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British Forum for Ethnomusicology

Review: [untitled]
Author(s): Veronica Doubleday
Reviewed work(s):
Un roi africain et sa musique de cour: chants et danses du palais Porto-Novo sous le rgne
de Gbfa (1948-1976) by Gilbert Rouget
Source: British Journal of Ethnomusicology, Vol. 6 (1997), pp. 200-203
Published by: British Forum for Ethnomusicology
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200 British Journal
of Ethnomusicology,
vol. 6 (1997)
200 British Journal
of Ethnomusicology,
vol. 6 (1997)
and set out the musical
repertory
of the
performer
in
question.
The most common
songs,
we discover, consist of call-and-
response phrases involving
the blind
kututeng
player
in interaction with his audience. Lines
may
be
repeated many times, and
meanings
are
typically allusory
rather than direct.
Songs
deal with
topics
of social discord, including
adultery
and witchcraft. In
just
one of several
keen reflections on his mode of
study,
Ottenberg
notes that he is himself drawn
toward the
detailing
of
song
texts in a
way
that
does not
appear
to reflect the musical
experience
of the adult Bafodeans themselves:
[A]s an
anthropologist,
I am
perhaps placing
too much
weight
on the
analysis
of texts in this
book--on information I can
get
with a
tape
recorder and assistance in translation--and not
enough
on the emotions and
feelings generated
by
the music, more difficult data to collect. I
have
always
seen texts as
important
clues to the
understanding
of a culture's
workings.
But I
suggest that
although
to the
young (and
to the
anthropologist)
the texts are useful in
learning
the culture (and explaining
it to the reader),
what
may
be more
important
to the
participants
in a
performance
is the
activity
associated with
the music, rather than the songs' textual
meaning.
The cultural
importance
of
activity
might
be said to resolve the
apparent
contra-
diction in much of
Kututeng
music between the
unhappy
material of the texts and the con-
siderable
joy
in the
performance. (121-2)
Chapter
Six draws
together
the themes
explored
more
individually
in earlier
chapters,
comparing
and
contrasting
the life
experiences
of the three musicians.
Ottenberg provides
further
thought
on matters
including status,
individual
expression
and musical
change.
I
was
initially
confused
by Ottenberg's
use of
the verb "re-create" in
phrases like, "Marehu
was less involved in
re-creating Kututeng
culture than in
expressing
its more traditional
aspects" (187).
I think that
"re-creating"
here
actually
means
"creating
new" or
"renewing",
but this is a small criticism to level at an
absorbing
and
persuasive piece
of
writing.
A
larger
criticism would be the lack of a
sense
anywhere
in the book of what
kututeng
music
actually
sounds like.
Ottenberg
does not
say very
much about musical sound himself,
referring
us instead to a Master's thesis
by
one
of his students. For
example,
music for the
circle dance
kudingpon
is described as follows,
"According
to
Davenport (1984:80-82),
this is
and set out the musical
repertory
of the
performer
in
question.
The most common
songs,
we discover, consist of call-and-
response phrases involving
the blind
kututeng
player
in interaction with his audience. Lines
may
be
repeated many times, and
meanings
are
typically allusory
rather than direct.
Songs
deal with
topics
of social discord, including
adultery
and witchcraft. In
just
one of several
keen reflections on his mode of
study,
Ottenberg
notes that he is himself drawn
toward the
detailing
of
song
texts in a
way
that
does not
appear
to reflect the musical
experience
of the adult Bafodeans themselves:
[A]s an
anthropologist,
I am
perhaps placing
too much
weight
on the
analysis
of texts in this
book--on information I can
get
with a
tape
recorder and assistance in translation--and not
enough
on the emotions and
feelings generated
by
the music, more difficult data to collect. I
have
always
seen texts as
important
clues to the
understanding
of a culture's
workings.
But I
suggest that
although
to the
young (and
to the
anthropologist)
the texts are useful in
learning
the culture (and explaining
it to the reader),
what
may
be more
important
to the
participants
in a
performance
is the
activity
associated with
the music, rather than the songs' textual
meaning.
