“The sharing of joy, whether physical, emotional, psychic or intellectual
forms a bridge between the sharers, which can be the basis for
understanding much of what is not shared between them,
and lessens the threat of their differences,”
We often equate good scholarship with a critical attitude. A cynical view of the world is almost automatically welcomed as more scientifically sound than an enchanted one. While this methodology has led to destabilizing habits of thought that perpetuate large structures of power, it has also elevated the critical perspective onto a pedestal. We are more inclined to unveil the mechanisms, cultural logics, and uneven global flows that underpin magic than to suspend disbelief and to partake in it. We have grown afraid of feeling enchanted.
I was attracted to my research topic, a classical music program in Venezuela popularly called ‘El Sistema,’ because I found it enchanting. The program provided free classical music education and instruments to more than half a million young people in schools all over Venezuela. Even in video recordings, I was smitten by the energy with which the young musicians played, by the sight of people who were passionate about a pursuit.
In Venezuela, I met musicians who took musical enchantment seriously: it was a state of mind and spirit that they consciously aspired towards. One of them was Carlos, an eighteen-year-old musician. I asked to interview him because his playing stood out for me at a concert: when Carlos played, he lifted the instrument unusually high in his left hand, his cheek resting against the instrument as if on a pillow. He closed his eyes. And smiled. Continue reading →
friendship in tamen’s sense also might suggest why “culture” is often what my taiwanese friends call a “twilight object,” something constantly in diminishment: associations of friends tend to situate their objects this way. think of the friends of the environment near you. as for culture and its various subsets and stand-ins, these nearly always appear in conditions of endangerment, too; and so, we might begin to ask ourselves whether our interpretive work powerfully connects us to other associations (friends of shellfish, sowalo no ‘amis, or indigenous media to name some to which i belong) who were befriending these objects all along, generally aware of their precarious quality. that does not mean that the type of precarity that these friends see–and that might explain their motives for working with us–is the same as our stance on the befriended.
again, take the environment as an example.
since i’m going in this direction, what about friendship as a type of advocacy, a value that some ethnographers fiercely hold and others just as fiercely question? one of the best statements on friendship in this regard comes from the work of the contemporary ‘amis songwriter, suming rupi. recently, many would-be friends of suming’s hometown have come to stay, all professing their love for the landscape, particularly the view of the pacific ocean. on the whole these would-be friends are well meaning and participate in a type of consumer environmentalism known on taiwan as LOHAS, or lifestyles of health and sustainability. in response, suming has written a song which rejects this love
It occurs to me that academia is being ‘disrupted’ (as the digerati like to say) in the same way that the music industry once was. As open access, the Internet, and DIY publishing opportunities proliferate, the old system of prestige and recognition is breaking down. How today can we judge that our assistant professors are deserving of tenure? The traditional answer is that they have been signed to a major label: they have published with big-name journals and big-name presses. With the brand of these labels established and the business model of publishing clear, one can see why people would evaluate in these terms.
But what happens when mp3 proliferate, multiple indie labels spring up, and the center falls out of genres like, for instance, hip hop, as they fragment into multiple different audiences and communities? Revenues drop, for one thing, and the publishing industry attempts to litigate or legislate away the new-found freedom that these communities have, attempting to make sharing illegal so that they can continue to profit from the scarcity they are architecting into what was formerly an open system.
For music listeners, rather than publishers, an issue of ‘importance’ arises — how can you tell that the assistant musician in your department is ‘important’ and deserves tenure in an era when platinum hits are getting rarer and rarer? What counts as importance is itself shifting. I can see a number of ways out of this dilemma but whatever route departments chose will require a choice. And standing up and deciding for yourself how to handle something as important as the professional credentialing of the professoriate is a big challenge which requires a lot of confidence in one’s own academic judgement. Which means, of course, that it is the sort of decision that the vast majority of us will hope is made by someone else! But at the end of the day, that is the sort of decision will have to be made.
According to the Urban Dictonary “buffalaxing” is a term which comes from a YouTube user named Buffalax who is famous for writing fake English lyrics to foreign songs which (to an English speaker who doesn’t understand the original language) sound like they could be the actual lyrics to the song. You can find this kind of thing by searching YouTube for “buffalax” or for “misheard lyrics.” Some of these are funnier than others, and many are simply offensive. The reason I bring it up is that buffalaxing is very popular in Taiwan, and I wanted to share a new music video which has some fun with this meme. But first some context…
Let’s start with two of the more famous songs which have been given misheard Chinese lyrics. The first is “Golimar” from the Telugu movie “Donga“:
Are there any young men who can sing out there? Are there any men who can dance? Are there any men who are good in school? Are there any men who are good at making money? Are there any men who are good at planting crops? Are there any men who are good at gathering? Are there any men who are good at spearing fish? Are there any men who are good at cooking? Are there any fun men out there? Are there any strong men? Are there any hard workers? Are there any men that work together? Yes, there are the young men from A’tolan!
A brand new music album with complete Amis lyrics by the Amis artist, Suming, was released in May 2010. It is not the first Amis music album but is the first one attempting to crossover into popular music market in Taiwan, combining indigenous melodies such as Amis polyphony and flutes together with techno-trance, hip-hop, and Taiwanese folk music. Among these songs, “Kapah,” which means “young men” in the Amis language, is the theme song. Lungnan Isak Fangas, a documentary filmmaker, who is also an Amis, made two music videos for this album, one of them is Kapah. Both the song and the music video not only represent aspects of local A’tolan Amis culture but also attempt to make this culture appealing to Taiwanese society at large.
There are currently 14 indigenous ethnic groups (referred to as “Aborigines”) officially recognized by the Taiwan government. The Amis is the largest of these austronesian speaking ethnic groups in Taiwan. There are two conspicuous characters of Amis society and culture relevant to understanding this video: One is that it is widely considered a matriarchal society, although its status as such is still under debate. Nonetheless, the image of the mother holds a central place in Amis society. The other one is the age-grade system with its rigid regulations. Age sets are organized around males who have passed the coming of age rites in the village within a given time period. Each age set (kapot) will include men born within a few years of each other. It is the main political unit, handling the affairs of both outsiders and insiders.
The song Kapah differs from earlier indigenous music in its depiction of indigenous modernity. Continue reading →