of ‘chutney’ Widdess, Richard, “Festivals of dhrupad
in Trinidad and in London”, 5:133–53 in northern India: new contexts for an
Ramnarine, Tina Karina, “‘Brotherhood of ancient art”, 3:89–109
the boat’: musical dialogues in a Wiggins, Trevor, “Techniques of variation
Caribbean context”, 7:7–28 and concepts of musical understanding
Reily, Suzel Ana, “Musical performance in Northern Ghana”, 7:123–48
at a Brazilian festival”, 3:1–34 Woodfield, Ian, “Collecting Indian songs
Reily, Suzel Ana, “The ethnographic in 18th-century Lucknow: problems
enterprise: Venda girls’ initiation of transcription”, 3:73–88
schools revisited”, 7:51–74 Youssefzadeh, Ameneh “The situation of
Reily, Suzel Ana, “Introduction”, music in Iran since the Revolution: the
9/i:1–10 role of official organizations”.
Stobart, Henry , “Flourishing horns and 9/ii:35–61
enchanted tubers: music and potatoes
in highland Bolivia”, 3:35–48

Index of countries as major

article themes, volumes
1–9/ii (1992 – 2000)
Afghanistan: 6: 117 (Baily)
Australia: 8: 97 (Mackinlay)
Bali: 1: 1 (Gray)
Bolivia: 3: 35 (Stobart), 9/ii:63 (Stobart
& Cross)
Brazil: 3: 1 (Reily), 8: 67 (Bastos),
Special issue 9/i: 1 (Reily), 11
(Ulhôa), 41 (Lucas), 61 (Travassos)
95 (Hosokawa), 119 (Neto)
British Isles: 4: 41 (Eydmann), 5: 133
China: 1: 55 (Stock), 3: 63 (Tian), 5: 113
(Lau), 6: 35 (Ho), 8: 27 (Jones)
Corsica: 5: 39 (Bithell)
Crete: 5: 93 (Dawe), 7:29 (Dawe)
France: see Corsica
Ghana: 7: 123 (Wiggins)
Greece: 6: 51 (Plemmenos), 6: 65
(Pennanen); see also Crete
Hungary: 1: 111 (Kertész-Wilkinson)
India: 2: 31 (Farrell), 2: 75 (Clayton), 3:
73 (Woodfield), 3: 89 (Widdess), 5:
133 (Ramnarine), 9/ii:1 (Brown)
Indonesia: see Bali, Java
Iran: 6: 1 (Lewisohn) 7: 75 (Nooshin)
9/ii: 35 (Youssefzadeh)
Ireland: 4: 51 (McCann), 8: 1 (Lanier)
Japan: 3: 49 (Hesselink), 9/ii:95 (Hughes)
Java: 1: 17 (Hughes)
Mali: 4: 101 (Durán)
Mongolia: 1: 31 (Pegg), 4: 77 (Pegg)
Nepal: 1: 103 (Tingey), 2: 55 (Tingey)
Scotland: 4: 1 (Cannon), 4: 17 (Buisman)
South Africa: 5: 1 (Ballantine), 7: 51 (Reily)
Thailand: 1: 17 (Hughes)
Trinidad: 5: 133 (Ramnarine), 7: 7
Turkey: 1: 89 (Stokes)
Uganda: 2: 1 (Gourlay), 2: 117 (Gray), 4:
135 (Gray)
United Kingdom: 1: 137 (Swanwick), 4:
51 (McCann), 5: 67 (Clayton); see
also British Isles, Scotland
USSR: 9/ii:123 (Um)
Notes to contributors
Submissions should be sent to the Editors: Dr Martin Clayton, Faculty of Arts, Open
University, Milton Keynes MK7 6AA, England; e-mail:;
Dr Suzel Ana Reily, School of Anthropological Studies, The Queen’s University of Belfast,
Belfast BT7 1NN, Northern Ireland; e-mail:
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publishers’ names for books, and page numbers for articles and book chapters.
Blacking, John and Keali’inohomoku, Joann W., eds (1979) The performing arts: music and
dance. The Hague: Mouton.
Jairazbhoy, Nazir (1977) “The ‘objective’ and subjective view in music transcription.”
Ethnomusicology 21.2:263–73.
Keali’inohomoku, Joann W. (1979) “Culture change: functional and dysfunctional
expressions of dance, a form of affective culture.” In J. Blacking and J.W. Keali’inohomoku
(eds) The performing arts: music and dance, pp. 47–64. The Hague: Mouton .
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