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‘Musicking Like a State’: Hidden Musicians and the (Musical) ‘Right to the City’ in Contemporary Shanghai

Dr Ruard Absaroka, Senior Teaching Fellow, Music Dept., SOAS, University of London

Wednesday 22 February at 5.30 pm

Conceived from the outset as a Chinese updating (and transplanting) of The Hidden Musicians, the work that is the subject of this talk raises new questions, but also inevitably provides a cross-cultural comparison to Ruth Finnegan’s original investigations. In contrast to an often-heard stereotype of newly re-globalized Shanghai as a hyper-commercialized cultural desert, my research highlights an amazing breadth of musical participation in the unique musical communities of the city. Much music-making is supported through the local municipal authorities, but this patronage is ambiguous with regard to the interests of local musicians.

A multi-sited longitudinal ethnography retains the power to reveal overlooked and underestimated daily musicking and to support broader conceptions of cultural production and musically-articulated agency. This approach also provides an essential grounded contribution to politically-informed debates on the spatial logics of musicking: issues of access, control or censorship of diverse public, private and virtual spaces. It affords important consideration of the co-existent totality of simultaneous overlapping music-making within a single location. What is the continuing ritual importance of ‘live’ musicking in the sonic ecology of Shanghai life? How is music used not only as a boundary marker of identity, but as an outlet for encouraging collective interpersonal creative development and a sense of purpose and motivation? What can the attuned ethnographic ear learn of the sonic mediation of urban proximity, and of the ‘auditory hijacking techniques’ or ‘sonic guerrilla tactics’ in the city? I extend and adapt Finnegan’s metaphor of urban musical ‘pathways’ to this densely networked, hyper-mediated and internet-savvy metropolis. Only thus can one appreciate the generationally inflected relationship between music, work and leisure time at the cutting edge of neoliberal late (state) capitalism.

Dr. RUARD ABSAROKA is a Senior Teaching Fellow at SOAS, and Guest Lecturer at Royal Holloway, University of London. Following fieldwork in China his doctoral dissertation focused on urban musical geographies and networks in Shanghai. He has conducted secondary research while working for the AHRC Research Network/Leverhulme ‘Sounding Islam in China’ project. This has involved additional work in the Chinese provinces of Gansu and Xinjiang. His current research interests include the impact of digital technologies on informal, independent musicking, ethnographic film-making, sound studies, the creative and cultural industries, Jazz, club cultures, and Critical Realism. He leads the SOAS Chinese Music Ensemble, co-founded the London Xiqu Chinese Opera Network and is an active musician in London. He also serves on the committee of the British Forum for Ethnomusicology.

This event is free, but tickets must be booked. To book tickets please go to https://absaroka.eventbrite.co.uk