AAS Annual Meeting

Interarea/Border-Crossing Session 339

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Session 339: “Music Making People Move” - The Travelling Production and Consumption of Asian Pop Musics

Organizer: Patrick R. Froelicher, University of Heidelberg, Germany

Chair: Alain Mueller, University of Neuchatel, Switzerland

Discussant: Alain Mueller, University of Neuchatel, Switzerland

Visual-kei fans from Germany travelling to Japan to see their idols live on stage; British bhangra DJs going “back home” to India to perform and record, South Koreans living abroad becoming K-Pop stars in their homeland, Siberian rock musicians entering the world music circuit, Uzbek estrada stars being more popular in China than in Uzbekistan - the increasingly delocalized modalities of production and circulation of various Asian popular music forms have indeed generated new ways of “making people move”. Starting from various examples of such transnationally flowing musics, this panel explores how people in different locales make sense of the musical flows they experience in their everyday lives. Where and how do people encounter these musical flows? Where are their borders? Which role do fan clubs play, and which one the various media, in some places no longer bound geographically, in others hardly accessible at all? Who is consuming K-Pop in Germany or Punjabi Pop in India and Great Britain in the first place? Does the nation-state still play a role in channelling or blocking musical flows? Which are fault lines and conflicts arising between different “interpretive communities”? Which are the discourses shaping the social practices triggered by the musical flows? These are some of the question we address in this panel. By presenting case studies form different parts of Asia we hope to contribute to a broader understanding of the affects and effects of musical circulations and the potentials and limitations these musical flows can yield.

“Birmingham, Bombay, and Beyond” - The Politics of Circulation in Transnational Punjabi Pop Music
Patrick R. Froelicher, University of Heidelberg, Germany

The Punjabi music scene has been transnational since the 1980s, with Great Britain and India being the centres of production. New technologies for the production and circulation of images and sounds have triggered large-scale changes in this scene as well. In the last ten years, the circulation has reached new heights, mainly through the introduction of digital production technologies and new modes of circulation of Punjabi songs as video clips or mp3-files. These technological changes influenced the production as well as the reception of the music. Through media content analysis and information from ethnographic interviews, I look at interfaces of conflicting imaginaries and musical-visual representations of Punjab and Punjabi identity in Punjabi pop music. In these processes, physical objects such as musical instruments or virtual objects like sounds or images circulate within the Punjabi ethnoscape where they are getting reassessed. These sounds and images, I argue, nourish discussions about the character of Punjabi identity within India and the diaspora, amongst producers as well as consumers. Both sides are entangled in discourses regarding an assumed dichotomy of “tradition” and “modernity” as well as an ongoing discussion on the moral aspects of video clips, manifested, for example, in the allegation of “obscenity”.

Hitting the Wave: Global Encounters in Korean Pop Music
Michael Fuhr, University of Heidelberg, Germany

K-pop is closely tied to the ‘globalisation’ activities of music production companies in South Korea that started to expand their target markets beyond national borders in the mid-1990s. In this sense it mainly embraces phenomena that are teenager-oriented, star-centered and mass-produced by multi-faceted entertainment conglomerates. Due to localisation strategies in recent k-pop music production, foreign nationals have increasingly been intruding into the domestic star system. At the core of this ‘idol star system’ is the academy, in which talented teenagers, who passed the preceding audition, spend a couple of years as trainees to improve their singing, dancing and language skills. In this paper, I will discuss aspects of mobility, stardom and transnational consumption and how the flow of migrants into Korean music industry is organised.

Silk Road Sounds: The Roots and Routes of Uzbek Pop
Kerstin Klenke, Independent Scholar, Germany

2004: The album Yol Bolsin by Uzbek singer Sevara Nazarkhan wins her a BBC Radio 3 Award for World Music in London. Its mixture of Uzbek traditions and trip hop is hailed as “the first fusion of Uzbek and Western musical culture” from a region, which “is opening up to the world again”. 1971: The Uzbek band Yalla wins the pan-Soviet TV competition Hello, we’re looking for talents in Moscow. Their mixture of Uzbek traditions and pop will get them touring almost the entire socialist space from Siberian cultural houses in the East to the Berlin Friedrichstadt Palace in the West. There can be no doubt that the Uzbek pop music scene has gained access to new musical ideas and entered new markets beyond the postsocialist world since independence. Common before/after scenarios, however, not only tend to invalidate the itineraries – and sometimes even existence – of Uzbek pop music and musicians in the Soviet era. The celebratory rhetoric of dissolved borders, globalized flows and unleashed creativity usually also blinds out the factors that restrict the aesthetic explorations and spatial scope of the contemporary scene – among them an intricate state bureaucracy specifically devised for the administrative and ideological control of pop as the sound of the nation. In my paper I will trace the changing geophonics of the scene – its real and imaginary travels and their boundaries – asking, whether the world has not actually become a smaller place for Uzbek pop since independence.

Transnational Musician: A Study on How Ethnicity is Promoted in East Asian Popular Music Industry
Eve Leung, SOAS, University of London, United Kingdom

In mid 90’s several Chinese female singers tried to spread out their career in Japan, noticeably Kelly Chen and Vivian Hsu, both released Japanese exclusive singles and albums and sung in Japanese, with TV appearance and advertisement contract. Vivian Hsu enjoyed a better success than Kelly Chen with top 10 ranking in the Oricon Chart. The influx of Chinese singers in Japan did not only belong to this era. Prior to them, Teresa Tang, Agnes Chan and Ouyang Fei Fei all became household names in Japan music industry. In Shin(2009), he investigate how musician go across the border for their music career and creating and bringing a new vision on studying trans-border musician. This paper will investigate the way how Chinese singers promote themselves in the Japanese industry, and how their ethnicity played a major part in the marketing of them.  And also in reverse, to investigate the musician’s influence in their home market after their success in Japan, and how researcher should be careful when researching the East Asian popular music industry.

Travelogues from the World Behind the Mirror: On Western Visual-Kei Fans Voyaging to Japan
Oliver Seibt, University of Heidelberg, Switzerland

Visual-kei is the first popular music from Japan that met with some notable success in the US and several European countries, especially Finland, France and Germany. Although its relevance is negligible in terms of sales within the German music market, and no Japanese visual-kei song hit the German charts so far, yet there is at least one German record label specialised in the distribution of Japanese visual-kei music and there are print as well as several online magazines on visual-kei in German language. Since the first gig of Dir en Grey in Berlin in 2005 the number of concerts by Japanese visual-kei bands in Germany increases every year, and with Cinema Bizarre, there is also the first German band marketed under the label visual-kei. Nevertheless, Cinema Bizarre cannot hope for acceptance from the fast-growing visual-kei fan scene in Germany. For the almost exclusively female fans, a band has to be from Japan to be “real visual-kei”. It is no surprise, then, that quite a lot of the German fans dream of travelling to Tokyo for first-hand experiences of “real” visual-kei. Some of them go to Japan as students, short-term guest workers or self-financed tourists. Some of them even desire to stay in Japan permanently, in order to be able to attend the concerts of their favourite bands and to be closer to them. Based on field work amongst Western visual-kei fans in Japan and in the German fan scene, this paper examines the motivations and experiences of young women that are “moved” by music in a very literal and exceptional manner.