Writing about World Music

Davidson College, Fall 2015

Month: September 2015 (page 1 of 4)

Gender Roles in World Music

In Martin Stokes’ chapter, “The Tearful Public Sphere: Turkey’s ‘Sun of Art’ Zeki Müren,” he touches a lot on the point of “gender deceny,” as he puts it, and talks about how Zeki Müren was able to grow his female fan base because of his sensitivity and awareness of women’s religious practice (311). Müren’s approach to his music and performances, as Stokes describes, “mechanisms at work,” really highlight the thought process that many musicians go through before creating their music, performing for fans, and simply going out into the public eye (311). Because Müren was so focused on creating a persona that was sensitive to women and their practices, he saw in return great success in winning over females of all ages to enjoy his music. The music industry as a whole for Müren was a constant “game,” as Stokes describes, where Müren was “an active player in a world of spectacular competitive rivalry” (311). Stokes describes careers in the music industry in this way almost as a game, where it is a full time commitment to not only creating music and performing for fans, but also manufacturing your own image and maintaining that image throughout you career. This “female-friendly image” Müren so effectively created was looked upon as controversial to some, as Stokes describes, due to the “tradition of cultural dirigisme” and the belittling of women’s social roles in Turkey (309).

This struggle for gender equality is very similar to that of those described by Lortat-Jacob in his piece “Sardinian Chronicles.” The women play a very belittling role in the novel, and there is no mention of women participating in the musical culture of Sardinia. They were only described in the light of “servant” when mentioned in the book, and did nothing more than simply cater to the wishes and desires of their male counterparts. This problem is not often mentioned in modern day America, as our music industry has significant female participation on all levels, but in both Stokes’ chapter and “Sardinian Chronicles,” the belittling of women to a subservient position is still a problem in many countries around the world.

Lortat-Jacob, Bernard. Sardinian Chronicles. Chicago: U of Chicago, 1995. Print.

Context is Key

In Martien Stokes’s, “The Tearful Public Sphere: Turkey’s ‘Sun of Art,’ Zeki Muren”, the environments and situations surrounding the artist’s defining characteristics are discussed from multiple perspectives; consequently, this piece demonstrates the importance of the concept of context itself. As a musician who, “was primarily associated with the light classical genre but  moved closer to Arabesk in his later career”(309), Muren is  studied with a skeptical lense as his genre, sexuality, and audience have been scrutinized.

Starting as a writer and an actor, Muren entered the musical field with a very diverse outlook on its different facets. Thus, the context in which the genre of his music was chosen and produced in heavily influenced his career. He began by, “participating] in eighteen musical films”(310) and soon transitioned into making a name for himself as an independent singer. This transition allowed him to take advantage of the up and coming nightclub circuit in Istanbul which provided him with a very unique stage to project himself on (310). Within this environment, the context of the nightclub in which his music was being produced became a facilitator for his music to be changed, stretched, and challenged, “through and unrivaled and often innovatory command of performance detail, genteel high camp”(310). The context provided Muren with competitors for the spotlight, diverse audiences, and an opportunity to invent his unique sound.

Similarly, Muren’s fan base was determined by the context in which the tone and message of his music was portrayed to the listeners. Stokes suggests that, “Muren’s cultivation of female fans provides an interesting vantage point on the work in manufacturing a reputation in the world of Turkish nightclub superstardom”(311). In other words, the tone transcribed within the songs themselves are highlighted by the context of the nightclub in which they are produced. Therefore, “it allowed him to cultivate a fanbase among women of all ages”(311). Zeki Muren was able to attract a specific demographic of followers by projecting his music within a context that withheld certain tones that appealed to those groups.

Lastly, Stokes states that, “Muren’s sexuality is an obvious, though complex, topic of discussion”(312). Because Muren’s sexuality was analyzed within contexts of both belief and skepticism, it proves to be essential to the obtainment of knowledge about the artist’s true identity. In an interview with his supposed male partner, Muren is subjected to comparison, “to the medieval mystic Celaleddin Rumi”(312). However, other critics have attempted to prove that Zeki Muren was heterosexual. Overall, it is clear that the contexts in which the artist’s sexuality are observed allow an individual to make distinct assumptions about the truth as a result of strong evidence.

