AAS Annual Meeting

Interarea/Border-Crossing Session 721

[ Interarea/Border-Crossing Sessions, Table of Contents | Panels by World Area Main Menu ]

Session 721: Locating Ethnicity or ‘Folkishness’ in East Asian Popular Music

Organizer: Pil Ho Kim, Ohio State University, USA

Discussant: Pil Ho Kim, Ohio State University, USA

What does ‘ethnicity’ signify in popular musical practices in East Asia? This question can be posed with regard to a musician’s ethnic identity, to modern appropriations of traditional ethnic folk music, or to marketing strategies of the regional music entertainment business. We explore various ways in which ethnic elements work in conjunction – or sometimes at odds – with the persistent influence of western pop in terms of genre, style, and technology. We also highlight how musical ethnicity plays itself out as the music reaches for a specific audience or ‘folk’ within and across national borders. Yoshitaka Mouri maps out ethnic boundaries in the Japanese music culture by analyzing the appeal of musicians from Hong Kong, Taiwan, and Korea and relating it to the postcolonial conditions in East Asia. Tunghung Ho and Lei Peng examine Chinese ‘neo-folk’ from each side of the Taiwan Strait. Ho focuses on the political role some Taiwanese folk bands play as they indigenize the sound and attitude of Anglo-American modern folk. Peng’s paper on the Mongolian folk group Hanggai discusses the ethnic aspect of neo-folk in mainland China. The fusion of traditional and modern, or ethnic and western, is the central issue for Byung O Kim, who reviews the efforts made by some Korean traditional musicians to ‘modernize’ their sound using western musical idioms and technology. The question of ethnic fusion is not confined to the traditional music, as Hyunjoon Shin argues that it is also crucial to the recent Korean independent rock phenomenon, Jang Giha.

Other Stories and Postcolonial Nostalgia in Japanese Popular Music: Agnes Chan, Teresa Teng and Yong Pil Cho and their acceptance in Japan
Yoshitaka Mouri, Tokyo University of the Arts, Japan

The paper examines three important transnational singers who came from the Asian region of Hong Kong, Taiwan, and Korea, and exceptionally gained popularity in the Japanese music scene: Agnes Chan, Teresa Teng and Yong Pil Cho. It also explores the way in which Japanese audiences construct the image of both Japanese and Asian through their music under the postcolonial historical conditions in the 1970s-1980s. It is to be noted that their musical styles were always regarded neither as Asian nor as exotic, but often as authentically Japanese, although their identities were definitely seen as Asian. It should also be emphasized that they were accepted in different ways according to their different national/ethnic origins. The paper tries to consider how Japanese audiences accept their music in relation to colonial memories, postcolonial nostalgia, the cold war politics, and the denial and amnesia about World War II in East Asia.

Making folk music contemporary: different appropriations of the folk tradition in Taiwan’s socially- conscious music
Tunghung Ho, Independent Scholar, China

Folk music, which continues to be taken as a strong linkage between musical practice and social action, has played an important yet relatively small role in Taiwanese popular music since the mid-1970. In this paper, I will examine this tradition by conducting case studies on three bands in the Taiwanese bipartisan political context, as well as in the context of music business that has witnessed a fully-grown commercial music industry since the 1990. The three bands are Blackhand Nakasi, Labor Exchange Band, and Rural Armed Youth, and they represent, as I would like to argue, three different strategies for mobilizing folk music to engage in the social movements with which they are tightly linked with: the labor movement, the anti-dam and ethnic Hakka movement, and the peasant movement, respectively. Focusing on the musical ideology and aesthetics of folk, I will explore the answers to the following questions in specific. First, how is the image of the ‘people’ constructed and connected with the social movements in their music? Second, how do these bands indigenize the instrumentation of the Anglophone folk music as they are commonly praised for? Third, in what sense can we say they contribute to the emergence of ‘neo-folk,’ which is regarded as an opposition to the rather commercialized act of ‘urban folk’ in Taiwan? And finally, how are we to evaluate the significance of neo-folk within the entanglement of culture and politics?

