The Politicization of Melody: Religious Musical Performance and the Indonesian Culture Wars of 2017
A lecture by Prof. Dr. Anne Rasmussen (Williamsburg, Virginia, USA)
Although religious praxis in Indonesia is underestimated by both scholars of Islam and co-religionists in the Arab world and Middle East, connoisseurs recognize a rich culture of Arabic language performance in Indonesia ranging from Quranic recitation to various styles of devotional song.
A proactive adaptation of popular tunes from the Arab Eastern Mediterranean along with the canonization of Egyptian maqam has characterized this Indonesian Islamic soundscape since before the country’s independence in 1945, however; local arts and Indian Ocean networks have always shaped cultural practice fueling not only hybrid forms but also vigorous debate. Put into the context of 20 years of experience with Islamic performance in Indonesia and based on new fieldwork conducted in 2017, this presentation illustrates the intense political culture wars sparked by the use of local, Javanese melodies for Quranic recitation at the Presidential Palace.
As voices from the country’s Islamist extremist activists arose in hostile objection, even a pious public began to hear the reciter’s use of langgam Jawa as the perfect example of the flaws, immorality, and objectionable permissiveness of Indonesian Islam vis à vis the models of puritanical Salafism and literalist modernism that, today, guide globalized Islamic movements in Southeast Asia. Swept up in the Tsunami of racist nativism both Indonesian and Mediterranean Arab performance aesthetics have been on the chopping block as the country struggles to contain the vociferous presence of religious hardliners (Islam keras). In contextualizing these events, I theorize the ways circulation and signification politicize melody in two interconnected Ocean worlds.
Anne K. Rasmussen is professor of music and ethnomusicology, the Bickers Professor of Middle Eastern Studies, and director of the William and Mary Middle Eastern Music Ensemble at the College of William and Mary in Williamsburg, Virginia. Rasmussen’s research interests include music of the Arab and Islamicate worlds and their diasporas, music and multiculturalism in North America, music patronage and politics, issues of Orientalism, nationalism, and gender in music, fieldwork and ethnography, music performance, and activist ethnomusicology. She currently serves as Past-President of the Society for Ethnomusicology.
Anne Rasmussen first began her research in Indonesia in 1996 and lived in Jakarta with her family for more than two years in the 1990s. She is author of Women, the Recited Qur’an and Islamic Music in Indonesia (University of California Press, 2010); co-editor with David Harnish of Divine Inspirations: Music and Islam in Indonesia (Oxford University Press, 2011), co-editor with Kip Lornell of The Music of Multicultural America (1997, Schirmer, revised edition, 2016, University Press of Mississippi), and editor of a special issue of The World of Music on “The Music of Oman” (2012).
Rasmussen’s recent research interests in the Arab/Persian Gulf region began with a Sultan Qaboos Cultural Center research fellowship in 2010 and have continued, with annual research, and study and performance tours involving students, to the present. Her presentation for “Sounding Out the State of Indonesian Music" is based on her most recent research as a Fulbright Scholar in Indonesia during January-July, 2017.
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