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British Forum for Ethnomusicology

Review: [untitled]
Author(s): Gregory F. Barz
Reviewed work(s):
Seize the Dance!: BaAka Musical Life and the Ethnography of Performance by Michelle
Kisliuk
Source: British Journal of Ethnomusicology, Vol. 8 (1999), pp. 123-125
Published by: British Forum for Ethnomusicology
Stable URL: http://www.jstor.org/stable/3060856
Accessed: 06/01/2009 20:09
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Reviews
Books
MICHELLE KISLIUK: Seize the dance!:
BaAka musical
life
and the
ethnography
of performance,
New
York: Oxford
University Press,
1998.
241pp., illustrations,
photographs, map,
musical exx.,
appendices, notes, index, glossary,
references, discography,
CD. ISBN
0-19-511786-7
(?40).
The infusion of lived
experience
into
ethnographic writing
and the narrative
evocation of musical
experience
within
musical
performance
is at the heart of the
experiential ethnography
Seize the dance!
Bc4ka musical
life
and the
ethnography
of performance,
a
noteworthy
socioethic
study by
American
ethnomusicologist
Michelle Kisliuk. Seize the dance!
emerges
from a moment in
ethnographic
writing
some have labelled
"experimental", yet
it moves in a
uniquely
different direction. This
direction
provides
an
approach
to musical
analysis
in which detailed narrative
description
is drawn
upon
to underscore
understanding
rather than to resituate
power relationships
between the
ethnographer
and the "voiceless
subject".
Kisliuk's
reflexivity
-
never
crossing
the
line into
self-indulgence
-
quickly
collapses
the
binary opposition
of
'ethnomusicologist"
and
"subject",
between self and other. In so
doing,
Seize
the dance! is a critical
resituating
of
relevant and
meaningful experience
in
field research within musical
ethnography.
Kisliuk uses the term
"performance"
as
frequently
as she does "music" in her
ethnography
of the BaAka
pygmies
of the
Central African
Republic.
Her extensive
experiences
of
living among
BaAka
communities provided a tension between
these terms, one that communicated
divisiveness. What
might initially
seem a
purely
academic
argument concerning
whether an African
community
"performs"
or makes "music", becomes a
very
real
question
as the
highly
detailed
and honed
ethnography
of musical
culture in
everyday
BaAka unfolds. The
reader
very quickly
learns that Kisliuk's
use of the term
"performance"
facilitates
greater
access to BaAka
expressive
culture; her
ethnographic
narrative
reflects the
pygmies'
own
thoughts
about
music and does not
attempt
to
map any
pre-conceived
notions of what BaAka
music should be.
The book is
accompanied by
two
compact
discs that
provide
collateral
audio material for her case studies. The
quality
of the remastered
analog
recording
is
quite high;
the retention of
many "everyday"
sounds
typically
edited
out of
many commercially
released field
recordings
is a
significant
inclusion. The
Mabo
Mayenge
improvisations,
for
example,
not
only provide
a
splendidly
clear
recording
of the
yodelling
and
hocketing
musical elements of Mabo as
performed by
four BaAka but, perhaps
more
importantly,
the
recording provides
a
unique
aural context of the
performance
as it was
originally experienced by
the
author in her home
camp;
the reader-
listener comes to
accept
that
peripheral
"sounds" are as
important
for
interpreting
and
understanding
the
soundscape
of this
BaAka
camp
as is the "music". Included
are two
significant examples
of BaAka
church
hymns
that provide an
opportunity
to
approach
the
process
of
change
in musical
adaptation
to
modernity;
the first is an
example
of
"square" hymn drumming,
and the
second demonstrates a
singing
and
drumming style
that is closer to BaAka
BRITISH JOURNAL OF ETHNOMUSICOLOGY VOL. 8 1999
BRITIS H JOURNAL OF ETHNOMUSICOLOGY VOL.8 1999
performance style,
with women
yodelling
near the end of the
recording.
Detailed
information about each track on the
compact
discs is
provided
in a useful
appendix.
Seize the dance! contains almost
fifty
photographs,
and each is
positioned
in
such a
way
as to become a
part
of the
author's
greater
narrative. Several of
these
photographs
are
extremely
evocative of the world-historical
presence
of
modernity among
the
BaAka;
Ndami and
Mbouya listening
to their own
singing
as recorded
by
the author
(115),
and Makanda
wearing globe earrings
as
she
prepares palm
nuts
(173),
for
example,
are two such vivid illustrations.
These
photographs, among others, guide
and document Kisliuk's
suggestion
that
"BaAka
perform
their
particular
view of
the
modem, constructing
an aesthetic of
modernity
and
placing
themselves in the
center"
(16).