First encounters and Egyptian Islamic Sermon

In the chapter, “Hearing Modernity: Egypt, Islam, and the Pious Ear”, Charles Hirschkind uses the recent evolution of sermons in Egyptian Islamic religious practice, to support his argument on the development of a new kind of ‘hearing’. In short, Hirschkind’s argues that the way people listen in Egyptian Islamic culture, has evolved from a practice of ethical listening, to that of a static listener. Traditionally, the emphasis was on the listener’s ability to correctly apply what was heard. However, now there has been an increase in the importance of the speaker’s ability to convey the correct message effectively. Hirschkind uses the example of sermons to help track this transformation in communication. To analyze the traditional mindset in regards to listening, Hirschkind looks at old Muslim analysis of the Qur’an.  “In other words, Muslim scholars of language never rigorously pursued a concern for the civic function of speech…Instead of elaborating formal rules of speaking they gave priority to the task of listening (133).” Sermons were used as a vehicle to expose the perfection of the Qur’an to the listeners, who then simply needed to listen with the correct ethical intent to apply the teachings of the Qur’an effectively.

Hirschkind then contrasts this with old thinking on rhetoric to wrap up the section pertaining to the traditional form of listening, and transition into hearing modernity. This example comes from the Greek rhetorical thinker, Augustine, whose analysis of listening falls in line with the modern train of thought. This modernity is represented by the direction of the modern sermon, “…a new conceptual framework for the relation of the [preacher] to his audience: the latter is stripped of its agency, which now lies entirely in the techniques of opinion manipulation exercised by the [preacher]… (140)” In the modern world sermons are used to impart ideology onto people, as opposed to give room to develop ideology.

The contrast between these two ideas compelled me to return to Bohlman’s writing on first encounters. “[First encounters] profoundly change what we perceive music to be and how we understand its functions and meanings in the lives of human beings. First encounters with world music are never isolated, passing events (Bohlman, 1).” It seems to me that a lot of what makes music great, and anything new, is its ability to immediately transform the way you think. The more modern way of listening takes away from the interaction with music (if we can loosely prescribe the term music to Qur’an recitations). First of all, it moves away from direct use of the Qur’an, but it also removes the essence of the listener’s first encounter with the music. Instead of giving the listener space to interact with the contents of the Qur’an, a preacher tells them how they are supposed to interpret it. Bohlman describes first encounters as deeply changing events. By removing this element of first encounter, the modern form of Egyptian Islamic sermon is removing the ability for the Qur’an to deeply affect people in an individual way. This could be concerning for the direction of Islam in Egypt.



Hearing Modernity: Egypt, Islam, the Pious Ear, and the Poisoned Tongue

In his article, “Hearing Modernity”, Charles Hirschkind, he explains the development of the transfer of Muslim religious knowledge from the pulpit to its followers.  In the beginning, Hirschkind recounts the duty of the average Muslim to seize their own salvation.  According to older customs and ways of thought, Muslim believers have the responsibility to understand the sermons.  Also according to past Muslim thought, if a Muslim believer doesn’t agree with the sermon put before them, it is their fault and is the result of fault in their “organ of reception, the human heart” (134).

Later on and until modern times, the responsibility of Muslim salvation flipped.  The preacher’s use of rhetoric and ability to persuade his flock is his duty, and as a result, so are the religious prosperity of his followers. Soon, however, their words and stance on society would be influenced by political and social groups and movements that supported them.  Obviously with economic and other favors, it is clear to see how their sermons could be swayed from traditional positions of piety and Muslim logic to ones that favor the particular their patron’s causes.

The reoccurring theme I found in this article involved human flaws and error.  Regardless of the side of the Muslim transference of truth (whether the speaker or listener), some type of human error is involved.  The same is true in other realms of our world.  Actually, even though it involves a different culture and religion, my own personal experience as a Christian believer.  I’ve personally seen the proper use and misuse of the “infallible word of God”.

I’ve been to a church where the pastor clearly is “doing well”.  He has a nice car, nice clothes, and the church is near to pristine.  His sermon is very generic and he promises futures of prosperity, blessings, and things his followers want to hear.  The pastor’s flock smiles, nods, agrees, and encourages him to continue sheepishly.  He understands that by appealing to their positive attitudes, the pastor can collect more money from them and supporters in return.

On the contrary, I have been to a church where the pastor is not concerned with the views of his followers.  He is more concerned with the outcome of the souls of his followers.  He delivers sermons involving how a Christian should live, how they should think, etc.  His sermon may cause disagreement and squeamishness but all understand that what he says is the truth.  In all cases, I understand that in regards to anything, the ability of the minds of men to be swayed and the importance of motives and rhetorical effectiveness.

