Writing about World Music

Davidson College, Spring 2016

Page 2 of 11

Women in Dangdut

What continues to interest me in the women’s rights debate is the vast diversity in definitions and justifications people come up with when asserting that they feel something “empowers women” or something is “damaging to women”. For instance, in the music video Oh my Dear, an interesting detail was the fact that the video did not make the women out to be overtly submissive through her body language and movement. She appeared to us as happy, fulfilled, and capable of making her own decisions; it “just so happened” that those decisions aligned with the family values the government wanted to support. However they are careful in this message in that they make sure it does not seem like anyone is forcing the women to do anything. Is it damaging to women to portray a women happy with a traditional role?
This is a topic with a lot of controversy and differing opinions, even within ideological groups such as feminism. For instance, some feminists look at overly sexualized poses in media and insist that they are objectification intended for a male audience, or otherwise insist that it is damaging to how a women views herself. Of the opposite opinion are people, including other feminists, who insist that the message is that females can choose to highlight their sexuality as they so wish, and it is a power move. These same two sides show up in the debate over whether or not females should be constantly portrayed in a traditional, domestic role.
My issue is not with the values supported in the video Oh My Dear, but rather the censorship of the second music video we viewed, Are You a Virgin or Not? I am against most forms of censorship for many different reasons, one of them being that selective censorship of media pushes one dominant narrative or opinion. Referring to the debate mentioned above, who’s to say that ALL women find sexuality empowering and a domestic life demeaning, or vice versa? Different women, different people, find power and fulfillment in different things (really shocking, I know). The video Oh My Dear ceases to be propaganda the moment you allow media alongside of it that challenges its ideologies–and all ideologies should be challenged on a regular basis.
Therefore, I do not take issue with submissive portrayals of women, and I do not take issue with lewd or strong/heroic portrayals of women, so long as that every opinion is allowed to exist on social media and media sharing platforms, allowing all people to seek out media that supports whatever lifestyle they have chosen. If someone is of the opinion that myself or other young ladies cannot see a sexualized women and then make the independent choice to continue being conservative in how we dress, or that I cannot comfortably hear about a women in an open relationship and then continue to be monogamous, then I find their patronizing attitude much more sexist than the media from which they are supposedly protecting us.

When is Censorship Appropriate?

In reading about Dangdut and its place in the national spotlight, we’ve read a lot about various times when the Indonesian Government has censored artists. Rhoma Irama was banned from television for 11 years, but later went on to support a movement to censor Inul, a movement that was supported by other devout followers of Islam in Indonesia. Weintraub tells us that Inul was often dressed much more revealingly for live performances than for television performances, because she was forced to be presentable for a national audience. Additionally, Weintraub contrasts “Oh My Dear,” a song which reinforces family values, with “Are You a Virgin or Not,” a song which deals with promiscuity and seduction. The Indonesian Government opposed the airing of the latter, due to the supposedly negative values which it promoted.

These cases cause one to wonder, when and to what extent is censorship justifiable? Most people are okay with censorship, even from the government, on some levels–in America, the FCC prevents things like nudity and excessive vulgarity from airing on cable television or during daytime hours. Additionally, we have move ratings which prevent children of too young an age from seeing certain movies deemed inappropriate for them. However, there is definitely a level at which censorship by the government is frowned upon; Americans often clutch dearly to the rights guaranteed by the 1st Amendment in order to justify their actions and state that the government has no power to stop them. The vast majority of Americans would certainly oppose censorship that serves to block out values and beliefs which don’t serve the government, so the attempted censoring of “Are You a Virgin or Not” would likely be opposed by most Americans. The benefit of this is that artists have more freedom, the public can choose what they wish to support, and the government cannot solely advance its propaganda and move towards some type of dictatorship. One might argue that there are downsides, too, though, in disallowing censorship and thus letting certain types of messages through, which may have a negative influence on its audience. Either way, if this debate was happening in America, I’m sure the majority of participants would strongly oppose any attempts by the government to censor artists’ messages, regardless of what those messages might be. They might not be quite as opposed on forcing Inul to dress more conservatively for television than she does during live performances, though

While applying the Indonesian debates to American values just creates a made-up hypothetical situation, ideas on censorship are certainly debated in America, and apply to a great number of situations. People question the government’s ability to censor things on the internet or pornography of especially graphic/vile nature, and people believe very strongly in one side or the other. While it seems certain to me that the Indonesian government in the time period which Weintraub describes took censorship too far, I don’t believe all censorship is necessarily bad or unjustifiable, and deciding on an appropriate extent to which censorship can be applied is nigh on impossible in an ideologically diverse society like ours.

