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  • From the Editor
  • Ricardo D. Trimillos

Aloha kākou! For more than a century now, the trope of ethnomusicology has been "the study of music in its cultural context," a phrase that has also been a convenient rejoinder for the inevitable inquiry at cocktail parties: "Oh, ethnic [sic] musicology! What is that?" The focus on the culture (which often defaults to a national culture) as the defining entity is almost canonical, as I recall in such titles as The Music and Musical Instruments of Japan (1893), The Music of Hindostan (1914), Music in the Philippines … (1975), The Music of the Arabs (2003), and Korean Pop Music: Riding the Wave (2006) that span a century. Overarching efforts including Die Musik in Geschichte und Gegenwart (1949), The Garland Encyclopedia of World Music (1998), and the Oxford Press Global Music Series (2004) further reinforce culture as the unit of inquiry and its utility for the scholarly gaze.

Of course, throughout that century we have continued to critique and refine the trope. In Asian Music 51(1), authors of the four major articles do so by drawing our attention to individual agency and individual actors within a musical culture. The articles reveal various manifestations of individual agency. Some are obvious, such as the Burmese slide guitar artist, described by Elias, who transmits his skill to his students; others are subtle, as Danielson shows in her accounts of empowerment of the female vocalist within a patriarchal Arab world. For Garvey, the individual practitioner and the specific performance event shape the sounding of Iraqi maqām; in other instances individual agency can be obscured by state rhetoric, as Rizzo posits for gamelan training in postindependence Indonesian conservatories. In the book review section, individual agency figures in the Yıldız study of Armenian music in Turkey and in the attention to a female shaman in Vorreiter's monograph on the Hmong of Thailand and Laos. At the risk of overreaching, I note that each of the two CDs of Japanese music in the media review section features individual performers who represent Japanese music through traditional and contemporary works, quite literally sounding the theme of individual agency for musical continuity and change.

In "Listening to Arab Women's Voices," Virginia Danielson rehearses the individual artist, gender, and dynamics of power in Egypt and the Arab Peninsula. Presented as the keynote address at the 2018 meeting of the Society for [End Page 1] Asian Music in Albuquerque, New Mexico, the essay argues that female empowerment has been an issue in various cultures and throughout many historical eras. Thus its presence in the Arab world is not a limited case, but one of many problematizing asymmetrical power relationships. The different engagements of the female performer with male power over centuries of Arab culture offer the provocative possibility that the female singer can subvert a prevailing power structure, empowering the female subject mutatis mutandis in ways that do not register patriarchal notice or contestation. Drawing on her long-term engagement with Arab music, Danielson calls attention to the efficacy of the grass roots—female practitioners, often unrecognized, who perform in diverse private spaces.

Whereas Danielson locates continuity and change within Arab society, in Burma, André P. J. Elias regards external musical materiality as critical to cultural exchange and to the process he calls indigenization. His article "Man Yar Pyae U Tin and the Burmese Slide Guitar: Constructing and Deconstructing Narratives of Cultural Exchange" focuses on the accomplishments of a single artist of the Burmese guitar genre derived from the Hawaiian steel guitar, itself putatively domesticated from a Hispanic-Mexican tradition. The Burmese case exemplifies the broader circulation of the guitar throughout Asia, either in its original form, as in Indonesia, or in an adaptive form, as in India. Elias notes top-down factors in the dynamic of indigenization, including British colonial intervention and Burmese court patronage. He further identifies its strategy of accommodation: incorporating the repertory of the court (mahagita) and of commodified westernized hybrids (kalabaw). He invites broader theorizing—government branding constitutes an instance of state intervention, in which the musical genre and its participants are co-opted by the state's quest for cultural capital. The historical narrative...


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