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  • Music and Society in South Asia: Perspectives from Japan
  • Stefan Fiol (bio)
Music and Society in South Asia: Perspectives from Japan. Senri Ethnological Studies 71. Yoshitaka Terada, editor. Osaka: National Museum of Ethnology, 2008. 281 pp.

As the field of ethnomusicology has blossomed within Japan over the last several decades, South Asian music has emerged as among the most popular nonindigenous areas of research. This is perhaps unsurprising, given the important place of South Asian music in the writings of the influential ethnomusicologist Fumio Koizumi (1927–1983), who inspired or oversaw much of the research collected in this volume. Music and Society in South Asia: Perspectives from Japan represents the first opportunity for English-language scholars to appreciate the work of their Japanese colleagues, several of whom have been conducting research in South Asia for over three decades. Yoshitaka Terada must be commended for organizing the inter-university study group (2000–2002) out of which the papers in this volume were selected, and for assembling a volume that offers a broad range of topics and approaches. One of Terada's primary objectives for the study group (and one that he self-reflexively connected to his U.S.–based training in ethnomusicology) was to encourage anthropological and musicological exchanges among Japanese scholars. Sadly, few of the articles achieve a synthesis in this regard; most continue to follow clearly delineated disciplinary pathways, favoring purely text-centered, context-centered, or performance-centered approaches. Nonetheless, specialists in many areas will find something of value here, as there is a near-equal representation of art, devotional, mass-mediated, and localized musical systems coming from North and South India.

The first of four sections in this volume, entitled "Song Texts," begins with Shibuya Toshio's article "Popular Music and Social Changes in Sri Lanka." Shibuya traces the influence of two popular music genres—Baile, an amalgamation of east African, colonial Portuguese, and indigenous working-class influences, and Saralagee, a 20th-century, middle-class product combining Western pop and Indian classical music influences—on Sri Lankan nationalist politics over the latter half of the 20th century. Shibuya offers translations of representative songs and short biographies of some of the most influential recording artists since the 1970s. While the connections between singers and the complex political environment of Sri Lanka is made clear, the ways in which these particular [End Page 198] songs have been used as political weapons is not explored, weakening his claim that certain songs have "agitated insurrections" and "caused unprecedented repercussion of the loss of thousands of human lives" (34).

Yuko Yagi's short article, "Women, Abuse Songs and Erotic Dances: Marriage Ceremonies in Northern India," examines abuse songs performed at Yadav wedding rituals in Azamgarh, western Uttar Pradesh. Yagi provides an overview of the ceremonies and translates several song texts, but makes little attempt to understand local interpretations of the songs' meanings. For example, during the byah portion of the wedding, when the bridegroom's party visits the bride's village, the bridegroom is given a plate of khicri (rice and daal mixture); if he is not satisfied with the dahej (dowry), he may eat slowly and deliberately. While he is eating, the bride's female relatives sing songs extolling him to eat quickly and ridiculing him for his demands. For Yagi, these songs effect a temporary reversal of status between wife-givers and wife-takers (42); it is just as likely, however, that these songs reinforce status differences between the families by publicly revealing the often contentious negotiation of dowry items. The "erotic dancing" promised in the title is neither described nor analyzed. Yagi moves too quickly from data to generalizations, leaving the reader guessing at the layers of meaning underlying these ritualized performances. Missing in each of these first two articles, as Terada notes in the Introduction, is a consideration of musical sound as a semiotic medium over and above song texts.

The second section, "Religion and Music," contains the most original and substantial research in the volume. Masataka Suzuki's "Bhuta and Daiva: Changing Cosmology of Rituals and Narratives in Karnataka" offers more ethnographic detail on sociocultural, historical, performative, ritual-cosmological, and political issues than one finds in...


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