Music, the Ultimate Rebel Yell?

This is not the first time musicians around the world have faced punishing consequences for being rebellious.

7 members of Pussy Riot, courtesy of wikimedia

In light of the events surrounding Pussy Riot in Russia, NPR Music’s Elizabeth Blair reports on other musicians who have voiced unpopular political opinions. It’s an excellent illustration of the political aspects of music and song. In an interview with Afropop‘s Banning Eyre, focused on the music of Thomas Mapfumo, Blair observes:

The two year jail sentence for the members of the band Pussy Riot might seem extreme to people in the U.S. where musicians are protected under freedom of speech. But this is not the first time musicians around the world have faced punishing consequences for being rebellious.

Read the full story at NPR’s The Record: Music as the Ultimate Rebel Yell

Archives Relief, West Africa

The BAPMAF archives (Bokoor African Popular Music Archive Foundation) in Accra, Ghana were flooded on October 26 of this year. The damage appears to be serious, and a plea for financial support has been circulating via email, blog, twitter, etc. John Collins, the archives founder, state on 10 November: “As you may know I have been operating the BAPMAF music archives since 1990 which was partly opened at my Bokoor House to the public in 1996 and more fully in 2007. However, devastation struck in the middle of the night of 26th Oct 2011 in the form of a flood. . . . The resulting flooding on the 26 Oct was unprecedented with almost 6 feet of water entering our land and 5 feet into the downstairs house and premises where some of the BAPMAF archival holdings are kept.” It is estimated that 10 to 20% of the archives holdings were damaged or destroyed, including all electronic equipment. Further illustrations of the damage were posted by the Afropop blog on November 19—if you have any doubt as to the extent, have a look at the photos!

If you are able to help, monetary donations can be made via Paypal. Information is given at the AfroPop post above, and via the BAPMAF Facebook page.

Further information about the BAPMAF project and its collaboration with Africa House at NYU can be found at the BAPMAF collection page.

Instruments in Museums

A klezmer exhibit at the MIM.

The MIM klezmer exhibit.

A couple weeks ago now, NPR ran a short piece that featured the Musical Instrument Museum (the MIM). Ted Robbins quotes director Bill DeWalt noting that the museum is, ironically, “one of the most quiet museums you’ll ever be in.” The reason is that the sound samples illustrating the instruments are heard on headphones. This is the trend in musical museums, I believe, and it matches what I experienced five years ago at the Czech Museum of Music in Prague. Headphones and digital files are certainly one of the amazing technologies that offer a better experience to musical instrument museums!

Last year, when the MIM opened, however, Edward Rothstein was a bit more critical in his New York Times review. Comparing the museum to a “department store” because of its size and architecture, the criticism seemed to be that the collection is too large and lacks a focus in display:

Think of instruments, too, as a kind of raw material that you are confronted with as you walk through the expansive exhibit spaces of this $250 million museum. It is material that the institution celebrates, promotes and sometimes illuminates, and it makes the museum of immediate interest. But the possibilities, for now, are more compelling than the achievements.

Though I saw the museum before its exhibits were fully mounted (and obtained images, text and plans for what was missing), the impact of this institution is in its size, nerve and astonishing quality and character of parts of its collection. But it seems unfinished in ways that should be examined.

In any case, I want to go to the museum, and I encourage anybody in Phoenix to check it out! Have you been? What do you think?

The Musical Instrument Museum is at 4725 East Mayo Boulevard, Phoenix; (480) 478-6000;

Tongue Teasers for Students in World Music

If you’re taking a world music course, you may have had to learn the names of lots of musical instruments. (And, as likely as not, you may have learned all those lovely Hornbostel-Sachs designations as well. Oy.) One that offers no end of trouble to English-speakers is the mrdangam.

So, here’s something to practice: say “mrdangam” five times fast.

(It has three syllables: the mrd combination actually creates a bit of its own syllable, which is uncommon in English but helps a lot with the pronunciation.)

. . .

Got it? Now you’ve got your five-beat meter and divided into triplets to boot!

By the way, that instrument is a double-headed wooden hand-drum common to the Karnatak music played in the south of India (lots more detail, including photos and sound clips, here).