The cultural
importance
of
activity
might
be said to resolve the
apparent
contra-
diction in much of
Kututeng
music between the
unhappy
material of the texts and the con-
siderable
joy
in the
performance. (121-2)
Chapter
Six draws
together
the themes
explored
more
individually
in earlier
chapters,
comparing
and
contrasting
the life
experiences
of the three musicians.
Ottenberg provides
further
thought
on matters
including status,
individual
expression
and musical
change.
I
was
initially
confused
by Ottenberg's
use of
the verb "re-create" in
phrases like, "Marehu
was less involved in
re-creating Kututeng
culture than in
expressing
its more traditional
aspects" (187).
I think that
"re-creating"
here
actually
means
"creating
new" or
"renewing",
but this is a small criticism to level at an
absorbing
and
persuasive piece
of
writing.
A
larger
criticism would be the lack of a
sense
anywhere
in the book of what
kututeng
music
actually
sounds like.
Ottenberg
does not
say very
much about musical sound himself,
referring
us instead to a Master's thesis
by
one
of his students. For
example,
music for the
circle dance
kudingpon
is described as follows,
"According
to
Davenport (1984:80-82),
this is
a four-beat
repeated pattem
with a
syncopated
fourth beat"
(127). Musically,
this
summary
tells us almost
nothing. Imagine trying
to
visualise a dance
being
told
only
that it had
four
steps,
the fourth of which is of a different
length
from the other three. A short musical
transcription
would be much more infor-
mative, and
provision of a CD as an
integral
part
of the book would follow
through
on the
book's
(highly welcome) emphasis
of human
experiencing
of music. Thus, although
I
recommend this book
warmly
for its rich
content and
illuminating perspectives,
I would
describe it
ultimately
as
contributing
more
directly
to
anthropological
than ethnomusico-
logical
ends. This seems to me a
pity; given
a
little more attention to musical sound, it could
so
easily
have contributed to both.
JONATHAN STOCK
University of Sheffield
j.pj.stock@sheffield.ac.uk
a four-beat
repeated pattem
with a
syncopated
fourth beat"
(127). Musically,
this
summary
tells us almost
nothing. Imagine trying
to
visualise a dance
being
told
only
that it had
four
steps,
the fourth of which is of a different
length
from the other three. A short musical
transcription
would be much more infor-
mative, and
provision of a CD as an
integral
part
of the book would follow
through
on the
book's
(highly welcome) emphasis
of human
experiencing
of music. Thus, although
I
recommend this book
warmly
for its rich
content and
illuminating perspectives,
I would
describe it
ultimately
as
contributing
more
directly
to
anthropological
than ethnomusico-
logical
ends. This seems to me a
pity; given
a
little more attention to musical sound, it could
so
easily
have contributed to both.
JONATHAN STOCK
University of Sheffield
j.pj.stock@sheffield.ac.uk
GILBERT ROUGET, Un roi
africain
et sa
musique
de cour: chants et danses du
palais
a Porto-Novo sous le
regne
de
Gbefa (1948-
1976).
Paris: CNRS Editions, 1996.
392pp.,
2 CDs, photos,
mus. exx., maps,
bibliography.
ISBN 2-271-05255-6
(pb).
This valuable book describes a
highly
elaborate
genre
of West African court music
which has become obsolete. Gilbert
Rouget,
France's most eminent
ethnomusicologist
and
African music scholar, has
brought
a
remarkable musical treasure to
light.
Like his
magisterial
Music and trance
(1985),
this is a
labour of love, the fruit of
many years'
painstaking scholarship
and
analysis.
In
contrast with the cross-cultural
approach
of
Music and trance, this work focusses on a
very
particular
music which
Rouget
documented at
first hand.
At the outset
Rouget
states two
major
aims:
to document
fully
this lost music
genre,
and to
contribute to our
scholarly understanding
of
ritual. He treats ritual as "a work of art of
which music is an essential dimension",
defined as "the art of
marking
time and
space
with sounds and
gestures
which are all full of
symbolic significance" (8).
This ritual music was
performed
in the
strict
privacy
of the
palace precincts
at Porto-
Novo, the
capital
of Benin
(previously
Dahomey).