Transformative Sounds

Charles Hirchkind in his “Hearing Modernity: Egypt, Islam and the Pious Ear” speaks of the relationship within the reading of the Qur’an between the performer and the listener but also perhaps more importantly, between the sounds and the listener’s heart. Of course the person delivering the readings is important, but specifically the sermon audition is essential in making the practice transcend to the heart. Listeners are carefully sensitive to the “affective-volitional dispositions” that will turn one’s heart to God’s word and move the body to moral ways (Hirchkind 132).

This audition now is impacted by social and political contexts, and because of this, the responsiveness is honed through listening. Sermon has changed because of innovations in Egypt’s systems of Islamic authority to reform the public sphere to be more modern resulting in the practices, languages and techniques of listening overlapping and competing. ­ They tried to change the sermon and “rendered an instrument of state-guided social and individual discipline” (Hirchkind 139). New set of assumptions that an emphasis was placed on the role of the person performing the sermon and the khatib as opposed to the audience that makes it easier for the government to mold the more sought after group of people.

“Muslim scholars of language never rigorously pursued a concern for the civic function of speech- for the techniques by which an orator might move an audience to action as had been elaborated by roman and medieval Christian rhetors” (Hirchkind 133). The message of God is received by the human heart and is told through the most perfect of possible forms in the Qur’an. Thus, listening is an action itself which requires the listener’s heart to be felt through the reading. In that same way, sin can be removed from the heart with repetition of sermons on God.

In the same way Hirchkind speaks of the connection between the sermon and one’s heart, it seems Timothy Taylor in his “World Music in Television Ads” speaks of the aspect of spirituality in Songs of Sanctuary by Adiemus. He writes “this music’s signification of a vague kind of spirituality or mysticism is in harmony with most of these ads’ clear mission of taking views away from the here and now and toward an exoticized elsewhere” just as the recitation of the Qur’an is made to take listeners away from sin (Taylor 172). This transformative property of ethnic listening should be an interesting topic of research to anyone interested in the sounds of the world.


Charles Hirschkind, “Hearing Modernity: Egypt, Islam, and the Pious Ear.”

Timothy Taylor, “World Music in Television Ads”

Hearing Modernity: Comparing televangelists with ethical listening

After reading Hearing Modernity: Egypt, Islam, and the Pious Ear, I couldn’t help but note the differences in Christianity’s evangelical sermon recordings (like the ones you see at 5 am on Sunday morning when you accidentally flip the channel) and Islam’s ‘ilm al-balagha. Hirschkind explains that until recently, Muslim scholars weren’t even interested in developing a preacher’s persuasiveness in rhetoric. In christianity, however, preachers were using persuasive sermons popularly in the 16th and 17th century, and missions started developing as early as the 4th century.

Islam is a much younger religion, at least 700 years, which probably contributes to its later dependency on these kinds of rhetoric. It could also be due, as Hirschkind points out, to the nature of Islam itself: “As the miraculous word of God, the divine message convinces, not via an artifice of persuasion—the rhetorical labor of skillful human speakers—but by its own perfect unification of beauty and truth. When humans fail to be convinced by this word, the fault lies not in the words but in the organ of reception, the human heart.” This analysis may indicate that Islam holds an individuals interpretation of the Qur’an sacred because it reflects the individual’s ability to hear and believe in God.

A kind of disturbing similarity I found was the use of the sermons as a tool of propaganda to justify actions of the government. We see this application of Christian sermons across pretty much the entire history of Christianity, and in the United States, particularly, to justify the genocide and displacement of Native Americans, slavery, and more recently the opposition of same-sex marriage. In Egypt, Islamic sermons have been used to support cultural standards of reform, and often coincided with mass media: “Preachers were seen to offer the state a preestablished channel of direct communication between itself and the population under its management. Sermons would now provide both useful information and an oratorical form geared to the moral improvement of an Egyptian population still seen to be bound by the idealogical constraints of deep-rooted traditionalism.”

This similarity concerns me because the United States doesn’t explicitly state the source of justification of these ills, as we are supposed to be a nation free from an established religion, nor is our government directly involved, but the message travels across the country as well as the state supported messages of Islam do in Egypt, a theocratic state.



