The Calls of Islam: Sufis, Islamists, and Mass Mediation in Urban Morocco
(Indiana University Press, 2013)
By Emilio Spadola, Colgate University
The sacred calls that summon believers are the focus of this study of religion and power in Fez, Morocco. Focusing on how dissemination of the call through mass media has transformed understandings of piety and authority, Emilio Spadola details the new importance of once–marginal Sufi practices such as spirit trance and exorcism for ordinary believers, the state, and Islamist movements. The Calls of Islam offers new ethnographic perspectives on ritual, performance, and media in the Muslim world.
Religion Out Loud: Religious Sound, Public Space, and American Pluralism (New York University Press, 2014)
By Isaac Weiner, Ohio State University
For six months in 2004, controversy raged in Hamtramck, Michigan, as residents debated a proposed amendment that would exempt the adhan, or Islamic call to prayer, from the city’s anti-noise ordinance. The call to prayer functioned as a flashpoint in disputes about the integration of Muslims into this historically Polish‑Catholic community. No one openly contested Muslims’ right to worship in their mosques, but many neighbors framed their resistance around what they regarded as the inappropriate public pronouncement of Islamic presence, an announcement that audibly intruded upon their public space.
In Religion Out Loud, Isaac Weiner takes such sonic disputes seriously. Weaving the story of religious “noise” through multiple historical eras and diverse religious communities, he convincingly demonstrates that religious pluralism has never been solely a matter of competing values, truth claims, or moral doctrines, but of different styles of public practice, of fundamentally different ways of using body and space—and that these differences ultimately have expressed very different conceptions of religion itself. Weiner’s innovative work encourages scholars to pay much greater attention to the publicly contested sensory cultures of American religious life.
Sound, Space and Sociality in Modern Japan (Routledge, 2013)
Edited by Joseph D. Hankins (University of California, San Diego) and Carolyn S. Stevens (Monash University, Australia)
This book argues that sound – as it is created, transmitted, and perceived – plays a key role in the constitution of space and community in contemporary Japan. The book examines how sonic practices reflect politics, aesthetics, and ethics, with transformative effects on human relations. From right-wing sound trucks to leftwing protests, from early twentieth century jazz cafés to contemporary avant-garde art forms, from the sounds of US military presence to exuberant performances organized in opposition, the book, rich in ethnographic detail, contributes to sensory anthropology and the anthropology of contemporary Japan.
Songs of Seoul: An Ethnography of Voice and Voicing in Christian South Korea (University of California Press, 2013)
By Nicholas Harkness, Harvard University
Songs of Seoul is an ethnographic study of voice in South Korea, where the performance of Western opera, art songs, and choral music is an overwhelmingly Evangelical Christian enterprise. Drawing on fieldwork in churches, concert halls, and schools of music, Harkness argues that the European-style classical voice has become a specifically Christian emblem of South Korean prosperity. By cultivating certain qualities of voice and suppressing others, Korean Christians strive to personally embody the social transformations promised by their religion: from superstition to enlightenment; from dictatorship to democracy; from sickness to health; from poverty to wealth; from dirtiness to cleanliness; from sadness to joy; from suffering to grace. Tackling the problematic of voice in anthropology and across a number of disciplines, Songs of Seoul develops an innovative semiotic approach to connecting the materiality of body and sound, the social life of speech and song, and the cultural voicing of perspective and personhood.
I’m Neither Here nor There: Mexicans’ Quotidian Struggles with Migration and Poverty (Duke University Press, 2011)
By Pat Zavella, University of California, Santa Cruz
I’m Neither Here nor There: Mexicans’ Quotidian Struggles with Migration and Poverty explores how immigration policy and politics as well as the local economy influence the construction of family, identity, and community among Mexican Americans and migrants from Mexico. Based on long-term ethnographic research, Patricia Zavella analyzes how the working poor struggle for agency and negotiate differences in legal status, generation, gender, sexuality, and language. Zavella examines migrant journeys, exploitation at workplaces, and the challenges that migrants face in forming and maintaining families. She proposes “peripheral vision” to characterize the sense of displacement and marginality felt by Mexican Americans and Mexican migrants. As she demonstrates, the desires of Mexicans to express their identities publicly and to establish a sense of cultural memory are realized partly through Latin American and Chicano protest music, and Mexican and indigenous folks songs performed by musicians and cultural activists.
