Experiencing rhythm: contemporary Malagasy music and identity.
University of Southampton, Faculty of Humanities,
My thesis is about experiences of ‘rhythm’ in ‘Contemporary Malagasy Music’ (Randrianary 2001), a field that has hardly been researched. I argue for the importance of integrating musical practices into ethnomusicological research. Despite an on-going debate on the need for a more performative approach, only very few scholars have put this aim into action (Baily 2008). Most music research so far, particularly studies on African music, are marked by prevailing and dominating Western discourses on and approaches to music with musical notation remaining the main analytical tool. This has been criticised as a constant search for difference, ignoring indigenous theories and understandings of music (Agawu 2003) and for carrying the risk of ‘essentializing music’ (Bohlman 1993).
The challenge of competing discourses in my research becomes obvious with regard to ‘rhythm,’ a topic that seems to be the starting point for the musicians’ search for a collective identity for which music is a powerful tool (Stokes 1994, Frith 1996, Connell and Gibson 2003, Biddle and Knights 2007). In present day Madagascar where more and more musicians are transnationally connected (Kiwan and Meinhof 2011), but where musicians still struggle to access an international music market, questions of identity are regularly negotiated through the term and concept of ‘6/8 rhythm.’ Yet at the same time this term and concept is highly contested by the musicians as well. In Western music theory it is based on the idea of musical notation which at first glance seems to contradict the musicians’ emphasis on the Malagasy concept of oral tradition, the lova-tsofina (lova = heritage; sofina = ear) that many describe as the base for Malagasy music making.
In order to tackle this challenge and go beyond the study of seemingly contradictory discourses, I argue that we need to analyse discourses and musical experiences in a constant interrelation. My thesis therefore takes on an interdisciplinary perspective, combining ethnomusicological methods, referring to the so-called ‘new fieldwork’ (Hellier-Tinoco 2003), with a discourse analytical approach to interview data. I focus on individuals and individual experiences as proposed in Rice’s ‘subject-centred ethnography’ (Rice 2003) as it is only through creating a shared space of experience that encompasses the researcher and the researched in an equal manner (Rice 2003: 173-174) that we can implement a ‘presumption of sameness’ (Agawu 2003).
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