Biographical sketch & image of Alexei Andreevitch Boyar, paratrooper, folklorist, and exponent of the Bassandan pipe organ tradition, and a fragment of poetry, translated from Old Bassandan, by Professor Homer St John, from the pre-literate shamanic chant. See http://elegantsavagesorchestra.weebly.com/bassanda-correspondence.html (and scroll to the bottom).
Sunday, September 29, 2013
Tuesday, September 24, 2013
Monday, September 23, 2013
Group moderator asked fora bio and suggestions for SIG's topical focii; here's what I said:
Chris Smith here, director of the Vernacular Music Center at Texas Tech (http://vernacularmusiccenter.org); full bio here: http://www.depts.ttu.edu/music/Faculty/ChristopherSmith.asp Play (for this music) tenor banjo, bouzouki, button accordion. Record, tour, produce, etc. Day job is Chair of Musicology at TTU. Have published practical methods (Celtic Backup), book chapters (relevant to this group: on Irish film, session culture, community arts, Renaissance-period harmonic languages in Ireland, Seamus Ennis), CDs (3-disc set with Altramar: historical performance settings of medieval Celtic repertoire), theatrical dance show ( http://dancingatthecrossroads.com ), new book on Anglo-Celtic and Afro-Caribbean interactions before the US Civil War (http://www.amazon.com/The-Creolization-American-Culture-Minstrelsy/dp/0252037766), new book project on street dance as rebellion in American popular history. I'll be presenting at Indy on a related topic. I've served as External Examiner for dissertations at UC Cork and U Limerick, and for the BA program in traditional music and dance at UL's Irish World Academy; may soon be starting similar appointment with the MA program. Teach an annual spring-semester course ("Music, Folklore, and Tradition in Irish Cultural History") at TTU, whose capstone is a 2-week Maymester "roving seminar" field-trip to Connacht; lot of friends in Galway, Clare, Limerick, and Mayo. Drive the damned mini-buses ourselves :-/
Posted by Christopher Smith at 9:37 AM
Sunday, September 22, 2013
Disorganized, running very late, technology glitches, making it up as I went along. This is pretty much uncut CJS, slipping and sliding and trying to raise the loas.
Posted by Christopher Smith at 6:25 PM
Friday, September 20, 2013
Posted by Christopher Smith at 10:00 AM
Wednesday, September 18, 2013
Further to the previous: Mount's "Dancing on the Barn Floor"(1831--e.g., very early in his career: he was only 25): this would conventionally be understood as a conventionally pastoral idealization of rural experience: "lads and maids" dancing on the barn floor which, in the conventions of the time, is employed as a kind of theatrical proscenium. But, tracing some sketches from life which served as inspiration for this oil (most notably, as the book demonstrates, the remarkable pencil sketch "Comb and Brush"), it's possible to "see" elements of Afro-Caribbean / "creole" body postures and movements, especially in the dancing boy's hips, shoulders, and arms. This is the "hidden language" of the body that, among other things, the book identifies.
Posted by Christopher Smith at 9:42 PM
Q: Were there any common misconceptions of “creolization” that you examined in your research for the book?
I wouldn’t necessarily say there were “misconceptions,” so much as gaps in the record. The book certainly argues that creolization—the process by which two languages, or rhythmic vocabularies, or music & dance idioms, collide and create a shared dialect—was much more widespread in a much wider array of locations, and much earlier, than previous scholarship has perhaps understood. The argument would be that contact between disparate groups—black/white, African/European, slave/free, working-class/middle-class—would have yielded this exchange, whether participants intended or even recognized that it was happening. People heard other people’s music and they learned to move and experience sound differently, and in this new, shared dialect. I think, in fact, that this phenomenon—maybe we could call it “a creolization of bodily experience”—happens everywhere disparate populations come into close proximity with one another. I think it’s at the core of where urban culture arises.
I might suggest that one useful contribution the book provides to that sort of study is to develop a set of analytical tools (particularly rhythmic and iconographic) which let us “see” creole or Afro-Caribbean characteristics—rhythms, body postures, body movements—in tunes or scenes which, on the surface, seem to be “simply depicting” idealized Anglo-Celtic culture. The book suggests that we can identify creole motion—of the pelvis, hips, shoulders; of melodic shapes and rhythms—in the bodies of the dancers, even if they “seem” to be idyllic, pastoral shepherd boys and girls. I don’t necessarily think that Mount intended or consciously imported creole aesthetics into those body vocabularies—quite the contrary: I think that he was simply, accurately, precisely, and sympathetically providing visual reportage on the way that his neighbors and artistic models moved—and that those body vocabularies were already creole, even if the individuals he depicted didn’t consciously realize this.
Posted by Christopher Smith at 9:00 PM
Tuesday, September 17, 2013
Posted by Christopher Smith at 3:45 PM
Sunday, September 15, 2013
In the 40th anniversary year of Perry Hensell's remarkable film--the first full-length feature ever made in Jamaica, the one that launched the astonishing riches of Jamaican syncretic music upon the world, the one that captured in remarkable verite techniques the based-in-fact but still archetypal story of the singer/gunman/Robin Hood character Ivanhoe "Rhygin" Martin--I have to give a shout-out to Michael Thelwell's remarkable novelization of the film.