Access to
study,
record and film
these rituals was a
great privilege,
the
product
GILBERT ROUGET, Un roi
africain
et sa
musique
de cour: chants et danses du
palais
a Porto-Novo sous le
regne
de
Gbefa (1948-
1976).
Paris: CNRS Editions, 1996.
392pp.,
2 CDs, photos,
mus. exx., maps,
bibliography.
ISBN 2-271-05255-6
(pb).
This valuable book describes a
highly
elaborate
genre
of West African court music
which has become obsolete. Gilbert
Rouget,
France's most eminent
ethnomusicologist
and
African music scholar, has
brought
a
remarkable musical treasure to
light.
Like his
magisterial
Music and trance
(1985),
this is a
labour of love, the fruit of
many years'
painstaking scholarship
and
analysis.
In
contrast with the cross-cultural
approach
of
Music and trance, this work focusses on a
very
particular
music which
Rouget
documented at
first hand.
At the outset
Rouget
states two
major
aims:
to document
fully
this lost music
genre,
and to
contribute to our
scholarly understanding
of
ritual. He treats ritual as "a work of art of
which music is an essential dimension",
defined as "the art of
marking
time and
space
with sounds and
gestures
which are all full of
symbolic significance" (8).
This ritual music was
performed
in the
strict
privacy
of the
palace precincts
at Porto-
Novo, the
capital
of Benin
(previously
Dahomey).
Access to
study,
record and film
these rituals was a
great privilege,
the
product
British Journal
of
Ethnomusicology,
vol. 6
(1997)
of trust
acquired
over several decades.
Rouget
first visited Porto-Novo in 1952, four
years
after Gbefa came to
power. Inspired by
Pierre
Verger's
work on candomble in Brazil, he
aimed to
study
vodun ceremonies at their
source (Borel 1988:180). King
Gbefa's
long
reign saw
highly significant changes.
In 1958
Dahomey gained independence
from France
and in 1973, under the new name of Benin,
became a Marxist-Leninist
republic. Stripped
of effective
power,
Gbefa died in 1978 as the
last king.
The
palace
rituals
Rouget
describes were
primarily
concerned with
kingship
and its
symbolic powers.
The
king
was
personally
symbolised
as a
caged panther
so fierce that its
power
needed
limiting.
In the distant
past,
once
they
had been initiated to
power, kings
never left the
palace. Rouget explains: "King
endowed with
great powers,
but
king
imprisoned,
thus we
may interpret
the
symbol
of the
caged animal, a
symbol
which is but a
variation of a theme so common in Africa: that
of the cloistered
king" (74).
This was not
easy
research, since it
hinged
on delicate and
esoteric matters. In
discussing
the historical
possibility
of ritual
regicide
in this
region
(clearly proven
for
neighbouring
Yoruba and
Ewe
cultures), Rouget
comments that "there
are secrets which are well
kept,
and
things
which
people
don't wish to discuss"
(334).
The
principal
court ritualists were
women-the numerous wives of
kings.
Two
senior wives, Wensi and
Hounzounken,
the
venerable
doyennes
of the
palace music,
became Rouget's
principal
informants. In
homage
to their
knowledge
and
expertise,
their
image
is the book's first illustration
(10).
The
most
important ritual, the
Ceremony
of the
Head, forms the
centrepiece
of the book. It
was an annual renewal of
kingship
"for the
benefit of all the
people",
as the
king
ex-
plained (161). Using particular
sets of musical
instruments, his wives
performed
a suite of
ritual
songs
and dances
preceding
and
following
a
night during
which the
king slept
in a room used
only then, the Room of his
Destiny.
The
king's
head was not the
only part
of his
body
in
question
here: a
phallic
model
called his
"destiny" (Se)
stood erect at the foot
of his bed
(photographs:165-7, 179),
and the
songs express
the women's desire to come to
his bed. The
implicit
link between the
king's
virility
and the
fertility
and
prosperity
of the
land is evident.
The book is divided into three main
sections. The first, "The musical life of the
palace",
is historical and contextual, con-
cerning
the
history
of Porto-Novo, the
king's
role, his
palace,
retinue of wives and servants,
and
mythic powers. Rouget
outlines the music
of
royal rituals, including
funeral rites and
initiation to
kingship.