The Negotiation of Ethnic Identities and the Imagination of ‘neo-folk’ - the case of Hanggai in the Independent Music Scene of Urban China
Lei Peng, Independent Scholar, France

In this paper I try to illustrate the negotiation of ethnic identities and trace a distinctive thread in the musical practice of Hanggai (杭盖), now a world-wide act that came from the independent music sector of China. In doing so, I will touch upon the issues of ethnic identities, imagination and new spheres of musical practice in a globalizing China. The Mongolian-based folk group Hanggai is at the forefront of a Chinese musical trend called xinminyao (neo-folk), which finds its inspirations from native folk traditions, drawing on the repertoire of magical songs that have all but disappeared in China's recent turbulent past. The performance of Hanggai represents a resurgence of regional differences within China, and expresses a nostalgic longing for the past before the exposure to the Western culture and modern capitalism has resumed since the late 1970s. Hanggai has also participated in the process of establishing among the new generation of urban youth an imagined sphere that bases itself in the cities but integrates some “rural”, “folkloric” or “ethnic” elements as well. The multiple meanings and associations of Hanggai’s musical expressions are explored within the wider Chinese polity. In a changing China, independent music provides a site of creative negotiations where new identities and spheres can be forged.

What ‘fusion’ means in the Korean music culture: changes in the traditional music during the last decade
Byung O. Kim, Independent Scholar, South Korea

The word ‘fusion,’ which had been used as a shorthand for ‘fusion jazz’ in the Korean musical lexicon since the 1980s, went through a semantic shift. Now it refers to a strategy for traditional/ethnic music to gain wider popularity or to turn itself into a genre of popular music. Today’s ‘fusion music’ reveals a variety of issues regarding the traditional Korean music. The identity of traditional music stands out among these issues. There is an ongoing controversy between the advocates of fusion who attempt to carve their musical identity out of the Western material, and the traditionalists who insist on the conservation of ethnic identity in music. The controversy notwithstanding, the momentum toward fusion increases over time. Changing environments surrounding the traditional music produce many factors that add to the momentum: music technologies, such as the pitch pipe and Auto-Tune, make it possible to standardize/westernize the traditional musical properties; institutional support for the traditional music, both public and private, tends to equate popularity with marketability; employment opportunities are very limited for traditional musicians; even those audiences who seek for the traditional music are steeped in the western music education. Focused on the ethnic identity, the traditionalist critique of fusion has little to say about these changes. I will examine these issues and environmental factors of the Korean fusion music during the first decade of the new millennium. In doing so, I wish to shed a light to the transformation process of the traditional music in its quest for popularization.

Domesticating the Domestic? An Emerging Trend in Korean Independent Rock since the mid-2000s
Hyunjoon Shin, Sungkonghoe University, South Korea

Since its inception in the early 1990s, independent (indie) rock has been largely held sway by the latest Anglo-American trend just like any other imported genres of pop/rock music in South Korea. However, a recent trend in the indie rock scene from the mid-2000s on takes a different turn. For example, Jang Giha and the Faces aroused a popular sensation with their near-mainstream hit, “Cheap Coffee” in 2008. This band is celebrated as the voice of the new generation that has fallen victim of the neo-liberal restructuring of the Korean economy and society. Not only that, they are also warmly embraced by the older generation of pop/rock fans for their ability to utilize such domestic musical traditions of the 1970-80s as “campus folksong” and “campus group sound.” Jang Giha’s popularity comes from what I would call domesticating the domestic – not a simple “retro” but reappropriation and revitalization of the old-school Korean style pop/rock that used to be considered passé by the younger generation of domestic audiences. Jang represents an emerging collective voice of some independent artists, fans and other cultural intermediaries that have produced multiple narratives and competing interpretations of the history of Korean pop/rock. This cultural process can be also seen as a reflection on the crisis of developmentalism that have been the ruling ideology in Korean society for the last four decades, linking social commentaries with the logic of development in popular music.