Political Modernization Vs. the Social Power of Music

One of the main ideas that Charles Hirschkind discusses in his article “Hearing Modernity: Egypt, Islam, and the Pious Ear,” is the idea of of the rhetorical and persuasive power of audition. Hirschkind discusses the development of Muslim sermons in Egypt and how originally sermons were centered on God and moral conduct, whereas today, “Practices such as national political oratory and popular media entertainment now shape the discursive space in which sermons are practiced” (132). In essence, a large portion of Hirschkind’s article is dedicated to describing how Muslim sermons in Egypt have been tailored to fit with the political and social agendas of the nation. When discussing refined rhetoric of sermons, Hirschkind cites the book Al-da’wa al mu’athira—meaning Effective preaching in English—by an author that has ties with the the Egyptian Islamic political party Hizb al-‘Amal, which “defines the three primary effects of successful preaching as leading the listener to a firm conviction, enabling him or her to develop a personal perspective, and helping him or her to choose the right solution to a problem without compulsion” (142). Hirschkind expresses his displeasure with this form of subtly persuasive preaching because he believes that ethical listening must coincide with sermons that merely act as mediators, allowing the audience to decide on a course of action based on objective resources given by the speaker (143).

Hirschkind’s timeline of the progression of Egyptian Muslim sermons intrigued me because he claims that “sermons became one of the critical sites for the expression of demands engendered by political modernization” (143). I found that this transformation of sermons parallels the use of music as well. Music is a unique form of communication because it can strike the emotional core of the speaker and the listener and it can influence social settings. For example, in the book Sardinian Chronicles, Bernard Lortat-Jacob discusses a particular tradition called “guitar song.” Lortat-Jacob writes, “In “guitar song” collective strength is born out of an ordered display of the individuals present” (75). Lortat-Jacob’s anecdotes of guitar song demonstrate that music can be transformative of experience as it can define a setting, and it grow into a large influential power having only been created by a few people.

I found a connection between this deep social power represented in Sardinian Chronicles and the political modernization discussed in “Hearing Modernity” in a song called “Rayes Le Bled” by a Tunisian rapper called Général.

This song addresses the President of Tunisia, verbalizing all the sufferings of the people and problems of the country, calling for change. Though the production of this piece of music started as small, the song became a widespread symbol of the 2011 revolution in Tunisia, and later in other Arabic countries as well. “Rayes Le Bled” acutely represents the social power of music because it acted as a rallying point for a widespread instance of social turmoil. In addition, this song embodies the political modernization that Hirschkind referred to in his article. The political uses of this song also raise the question of ethical listening that Hirschkind discusses. It could be argued that music should be ethically listened to and avoid meddling in political and social agendas, however I believe that, at times, the social power that music holds makes it the perfect vessel for political and social communication.

Hearing Modernity: http://moodle.davidson.edu/moodle2/pluginfile.php/190134/mod_resource/content/1/Hirschkind%2C%20Hearing%20Modernity.pdf

Lortat-Jacob, Bernard. “Irgoli.” Sardinian Chronicles. Trans. Teresa Fagan. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1995. 70-80. Print.

Rayes Le Bled (English Subtitles): https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=rxtCKKFhvWw

Hearing Modernity: Egypt, Islam, and the Pious Ear and Parallels to the Philippines

In his essay Hearing Modernity: Egypt, Islam, and the Pious Ear, reputable anthropologist Charles Hirschkind discusses topics and reasons why cultures were forced to modernize; whether those reason be social or political. He uses examples such as sermons, how though some Muslims in Egypt practice the old, recitation method, a lot have modernized their way of teaching, others have changed in order to represent more modern and vocal means of talking and listening.

Regarding the actual act of talking and listening, Hirschkind brings up an interesting point about how in these spaces the responsibility to interpret and learn the message the speaker is trying to send across, and some sort of divine intervention, not a wise choice of words. Similarly with music, he argues that “If the listener brought to the act the proper intentions, goals and ethical attitude, then he or she would benefit from the audition” (135). Just adding to the point that the responsibility it on the listener.

According to Hirschkind, “state planning documents from the 1950’s and 1960’s, as well as in some the preaching manuals published at the time, sermons were often assimilated to the category of ‘mass media…’” (138). I find it ironic, but a symbiotic sense, how though mass publishing a preaching manual in a way dilutes the original meaning, but is more efficient in spreading the word. That irony only emphasizes the importance the listener has, if one does not connect with the word, then that divine intervention I hard previously discussed is not present.

While reading the essay, I spotted many parallels to Philippine society. Though the modernization of the Philippines started before the 50’s and 60’s, the transition is still on going. In regards to means of preaching the Catholic Church spent over a billion dollars to construct an arena that would serve, as the largest Mass venue. In order to have masses filled with over 100,000 people and last hours on end. A project that was, of course, ruled controversial. The religious modernization likely sparked some anger from traditionalist, exactly like the Philippines.  Similarly, to the way preaching manuals are distributed, flyers of the gospel and readings in the mass are dropped of to the doors of subscribers. It doesn’t show someone how to teach but prepares readers to better understand the mass they are likely to attend later that afternoon.