The central section,
"The music of the
king's wives", contains
detailed
descriptions
of their musical instru-
ments, plus
a full
item-by-item analysis
of the
Ceremony
of the Head, with
transcriptions,
textual
analysis
and consideration of form and
strophic
structure. Attention to
linguistic
details reveals
Rouget's deep knowledge
of
the culture and local
language (Gun). The third
section is
relatively short, devoted to the less
unusual music of the
king's
male servants.
Two
accompanying
CDs with
recordings
from
1952, 1964, 1965 and 1987
greatly
add to the
book.
With all its detail and historical
depth,
this
work is of obvious
importance
to scholars of
African music and ritual. It is also a
great
resource for scholars of women's music.
Unlike the familiar situation where women
musicians and dancers
provide light
enter-
tainment or
sexy amusement, the
king's
wives
are credited with
important spiritual
and
musical
powers. Rouget
states
categorically:
"If one had to remember a
single
fact about
this court music it would have to be this: the
king simply
could not
reign
without it"
(339).
As ritual
specialists,
these musicians are
comparable
to the
Nepali auspicious singing
women
(mangalini)
documented
by Tingey
(1993).
It is
interesting
to consider to what extent
music was an outlet for these women's
creativity
and
self-expression. Rouget empha-
sises that their music was of an
extremely high
artistic calibre
(351), concluding
that much of
it was
composed by
women
(213-14); a
section on the
process
of
composition-akin
to
ritualised trance-is of
great
interest
(233-4).
However, the wives
belonged
to the
king
in a
very
real sense: in the
past they
were
put
to
death when the
king died, and sanctions
against adultery
were
extremely
severe. These
women
performed
the court music for the
king, kingship
and the
prosperity
of the realm.
However, their
songs
include
expression
of
their
position
as his wives and
feelings
for co-
wives. One of their dances
(D6gla:
"Take
courage")
is a silent memorial to
past
wives
cruelly put
to death for
committing adultery.
(A print
from 1730 shows the
public
torture
they
underwent:
225.) The women told
Rouget
that while
they performed
it their tortured co-
201
202 British Journal
of Ethnomusicology, vol. 6 (1997)
wives dance "over there, in the land of the
dead" (227).
This
sympathy
with those who
rebelled
against
the
system
is
significant
as an
implicit protest.
The book holds
great
interest for the
organologist,
too. The
impressive
instrumen-
tarium includes sets of
unusually elongated
bells
(gansu)
which were
painted
in ritual
colours of the
python divinity, Dangbe.
Equally
remarkable are metal dance-staves
with
rattling rings (hear CD I, 17, for a
particularly
beautiful
piece
with these). Other
interesting
instruments are a raft zither, held
during
a
particular dance, but not
played (cf.
Rouget 1980: 488),
and carved
ivory trumpets
adorned with human
jawbones. Explanations
of the
symbolism
of musical instruments are
very valuable, involving
the four cardinal
directions, numerology
and local divinities
(eg. Gou, god of metal, and Minon, goddess
of
earth/fertility).
Rouget
succeeded in his aim of
providing
"as full as
possible"
a documentation of his
subject.
Illustrations show details of the rituals
and document the
palace setting,
musical
instruments and ritual
objects,
all with full
descriptive captions.
There are also
maps
and
historical
engravings,
all
integrated
into the
text. A video filmed in 1969
by
Jean Rouch in
collaboration with
Rouget
is also available
from CNRS Audivisuel, and some
photo-
graphic sequences
from this are
reproduced
in
the book.
However, the full documentation also
creates
problems. Although Rouget
often
provides helpful
cross-references within the
text, it is not
easy
to retrieve information. One
sorely
laments the lack of an index.
Strangely,
by contrast, the CD details are
skimpy.
The
names of
performers
and musical instruments
are not
given
for each
item-possibly
because
editors wanted the contents of the two CDs to
fit onto a
double-spread.
I also noticed that the
bibliography
contains some inconsistencies or
omissions
(relating
to work
by
de Heusch
(1990), McGowan, Koudjo
and
Slobin).
