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the world of music 46, 2004-3

Women and Music in Sri Lanka

Editor: Max Peter Baumann
Co-Editor: Jonathan P. J. Stock

Guest Editor:
Martina Claus-Bachmann



The Guest Editors

Martina Claus-Bachmann
Kuveni, or the Curse of a Woman as Flash Point for Music-oriented (Re)Constructions

Mangalika Rajapakse
Songs Associated with Sri Lanka’s Paddy Cultivation: Music and Gender Aspects

Almut Jayaweera
Vannamas: A Classical Dance Form and its Musical Structure

Waidyawathie Rajapakse
On the Origin of Sri Lankan Dancing: Between Spirit Beliefs and Great Tradition, Appeasement of the Gods, and Healing Methods

Marianne Nürnberger
Vajira: The First Professional Female Stage Dancer in the Sinhalese Style

Sabine Grosser
Changing Worlds: Music, Women, and Fine Arts in Postcolonial Sri Lanka:
A Postmodern/critical Reading of Four Sri Lankan Art Works with Female Authors Relating to the World of Music

Vasana de Mel
“Ehkee maara baduwakne” (Isn’t She a Hot Item?): Contradictions and Controversy Facing Sri Lankan Women in Chorus Baila and Sinhala Pop Music

Book Reviews (Tina K. Ramnarine, ed.)

Sharon Meredith
Steven Loza, ed., Musical Cultures of Latin America: Global Effects, Past and Present. Selected Reports in Ethnomusicology, volume XI

Bethany Jo Smith
Loren Chuse, The Cantaoras: Music, Gender, and Identity in Flamenco Song

Avior Byron
Harald Krebs, Fantasy Pieces: Metrical Dissonances in the Music of Robert Schumann


Recording Reviews (Gregory F. Barz, ed.)

Maria Susana Azzi
Nocturno. Tango Siempre, ARC

Stephen Blum
Iranian Kurdistan, The Ritual Maqam of the Yarsan; Ali Akbar Moradi, chanting and tanbur, Inédit /
Maison des Cultures du Monde, and
Kurdish Music from Iran, Ali Akbar Moradi: Mystical Odes and Secular Music, Inédit/Maison des Cultures du Monde

Birgit Berg
Music of Indonesia, vols. 16-20, Smithsonian Folkways Recordings

Javier F. León
Traditional Music of Peru, Vol. 5: Celebrating Divinity in the High Andes, and Traditional Music of Peru,
Vol. 6: The Ayacucho Region, Smithsonian Folkways

Cullen B. Strawn
Bembeya Jazz: Bembeya. World Village (Harmonia Mundi)

Helena Simonett
Heroes and Horses: Corridos from the Arizona-Sonora Borderlands, Smithsonian Folkways Recordings —
The Devil’s Swing—El columpio del diablo. Ballads from the Big Bend Country of the Texas-Mexican Border,
Arhoolie, and Corridos y tragedias de la frontera. First Recordings of Historic Mexican-American Ballads (1928-37), Arhoolie Folklyric

L. Ellen A Gray
Amália Rodrigues 1962 [2002]: O Disco do Busto, As Óperas, EMI-Valentim de —
Mariza. Fado Curvo. Times Square —
Argentina Santos, Companhia Nacional de Música, S.A. Lisbon —
António Zambujo. O Mesmo Fado. Musica Alternativa, and António Zambujo. O Mesmo Fado. Musica Alternativa, LDA

James R. Newell
World Library of Folk and Primitive Music: Vol. VII, India, Rounder Records Corp.

Judah M. Cohen
Abayudaya: Music from the Jewish People of Uganda, Smithsonian Folkways Recordings

Evans David
Blues Routes. Various Artists, Smithsonian Folkways

Jonathan Glasser
Middle East and North Africa, Noor Shimaal: Where Africa Meets the Orient, ARC Music International

Greg Downey
Capoeira Angola 2: Brincando na Roda, Smithsonian Folkways Recordings

Lois Kuter
Made in Breizh. Dan Ar Braz, Tinder Records

Erika Haskell
Bells & Winter Festivals of Greek Macedonia; Featuring the Romani Instrumentalists of Jumaya, Smithsonian Folkways Recordings

Erika Haskell
Irén Lovász and Teagrass: Wide is the Danube, CCn’C Records

Deborah Kapchan
Morocco: The Art Of Sama In Fez, Gall

Paula Conlon
Native America: Indian Flute Songs from Comanche Land: Doc Tate Nevaquaya, Native American Music

Sergio Bonanzinga
Italian Treasury, by Alan Lomax and Diego Carpitella (1954-1955), Series ed. by G. Plastino, Rounder




The idea was to focus on developing a volume concerning women in music and music-related fields in Sri Lanka and not only to publish writings on the topic of women in music and music-related fields, but also, at the same time, to create a volume entirely of the work of female authors: either artists or academic researchers.