DANGDUT!

The role of women in Indonesian society has been a focus of Andrew Weintraub throughout Dangdut. During the 1990’s, the state shaped culture, including pop music. New question arose regarding how gender differences should be performed and how the government should control the music. There was a shift in nature in Indonesian music, focusing less on the traditional aspects of the orkes Melayu and more on the new ideas of pop. Indonesian music now relied heavily on instrumentation, specifically the guitar. This movement to pop occurred as the government’s role in music began to change. Media became less centralized and now incorporated commercial television, where dangdut performances were shown on; recording companies would pay for their artists to be features on these channels. These commercial stations were privately owned so the government could not monopolize dangdut.

The new media was able to reach new audiences. Previously, audiences were the people who attended live performances, which normally included teenage to middle aged men. Now that dangdut was displayed on commercial television, a domestic space and live performance were available since it became more widely accessible. Also, the advancement of technology allowed for music to be listened to on cassettes, which dangdut very attainable.

Weintraub later discusses two pieces, “Are You a Virgin or Not?” and “O My Dear”. “These two songs present very different images of women, particularly the ways in which women articulate symbolically with the nation” (165). These two songs are Indonesian interpretations and portrayals of women in society, demonstrating a vastly different role that women could play. In both cases, women are not passive and are the main performer in each piece, both singing and dancing. In “O My Dear”, we get the portrayal of a woman who is married, emphasizing the importance of family values and tradition. However, in “Are You a Virgin or Not?”, we get the portrayal of a divorced woman, and the ideas of private and public places are confused. In this new era of pop, there was less conservative singing and dancing involving women. Some women believed this as empowering, while some critics viewed this unremarkable.

Ethnomusicological study in a concert setting

During my study of Catfish Disco, I have observed the band in several settings, including practice, rehearsal and performance. Also, a few weeks ago I attended a Beirut concert in Charlotte, and I try to attend live music events at Davidson whenever possible. Being at these live performances has led me to consider the tasks of an ethnomusicologist in such a setting, and how to behave properly to achieve a ‘successful’ observation, defining this as a situation where valuable information is obtained without negative consequences like disturbing the natural process or losing the element of casual viewership. Arriving at an ideal balance can be difficult, because if you are too focused on taking notes or in too ‘academic’ of a mindset, what you take from the experience can be biased and unnatural compared to what you may have experienced during non-academic attendance. On the other hand, it is easy to become too distracted in a concert setting to glean anything useful from the experience. I noted in a comment to Léonie’s recent post that considering audience and purpose is useful when attempting to strike the optimal balance, but also sometimes improvisation is required to respond to unexpected changes during the observation and to accommodate requests from the subjects being observed.

As we work on our final observations and write our ethnographies, I think it will be useful to share any insights about effectively ‘doing’ ethnomusicology. What has worked for you?

How to determine when to slip into the role of an ethnomusicologist

Frolics was quite a weekend filled with craziness, fun and perhaps the odd beer here and there. But it was also filled with music in many different forms. At one point my friends and I went to Ksig where Catfish Disco was playing as brilliantly as always. It was there that I ran into Will Thurston and he greeted me with the phrase “There is the band I’m writing about”. Given that I knew that he was writing about Catfish Disco I was actually jokingly thinking about whether I would see Will sitting somewhere on the edge with a notebook taking notes on the band. Obviously he wasn’t but it was funny that he would mention it given that I just thought about it at Ksig.