The sheer mass of detail obstructs on
another level. I felt that the
king,
his wives and
entourage
became somewhat buried in the
process
of
writing. Rouget
knew the
key
players
of his drama
very well,
but here he
confines himself to scattered hints about their
characters.
Perhaps
the book would have
gained
from more focus on them as
people.
In
writing
this book
Rouget
was
acutely
aware of the
problems
of
representation
faced
by
the
ethnographer. When, prior
to
publica-
tion, his
Prologue
on
representation appeared
in L'homme, he called this work "a manifesto
for a certain
style
of
ethnomusicological
writing"
in which the researcher and
process
of research are
part
of the
picture (Rouget
1995).
His
rigour
is admirable, and in line with
modern reflexive
ethnography.
He
always
provides
sources for his data, including
letters
received from informants in Porto-Novo
during
the
writing
of the book. He
scrupu-
lously points
out lacunae in his data, and
may
warn
against hypothetical
lines of
argument
or
ask
questions
to which he does not
necessarily
possess
answers. It is an
interesting,
refresh-
ingly honest, but
slightly
tortuous
journey
of
dicovery.
The book, he
explains,
is intended to
resemble a Greek vase one
might
see in a
museum, in which broken
pieces
have been
assigned
to their correct
places, leaving
the
space
of
missing pieces
to be filled with
colourless or
transparent
material (334).
In the
Epilogue Rouget
relaxes a little,
giving
more
personal insights.
He
provides
a
valuable resume of the
key findings
of the
research, and discusses the material with
relation to themes such as
authenticity
and
acculturation, aesthetics, and the
question
of
music and emotion. Given his breadth of
experience,
these sections are
particularly
valuable. He closes the book with the
plea
that
local "unacculturated"
genres
merit
urgent
attention. He also
deplores
the
exploitation
of
minority peoples' music, specifically citing
the
use of
Pygmy
and 'Are'are vocal
polyphony
as
ingredients
for "world-music
soups".
His
argument
contributes to current debates about
copyright (see
Feld
1996).
We should thank Gilbert
Rouget
for this
valuable book, and for his dedication in work-
ing through
this material and
giving
us the
benefit of his
deep knowledge.
Let us
hope
that it will be translated into
English,
and that
his
important
work on ritual will reach the
wider audience it deserves in
many
fields of
interest.
References
Borel, Francois (1988)
"Entretien avec Gilbert
Rouget".
Cahiers de
musiques
traditionelles
1: 177-86.
Rouget,
Gilbert (1980)
"Benin". In S. Sadie
(ed.)
New Grove
dictionary of
music and
musicians, Vol 2: 487-93.
(1985)
Music and trance: a
theory of
the relations between music and
possession.
Univ. of
Chicago
Press
British Journal
of Ethnomusicology,
vol. 6
(1997)
British Journal
of Ethnomusicology,
vol. 6
(1997)
(1995) "Ethnomusicologie
d'un rituel:
la
representation,
ou de
Velazquez
a Francis
Bacon". L'homme 133, Jan-March: 77-97.
Feld, Steven (1996) "Pygmy
POP: a
genealogy
of
schizophonic
mimesis". Yearbook of
Traditional Music 28: 1-35.
Tingey,
Carol (1983) "Auspicious women,
auspicious songs: mangalini
and their music
at the court of Kathmandu". British Journal
of Ethnomusicology
2: 55-74.
VERONICA DOUBLEDAY
University of Brighton
(1995) "Ethnomusicologie
d'un rituel:
la
representation,
ou de
Velazquez
a Francis
Bacon". L'homme 133, Jan-March: 77-97.
Feld, Steven (1996) "Pygmy
POP: a
genealogy
of
schizophonic
mimesis". Yearbook of
Traditional Music 28: 1-35.
Tingey,
Carol (1983) "Auspicious women,
auspicious songs: mangalini
and their music
at the court of Kathmandu". British Journal
of Ethnomusicology
2: 55-74.
VERONICA DOUBLEDAY
University of Brighton
W ILLIAM WASHABAUGH, Flamenco:
passion, politics
and
popular
culture.
