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Case Studies

Malay Case Study

Malay Case Study image

The Malay Case Study is focused on musical transitions in the Malay world c.1511–1918, covering the periods of Portuguese, Dutch and British colonialism in the Malay peninsula and archipelago.

Dr David Irving, an expert on the history of music and Spanish colonialism in early modern Southeast Asia, has been investigating relations between Malay polities and the European port settlements of Melaka, Penang and Singapore, 1511-c.1900. In addition to his work on intercultural connections and colonial discourses on musical syncretism and compatibility, his work has also explored specifically religious forms – the Genevan Psalter, Islamic zabūr – in the colonial Malay world.

Dr Julia Byl's research concerns how the limits of the Malay world can be expanded by attention to cultural relationships with bordering communities, and along the upstream-downstream trade routes so crucial to Malay power. The most natural locus for telling the history of Malay music – and the richest seam of vernacular documentation – is the world of the courts. Yet cultural interactions took place on all places along the trade routes, and viewing the experience of trade as formative of an integrated yet diverse Malay world opens space for all sorts of musical discussions: the transmission of Islamic recitation and models of sound from India to Aceh; the aesthetic connections between the musical ensembles of neighbouring areas; and the movement of people, texts, and sounds across colonial boundaries, from Sumatra and the Malay peninsula to Sulawesi and Champa. Julia's projects include an investigation of far-flung symbols of music, magic and power; an investigation of the nobat ensemble and its connections to interior (Batak) musical practice; and a consideration of sound, force, and cultural difference in the 18th-century "Bugis" era of Malay history.

Jenny McCallum is exploring the role of sound, sound-art and music in 19th-century Johore, Singapore and Riau. In the context of Singapore's plural society, her work focuses on the role of sound in neighbourly relations and governance, and explores the Straits Settlements as a different type of space for sound-making than a polity under Malay control. The second strand of her research approaches the vibrant literary scene of neighbouring Riau as a sounding tradition, tracing references to beguiling voices in the texts themselves and assessing the impact of Western influence on the sounding aspect of this tradition.

Finally, Raja Iskander bin Raja Halid is focused on the nobat ensembles of the courts of Kedah and Perak. His research is exploring evolving conceptions of royal power and authority as linked to music and performance in the context of colonial contact and Islamisation.

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