Gender/ sexuality In Turkey

In “The Tearful Public Sphere: Turkey’s ‘Sun of Art,’ Zeki Muren,” Stokes main idea is how gender roles and people’s understanding of them in the realm of music were played out in Turkey fairly recently. He uses two specific musicians as examples: Zeki Muren and Bulent Ersoy, both queer singers. In the case of Muren, a gay man, the people listening to music at the time didn’t seem to care about his sexuality, with him gaining many fans, most of them female (Stokes 311). However, those analyzing or reporting on Muren had more of an issue with his lack of heterosexuality (Stokes) 312). Muren, on the other hand, tried to diminish the hype and controversy about both his homosexuality and his androgynous dress (Stokes 313) The contrast between the attitude of his and his fans and those researching him shows how change and social progression can come by slowly in the developing nation of Turkey. Muren’s description of his clothes as not feminine but as “the kind of clothes Caesar, and Baytekin, and Brutus wore” may have given some of his critics an idea of how to understand him and his self-expression better (Stokes 313).


This idea functions in Stokes’ argument through the example of Muren as well as with the transgender Bulent Ersoy. Ersoy was different than Muren in that he embraced and defined his queerness for the world to see, unlike Muren who never gave a real definition of what he identified as (Stokes 317). Stokes saw this as the reason Ersoy is considered more successful than Muren (Stokes 317). People, in general and in developing Turkey, may be uncomfortable or uneasy with anything other than the norm, but defining any “abnormal” traits or identities is accepting it and embracing it for the world to see, which makes an audience more receptive to it.


This idea connects to Lortat-Jacob’s Sardinian Chronicles, where gender roles play a large part in how people are perceived and treated in society. In Sardinian Chronicles, women are automatically put in a subservient role to men, as shown by the women decorating the Church all by themselves, and their position below the leader of the church, and by the flippant attitude the men of Sardinia have towards fiancés, wives, and other potential romantic partners (Lortat-Jacob 81). Women are never seen as a priority, or even as equal to music or other hobbies of the men. Just as Muren and Ersoy are undervalued because of their gender identity and sexual orientation, so are these women judged for their gender in a patriarchal society.




Lortat-Jacob, Bernard. Sardinian Chronicles. Chicago: U of Chicago, 1995. Print.



Hearing cultures: Egypt, Islam, and the Pious Ear

In “Hearing Cultures: Egypt, Islam, and the Pious Ear” by Charles Hirschkind, he discusses how the role of the speaker and audience in regards to Islam and the recitation Qur’an shifted due to political circumstances. Past Muslim scholars viewed the preacher as someone who simply recited the Qur’an and it was up to the audience to be emotionally moved by the physical words that were spoken. The speaker was simply a medium through which people felt connected to God. The speaker wasn’t seen to actively do anything or say it in any particular way that would evoke emotion in the audience. If the audience wasn’t moved their was a specific spiritual flaw within their hearts. As the government began to monitor media, they recognized that preachers could offer the”state a preestablished channel of direct communication between itself and the population under its management” (138). This sparked a “revitalized sermon” where preachers were to include the “nationalist sentiments” (138). Due to this, preachers began to become more educated on oral communication. There was a certain way that they could recite the Qur’an as a means to spiritually move their audience. If the audience didn’t receive the message it was entirely the preachers fault. Hirschkind spends time highlighting this change in order to emphasize what characterizes ethical listening and how it has developed over time. As society developed as did the role of the preacher and the audience. This situation arises the issue of trying to balance traditions with modern society.

There’s seems to be a constant battle between maintaining one’s culture and heritage rooted in the past while incorporating modern beliefs, which was evident in the Irigoli region. In the Sardinian Chronicles by Lortat Jacob, he encounters the guitar song. This musical custom was a means for the Irigoli people to maintain the their heritage as well as unify them during difficult times of lacking political such as the closing of the bridge. They feared that as the government started to change that they would abandon their customs, which was the main reason why they seemed to maintain specific stylistic patterns within their music. Just as Hirschkind mentions regarding ethical listening and the Qur’an, the government held a siginificant role in the shift from the responsibility of being spirtually connected with God from the audience to the preachers. The Irigoli people want to prevent a cultural shift from occuring. They don’t want their heritage to be lost in the face of modernity. 


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