Oxford /
Washington,
D.C.:
Berg,
1996. xix
+ 209
pp., bibliog.,
index. ISBN 1-85973-
176-7
(pb).
This book
represents
a welcome and
timely
addition to the
surprisingly sparse
academic
writing
in
English
on flamenco. It is not,
however, an introduction to flamenco,
a
history
of flamenco, a
straightforward ethnog-
raphy
or an
exposition
of musical
style. Being
concerned
primarily
with
questions
of mean-
ing
and
representation,
it reads more as a
study
and
interpretation
of the
study
and
interpretat-
ion of flamenco in which the author
analyses
the
assumptions
and
agendas
that
underpin
different
expositions
of flamenco
history.
As
such, it
belongs-in part,
at least-to the
tradition of the
analysis
of the
ethnographic
text as narrative, as much fiction as fact,
in
which the researcher is
engaged
in a
quest
to
uncover the motivation of the
ethnographer
or
commentator and his or her
inevitably
subjective
interaction with the
object
of
study.
Apart
from written sources-the author's
familiarity
with a wealth of flamenco scholar-
ship (largely Spanish)
is revealed in the
abundant references and
comprehensive
bibli-
ography-a
central "text" which
Washabaugh
analyses
in this
way
and to which he returns in
several of the
chapters
is
represented by
the
100-programme documentary
series entitled
Rito
y Geografia
del Cante which
appeared
on
Spanish
television towards the end of the
Franco era.
Washabaugh's study is, then, best read as a
collection of
essays
in the form of nine
relatively
self-contained
chapters (three
of
which are
reworkings
of
previously published
essays),
in which the author addresses a series
of
positions, propositions
and
engagements
W ILLIAM WASHABAUGH, Flamenco:
passion, politics
and
popular
culture.
Oxford /
Washington,
D.C.:
Berg,
1996. xix
+ 209
pp., bibliog.,
index. ISBN 1-85973-
176-7
(pb).
This book
represents
a welcome and
timely
addition to the
surprisingly sparse
academic
writing
in
English
on flamenco. It is not,
however, an introduction to flamenco,
a
history
of flamenco, a
straightforward ethnog-
raphy
or an
exposition
of musical
style. Being
concerned
primarily
with
questions
of mean-
ing
and
representation,
it reads more as a
study
and
interpretation
of the
study
and
interpretat-
ion of flamenco in which the author
analyses
the
assumptions
and
agendas
that
underpin
different
expositions
of flamenco
history.
As
such, it
belongs-in part,
at least-to the
tradition of the
analysis
of the
ethnographic
text as narrative, as much fiction as fact,
in
which the researcher is
engaged
in a
quest
to
uncover the motivation of the
ethnographer
or
commentator and his or her
inevitably
subjective
interaction with the
object
of
study.
Apart
from written sources-the author's
familiarity
with a wealth of flamenco scholar-
ship (largely Spanish)
is revealed in the
abundant references and
comprehensive
bibli-
ography-a
central "text" which
Washabaugh
analyses
in this
way
and to which he returns in
several of the
chapters
is
represented by
the
100-programme documentary
series entitled
Rito
y Geografia
del Cante which
appeared
on
Spanish
television towards the end of the
Franco era.
Washabaugh's study is, then, best read as a
collection of
essays
in the form of nine
relatively
self-contained
chapters (three
of
which are
reworkings
of
previously published
essays),
in which the author addresses a series
of
positions, propositions
and
engagements
with other narratives. Some
chapters
are
centrally
concerned with flamenco; others
(e.g.
Ch. 8: "Music, resistance, and
popular
cul-
ture"-a theoretical
essay
where the author's
aim is to rethink the
politics
of
popular
culture
in
general)
take the form of a more universal
cultural criticism
brushing
with a
type
of
post-
modem moral
philosophy
with
frequent quotes
and references, both within the main text and
in the
copious
endnotes-a theoretical concen-
tration which is reflected in the
bibliography.
Whilst these discussions
clearly
bear on the
author's insistent concern with
questions
of
methodology, they
sometimes
betray disap-
pointingly
little direct reference to flamenco.
