Keeping Traditions Alive: Between Folklorization and Transformation
One of the main subjects during the two workshop weeks in January 2019 – discussed in a controversial way and highlighted from many points of view – was the preservation and transformation of tradition in a society, especially in dealing with music and sounds. The tradition(s) of the Tao, like many others in the world, are endangered in this globalized time era, which is of great concern to the culture bearers. Bridging the generation gap in the Tao society may play a crucial role in this issue.
The focus of the discussion went from raising questions to opening spaces for new ideas. I want to give an insight to some of the possible approaches.
Si Pehbowen, a representative of the younger Tao generation, explained the issue of change and preservation of traditions from her perspective: the younger generation is in-between the new world with capitalist ideology on one side, and the traditional values on the other side. She feels that she is sometimes outside of the Tao culture with her mother being Han (largest ethnic group in Taiwan and China). Usually women are in charge regarding daughters to pass on the Tao traditions.
The majority of young people listens to music in English language and imitates foreign artists. Only recently, young people have become more aware of their own heritage and started listening to the music of other indigenous Taiwanese groups.
Si Pehbowen wishes to explore how to take advantage of using media to revive Tao culture.
In his lecture Tradition and Innovation in Musical Creation Process the musician Filip Tyran, who describes himself as bi-cultural, spoke about his creative work in regard to his Burgenland-Croatian heritage. Burgenland is a part of Austria at the border to Hungary and Slovakia. Hungarian landlords forcibly relocated the Croatian minority there in the 16th century. They are living in a language island, surrounded by various communities, which have heavily influenced their language and cultural development. Traditionally, the Burgenland-Croatians were farmers and of Christian believe.
The traditional song culture is strongly linked to the customs, both, of religious and important life events. The society has changed massively and is no longer dominated by the Christian values and the farming lifestyle. The songs lose their cultural context and need to be redefined in a new context of the contemporary society.
Filip Tyran talked about two of his ensembles that deal with the musical heritage in very different ways. He explained that songs are omnipresent in the life of the Burgendland-Croatians and important in defining culture.
Kolo Slavuj is a folklore-ensemble that cultivates the traditional music, dances and costumes in a folkloristic way – taking traditions out of their traditional context, adapting and performing them on stage in a rather “authentic” way. This dance culture was researched and rediscovered in the 1970s.
Basbaritenori is a vocal ensemble, which interprets the traditional melodies in an innovative and contemporary way. Traditional melodies are complemented with musical arrangement derived from Jazz harmonies. To highlight his point, he told us how his grandmother reacted. She understands his intention, but was very critical towards the new interpretation. She asked him: Is it a new fashion now to sing so out of tune/or wrong (Ist es modern so falsch zu singen)?
Ethnomusicologist Marc-Antoine Camp gave several examples of how music traditions are transformed. His point of view is that the idea of preservation is problematic, because music has to change together with social developments. The aspects he highlighted are:
- Transformation of sounds (how?)
- Relationships of acting people (who?)
- Goals of transformation (why?)
He showed an Afro-Brazilian funeral singing ritual while carrying a dead person from the settlement to the village cemetery: these traditions were stopped because in the context of a modern world, they weren't necessary anymore, and the culture bearers were glad to stop the ritual. Ethnomusicologists believed that they have to preserve the tradition and heritage by producing a studio recording. Their goal is to represent the African heritage in Brazil. Marc-Antoine Camp is critical about the production, which was carried out outside of the functional context.
Camp's example of the transformation of the Rorogwella Lullaby (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=HD9vjEuLQdc) from the Solomon Islands (Northern Malaita, Baegu language group) is well-known as a copyright dispute. The song was transformed into the song Sweet Lullaby by the group Deep Forest (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=lIF5EEneWEU). The group received a Grammy Award in World Music for its second album using also other examples from all over the world. The singer and the indigenous group never received any royalties. Deep Forest earned a lot of money from their exoticized version of the song.
Yodelling in Switzerland (Muothatal) was the third example. The tradition has the specific function to call the cows back to the stable. The tradition was transformed into popular music yodelling by Christine Lauterburg (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=vDjgPn_FoH0) in the 1990s, which was perceived as provocative, even though it was not intended to question the tradition. The modern version became very popular.
The examples and approaches mentioned above show that the challenges faced by many indigenous groups and minorities are complex. The (cultural/generational) "in-between-ness" affects the reactions of individuals and collectives in the process of transformation. The cultural, philosophical and aesthetic consequences are diverse and varied. We are excited to the coming experiences and outcomes what our approaches in dealing with transformations will be in this project.
Questions raised by the team members and invited lecturers included:
- Should the process of change in traditions/music/language be repelled or promoted, and how?
- How and why do transformations occur?
- Who may/should/must be included in the transformative process?
- How do social changes affect the aesthetic, the meanings and the functions of music or sounds?
- How can those (musical) traditions, which are loosing their contexts and functions, be transformed, in oder to be adapted to the changes occuring in the respective context?
- Who profits from the products of a transformative process? How to deal with the concept of copyright e.g.?