Kuveni, or the Curse of a Woman as a Flash Point for Music-oriented (Re)Constructions
Martina Claus-Bachmann
Sadness, tears, and a reviled woman’s curse are the flash point for this article, which focuses on Kuveni, the legendary foremother of the Sinhalese and the Veddha minority of Sri Lanka. She is an iridescent outline: due to a lack of historically-provable evidence, she can be reborn and reconstructed according to the needs and spirit of the time, or of the individual artist of a drama, dance, music, or combined performance of all these together. The article follows a musical line of Kuveni reconstructions, beginning with Kuveni Asne, an orally-transmitted part of the protection ritual Kohomba Kankariya. The article also examines a continuation of the Kuveni motif in a postcolonial music drama by distinguished author and actor Henry Jayasena and his composers, Mr. Bandara and Lylie Godridge, and engages with a composition and re-interpretation of the story by award-winning composer Diliup Gabadamudalige in a world-music context. In addition to making musical observations, the article also illuminates aspects of gender in its examination of facets of the flash-point figure Kuveni, and also by reflecting on the contemporary independence of women in the socially critical lyrics of a song by Carlo Fonseka.

Songs Associated with Sri Lanka’s Paddy Cultivation: Aspects of Music and Gender
Mangalika Rajapakse

The article documents a unique song repertoire created in Sri Lanka in association with the (rice)paddy cultivation. As a result of technological and economic changes in the processes of rural agriculture in recent decades, both the patterns of music performed on these special occasions and the role of women in agriculture have changed noticeably. Therefore it is necessary to collect this song repertoire before it is completely forgotten. Some of these songs are presented in transcription and analysed in their macro- (socio-cultural) structure. The article also focuses on the roles of women in the paddy cultivation process.

Vannama: A Classical Dance Form and its Musical Structure
Almut Jayaweera

This article examines an example of a classical dance form called vannama, with particular focus on its musical structure. Through this example, the richness of Sinhalese percussion music is also examined. The Sinhalese culture in Sri Lanka has developed a rich, locally diverse and highly developed drumming tradition, which we can trace to the fifth century B.C.. Drums are the main instruments played in traditional healing rituals and Buddhist ceremonies, as well as in performances on the modern dance stages today. Here drumming is mostly connected to dance; it transmits powerful energy to the dancers, and unfolds in precise and differentiated rhythmical structures, which the dancers translate into steps and movements. Through the centuries, drums were played only by men, and the dance masters (gurunanseje), who pass the ability and knowledge of dance and drumming to the next generation, have also been male. But in recent decades, more and more female dancers have taken to the public stage, and also more women (considerably more than men) have studied dance and drumming in order to become dance teachers for public and private schools. To do that, of course, they must at least learn to musically accompany their own dance classes, and for that reason there is an increasing number of women who are drumming. All, including students from foreign countries—as the author has been for five years—must study and rehearse the canonical repertory, of which the vannamas are an important part.

On the Origin of Sri Lankan Dancing: Between Spirit Beliefs and Great Tradition, Appeasement of the Gods, and Healing Methods
Waidyawathie Rajapakse

The purpose of this article is to reconstruct the legendary and historically discoverable preconditions of the forms of Sri Lankan dances. Though a number of books exist in Sinhala language concerning dance, information in English and other western languages is still scarce. This article seeks to address some of the questions that remain open, mainly those concerning the nature of the fusion of Buddhist, pre-Buddhist, or non-Buddhist forms of expression in Sri Lankan dancing. The study is focused mainly on the dances of the Sinhalese ethnic group which is the most populous group on the island.

Vajira—The First Professional Female Dancer of the Sinhalese Style
Marianne Nürnberger

This article analyzes the historical role of Vajira, the first professional female dancer of the Sinhalese style, analyzed according to her influence on the culture of Sri Lanka. Her life-work played a decisive role not only for the development of female stage dance, but also for the more recent movements of Sinhalese female ritualists. Here, Vajira’s extraordinary career is described, and her most important ballets, tours, and awards are named. The article outlines some examples of her numerous contributions to modern dance training in some detail, and highlights her pedagogical role in the development of children’s dance training techniques and children’s ballet. Finally, it briefly presents Vajira’s newest project for the preservation of traditional Sinhalese male up-country dance.

Changing Worlds: Music, Women, and Fine Arts in Postcolonial Sri Lanka—A Critical Reading of Four Sri Lankan Artworks of Female Authorship, Relating to the World of Music
Sabine Grosser

In this article I outline shifting artistic concepts of culture and cultural symbols in Sri Lanka. I examine four easel paintings that relate to the world of music, painted by four female Sri Lankan artists. Taking these examinations as a starting point, I suggest various readings that reflect the social developments and cultural discourses of the island’s post-colonial era. These readings have implications for our understanding of Sri Lankan culture, artistic expression, gender, and the shifting meanings of musical instruments, symbols, and concepts.

“Ehkee maara baduwakne” (Isn’t she a hot item?): Contradictions and Controversy Facing Sri Lankan Women in Chorus Baila and Sinhala Pop Music
Vasana K. de Mel

Worldwide, contemporary polities conveniently pay lip service to women’s rights and related issues while dismissing or concealing covert forms of social control that limit their social freedom at grassroots levels. Irreconcilable, despite its outward legislation of female rights, is Sri Lanka’s subversive control and ownership of its female populous. Thus, compliance with socially determined codes of behavior, referenced by a complicated blending of European colonial and indigenous cultures, earn Sri Lankan women membership within the respectable “chaste/virtuous” category whilst deviation, such as a choice to pursue a profession in music entertainment, merits disrespect and branding into the “impure/corrupt” social category. Hence negotiating freedom and commanding respect within this rigidly debilitating framework burdens many Sri Lankan women in chorus baila and Sinhala pop music.



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