Similarly,
some
chapters
have a somewhat
dense and abstract
linguistic register
whilst
others, with
ample
first
person references, are
almost domestic in
comparison:
in the latter
case, the discussion is enlivened and substan-
tiated
by revealing personal
anecdotes and
observations aimed at
illustrating irony
and
fabrication at work and
supporting
the
argu-
ment that there is much that cannot be taken at
face value. Taken as a whole, the result is a
text of
constantly changing rhythms, although
the
prose
remains admirably
fluent and
eloquent throughout.
In
retrospect, however,
the somewhat
fragmentary impression given
by
an initial
perusal
is
deceptive.
In the course
of the work, the author does in fact
give
a
reasonably comprehensive
account of the
history
of flamenco and the various embodi-
ments and territories
(geographical, cultural,
social and
political) through
which it has
passed.
Proposing
to offer an alternative to other
over-simplistic
histories of flamenco with their
somewhat monolithic
aspirations,
Washa-
baugh
demonstrates how events, trends and
representations
are
open
to
multiple,
and often
diametrically opposed yet
not
mutually
exclus-
ive, readings. (In
this context the recurrent
references to Bakhtin are
unsurprising.)
The
book contains a
perceptive analysis
of other
accounts of flamenco
history
in the context of
an illumination and
exploration
of the basic
thesis set out in the
preface
that "flamenco
performances
are cultural moraines ...
gather-
ing places
for
not-yet-well integrated
cultural
forces", yet prove
to have been "reduced"
by
most scholars to
"manageable singularities"
(vii-vii)
which strive to conceal the
complexi-
ties and inconsistencies in their
retelling
of
flamenco
history.
The
generalisations
which
inevitably
result are
designated by
Washa-
baugh
as
"top-down performances"-the
with other narratives. Some
chapters
are
centrally
concerned with flamenco; others
(e.g.
Ch. 8: "Music, resistance, and
popular
cul-
ture"-a theoretical
essay
where the author's
aim is to rethink the
politics
of
popular
culture
in
general)
take the form of a more universal
cultural criticism
brushing
with a
type
of
post-
modem moral
philosophy
with
frequent quotes
and references, both within the main text and
in the
copious
endnotes-a theoretical concen-
tration which is reflected in the
bibliography.
Whilst these discussions
clearly
bear on the
author's insistent concern with
questions
of
methodology, they
sometimes
betray disap-
pointingly
little direct reference to flamenco.
Similarly,
some
chapters
have a somewhat
dense and abstract
linguistic register
whilst
others, with
ample
first
person references, are
almost domestic in
comparison:
in the latter
case, the discussion is enlivened and substan-
tiated
by revealing personal
anecdotes and
observations aimed at
illustrating irony
and
fabrication at work and
supporting
the
argu-
ment that there is much that cannot be taken at
face value. Taken as a whole, the result is a
text of
constantly changing rhythms, although
the
prose
remains admirably
fluent and
eloquent throughout.
In
retrospect, however,
the somewhat
fragmentary impression given
by
an initial
perusal
is
deceptive.
In the course
of the work, the author does in fact
give
a
reasonably comprehensive
account of the
history
of flamenco and the various embodi-
ments and territories
(geographical, cultural,
social and
political) through
which it has
passed.
Proposing
to offer an alternative to other
over-simplistic
histories of flamenco with their
somewhat monolithic
aspirations,
Washa-
baugh
demonstrates how events, trends and
representations
are
open
to
multiple,
and often
diametrically opposed yet
not
mutually
exclus-
ive, readings. (In
this context the recurrent
references to Bakhtin are
unsurprising.)
The
book contains a
perceptive analysis
of other
accounts of flamenco
history
in the context of
an illumination and
exploration
of the basic
thesis set out in the
preface
that "flamenco
performances
are cultural moraines ...
gather-
ing places
for
not-yet-well integrated
cultural
forces", yet prove
to have been "reduced"
by
most scholars to
"manageable singularities"
(vii-vii)
which strive to conceal the
complexi-
ties and inconsistencies in their
retelling
of
flamenco
history.
The
generalisations
which
inevitably
result are
designated by
Washa-
baugh
as
"top-down performances"-the
203 203