Roll with It: Brass bands in the Streets of New Orleans (Duke University Press, 2013)
By Matt Sakakeeny, Tulane University
Roll With It is a firsthand account of the precarious lives of musicians in the Rebirth, Soul Rebels, and Hot 8 brass bands of New Orleans. These young men are celebrated as cultural icons for upholding the proud traditions of the jazz funeral and the second line parade, yet they remain subject to the perils of poverty, racial marginalization, and urban violence that characterize life for many black Americans. Some achieve a degree of social mobility while many more encounter aggressive policing, exploitative economies, and a political infrastructure that creates insecurities in healthcare, housing, education, and criminal justice. The gripping narrative moves with the band members from back street to backstage, before and after Hurricane Katrina, always in step with the tap of the snare drum, the thud of the bass drum, and the boom of the tuba.
Japanoise: Music at the Edge of Circulation (Duke University Press, 2013)
By David Novak (University of California, Santa Barbara)
Noise, an underground music made through an amalgam of feedback, distortion, and electronic effects, first emerged as a genre in the 1980s, circulating on cassette tapes traded between fans in Japan, Europe, and North America. With its cultivated obscurity, ear-shattering sound, and over-the-top performances, Noise has captured the imagination of a small but passionate transnational audience.
For its scattered listeners, Noise always seems to be new and to come from somewhere else: in North America, it was called “Japanoise.” But does Noise really belong to Japan? Is it even music at all? And why has Noise become such a compelling metaphor for the complexities of globalization and participatory media at the turn of the millennium?
In Japanoise, David Novak draws on more than a decade of research in Japan and the United States to trace the “cultural feedback” that generates and sustains Noise. He provides a rich ethnographic account of live performances, the circulation of recordings, and the lives and creative practices of musicians and listeners. He explores the technologies of Noise and the productive distortions of its networks. Capturing the textures of feedback—its sonic and cultural layers and vibrations—Novak describes musical circulation through sound and listening, recording and performance, international exchange, and the social interpretations of media.
Fado Resounding: Affective Politics and Urban Life (Duke University Press, 2013)
By Lila Ellen Gray, Columbia University
Fado, Portugal’s most celebrated genre of popular music, can be heard in Lisbon clubs, concert halls, tourist sites, and neighborhood bars. Fado sounds traverse the globe, on internationally marketed recordings, as the “soul” of Lisbon. A fadista might sing until her throat hurts, the voice hovering on the break of a sob; in moments of sung beauty listeners sometimes cry. Providing an ethnographic account of Lisbon’s fado scene, Lila Ellen Gray draws on research conducted with amateur fado musicians, fadistas, communities of listeners, poets, fans, and cultural brokers during the first decade of the twenty-first century. She demonstrates the power of music to transform history and place into feeling in a rapidly modernizing nation on Europe’s periphery, a country no longer a dictatorship or an imperial power. Gray emphasizes the power of the genre to absorb sounds, memories, histories, and styles and transform them into new narratives of meaning and “soul.”
Voices of Play: Miskitu Children’s Speech and Song on the Atlantic Coast of Nicaragua (University of Arizona Press, 2013)
By Amanda Minks, University of Oklahoma
On Corn Island, part of a multi-ethnic autonomous region on the Atlantic Coast of Nicaragua, indigenous Miskitu kids often gain competence speaking Miskitu, Spanish, and Kriol English. As the children of migrants and the first generation of their families to grow up with television, they develop creative forms of expression that combine languages and genres, shaping intercultural senses of belonging. Minks weaves together Latin American, North American, and European theories of culture and communication to create a transdisciplinary dialogue that questions conventional wisdom about indigenous language shift. Through discourse in interaction, Miskitu children’s voices reveal the intertwining of speech and song, the emergence of “self” and “other,” and the centrality of aesthetics to social struggle.
Radio Fields: Anthropology and Wireless Sound in the 21st Century (New York University Press, 2012)
Edited by Lucas Bessire (University of Oklahoma) and Daniel Fisher (University of California, Berkeley)
By David A. McDonald, University of Indiana at Bloomington.