This got me thinking about the relationship between writing an ethnography and what should be included. Does the ethnomusicologist have some kind of scholarly obligation to include every single detail about the investigation? Or can he just include the details according to his pleasing? It is a question a determination and the craft of filtering out the relevant information and experiences. It must be quite a challenge to learn how to go about finding the right balance of experience and the written word and something I guess you will become accustomed to with practice.

Epistemology of Frolics

Assuming you don’t live under a rock, you probably heard a whole lot of blaring music this past weekend. And depending on who you are, you might not particularly enjoy much of the music that was played. I know one of my friends repeatedly complained about the music as being really low-quality (not his exact words) and an actual hindrance or annoyance. On some levels, I believe he’s probably right. It doesn’t take much searching to find music with more staying power or aesthetic beauty than the music that is commonly played at parties at this campus and others. All the same, I do believe my friend was missing the point when he made these complaints. In music, as in life, there is a time and a place for everything, and Frolics requires music that large groups of drunk people can dance to and enjoy without thinking too much. In other words, a particular type of music was necessary to sustain the vibe, and this same music is not the type of music that most people would listen to by themselves just to relax, or put on in the background just to enjoy. Music was at the forefront of everyone’s attention, and the music had to fulfill its specific intended role, so that the atmosphere could be sustained and the partygoers kept happy. While we all may have missed out on getting to listen to especially moving music, we did get exactly what we were looking for in most cases, and the music, regardless of its quality, functioned effectively. In a totally different vein, my friend and I listened to Pink Floyd’s Dark Side of the Moon to chill in his room before partaking in the night’s festivities. As great as this album is, its uses only go so far; it’s great to just lie down and listen to in a quiet room, but it would have been terribly out of place at the parties down the hill.

Opposing situations like these give us one of the many reasons as to why it’s not really possibly to give music any sort of objective value. Two different songs might have been composed with very different objectives, and any differences between the two are more easily explained by the different objectives than by any supposition of musical superiority. Comparing two songs from different genres is like asking which is better between movies like The Dark Knight and something like The Fault in Our Stars; the two movies have entirely different objectives, so asking which is better doesn’t really make any sense, and whatever answer someone gives you tells you more about them and their interests than it does about the actual movies. Even for songs in the same genre, it’s still a question of subjectivity. It’s like asking if someone prefers Spiderman or Batman; you can’t invalidate their answer or prove they’re wrong, much like you can’t tell somebody they’re incorrect for liking certain songs or certain genres. Music is merely intended to fulfill some role, and you can’t devalue it if it manages to meaningfully accomplish some such role for some listeners.

Conducting Research Vs. Audience

At the Ripe show last night, amidst the mass flailing of the crowd, I had a brief moment of thought – I realized how hard the job of an ethnographer can be depending on the location and atmosphere within which they must record something. In this instance, the crowd at the Ripe show, while an enjoyable and excited crowd, made for a very difficult setting within which one is supposed to examine an act or even just remember certain details that may end up being crucial for the analysis later on. Given the detail-heavy nature of ethnographic studies, an extreme level of focus is required to make sure that the study is completed to the best of the ethnographer’s abilities.

In certain environments, however, the atmosphere can occlude the study to a great degree, making it very difficult for the ethnographer to complete the study. In Ripe’s case, while the crowd was enjoyable, they definitely decreased the formality of the event, in terms of the ethnographer – in a sense, it became NOT the place to conduct a study, because of how difficult it would be to calm down and gather notes and information.

However, in a sense, the audience and the overall atmosphere of the event likely made the study much more interesting, and not just an artist & ethnographer setting, to which the study can often be diluted down. The audience had just as important of a role in the whole event and the setting as the artist in focus, and without the atmosphere and response from the audience, the artist would only be able to react within their own parameters and with no added element from an outside source. The audience, therefore, functions as an artist in a sense.

Because of the artist’s reliance on the crowd and their response, the act can be heavily swayed by whether or not the artist has a positive reception to the artist’s music and stage presence, and can alter their musical approach significantly. The ethnographer, then, not only has an obligation to observe the musical act and their approach in their own setting, but the surroundings and the setting, and how the two impact the artist and their music, performance, and attitude. All elements of the study, and not just the actions of the artist, should be included and taken into account with a very serious eye, when analyzing the study and writing an evaluation.