In
addition,
there are several
photographs
that communicate musical
sound and dance in
marvellously
non-
textual
ways;
the
photographs
of
women's
dingboku
lines
(135)
and
Aphembe
and Mokoti
singing
Elamba
songs (57),
each demonstrate how
photography
can be used to
great
effect
as an
integral aspect
of narrative form in
musical
ethnography.
Kisliuk's musical
transcriptions
are
meant to be "read" in collaboration with
"listening".
While intended to be
accessible to the non-musical
specialist,
the
transcriptions
nevertheless
provide
a
highly
detailed
understanding
of the
musical
creativity
that
goes
into the
choices of
possible
variation within a
given
musical
performance. Thus,
these
diachronic
transcriptions
document the
"experiences"
of an
ethnomusicologist
steeped
in the BaAka
performance
tradition. The inclusion of five
completely
transcribed
gano (BaAka
legends),
first recorded
by
the author in
the 1980s,
in a
separate appendix,
is also
an invaluable addition to the
ethnography
as a whole.
At
many
junctures
in her
ethnography
Kisliuk takes her cue from the BaAka
themselves. She has learned to consider
any
event that contains music to be an
inclusive event, where music is
just
a
smaller
part
of the whole; for the author,
to
study
an event is to
study
all of it, not
just
a
part
of it, not just the music. Music
does not exist for the BaAka as it does for
others; singing
for the BaAka is
inseparable
from
drumming,
and
drumming
is
inseparable
from
dancing.
This becomes clear in the
fascinating
example
of the American
Baptist
missionary
named Barbara
(known
to the
BaAka as 'Bala
Bala'),
who convinced
the
Dzanga
BaAka to
sing Baptist hymns.
The BaAka added dance to the
hymns
in
Bala Bala's
absence,
because for them
singing, dancing
and
drumming
were one
inclusive
activity, eboka, and not
recognizable
as
separate
entities. And it
was
completely
natural for
Dzanga
BaAka to dance to
hymns, despite
the
irony
that
Baptists
in Bala Bala's sacred
singing
tradition do not dance.
Similarly,
the
process engaged by
the
popular
Bangui-based
band Zokela in which
various
aspects
of
pygmy
culture are
publicly enacted,
is a clear
signal
that
categories
such as
"traditional",
"modem",
and
"popular" respond
in both
individual and collective
ways
to
modernity.
When Kisliuk writes of
performance
rather than of music in Seize the
dance!,
she
intentionally
does so to blend her
approach
with the
perspectives
of the
BaAka to transcend the historical
dichotomy
between
"experience"
and
"scholarship".
She communicates rich
and full
experiences
of her
engagement
with
ethnomusicological
field research in
Central Africa and
purposefully
emphasizes,
even
highlights
her rather
personal
involvement with BaAka
pygmy
124
BRITISH JOURNAL OF ETHNOMUSICOLOGY VOL.8 1999 125 BRITISH JOURNAL OF ETHNOMUSICOLOGY VOL.8 1999 125
culture. As a result, she admits to
having
adopted
a BaAka-informed
way
of
thinking,
a BaAka-informed
way
of
being
in the
world,
as she
progressed
through
her field research. Kisliuk's
ethnography
is more than a
significant
contribution to
ethnomusicology;
it is a
loving
tribute to the
potentiality
of field
research and
ethnography
to exist as
coextensive
experience
and as art.
GREGORY F. BARZ
Vanderbilt
University,
Nashville
gregory.
barz@vanderbilt.
edu
culture. As a result, she admits to
having
adopted
a BaAka-informed
way
of
thinking,
a BaAka-informed
way
of
being
in the
world,
as she
progressed
through
her field research. Kisliuk's
ethnography
is more than a
significant
contribution to
ethnomusicology;
it is a
loving
tribute to the
potentiality
of field
research and
ethnography
to exist as
coextensive
experience
and as art.
GREGORY F. BARZ
Vanderbilt
University,
Nashville
gregory.
barz@vanderbilt.
edu
LLOYD CLIFTON MILLER,
Music and
song
in Persia: the art
of
avaz.
Richmond
(UK):
Curzon
Press,
1999. xxiv +
360pp., photographs,
tables, poetry translations, musical
exx., appendices,
index,
bibliography.
ISBN 0-7007-0664 X
(?50).
Among
the most
interesting aspects
of
this recent
publication
are the issues that
it raises
concerning
the
place
of a
centuries-old tradition such as Iranian
classical
(assit)
music in a
modem-day
society,
still a
highly
emotive
subject
among
Iranian musicians. Most of the
documentation is from the
1970s,
a
period
when Miller
spent
several
years
in
Iran. The first half of the book deals
primarily
with historical and social
issues,
while the second discusses
aspects
of the music and
poetry.
Miller makes no
bones about his
approach
from the start.
