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The Politicization of Melody: Religious Musical Performance and the Indonesian Culture Wars of 2017

 A Public Guest Lecture by
Anne Rasmussen 
Professor of Ethnomusicology at William and Mary.
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. 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.  Presented by IPLACe and WFU Silk Roads Series.

Tuesday, February 27 at 6:00pm to 7:00pm

Scales Fine Arts Center, Art 102
1834 Wake Forest Road Winston-Salem, NC 27106

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