Ellerich, Sebastian (2023). Melanesian Mainstream. Stringband Music and Identity in Vanuatu. PhD thesis, Universität zu Köln.

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Melanesian Mainstream Stringband Music and Identity in Vanuatu Sebastian T. Ellerich The focus of this dissertation is on a music genre from the Melanesian Republic of Vanuatu, generally referred to as ‘stringband music’. In particular, the PhD-project addresses musical hybridity, authenticity in stringband music and cultural identity. The introduction outlines the subject of this book: ‘stringband music’ and its significance for the construction and representation of identity in Vanuatu. I begin by demonstrating stringband music’s connections to some key issues, after which I address identity with respect to the global and the local, as well as to Melanesian concepts of place. I proceed with my concept of musical acquisition, then expand on national musical identity and the ways in which popular music and stringband music relate to ‘tradition’, before commenting on the research background to the study of syncretic musics and the construction of identity through music. The research methods applied are depicted and a detailed portrayal of the setting and its history is provided. Chapter 1, the starting point of this enquiry, is an overview of local conceptualizations of Vanuatu’s musical genres. Next follows an extensive account of the evolution and development of stringband music from colonial times until the present. Information on the history of syncretic music in Vanuatu was obtained by documenting the reports of elder musicians and other players in the field, and also comparing older recordings to more recent ones. The focus is on the time around independence, when stringband music had a special political significance. In Chapter 3, the details of musical practice are examined and an introduction to the aesthetics of stringband music is provided. The first part focuses on the learning and teaching of music as well as the efforts to preserve the ‘musical heritage’. The remainder of this chapter describes the ‘musical text of stringband’: its style, instrumentation, form and arrangement, rhythm, harmony and composing. I focus upon the delimiting musical features which stand out especially in stringband music as compared to other musics. Special contexts of reception and performance, such as rehearsing and competitions, are addressed in Chapter 4. The focus is on musical preferences, music discourse, dancing and nightlife, as well as tourism-related performances, festivals and performances of ni-Vanuatu musicians overseas. The music industry of Vanuatu is worlds apart from big multinational companies. Since the 1980s, however, a domestic music industry has developed. Chapter 5 focuses on the production of sound carriers, marketing, media representation and the image of the groups and portrays the most important players in the industry. The technical aspects of the studio recordings and the production of music clips, the distribution of cassettes and CDs, as well as copyright and media coverage issues (press, broadcasting via radio and TV) are examined in relation to their significance regarding the practices of ni-Vanuatu musicians. In Chapter 6, I first turn my attention to the different factors involved in language choice and language ideology. For ni-Vanuatu, multilingualism is a matter of course, and musicians tend to use more than one language in a song. The means of language in lyrics are examined with respect to formal attributes and rhetorical devices. Based on the study of lyrics the main topics of stringband songs are identified, categorized, described and exemplified. Finally, the lyrics of pop pieces are juxtaposed with those of the stringband genre. Chapter 7 is about the underlying structures of the concept ‘stringband’. Following a description of some of the musicians’ motivations for starting up a stringband, the composition of the groups and the names which musicians give themselves and their groups are discussed. Afterwards, I depict the organizational structures of the musicians. As economic endeavour is a crucial motivation for most stringbands, I discuss aspects related to earning money and patronage. The chapter is rounded off with a presentation of some of the reasons for ending a stringband. In the conclusion (Chapter 8), my findings about stringband music are summarized and compared to other music in the Pacific region. The various aspects of stringband music are presented in relation to the negotiations of identities and ideologies of the musicians and of ni-Vanuatu society in general. I explain to what extent stringbands are an integral part of Vanuatu’s communities and comment on the genre’s connections to different layers of identity: ‘Pacific-ness’ and ‘Melanesian-ness’, its role in national-building, and its rootedness at the local level.

Item Type: Thesis (PhD thesis)
CreatorsEmailORCIDORCID Put Code
Ellerich, Sebastiansebastian@ellerich.euUNSPECIFIEDUNSPECIFIED
URN: urn:nbn:de:hbz:38-701937
Date: 2023
Language: English
Faculty: Faculty of Arts and Humanities
Divisions: Faculty of Arts and Humanities > Fächergruppe 4: Außereuropäische Sprachen, Kulturen und Gesellschaften > Institut für Ethnologie
Subjects: Customs, etiquette, folklore
Language, Linguistics
Geography and history
Uncontrolled Keywords:
syncretic musicEnglish
stringband musicEnglish
string band musicEnglish
Date of oral exam: 18 June 2020
NameAcademic Title
Bollig, MichaelProf.
Refereed: Yes
URI: http://kups.ub.uni-koeln.de/id/eprint/70193


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