Songs for the Spirits is the first in-depth study of the Vietnamese practice of communing with spirits through music and performance. During rituals dedicated to a large pantheon of indigenous spirits, a band of musicians perform an elaborate sequence of songs--a "songscape"--for possessed mediums who carry out ritual actions, distribute blessed gifts to disciples, and dance to the music's infectious rhythms. Drawing on extensive fieldwork and his experience of learning to perform ritual music, Barley Norton explores the transformative power of song and the multifaceted relationship between musical and ritual performance, emphasizing the importance of musical interaction, creativity, and change._x000B__x000B_The history of Vietnamese mediumship has been marked by considerable controversy. Condemned by French authorities in the colonial period and prohibited by the Vietnamese Communist Party in the late 1950s, rituals were forced underground, and mediumship music underwent a process of modernization. The "songs for the spirits" were incorporated into Western-influenced neotraditional compositions and were transfigured as "revolutionary song" to promote the communist revolution and the war effort. Yet far from being swept away by colonial and socialist exhortations for modernity, mediumship practices have undergone a strong resurgence since the early 1990s, and they are now being drawn upon to promote national identity and cultural heritage through folklorized performances of rituals on the national and international stage._x000B__x000B_By tracing the historical trajectory of traditional music and religion since the early twentieth century, this groundbreaking study offers an intriguing account of the political transformation and modernization of Vietnamese cultural practices over a period of dramatic and often turbulent change. It examines how globalization and recent economic, social, and cultural change have affected the meanings and contexts of mediumship and musical performance. An accompanying DVD contains numerous video and music extracts that illustrate the fascinating ways in which music evokes the embodied presence of spirits and their gender and ethnic identities.
Subjects: History, Music, Sociology
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