Ethnomusicology Ireland 4
It is refreshing and encouraging that so far, each edition of Ethnomusicology Ireland has presented quite a different-cross section of the research currently taking place within our field. This sphere of interest might be loosely defined as an interdisciplinary approach to music and culture, drawing primarily upon the work of scholars who are located in Ireland and those whose work is ‘about’ Irish music elsewhere in the world. The journal thus aspires to be both a crossroads and a forum, where the locality of Ireland provides a shared context rather than a limitation. Naturally it also aims to reflect the diverse research interests of members of the Irish national committee of ICTM, the organisation that Ethnomusicology Ireland primarily serves. Potential contributors to the journal are welcome from any direction that contributes towards debate within this broad field or which provide valuable perspectives upon it.
This, our fourth edition, includes such interesting cross-cutting themes that it might be assumed that our selection was thematic, though this was never an intention. Together they demonstrate one of the core values of ethnographic approaches to music, the close analysis of very local practices, which nevertheless resonate with much broader social issues. Three of these papers discuss everyday musical practices in Irish cities, though in each case the focus of the case study is quite different.
In Dublin, Rebecca Uberoi considers the changing significance of the Nigerian ‘talking drum’ tradition amongst the diasporic West African. Here she finds that there is not only a shift of musical meaning between two geographical locations, but also between two generations of migrants to Ireland. The talking drum itself has become a complex symbol of identity, referring in a broad sense to ‘African-ness’, on one hand, whilst bearing ambiguous relations to the Christian context in which it is largely employed in Ireland. This knot of contrasting traditions and identity issues is further complicated by the fact that younger members of the community never learned the language of the drum, nor how to play it ‘meaningfully’. Studies such as Uberoi’s are rare and mark an important new direction in Irish musical research, not only for their grasp of the processes of musical transmission that are central to our field, but because they provide an insight to the subtleties of engagement between and within migrant communities in contemporary Ireland.
Sarah-Jane Gibson presents another area of musical activity in the city of Belfast that is also overdue for attention. Her study of male dockyard choirs shows the musical construction of working class identity that centres on a discourse of ‘respectability’ rather than the sectarian practices that we are much more familiar with. As with Uberoi, religion contributes a moral underpinning to collective musical activity. However, in this case the institution has persisted for a century, adapting to radical social and political upheavals, and lasting from high to post-industrialism. Gibson’s research explores the nexus of work, music, masculinity and morality, and work like this will undoubtedly contribute towards a more nuanced analysis of Northern Irish musical culture than the common focus upon sectarian polarisation. This again is timely work, as overlooked areas of cultural common ground slowly gain currency in Northern Ireland.
Cork is the third largest city in the ‘Island of Ireland’ and Eileen Horgan provides a panoramic view of its popular music scenes. Horgan considers the rich networks of collaboration and competition between musicians in Cork City, their self-perception ‘as a scene’ and their collective relations to other musical spheres beyond the ‘Real Capital’. Local identity is shaped through negotiations of difference, common interests and reciprocal interactions, in a musical sphere where few sustain long-term careers. This very situation of making music as a social rather than professional act generates an aura of authenticity; setting the scene apart from the commercial musical industry and affording cultural, if not economic, capital. Importantly, Cork’s collective ethos distinguishes local creativity from that (perceived to be) at the centre of the national music business in Dublin. This is the first thorough study of Cork’s pop music culture and provides a solid template for comparison with similar research elsewhere in Ireland and beyond.
Liz Mellish takes us away from the island to Bulgaria, but here touches upon themes that are of considerable significance to researchers into tradition, cultural identity and the music industry. Her case study is the institution that is the five-yearly Koprivshtitsa Folklore Festival, and here she focuses upon the changing musical tourism that she has observed for a number of cycles. The festival was established during the cold-war period, and like comparable competitive events around the world, presents a construction of Bulgarian national identity by defining standards, ideal performance styles and degrees of ethic inclusivity. Although the political economy of Bulgaria has changed considerably since the 1960’s, the festival retains its appeal to locals and visitors, becoming more of a commercial tourist attraction than a gesture of idealised nationalism. Mellish approaches the event from the perspective of the tourist visitors themselves; their costs, access and perceptions. Importantly she notes that a growing proportion of visitors are now from the Bulgarian diasporic community, some of whom are practitioners of music and dance in adopted countries. This creates an interesting dynamic (related again to Uberoi’s paper) where a new generation regard their cultural traditions differently to indigenous Bulgarians. Here of course, Bulgarian culture is re-presented for returning diasporic ‘tourists’ – a phenomenon not unknown in Ireland and so deserving of further comparative analysis.
Peter Gilmore considers Irish diasporic music and it’s political significance, though with the benefit of a historical perspective. He looks at a particular collection of songs known as ‘Paddy’s Resource’ written and compiled in the United States in the 18th century by James Porter, a Presbyterian from County Down and supporter of the United Irishmen organisation. This compendium, which added frequently subversive lyrics to established melodies, was intended to unite economic and political refugees from Ireland and galvanise activities against the British Crown. Gilmore links the content of the songs to their historical context, and discusses the role such music played in the formation of a cohesive Irish immigrant community. From a contemporary perspective it is valuable, not only to understand the long tradition of political song and its employment in formulating collective ideological positions, but also to remind us that the definition and boundaries of such identities are constantly shifting and negotiated.
Adopting an auto-ethnographic approach to investigate his own cross-cultural journey, Mattu Noone’s article explores the potential of ‘mongrelity’ as an analytical concept. His involvement in numerous musical fields, from the Australian rock scene to Indian classical and Irish Traditional Musics, offered Mattu a unique experience of the potential for ‘fusion’ in some contexts and resistance to this to others. Musicians themselves, he suggests, inhabit a ‘mongrel’ position vis a vis particular musical systems and associated values. They are able to draw upon experiences from a mix of cultural knowledge that lies beyond that belonging to any one tradition, and so inhabit both outsider and insider positions. Whether this cross-cultural input is welcomed by listeners (and musicians) as innovative, or regarded as a challenge depends very much upon the performance circumstances, and Mattu describes such examples in this discussion. Although the ethnographer has traditionally considered his/her personal experiences to be important reflective data, this article refocuses attention on this aspect of fieldwork and offers an analytical construct that will be valuable for debate within the research community.
The articles included in each edition of Ethnomusicology Ireland are selected through a process of double-blind peer review, and each author responds to the suggestions and constructive criticism of their reviewers. Consequently the mix of submissions that eventually emerges in the journal is happily unpredictable and different to preceding volumes. As such it is the quality of the article rather than its theme that determines its inclusion and the editors are satisfied that the resultant diversity is positively representative of the best research in this field. The editorial team would like to express gratitude for all the efforts of both authors and reviewers who contributed to this volume. We already have a small number of submissions in hand for the next edition, which will be published in time for the ICTM biennial conference in Limerick. We are nevertheless very much open to further submissions and volunteers to sit on our review panels.
TL June 2016
All queries and 300 word abstracts should be directed to the editors at: firstname.lastname@example.org
We also welcome books, recordings and online materials for review, and these should be sent to:
Editor Tony Langlois
Deputy Editor Aileen Dillane
Technical Editor Sean McElwain
Review Panel for Ethnomusicology Ireland 4
Michael G Kelly
Reviews Editor Meabh Ni Fhuarthain