performed but not spoken (3): participatory musicking

Contemporary ‘Amis songwriters such as Suming and Ado aim at language revitalization through rebranding. Both attempt to reevaluate Sowal no ‘Amis, rejecting language ideologies that consign indigenous languages to rural spaces and elderly people. Other songwriters, such as Ilid Kaolo or Calaw, have combined ‘Amis lyrics with Bossa Nova or searched out kinship with other Austronesian people through collaborations with Malagasy musicians. These projects have made contemporary indigenous music notable within Taiwan’s popular and alternative music scenes and have increased the visibility of indigenous Taiwanese people on Taiwan and abroad–Suming, for example, has toured in France, Japan, Scotland, and most recently the Czech Republic.

calaw and pasiwali's 2015 album "polynesia" employed musical collaboration to explore taiwan's austronesian connections

calaw and pasiwali’s 2015 album “polynesia” employed musical collaboration to explore taiwan’s austronesian connections

Yet, such a project, situated as it is within a Mandarin and English dominated media economy, faces several obstacles

Primarily, Suming and other indigenous artists participate in Taiwanese popular culture as relatively interchangeable “indigenous” singers whose music requires no competence in an indigenous language to appreciate. The deictic strategy of their music connects it to globally circulating popular culture produced for a largely non-indigenous market, and not to an earlier corpus of ‘Amis language media produced for ‘Amis speakers. The composition of the audience for contemporary indigenous music means that such music is packaged for Sinophones and only secondarily for indigenous people. Thus, the possibilities for the music to function within programs for language revitalization in indigenous communities remain limited

Another limitation of contemporary indigenous artists from the standpoint of language revitalization derives from the type of musical performance in which these artists are engaged. As defined by Thomas Turino, we can think of musical performances as belonging to two general fields, participatory and presentational performance. Production formats for contemporary indigenous music include concert performance and studio produced recordings. These formats mark contemporary indigenous music as a form of popular music, but because of the presentational nature of such music, it may not be effective for language revitalization movements

Contemporary indigenous music borrows its social organization and performance practices from Mandopop and KPop. Unlike musical performance in indigenous communities, which is participatory, the performances of contemporary indigenous artists tend to be presentational. In other words, contemporary indigenous artists aim to realize relatively well-constructed musical works for the entertainment of a paying audience. For this reason, it is possible for their performances to generate affect surrounding indigenous languages–an attachment to their antiquity, spiritual qualities, or coolness might all emerge from performances depending upon the performer–yet this affect may not necessarily promote everyday use of indigenous languages. Some forms of affect surrounding these languages (that they are traditional, spiritual, or have cultural significance) may actually impede efforts to reevaluate indigenous languages as useful or quotidian, reproducing as they do the symbolic reduction of indigenous culture. The deictic strategy adopted by contemporary indigenous artists, which defines their music as belonging to globally circulating popular culture, as well as the social configuration of the presentational field, in which listeners do not actively participate in composition or performance, diminishes the ability of contemporary indigenous artists to engage in language revitalization meaningfully

is there another model?

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