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  • From the Editor
  • Ricardo D. Trimillos

The previous issue of Asian Music, 51(1), foregrounded individual carriers of a genre as actors for aspects of continuity, innovation, and viability in contrast to framing a genre in terms of a single grand narrative. In a similar vein, the present number, 51(2), decenters the gaze on a musical genre as unified, homogeneous, and canonical. Rather, its four essays explore ways in which a specific locale or ethnie generates variation, innovation, and creativity, which in turn can inform the tradition writ large. The specific locale can be at a periphery, as Bond shows in the localization of Arabic texts in Gujarati South Asia through the performance of Sufi poetry, or even further afield, as Wisuttipat discusses in his study of Thai traditional music maintained in Chicago. A cultural center can constitute a locale: through its musical theater lkhaon bassac, Cambodia, as Billeri points out, reflects a history of appropriating and indigenizing features from other cultures, including Ramayana episodes from South Asia, theatrical conventions from China and Vietnam, and even the brass band from the Philippines. A locale and a cultural population can interact in contestations of identity and power, as Lai shows us in the case of the Tamil Indian minority in Singapore asserting its ethnic identity thorough drumming. A specific locale or cultural setting can function as a variable and as a nexus for negotiation between individual actors and the canonical tradition. Thus the four essays in this issue suggest distinctions between the category of tradition as a macro conceptualization referencing genre and the category of practice as a means for rationalizing diversity and variation within a specific genre.

Maintenance is a common theme in the study of music and includes both continuity and change. Locale, as just discussed, is one variable for continuity and change. Maintenance, however, is a dynamic process rather than a stable state, and music engages with it in a number of ways. First, music performance can represent and reinforce a contested identity, as Tamil drumming attempts to do for the South Indian ethnic minority in Singapore. Second, it can serve as a vehicle for maintenance of other aspects of culture, including belief systems and cultural nationalism (that is, Merriam's functions of music). Social function is evident in the Gujarat, where a song genre using local languages reinforces Dar al-Islam (the Islamic world) and its adherents in regions in which Arabic is not the mother tongue and in Cambodia, where the so-called [End Page 1] operatic theater of lkhaon bassac has been consciously used by various regimes in the service of Khmer nationalism. Finally, maintenance is brought to bear upon the tradition itself as a means of its own preservation. Wisuttipat examines a specific project of maintenance for Central Thai music in Chicago and includes a critique of pedagogical methods developed in and for the diaspora. Specific locale and maintenance are general themes present in the major articles and also in a number of the print and media titles reviewed in 51(2). Furthermore, each article presents additional significant and provocative points relevant to our field.

Nattapol Wisuttipat, in his essay "No Notation Needed: The Construction and Politics of Transnational Thai Identity through the Oral Transmission of Classical Music," examines a diasporic learning strategy that is aural and oral. The case speaks to a kind of soft decolonization, suggesting an alternative strategy for addressing critiques of current Southeast Asian institutional pedagogies that are notation based, such as gamelan. One fascinating act of decolonization is retuning a diatonic set of boomwhackers (plastic aerophonic tubes) to Thai tunings by cutting off part of the tube to change its vibrating length. Wisuttipat posits pedagogical strategies as a means of inculcating a Thai cultural sensibility (khwaampenthai) through music learning. Thus the Chicago project engages maintenance in terms of both cultural identity (music as the vehicle) and preservation of the genre itself (music as the object). A contribution to cultural theory is his concept of "resettling" a tradition in the diaspora as contrastive to an earlier concept of "unsettling" a tradition away from the homeland. The author's positionality is significant to the study. In a welcome reversal of...


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