Usually novelizations of existing films are just another way of merchandising the electronic media: I think of the execrable Rat Patrol novelizations I engulfed avidly at age 8, or the endless stream of Star Trek / Star Wars spin-offs, or the not-very-much better redrilling of the dry holes of the Bond or Zelazny "brands" long after their originators have passed on.
But what Thelwell has done is much different, much deeper, and still one of the best portraits of the roots of ska and reggae and of Rastafarianism I've ever encountered. Still assign it in my "Musics of the African Diaspora" seminar because, even if it is "fiction", it conveys the truth of those experiences more deeply, profoundly and truthfully than any ethnography of the region I've ever read. What Thelwell did, quite consciously and intentionally, was not to "novelize" the screenplay of the film--as is the usual, mundane practice--but rather to imagine the folk-story and ghetto myths upon which such a film might have been made. It's the same kind of thing that Peter Jackson et al did with The Hobbit. The originating book is a kid's book, but his mandate (no doubt economic) was to expand it into a tale that could sustain 2 or more feature-length films. So what they did, quite intentionally (and, I think, effectively), was to imagine that the children's book which Tolkien authored was in fact a "children's version" of a much more intense folk-tale of heroic grandeur. In this respect--whether Tolkien intended this or not--Jackson and crew are also able to draw upon the depth and richness of the world that Tolkien created in the Silmarillion. He wasn't a very competent storyteller, but (as the Bassanda experiment makes clear) there is a tremendous and engaging creative energy to be accessed by imagining, or recreating, a world.
That's what Thelwell does in The Harder They Come: he provides a nuanced, detailed, and rich back-story for Ivanhoe/Rhygin as Jimmy Cliff portrayed him in the film, but also a meditation on urbanization, the loss of home, modernization in Caribbean creole contexts, the roots of Rastafari (the way in which Thelwell compresses about 100 years of evolving Jamaican syncretic religion into one parade witnessed by Ivanhoe is a tour de force), the relationship between spirituality, ganja, and crime. It's a remarkable, virtuoso novelistic performance, and it accomplishes the remarkable trick of making the film deeper, more resonant, more profound.
Big ups to Ras Michael. Respect! http://amzn.to/15v1YMT
Posted by Christopher Smith at 10:24 AM
Saturday, September 14, 2013
That’s also the job of the bandleader: to organize the shit that musicians do in a fashion that is unique, new, powerful, and expressive. The craft of the bandleader, particularly in the American musical traditions—in fact, the potential genius of that role, one that is largely ignored or neglected in the study of musicology because it involves organizing musical consciousnesses rather than musical objects—is putting people together. My friend & brother in music Roger Landes taught me that, with his remarkable festival-of-the-tribes called “Zoukfest”; he once said, “the whole point of having the festival is make it possible to put certain people in a room together at the same time, because you’re convinced that unique and beautiful things will happen.” Sometimes, as in the case of a festival or workshop or artists’ colony, you go to a lot of time, hassle, and expense in order to put those certain people (teachers and students, musicians and dancers, performers and audience) in a room together at the same time.
Because the craft and art of making musical, and musical events, is a time-bound phenomenon—unlike a sculpture or video or painting or installation, a music-dance-theatre event has to happen in the same chronological moment and (at least in the vernacular forms I work in) the same geographical space for both performers and audience. Yes, you can stream such events over the web, or live-cast on radio, and that at least permits audiences elsewhere to experience the event at the same time as those physically present: in Singapore, a highly secularized and regulated multi-ethnic city that also has a devout Muslim population, the Call to Prayer is broadcast over a certain radio frequency five times daily, so that the Faithful can at least hear the Call simultaneously as other others, even if in isolated physical environments; I had a Buddhist meditation teacher who said “all I need to know is that someone somewhere is sitting zazen at the same time as myself; if I know that, I know that I have a sangha, I know I’m not sitting “alone”.
But even the radio simul-cast or the web stream is imperfect and, in the case of the intimate communities of traditional music, it almost makes us sadder to know that our friends are out there somewhere in the world but can’t be here. Because vernacular/traditional events are about using music-and-dance to create community, sometimes in environments, locations, or circumstances that are far distant from the ideal, original, or remembered contexts in which the art forms began. The great gift of these forms is that they are so portable, resilient, and memorable that it is actually possible to engage in such re-creation.
But the best things happen when you arrange certain objects in relation to one another with a vision of those patterns’ expressive power, when you arrange for certain people to be together in a room because you have enough insight, experience, and sensitivity to recognize that simply arranging for that meeting will make good things happen. That’s why Bill Monroe, Muddy Waters, Art Blakey, Carla Bley, Buck Owens, Arthur Ailey, Duke Ellington, Charles Mingus, Frank Zappa, David Baker, Kim Pineda and so many others would be artists of genius even they themselves had never played, dance, or even composed a note or motion themselves: because they had the insight, experience, sensitivity and—let’s face it—sheer bullheaded stubborn insistence upon the validity of their vision to put certain people together in a room. And then to trust that the artistic potential of that meeting, the sheer unchained creative energy that emerges when artists find new companions and new challenges. Two dancers from Louisiana. A handful of crazy hippie Baroque (and “broke”) musicians in Indiana. A mandolin player from New Zealand and another from Ireland. A bouzouki player from Alabama and another from Kansas City.
And this lot.
Posted by CJS at 5:54 AM
Thursday, September 12, 2013
Posted by CJS at 5:52 PM