W/L

It’s interesting when everyone thinks that you’re going to win a contest, and you don’t. This past Friday, NXT LVL performed in Battle of the Bands to compete. From the jump when we found out the specifics of the event and the different bands we’d be competing against, we kept asking each other: “How can you compare a rap group to a band?” They’re two different presences. I feel that they can be combined to make something beautiful like Vic Mensa’s Traphouse Rock project, but in this case they were two separate entities. We were the last to perform and we got up on stage and brought so much energy. I know for a fact that I pushed myself to my highest limits. I gave everything on that stage. The crowd roared through and after each song. After the performance I dapped up my group members including the DJ, and couldn’t help but smile. The aura in the Union carried me on cloud 10. Cheers from every level echoed throughout the building. We took some pictures post performance and just basked in the pride of how well we did as a group on stage despite the limited space and wired mics. Many people came up to us and gave us lots of acknowledgement and praise, but we remained humbled and gave thanks. After about 10 minutes, the judges lined up on stage and gave out the scores.. NXT LVL received two 9’s and an 8. The final group they announced, Midnight and the Laughs, received 10’s across the board and won the show. I got up and shook hands and hugged the members of the band and congratulated them. I was genuine happy for them. I was happy for myself and our group as well. We got on stage, did our thing, but it was voted that someone else win. Kudos to them. Even though we lost, we won a great amount of pride and ownership in our performance and relationship as a group.

Chance the Rapper

Attending a great concert is an activity that can’t be matched. In my opinion, nothing compares to seeing a tremendous live show. The sights and sounds are refreshing and empowering, and the experience of being in an excited crowd is one that is simply beautiful. I felt this way last Wednesday night, when I attended a Chance the Rapper concert at The Fillmore Charlotte. The show was exhilarating, and the performer was incredibly skillful during his set.

 

Contrary to the Migos concert that Victor-Alan wrote about, where it took three-and-a-half hours for the main act to take the stage, Chance was preceded for only 30 minutes by a small rap trio. It was incredibly refreshing to see this group perform, because they seemed to be having an incredible amount of fun throughout their set. They understood that they weren’t the main act, and that nearly everyone in the crowd was there to see Chance, but it was awesome to see a group of musicians get genuinely excited about having the privilege to perform.

 

After they left the stage, it was only a short intermission before Chance came onto the stage. He opened up with a few of his biggest hits. This was to get the crowd excited from the onset of the show, so that the energetic atmosphere generated by the crowd was present early on. I’ve always been incredibly intrigued by the order in which musical performers play their sets, and this case was no exception. Chance played a lot of his popular songs at the beginning, moved into some less popular tunes in the middle, and finally ended with his smash hit “Cocoa Butter Kisses.” I agree with this choice of order, because it got the crowd interested from the beginning, and maintained that energy all throughout the concert. Right before the concert ended, he injected another dose of excitement into the crowd by playing his most popular song last. Musical planning is oftentimes what enables a good performer to have a great concert, and Chance was a great example of this.

Behind the Scenes

Because I am a bit behind on my hours for work study, I came in early Saturday morning of frolics. When I got there I started talking to the one of the guys who does the AV setup for basically every major event on campus. We started talking about the Battle of the Bands the previous night and the present day’s activities as the conversation progressed. After about ten minutes of conversation, that eventually came to “have fun, but remember to be safe and keep your friends safe” and the conversation ended. As he was leaving to setup a drum kit and a keyboard he said to me “I guess I’ll see you around later today, we will be where all the fun is happening,” which made me realize how much music during frolics would not be available without the people working behind the scenes. Battle of the Bands would be hard to put together well without the microphones and soundchecks for each band and the music at court parties and F wouldn’t be the same without the excessively loud speakers. So, even though no one will probably read this in time, I encourage y’all to thank the people setting up the frolics activities behind the scenes because they are under-appreciated to say the least

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