By Jason Pine, Purchase College – SUNY
The Art of Making Do in Naples (University of Minnesota Press, 2012) is an ethnographic study of the affective-aesthetic atmospheres of an informal economy charged with the constant yet ephemeral presence of the camorra, the powerful organized crime networks of the Campania region. In this informal economy, boys and young men (and some girls and women) aspire to become successful singers of Neapolitan-language pop songs (neomelodica music), but find themselves in the “contact zones” where crime bosses double as impresarios. These crime boss-impresarios promise singers investment and high returns by turning their territories of control into markets for musical performance consumption. Singers, in turn, become indebted to crime clans and must perform on demand.
The book explores the locally-named “art of making do,” or the various ways people attempt to achieve a semblance of near-impossible personal sovereignty through various licit and illicit economic ventures and personal networks—and to do so without recourse to either the law or to over-entanglement with the camorra. Naples has had a long history of chronic unemployment, violence, and opaque forms of law and order in addition to vibrant popular musical and visual culture. Focusing on the art of making do shows how postindustrial neoliberal shifts have transformed otherwise enduring conditions in this notoriously politicized moral political geography of the Italian “South.”
Drawing on theories of affect and aesthetics, the book provides an account of how the “intimate publics” in these contact zones–where the formal, informal and illicit economies overlap–are produced through intensely physical, verbal and emotional forms of contact, forms that include but are also magnified in the artistic performances of the hugely popular neomelodica music genre. The book’s narrative form reenacts the fully embodied, self‐reflexive fieldwork that was necessary for and crucial to moving the ethnographic research beyond the self‐folklorizing and disassembling performances of the Neapolitan protagonists of this music scene.
Few art forms epitomize the anti-institutional image more than jazz, but it’s precisely at the academy where jazz is now flourishing. This shift has introduced numerous challenges and contradictions to the music’s practitioners. Solos are transcribed, technique is standardized, and the whole endeavor is plastered with the label “high art”—a far cry from its freewheeling days. Wilf shows how students, educators, and administrators have attempted to meet these challenges with an inventive spirit and a robust drive to preserve—and foster—what they consider to be jazz’s central attributes: its charisma and unexpectedness. He also highlights the unintended consequences of their efforts to do so. Ultimately, he argues, the gap between creative practice and institutionalized schooling, although real, is often the product of our efforts to close it.
Sounds of the Citizens: Dancehall and Community in Jamaica (Vanderbilt University Press, 2014)
By Anne M. Galvin
Dancehall: It’s simultaneously a source of raucous energy in the streets of Kingston, Jamaica; a way of life for a group of professional artists and music professionals; and a force of stability and tension within the community. Electronically influenced, relevant to urban Jamaicans, and highly danceable, dancehall music and culture forms a core of popular entertainment in the nation. As Anne Galvin reveals in Sounds of the Citizens, the rhythms of dancehall music reverberate in complicated ways throughout the lives of countless Jamaicans.
Galvin highlights the unique alliance between the dancehall industry and community development efforts. As the central role of the state in supporting communities has diminished, the rise of private efforts such as dancehall becomes all the more crucial. The tension, however, between those involved in the industry and those within the neighborhoods is palpable and often dangerous. Amidst all this, individual Jamaicans interact with the dancehall industry and its culture to find their own paths of employment, social identity, and sexual mores.
As Sounds of the Citizens illustrates, the world of entertainment in Jamaica is serious business and uniquely positioned as a powerful force within the community.
By Laura Kunreuther
Nepal’s recent history is extraordinary: within a short span of time, the country endured a relatively peaceful 1990 revolution that reestablished democracy, a Maoist civil war, and the massacre of its royal family. As these dramatic changes were taking place, Nepalese society experienced an upsurge in both political and intimate discourse, and the two became intertwined as they developed. Voicing Subjects is an ethnography that explores that phenomenon, tracing the relationship between public speech and notions of personal interiority in Kathmandu by examining the two formations of voice that emerged: a political voice, associated with civic empowerment and collective agency, and an intimate voice, associated with emotional proximity and authentic feeling. Using personal interviews and examples in the media—in particular, radio—Kunreuther’s careful study reveals the figure of voice as a critical tool for gaining an in-depth understanding of emerging subjectivity, structural change, and cultural mediation.