I’m deeply honored to have been asked to speak on this auspicious occasion when we look to the future with deep feelings of gratitude for the efforts so many have made on behalf of the Society and its programs. We’re only five years younger than the Society for Ethnomusicology and four years younger than our parent organization, Asia Society, established by John D. Rockefeller III in 1956. Members of our Society have accomplished much in the past half century, not least the publication of forty volumes of our journal Asian Music. For that we must thank, above all, the four editors—Mark Slobin, Marty Hatch, Sean Williams, and Steve Slawek—and also the guest editors of special issues, the review editors, and all the contributors and referees.
Tong Soon and the Board gave me a dual assignment: to comment on the history of the Society for Asian Music in relation to the history of musical scholarship and to introduce our roundtable on hybridity and postcoloniality. Reflecting on challenges to our work in research and teaching that we’ve faced during our first fifty years should lead easily enough from the first topic to the second. Some of those challenges have come from the efforts made in so many nations during the second half of the twentieth century to systematize and diffuse a cultural heritage. How does our work as scholars relate to those efforts and to the larger issues of global inequality? One short answer is that the division of the world’s population into haves and have-nots obliges us to address the topics of tonight’s round table: hybridity in the performing arts and musical scholarship in a largely postcolonial world. All of us who have worked in Asia have had encounters with Asians who forcefully reminded us that they lack privileges we take for granted. During my dissertation fieldwork in Iran forty years ago, Communist friends drew my attention to Persian writings on how it feels to live in the part of the world that’s systematically exploited by the West. The text discussed most intensely, Ğarbzadegi by Jalāl Al-e Ahmad, bears a title coined as the name of a novel disease, toxic infection from the West.1 Our concern with hybridity is necessarily a concern with efforts people make to ward off what they regard as disease, and studies of postcoloniality consider attempts to diagnose and cure infections acquired from the colonizers.
The Society for Asian Music was founded at a time when research universities in the United States were developing centers for East Asian, Southeast Asian, South Asian, Middle Eastern, African, and Latin American studies—the “three continents” as they were called at the 1966 conference of the Organization of Solidarity of the Peoples of Africa, Asia, and Latin America in Havana. Many of us have benefitted enormously from contacts with scholars in other disciplines fostered by area studies centers. Tragically, much of the research carried out by these scholars was ignored or dismissed by those responsible for the illconceived wars waged by the United States in Vietnam and Iraq. In our early years, two presidents with progressive domestic policies involved the United States in a war we should have avoided, and as we celebrate our golden anniversary another president with progressive domestic policies continues the country’s involvement in a war where we don’t know what we’re doing. Other aspects of US foreign relations have changed: in the Society’s first decade, Europe was financing the current account deficits of the United States; today China finances them. And the exclusive G8, with only one member from Asia, is being replaced by the G20, with six: China, India, Indonesia, South Korea, and Turkey as well as Japan. For those of us who work in educational institutions of the United States, it’s as true today as it was fifty years ago that we need to do all we can to increase the attention given to past and present realities of Asian societies.
The Society for Asian Music’s links to Asia Society run deeper than just their sponsoring us and providing office space in their former headquarters at 112...