In a tone which hovers
uneasily
between
the
self-righteous
and the
evangelical,
he
dismisses the work of
many
so-called
"First-World"
ethnomusicologists,
for
whom he
suggests
Iranian music is
merely
a means to advance their own
careers
(xvii). Miller,
on the other hand,
claims to
represent
the "authentic"
Iranian tradition via the
authority
apparently
vested in him
by
the scholar
LLOYD CLIFTON MILLER,
Music and
song
in Persia: the art
of
avaz.
Richmond
(UK):
Curzon
Press,
1999. xxiv +
360pp., photographs,
tables, poetry translations, musical
exx., appendices,
index,
bibliography.
ISBN 0-7007-0664 X
(?50).
Among
the most
interesting aspects
of
this recent
publication
are the issues that
it raises
concerning
the
place
of a
centuries-old tradition such as Iranian
classical
(assit)
music in a
modem-day
society,
still a
highly
emotive
subject
among
Iranian musicians. Most of the
documentation is from the
1970s,
a
period
when Miller
spent
several
years
in
Iran. The first half of the book deals
primarily
with historical and social
issues,
while the second discusses
aspects
of the music and
poetry.
Miller makes no
bones about his
approach
from the start.
In a tone which hovers
uneasily
between
the
self-righteous
and the
evangelical,
he
dismisses the work of
many
so-called
"First-World"
ethnomusicologists,
for
whom he
suggests
Iranian music is
merely
a means to advance their own
careers
(xvii). Miller,
on the other hand,
claims to
represent
the "authentic"
Iranian tradition via the
authority
apparently
vested in him
by
the scholar
and musician
Daryush
Safvat and others
associated with the Centre for the
Preservation and
Propagation
of Iranian
music
(the
"Centre")
in Tehran. The
views of these musicians are
presented
throughout
as the
only
valid
approach
to
the music and, indeed,
there is no doubt
that
they played
a crucial role in
preserving
and
passing
on the classical
repertoire during
the 1970s at a time
when interest in this music was
declining.
However, to
suggest
that theirs is the
only
significant voice in this tradition is a
misrepresentation
which
disregards
the
rich
diversity
of
viewpoints
-
both of
musicians and others
-
which informs the
musical culture. Moreover, the obvious
questions
raised
by
Miller's stance
regarding
musical ownership and who is
authorized to
speak
for and about the
musical
tradition,
are
conveniently
side-
stepped, displaying
a lack of critical
distance and reflexivity which is one of
the main weaknesses of the book as a
whole. In
particular,
the constant
unproblematic
use of such contested
terms as "authentic" and
"proper
performance" (the
latter
prominently
in
the title of
Chapter
2)
is
deeply troubling.
Of course, Miller's
approach
has to be
understood
(indeed, expected)
in terms of
his close involvement with Safvat and
other "traditionalist" musicians and is a
good
indication of the
strength
of
feeling
on the
subject. Certainly, Chapter
3
provides important
documentation of
some of the
problems
faced
by
musicians
attempting
to
preserve
the classical
tradition in the face of increased
westernization
during
the 1970s. What is
sorely lacking, however, is the broader
socio-political
situation of Iran at a time
when
government policies
of closer links
with
Europe
and the United States lent
momentum to the processes of
westemization which had been set in
train decades before. It is
only
in this
context that one can
begin
to understand
and musician
Daryush
Safvat and others
associated with the Centre for the
Preservation and
Propagation
of Iranian
music
(the
"Centre")
in Tehran. The
views of these musicians are
presented
throughout
as the
only
valid
approach
to
the music and, indeed,
there is no doubt
that
they played
a crucial role in
preserving
and
passing
on the classical
repertoire during
the 1970s at a time
when interest in this music was
declining.
However, to
suggest
that theirs is the
only
significant voice in this tradition is a
misrepresentation
which
disregards
the
rich
diversity
of
viewpoints
-
both of
musicians and others
-
which informs the
musical culture. Moreover, the obvious
questions
raised
by
Miller's stance
regarding
musical ownership and who is
authorized to
speak
for and about the
musical
tradition,
are
conveniently
side-
stepped, displaying
a lack of critical
distance and reflexivity which is one of
the main weaknesses of the book as a
whole. In
particular,
the constant
unproblematic
use of such contested
terms as "authentic" and
"proper
performance" (the
latter
prominently
in
the title of
Chapter
2)
is
deeply troubling.
Of course, Miller's
approach
has to be
understood
(indeed, expected)
in terms of
his close involvement with Safvat and
other "traditionalist" musicians and is a
good
indication of the
strength
of
feeling
on the
subject. Certainly, Chapter
3
provides important
documentation of
some of the
problems
faced
by
musicians
attempting
to
preserve
the classical
tradition in the face of increased
westernization
during
the 1970s. What is
sorely lacking, however, is the broader
socio-political
situation of Iran at a time
when
government policies
of closer links
with
Europe
and the United States lent
momentum to the processes of
westemization which had been set in
train decades before. It is
only
in this
context that one can
begin
to understand